by Kirby Congdon…….
If you are twelve, or even under that, you can’t wait to grow out of childhood and get into your teens and be somebody. Then you anticipate being twenty-one because then, at last, you are a grown-up. You can vote, drink, experiment, have a career, run away from home and tell people off. Of course, thirty ends it all. Youth is over. You’re middle aged and stuck there for the next thirty. The decade from sixty to seventy is usually just an extension of your life’s private patterns. At seventy, however, you start taking those pills and the doctor says that you don’t need to jog any more because, pal, you can’t do it anyway. At eighty you begin to make assesments not only of property but the characters of all the people you hadn’t really looked at before. As you get toward ninety your legal advisers, who are still back there in middle-age, regard you as already dead. The meat has lost its muscle, the bones have lost their substance and the brain has lost any interest in anything except ice cream and candy so gobble it up since your imagination is gone. Well, isn’t it? It’s a tough sell that, after all, you are still alive. But, at least, the argument about it drives up the adrenalin. You alienate everyone who knows what’s best for you. It’s a stimulating time because all your peers who could defend you are too busy defending themselves against the very people who should be taking care of all the business. Well, these experts say, if you’re not dead then you should be so why not let me take over now, you cranky old fool?
All these anxieties depend on what do other people think about you. Is that necessary? Not really. What you think about yourself is much more pertinent. It is nice to have a skill and supercede everyone else. But more important than that is to believe in yourself. We all need recognition as individuals. It does help if we have a gift of some kind to establish ourselves. This can be something like being adept at mountain-climbing or just in having a sense of empathy, or anything inbetween. The bug-a-boo is our national acceptance of competition. Our whole set-up relies on being better and having more than anyone else. This is evident in advertising, in athletics, politics, in racism or in the degeneration of almost any activity into a competative contest. Theoretically one man wins his big victory at the expense of many losers, all of whom are dismissed as irrelevant.
What does any of this have to do with poetry, or any other creative work? A man does need recognition. Solitary confinement is as destructive as a death sentence. Perhaps more. The process is difficult but it is essential for an artist, or any human being, to differentiate loyalty to his private commitments from the distractions of public success.
It is natural to want to grow, to develop, to mature and the only judge of all of that is oneself. But to do this through competition is to miss the point about being alive. Defeating someone else does not enhance our own gift of life. Our own identity is enough to cope with in our attempts to find out who we are. In short, other people’s opinions should be compared very carefully to our own. A technologially-oriented century is impressive and achievement is always noticed but it is our own brain that is the original flashlight in the morass of distractions that crowd in on us like darkness itself.