Looking in the Mirror

Posted on March 20, 2010

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Earlier this week I watched an episode of No Reservations. Anthony Bourdain was in Harbin, China. In one segment, he visited an American-themed bar. This was not your ordinary bar — it was a Wild West bar owned and operated by one of the vanguard of the old-new Chinese capitalists. The owner was a man of a certain age who had made his fortune with a string of hot pot restaurants.  I knew my hackles were quickly getting raised by the gentleman’s narcissism, which could only be indulged on the backs of all of his workers and managers. He was now content — not just content, but more than happy — to spend his remaining days dressed in cowboy hat and chaps and holster singing old Maoist propaganda songs in a manner that readily portrayed his contempt for those songs, Mao and the Cultural Revolution and anything that could get in the way of him making money. A walking caricature.

Tony Bourdain could have left us there, with us — read “me” — being smug in our (my) contempt for this fine example of the nouveaux riches. Instead, he probed a little deeper, and asked this man what did his close friends and family think of him and his current lifestyle and occupation. (Now bear in mind that throughout this visit not one other patron had wandered into this watering hole.) The man answers right away that at this point in his life, he has some confidence in what he is doing and that he doesn’t care what others may think. If what he’s doing seems foolish to them, it’s not foolish to him — it’s his source of satisfaction.

That little exchange resonated with me and made it difficult for me to completely indulge in ridiculing this gentleman and hating his unthinking capitalist attitude. I, too, am a man of a certain age, and have found that satisfaction, and whatever could be called inner peace, rest mostly on doing — and saying — what gives me joy (& I hope harms no other — maybe that’s where I diverge from Mr. Wild West). It’s not so much what anyone else thinks of me, but what I think of myself. I might not be the best dad, or poet, around but I do what I gotta do and give it my best shot and if I cut a ridiculous figure in doing so, then so be it. After all, it’s only me looking at myself in the mirror every morning. Narcissistic? Yeah, no argument, but one that keeps me aiming to do better each day as a husband, father, poet, teacher, publisher, editor. Nostrovia, Mr. Wild West, it’s liberating braving egg on one’s face every day…

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