Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Powers of Observation

I just finished reading a collection of essays by E.B. White and ended up feeling like a complete loser by the time I was done. Like a loser who has done nothing and seen nothing and been nowhere. Not that this was a high adventure collection; mostly it was observational stuff about New York, Maine, Florida. Birds and woodland creatures. A dachshund. He threw in a few misspent youth stories, just to underscore some perilous experiences that hadn’t already occurred to me that I’ve missed out on by playing it safe for most of my adult life. I’m totally sure that’s why he included them. But mostly he didn’t directly write about himself. He wrote about the people and commonplace things around him, and he did this wryly and with specificity, and well enough that he was able to make a very successful full time living at it. I hate him a little bit. And I love him.

I’ve moved on to Thoreau now, whom I’ve learned E.B. White deeply admired and emulated to a certain degree. Where I believe he branched away from Thoreau was on the topic of humanity; Thoreau did not value humanity as highly as the world of nature, I’ve heard it said, and White found this wrongheaded. I like a man with a strong opinion. Hopefully I will find the inner wherewithal to draw my own conclusions after reading him myself, but chances are I will then double check them on Google.

When I say I played it safe, what I mean is I’ve lived my life in the complete opposite way than I intended to when I was 17 and planning my future. Literary career? Nope. Finance. Loft apartment in NYC, furnished in all white and chrome? Try a garrison on a cul de sac in small town New England, thirty miles from where those dreams were dreamed, and no nice things until the cat dies. Glamorous cocaine habit? (Remember, it was the 80s when I thought this all up. Cocaine habits seemed very glamorous at the time.) Reality: never touched the stuff, not interested, score one for coming to my senses. A stream of wealthy men acting as my personal patron of the arts with no strings attached? Journals brimming with exotic travel, exotic meals, exotic missteps, and astounding revelations? How about Motherosity and marriage, an unstamped passport, and last night I tried a new recipe from Cooking Light that turned out pretty well; next time I’ll use black olives instead of green ones.

I don’t know how these diversions in the road happen, but they seem to happen to a lot of people. Sometimes mine feels tragic, but fortunately most of the time I appreciate where I’ve ended up. E. B. White seemed to enjoy life without a lot of exotica, and found things to write about to boot, right? He would have made a terrific blogger. Maybe it’s time to see things differently. Maybe it’s time to see things, period. So here goes.

This morning I attended a meeting in a room with poor lighting and walls painted orange. They served breakfast, which I passed on, but I enjoyed the fragrant aroma of Tabasco sauce and ketchup on nearby eggs throughout the meeting. A woman in her fifties seated three chairs down from me sported several unfortunate streaks of blue and green and pink dye in the undertow of her hair which gave the effect of mold on faded blonde. She was a skincare specialist, she told us. This information merely enhanced the folly of the mold colors. I don’t remember what the actual meeting was about; however, it ended on time, which I respected, but at an hour that required me to park 97 rows from the building at work, which I will not enjoy later. And now, look at that, it’s later. Time to go and observe some things elsewhere.