I wrote this in August of 2007. I was 23 years old.
I was suppose to meet up with some friends but felt like I really didn’t want to see too many people I knew, so I decided to have a quiet dinner with a book on global corruption (A Game As Old As Empire – read it, it’s very interesting), and my journal to write and draw on. I went to look at art materials after (I’m suppose to be an artist now, so I can rationalize these purchases) and realized that the only color I needed was the color they lacked – White! I found it really interesting when the salesgirl tried to sell me something else in place of white:
Salesgirl: Sorry sir, we don’t have white eh.
Me: That’s alright. Thanks.
Salesgirl: We have a lot of black if you like.
Me: That’s ok. Thank you.
Salesgirl: How about brown sir?
I figured it was late, and she had been working the whole day, that she no longer remembered that you can’t paint a “white” flower with “black” or “brown” paint. I did appreciate her very pleasant attitude and willingness to help me. (Maybe she thought I painted with bleach.)
My last stop was suppose to be a bookstore that I frequent on lazy nights. The manager is very friendly and never fails to ask me what my new “escapade” is, and always asking questions about Afghanistan. He’s much older, turning 59 this year I believe, and reads about almost anything (this is why we get along). Since it was nearing closing time I asked him if he would like to have coffee for a bit. He thought that was a good idea, closed shop, and we sat down with some cappuccino for him and tea for me.
I had a great time conversing with him on a multiple of disciplines and arenas, from art, to classical music and opera, to history, religion, and polictics and economics. In conversations like this, I prefer to listen and ask questions. By virtue of the fact that the guy has been alive more than twice as long as I have, he’s got to have more to say. I found his stories very interesting, and I was happy to talk to someone who appreciated Debussy, Saint-Saens, Hosseini, and Chernow as much as I.
Then I asked him if there was a family he went home to, and he said there was none. That really changed the mood of things. Sometimes I wonder why I ask these things. Reminds me of when Stephen and I grilled one of his employees on which of his two girlfriends he loved more. (That’s a differnt story.)
He told me that he had never gotten married. I asked him why not, and I will never forget his answer, nor the longing in his face as he told me, “There was someone once. She was a ship that came and passed. What went wrong? We started thinking about the ‘what fors’ and lost the ‘what ifs’.” I appreciate style, but I normally like to talk in English, so I asked him to explain.
We talked about how at the start of things, their relationship was all about the what ifs. It was all about the possibilities. “What if we do this? What if we take a trip? What if we settle down here or buy a house there?” Everything was an option as long as they were together. But the realities of life eroded what they had, and the impracticality of the possibilities removed initial considerations. Situations and circumstances proved less than ideal. At the end of it all, they found themselves questioning what they had. “What is all of this for? Is all the effort worth it?”
I guess they didn’t think so. They’d probably be together if they thought otherwise.
He did leave me with some take home. He told me:
“Never trade the possibilities for the practical compromises. Mediocrity is Monstrosity. You can not settle. All the masters, from painters to singers to athletes to heroes, there is a passion, almost an obsession, for something, sometimes something unattainable. That is why they’re masters. Either you give it everything or you don’t. When you hold back, your expectations will never be met, and you will inenvitably question what, that thing you once enjoyed, is for.”
(I never got to ask him if he noticed that a lot of the “masters” were depressed and quite unstable. He could have told me that the “what ifs” are basically his stylized way of talking about the possibilities, and the “what fors” are the questions he asked when things got difficult. )
I paid for the bill and I thanked him for an interesting conversation. Then I went home, tried to type this blog, practiced piano, and went to bed.
I remember asking him what her name was.
Lost in his thoughts, with a faraway look, he told me, “Her name was Hellen.”