This month, I’ve begun working part-time at my local weekly newspaper, the Island Ad-Vantages, a publication with a hundred-year history of reporting on the tidal forces of lives lived on Deer Isle, in Penobscot Bay. And while I never expected to return to the workforce, I feel like I’ve stumbled into an opportunity — one of those rare opportunities — that is sometimes called a second chance.
Frail memory mine, for three decades I have misquoted Ezra Pound and then slanderously attributed to either E.M. Forster or Auden the observation that more writers fail from a lack of character than a lack of talent. I can find no Forster or Auden quote on that tack and Pound didn’t say talent but “intelligence.” Such slips are psychologically revealing. I used this epigram to account for all my disappointments over those 30 years, and it still seems fundamentally sound. My path from then to now traces a series of bad decisions, impatience, immaturity, and an insatiable desire for approval undermined by a profound fear of inadequacy. Even this recognition — that one will never fulfill one’s own potential by avoiding the risks of failure — failed to prompt a course correction. I could never risk the being I was for the being I might yet be.
When I admit this to others, to my family and friends, they are quick to point out that my accounting seems flawed. The balance sheet fails to tote up the successes and achievements that have accrued over those years. I love these people, for they are tending to my wounds, and yet the point is not to feel good about one’s self. One thing Forster did say is that he wrote to earn the respect of people he respected. Sympathy is no substitute.
Here is an observation to bank on: You cannot succeed in an ego-driven life if you are not willing to bet everything, risk everything, on that ego. That is why, I suspect, so many writers, artists and thinkers end up being horrible people. If the price of achievement is a life like J.D. Salinger’s, one might be lucky to fail.
But perhaps there is another way. Suppose that the ego can be surrendered from the first. I have no idea how to do this. Am open to suggestions…