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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Don't Fear The Reaper

Actually, the title of this quickie post should be something like, "Don't Fear Success," but the song has been in my head, not sure why. I was thinking about the fear of success, in many different forms, since I'm re-reading, for the billionth time, one of my very favorite books, A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole. Read it countless times, still makes me laugh out loud, still adore it. A boy I dated this summer had never read it, and when I raised my eyebrow in appalled disapproval, he said: "Oh, I always assumed it wasn't as good as the hype." Funny, because that's what I thought about him...
Anyway, if you're read the book, you know the tragic story of the author; that Toole wrote this masterwork when he was, approximately, in his late 20s, and then committed suicide at age 32. You know that his mother fought to get the book published. And that the book eventually won the Pulitzer Prize. That story always, no matter how many times I think about it, simultaneously breaks my heart, and renews my faith in humanity. It's an amazing story.
I personally think that Toole based his antihero, Ignatius J. Reilly, on some alternate-universe version of himself. (I have no evidence to back this up.) His rendering of Reilly, and the "tragedy at the heart of Ignatius's great gaseous rages and lunatic adventures," to quote Walker Percy's excellent forward, always seemed to me to come from some deep, interior place.
And while re-reading this book, I thought of how many of us, are sometimes more afraid of success than we may let on. That boy I mentioned earlier? A fine musician. He got some decent press, and created a website to promote his work...well, at least he said he did. In reality, he created a waste of space on the Internet, where people could, it is true, listen to his music, but there was no updated information about where to buy said music, or hear him perform. Details, right? Until I gently nagged the sh*t out of him, his profile picture was of...his shoes. (Deep breath.) Did I mention that this boy was quite handsome? (My vadge ain't no fool.) But yes, sure, put up a photo of your shoes, since sure, that'll sell the music by the truck-load...not that you apparently wish to sell your music. Oh, never mind. I should return to my home planet Earth anyway.
Meanwhile, he told me that I was afraid of success, since at that time, I was delaying doing the final formatting on my play. (It's since been done, and I'm in the process of getting it produced, thanks.) Here's the difference between us: I may have my issues with success. But I admit to them! I admit to my flaws, my fears and all that other delicious sh*t so I can get over them, and then do the hard, exhausting work necessary to bring my dreams to reality. What I don't do, is pretend that I have no fears, no issues...and then half-ass all the important stuff, the stuff that can bring my dreams to fruition, and later on wonder, "Hmm, why is nothing working out? Oh well, I've done everything I can, la la la."
John Kennedy Toole has his mother, Thelma, to take up his mantle, after his suicide, and make sure his talent saw the light of day. She fought damn hard to make that happen. But you and I would be better served fighting for ourselves, doing the difficult job right the first time, and not assuming anyone else will give a damn.
(And if you haven't yet read, A Confederacy of Dunces...seriously? Like a fine wine, it just gets better.)

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