When you come to the end of the paragraph, the end of your story, the end of your life… a word bubble might bubble up, which you may not have focused upon. Excellence.
Though LOVE is what keeps us going, nurtures us, keeps life worthwhile when we’ve stumbled and fallen it does so while we pursue the meaning of life, the pursuit of your own excellence. Think about it. Ask any person on the planet, what the purpose of their life is and they’ll say, to be the best mom I can be, to be the best kidney surgeon, architect, artist, writer or vacuum cleaner salesman. If asked, what about love? We say, “well yeah, of course. That goes without saying, but my work on the planet it to do what I do and do it to the best of my ability.
If you were reading the blog or the essay of a 20-something millennial, or a 30 or 40 something X, Y, Z alphabet-soup generation, this essay would be unfolding at a different rate and coming to different conclusions. Having lived, loved, survived and thrived on this planet for 6+ decades, however, the concept of EXCELLENCE, is extremely dear and important to me.
As recently as three days ago, one of you…..and a trusted friend to me, accused me in an oblique way of keeping my foot on the brake pedal, being careful, being cautions. The term he used was “walking on eggshells.” I wrote back to him that I had discovered over the years that walking on eggshells was a way to get my point across without alienating entire populations of friends or burning ALL my fucking bridges behind me. (I usually apologize for the profanity. Tonight…deal with it.) In short, my friend, Phil, was correct. I was wrong. So here we go, telling the truth and pursuing EXCELLENCE.
As recently as this morning, my son, Cameron, plopped down for a coffee, having spent yesterday in Manhattan with Bob Mankoff, the head man with The New Yorker Magazine. Cam is getting his trials by fire, with a cartoon here, a cartoon there with possibly the most difficult mag on the planet to get a cartoon published in. Mankoff observed that Cameron is, at the moment, a good mid-level cartoonist……high praise in a way from a magazine soooo selective. Cameron was happy that moment. Content. I wasn’t, and here’s why: In the arts, writing, dancing, sculpting, composing, unlike most any other field, adequate, mid-level are never compliments. In the arts, unlike, most other fields, good, isn’t good enough. To steal a line from a song, “Too much is not enough.” When you are going for IT, excellence is the only goal. Right or wrong, that is the way it is. Welcome to reality.
Some Examples of Excellence: (Your choices will definitely vary)
Ballet Dancing: Sylvie Guillem: Watch Sylvie and then watch almost any other ballerina and the comment under your breath will be, “Ohhhhh…shit….” She was just amazing. She danced to her own drummer, and paid the price. But…amazing.
Meryl Streep, Joaquin Phoenix, Burt Lancaster, Philip Seymour Hoffman……and about 75% of the Cast of In Treatment….don’t ask me why. These are people, who just exist on an other plane entirely. I have no great interest in Johnny Cash, nor any great interest in his music. Having said that, gamble your nickel watching “Walk the Line” with Joaquin Phoenix and see what acting is really about. Is he an asshole? I don’t know. I don’t even care. Philip Seymour Hoffman, same thing identically. Meryl…same thing identically. EXCELLENCE…
Business/Science: I don’t even like some of these individuals, but their pursuit of EXCELLENCE should be obvious: Richard Branson, Steven Jobs, Elon Musk, Steven Spielberg, Richard Feinmann, Carl Sagan, Christopher Hitchens, Jonas Salk.
Another form of EXCELLENCE: Goin’ heavy here: Behold the DaVinci Robotic Surgical System: Not one, but four independent robotic arms, any one of which will turn your loved one into a cadaver at the blink of an eye…or save their life. This past year, we did our homework and got the best of the best of the best surgeon in the liberal east coast tri-state area.
His name is Scott Richard. He is the first surgeon in Pennsylvania to perform robotic surgery. He’s young enough to be my kid, and he’s that good. He saved Pamela’s life this year, a sentence I don’t print out gratuitously. The device is right out of a sci fi movie…four independent arms all working at a micro level, inside Pamela’s body. She’s alive, and downstairs working on her latest fiber art project, a bodacious tribute to Woodstock and the 60s. Without Scott, the DaVinci Machine, and Scott’s relentless, sometimes arrogant pursuit of EXCELLENCE, it might have been a very different and sadder story. This is your chance to do whatever the hell it is you were meant to do. Don’t wait. Time is precious.
Music: Yeah, we can bat heads till the cows come home: Beatles vs. Stones. Not really looking to weigh in on one artist vs. another. But you have to admit, some artists were really just committed to their art, come hell or high water. They just went for it and that is what excites me. Mozart, Beethoven, Glenn Miller, Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan, The Band, Buffalo Springfield, Cat Stevens and on and on to the point of arm wrestling.
The point is… We are are plopped down on this planet, pink, tiny, innocent, and screaming our brains out. Before we exit this same planet X number of years hence, we are encouraged to grow, love, and in some way, find some form of excellence to pursue. It may be as simple as being the very best, (fill in your name here) you can be. That is sometimes a feat unto itself. The trick…is in actually being the best you can be. It’s a whole lot harder than it sounds.
Rex Tremende Since you’re stuck with me on this column for this handful of precious seconds, there’s a You Tube with Leonard Bernstein (whether you like classical or not) that utterly scrapes all the barnacles off my soul, ego, pretentiousness. It just might work for you. Think of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart hundreds of years ago, writing the Requiem Mass as he was dying. Then carefully watch and carefully listen to his composition. Look at the faces of the singers. They are hypnotized, hundreds of years later, as I am, just watching their performance on a tiny computer screen. Way back when…there was excellence and it lives even now. Gamble the 2.5 minutes. You’ll be a better person for it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a76GyB8W3bw
Returning to the Eggshells: When my friend inadvertently skewered me with the truth, I deftly responded with something that sounded good. But the harpoon had already sunk in and the poison of truth had begun circulating. My friend is right. I have been walking on eggshells in this series of essays for several years now. I know that certain topics are likely to light-up my inbox with a “Go fuck yourself” response. I know it, and yet, like a moth to a flame, I keep swooping closer to the flame….coming closer to that “third rail” that I mention quite often. It’s time to give that third rail a big French kiss and see who’s gone…and who remains. I look forward to communicating with whomever is left!
I have my rules, too…