Sunday, September 23, 2012

coming to terms with mediocrity

Yesterday, the mashed potatoes were good, my daughter looked nice in her wedding dress, and the brownies were poor. Such were the small adventures that reminded me once again that I have made no perfect peace with my distaste for mediocrity ... my own in particular.

Before arriving for a weekend visit, my daughter had asked that I make lemon chicken, mashed potatoes and corn for dinner. It had been a favorite growing up. "Your wish is my command," I said, and last night I made a fondly-remembered dinner. And the mashed potatoes came out very well. Others may say that making good mashed potatoes is like taking a leak in the morning -- everyone can do it -- but I disagree. Mediocre mashed potatoes are more the rule than the exception. Last night's were good, not according to some great skill of mine, but more as a matter of luck. And I felt lucky.

The wedding dress is scheduled to premier Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, in Fiji, where my daughter and her fiance plan to get married. It's a nice dress, my daughter looked good, and I was pleased that she was pleased. Nothing mediocre about pleasure.

The brownies, which my older son likes, came out cake-y. I like them gooey and chewy and fat with chocolate. I like them 'wicked.' But although I added chunks of semi-sweet chocolate and a couple of tablespoons of unsweetened chocolate, they still tasted like something you might get out of a machine in a train station or in some upscale cafe that was selling its reputation rather than its products.

But a more forceful reminder of my distaste for mediocrity -- my own mediocrity -- came in the form of working on a YouTube production of "A Modern Monk's Tale," an essay by John Cavanagh, a former Trappist monk who had blown a whistle within his order and, as per Catholic usual, had been punished for it. I found and find the essay touching ... compelling in its depiction of one man's anger, anguish and assessment. I really thought it was terrific.

A friend was good enough to scan the pages of the essay in and make it available on the Internet. But then it occurred to me that an actual-factual reading of the essay might make good material on YouTube. So on Wednesday, I went to a sound-recording place, sat in a booth, and read the whole thing into a microphone. Forty minutes. I got a disc of the recording by the afternoon and then involved my friend in putting together a YouTube version.

The problem, as my friend pointed out, was that my reading was mediocre. I had a writing skill, not necessarily a reading one. And as I listened, I had to agree. True, it had only been one reading -- not a series of practice runs -- but still, I spent $200 I could ill afford on that one shot and didn't have the discretionary income to go back and do it again. It'll be hard enough to pay the rent this month given my over-enthusiastic outlay. As it stands, the delivery is mediocre at best ... and worse, I involved my friend in my own half-baked enthusiasm. You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but if you're going to try, it's a pity to inveigle others into your realm of error.

So I wrote to my friend this morning and apologized and said the whole thing did not deserve the effort he was expending and I had expended. I suggested we just write it off and put our energies into things with more excellent potential.

I don't begrudge the expenditure made on behalf of a mediocre result. I'd certainly like to have the money back (and I would love to return my friend's outlay of energy), but if that's what it takes to discover foolishness, it's probably worth the price.

The whole adventure was dumb and dumber, in one sense. But it brought me face to face with my distaste for mediocrity.

But what is mediocre and what is excellent? Using the agreement of others as a means of definition strikes me as wimpy and downright mediocre.

And what leaves me floundering in the observation of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart when addressing the matter of pornography: "I may not know what it is," he said approximately, "but I know it when I see it."

And that, in turn leaves the questions, "What do I see?" and "Who sees it?"

The answer to those questions is bound to be mediocre.

1 comment:

  1. You're right about brownies: chewy is the way to go.

    Sorry about the recording project ... truly sorry.