Today, I am taking the road not taken – or at least less frequently taken – by examining “The Road Taken”, a less musical appellation, which, to the ear, sounds like a car with a suddenly flat tire.
“The Road Taken” –
I read an article recently about a scientific study whose conclusion – as many scientific studies do because there is no controlling their exploratorial outcomes – falls into the unwelcome category of “I don’t want to hear this.”
The study reveals that “strivers” – however that designation was measured – especially minority “strivers” – had statistically significant more health problems and a lower mortality rate than their non-striving counterparts.
(I was vaguely familiar with this phenomenon anecdotally from childhood. Jewish male “strivers” – friends of my father’s – driven to outwork the goyim (Gentiles) in their selected lines of endeavor were, with startling frequency, struck down by heart attacks during their early to mid-forties. It turns out, science has now determined, that you don’t have to be Jewish to bite the dust trying to overachieve.)
As Jimmy Durante used to observe, these men who pushed themselves mercilessly willingly accepted that “These are the conditions that prevail”, never complaining because, as they say in The Godfather, “This was the business we’ve chosen”, not once, as James Taylor wistfully warbled, “Wondering if where I’ve been was worth the things I’ve been through…”
(Why waste words when you can borrow them from others?)
(Note: Watch how I deftly maneuver the conversation over to myself. It’s like I’m “Rome”, wherein all issues in question lead inevitably to me. Today, it’s “Two Degrees of Separation.” One stop, before arriving at our final destination.)
I think of Neil Simon, whose Memoirs I read and recently wrote about. During a forty-year period (after writing award-winning television), Neil Simon wrote more than thirty stage plays and almost an equal number of screenplays.
That’s a lot of writing. (A lot of good writing, as many were nominated for or won prestigious prizes.)
As I considered his memoirs, I could not help noticing that, among other personal revelations, after the tragically untimely death of his beloved wife Joan, Neil Simon was married four subsequent times. (Simon married – and divorced – one woman twice, so the marital tally could stand more generously at three more times. Although there were four subsequent weddings. Once a nitpicker…)
With this noteworthy statistic in mind, one can’t help wondering if there might be some a causal connection between Simon’s gargantuan output and his fingers-on-the-hand number of marriage certificates.
Making me wonder further, a la James Taylor, if where he’d been was worth the things he’d been through.
While simultaneously wondering – when I start wondering I apparently can’t stop – did Neil Simon simply love to write – which is highly admirable – or was he chronically unable to stop – which is less so.
I am reminded a propos of a negative review Simon received for one of his less successful theatrical outings entitled The Star-Spangled Girl, which said, “Neil Simon hasn’t had an idea for a play this season but he’s gone ahead and written one anyway.” “This”, proclaims Dr. Pomerantz – the one without the psychology degree – “speaks more to ‘unstoppable obsession’ than to ‘creative enthusiasm.’ Well doesn’t it?)
And then there’s me. (“End of the line, folks. All passengers must exit onto the platform.”)
Me, who confessed to Bill Cosby on the initial day of our collaboration,
“I do not want to die.” (In the manner of my Dad’s overzealous, Jewish compatriots.)
Along with issues of drug addiction and severe mental impairment, I have always been interested in the relationship between rampant obsession and creative genius. Thinking about this post, the example of the famously overdriven Bob Fosse came to mind, an award-winning theatrical and film director, dead after numerous cardiacical “near misses” at 60.)
As for myself, there was no question I wanted to be as good at what I did as I possibly could.
But I also wanted, with equal passion and enthusiasm, to go home. (To my freedom and to my family.)
I additionally observed that I had minimum difficulty “putting down the pen”, never feeling the nagging urgency to write during series hiatuses, extended vacations, numerous months-long writers strikes or, in the current blog-writing context, on weekends.
I can do it.
But I don’t have to.
Causationally or otherwise – and if there’s a causation in one direction why would there not be in the other – my personal existence has been mercifully unrocky.
Which brought me not long ago to a new and shocking consideration.
In a world where strivers of all stripes are pushed to shoot for the stars whatever the consequences, whereas I, although committed always to doing my best, sought simultaneously the closest available approximation of a “balanced and reasonable life”…
When you add it all up, and “marking on the curve”, and giving myself the benefit of the doubt, could it in any way be possible, by some unprejudiced standard of measurement, that I, who never once thought of himself that way, was, in fact, at least by comparison, dare I say the word…
That’s unimaginable, is it?
To quote Fagin, singing “Reviewing the Situation” in Oliver!...
I think I better think it out again.