Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Not Just Another Story

Just to let you know, this is not another one of those "How I Overcame X, Y, or Z and Went On to Achieve Success in Life" stories. That's not to say I don't en
Rudy album cover
joy them, because I do, very much. I love filmographies like Rudy that depict someone going after a dream when everyone else says it's senseless. I've lived my own version of that one and all it takes to reduce me to tears is a few bars of Jerry Goldsmith's soundtrack -- even if they're only used in a commercial.

No, this morning I'm thinking about a quote by W. Somerset Maugham
, who authored Of Human Bondage and The Razor's Edge: "What has influenced my life more than any other single thing has been my stammer. Had I not stammered I would probably...have gone to Cambridge as my brothers did, perhaps become a don and every now and then published a dreary book about French literature."

Maugham wanted to be a writer but, apparently, that wasn't the career path his family had envisioned. Having a speech disorder rendered the ministry out of the question, so he was sent to medical school. Although he appreciated what he'd learned about human nature from his education, after graduating he continued to write. By his comment he seems to be saying, had it not been for my stammer, I might have ended up doing something conventional. As it was, I became myself instead.

Curiously, to a certain extent I'm having a difficult time identifying with Maugham, at least literally. I can think of relationships I'm glad never blossomed, jobs I'm relieved I never took, relationships and jobs I'm grateful to have gotten out of, but not any one thing that prevented me from making a fatal mistake. Most of the time I've wished there had been something that stood in the way of my getting into situations I've had to extract myself from. I have an idea I'm not alone in this.

So, what's the solution? Maybe we have to rely on the accumulation of experience to do for us what a stammer did for him. That's a lot harder, because it means we have to understand what we've gone through and to do that, we can't pretend it's irrelevant because it feels unpleasant. Foresight is earned as well as learned and while it's not exactly a stammer, it can serve us just as well, if not better.
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