From Bill – Let it Go
This meditation grows out of my son, Sam, who is now 33 years old, having given me the latest version of XCOM Enemy Within, for Christmas. Ever since, I’ve been struggling with my conscience over how I spend my “spare time”. Sounds like a simple problem right, a “first world problem” as they say? But I don’t think so.
It was Thoreau who scoffed at us with the ever-abiding: “As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.” I wouldn’t want to injure eternity or even get it a little disgruntled if I could avoid it – especially these days when my impending disappearance from this realm is ever more on my mind. (I hit sixty-three last December.) Even if Albert-the-genius-Einstein was right when he said that “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one”, it’s the only one I’ve got. So, joy is precious, but frivolity? Maybe not so much. Wasting time? Definitely not. As Seneca assures us: “True pleasure is a serious business.” And I take it all very seriously, but where do you draw the line between a destructive Puritanical oppression and Hedonistic excess?
Case in point: when Sam was a child, we got rid of the television set because we knew that hours in front of the boob tube, for the most part, insured verifiable boobiness. There’s always the exception to the rule, but staring at a burning candle, nay, watching someone collect the garbage, strikes me as more likely to be a useful expenditure of time than an endless stream of laugh-track small-mindedness perforated by “buy-this”, “buy-that” 30-second promotional spots. Not that the information locked into the television set itself – the wires, the screens, the electricity – isn’t a natural/man-made marvel or the extraordinary intelligence that went into making all those mind-numbingly mesmerizing messages.
I remember my father used to take me to play golf. Now, that was a productive use of time I’d say – though we didn’t do it very well. After all, we spent more time agonizing over our own inability to hit the ball straight or feeling shameful over some particularly bad judgment (at least I did) than communicating with each other. But at least it was a way of pushing back the onslaught of an ever more demanding world to make a place and a time for the two of us to be together, to allow our relationship to evolve in whatever course we could manage. It was healthy exercise; and besides, there’s nothing more aesthetically pleasing than the graceful arc of a golf shot well played – though, that never seemed the main reason we played.
So, though I didn’t really approve of computer games – they being like a high tech variation of all the boobiness of television – when Sammy got into XCOM – UFO Defense (a science fiction video game franchise featuring the titular fictional organization tasked with countering alien invasions of Earth), I decided to play along with him (like golf, kinda) to set aside the time or place we could be together. That was about 1994 and we both played pretty much non-stop until he went off to college. And now, twenty years later, when MicroProse comes out with a new updated and awesome (I use that word advisedly) version, I can’t play it (and it can deliver hours and hours of excitement endlessly) without feeling like I’m wasting my time. It doesn’t pass the frivolity test if I’m not “doing it with Sam”.
What is it that makes pleasure justifiable? Must it have a utilitarian value? Or is pleasure simply its own justification?
Certainly for a theatre artist, this is a fundamental consideration. I remember looking at the Golden Globes a few weeks ago on television, and the same patient but slightly concerned voice of, “Bill, you’re wasting your time,” came over me.
It wasn’t just what I know to be the brutally demanding rigors of show business underneath the made-up, constantly self-aware performances and public parade for the cameras necessary to satisfy the industry and the very fickle popularity business, that fascinated and irritated me – all of which can be as intoxicating as Cinderella’s night at the ball and at the same time, a waste of time, maybe even worse. Who’s in the lime light now isn’t as useful a question as to where the light should really be focused in the first place. Who really is the most worthy acting talent in the land? No one’s under the opinion that these events really deal with that in any effective way are they? This is by no means to denigrate the talent that surrounds money and the focus of attention like moths a powerful light.
Show business! It’s got a lock on our eye-balls. You’ve heard that the top 1% of the people in this country own about 35% of the wealth or the top 20% own 90% of the wealth—leaving, what, 10% of the wealth of this nation to sustain the rest of us 80%. It’s not unreasonable to argue that the distribution of power around the encouragement and recognition of talent is similarly skewed. 1% of those who are talented are receiving 90% of the opportunities, attention, and financial return. I mean, really. I love him too, but is Tom Hanks all that talented? He’s a good guy and all that, but really. See, I’m struggling.
I feel a little like Little Red Riding Hood, but there’s not just a wolf in the woods, but a wolf, a couple tigers, a lion or two, and at least half a dozen snakes… and that’s before I leave the house. The “media” is hyperbolic and everywhere, aggressively working to “capture our time, our eyeballs”.
And then I wanted to go see Frozen, Walt Disney’s new animation that came out Thanksgiving, but I just couldn’t bring myself to it; I mean, it is “for kids” right? I finally gave in, and went to it by myself – this musical animation for young girls based on the Hans Christian Andersen story of the Ice Queen. Now, I am very fond of children’s literature, fables, and believe it to be fundamentally important to keep my inner child alive and healthy, but what was I up to? Wasn’t sharing the experience with anyone. And what am I learning, of what utilitarian value is seeing Frozen going to provide? Looking around the matinee audience, me being a single sixty year old man in the midst of families and little girls? “Grow up, Bill,” my voice said.
But another voice argued back, “sometimes you just need to let it go, Bill,” and when the Ice Queen runs out of the castle longing to leave her kingdom behind, free at last from having to worry about hurting others – I was so there!
That’s me. I so identify with that fierce passion, desiring freedom with all its heart and to hell with being pretty for the crowd or well-behaved for the authorities, roaring with righteousness. I’m the Ice Queen storming off into the maelstrom, making my stand in the wilds of nature, with only the wolves to hear my howls.
But I struggle, as do we all, I’m sure. To do right, live right, and not to waste my time with frivolous, mindless diversion and egotism. Justice above all, and know, our choices make a difference.