Rendered Fat Content


Paul Cezanne: The Basket of Apples (about 1893)

" … everyone eventually becomes."

There's nothing quite like being greeted at a restaurant's reception desk by the question, "Just you?" Of course the greeter means no insult, but The Muse and I always fein offense and ask, "Just? Are we not enough?" The greeter briefly blushes before going back to more important business, like where to seat these clowns. Our point being that nobody's ever "just" anything. We're much, much more and never simply one thing.

At my age, I can easily claim to have been a Failure, but not "just" a Failure, for I have also at times been a success.
Anyone over the age of forty who cannot claim to have been a Failure must be misrepresenting their experience, for it could not possibly be that anybody achieving two score years has not crashed and burned a few times. Still living, they retain the potential to accumulate a few more successes and failures and the final judgement will have not yet been written, but the final chapter will not, because no final chapter could, erase the variety anyone living accumulates. We win some and we lose some and the ultimate outcome always remains ambiguous. Even saints manage to leave controversial legacies. Mother Theresa reportedly had anger issues.

I try not to wallow in my Failures, though some days, they seem my most prominent feature. I noticed last evening when The Muse and I had been invited to supper at some new acquaintances' place, how much of our introductory conversation centered around our shortcomings. He had executed a mid-career shift after growing to feel complicit in his employer's shortcomings. His second career ended with a leveraged buyout and a mass layoff, hardly a proud conclusion. My own history seemed awfully spotty, careers careening, beginning and ending, seemingly out of anyone's control. I heard myself insist that it might have been the best for me to go bankrupt in my late fifties. It certainly prevented me from shuffling through the following years in a state of quiet desperation. The Muse and I were too occupied reinventing ourselves to experience late-career discouragement.

I used to council the projects I consulted with to at least try to fail early and often, to built up some callouses where they might prevent blisters. Strategies intended to prevent failures seem to encourage them in the way that all negative objectives tend to produce the opposite of their intentions. Just try to
not think of a rhinoceros. A certain shamelessness comes as a great gift of advancing age. Nothing's gained by pretending you're perfect, or ever were. Little's advanced by behaving as if your pants don't go on one leg at a time, and something might be gained by admitting that they can sometimes be a struggle. My shortcomings seem so much a part of me now that I cannot readily imagine myself without my Failures, without my errors. I'm not "just" a Failure, just like I'm not "just" successful. I'm more like a walking yin/yang symbol, as everyone eventually becomes.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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