Monday, November 16, 2009

Water Out of the Tap

Mark Twain photo portrait.

"My books are like water; those of the great geniuses are wine. (Fortunately) everybody drinks water." So saith Mark Twain. It's a wonderful thing to know what you're good at and be able to do it without feeling it has to be great in order to be worthwhile. That doesn't mean we give up trying to improve and, perhaps, even achieve something resembling greatness, even on a small scale. It just means we've gotten to the place where being ourselves in the realm of accomplishment is so imminently satisfying that anything else is like freshly made gravy streaming over mashed potatoes.

You're smiling at the analogy. Well, it's like this: you're whipping potatoes together with small amounts of milk and butter (maybe a teensy bit of cream, since it's Thanksgiving) and stopping every now and then to give it a taste-test. For me, the moment when you get the mix exactly right and then, like a little kid, lick the beaters clean -- that's when mashed potatoes are the best. It's a promise of things to come when you'll dish them onto the plate and flood them with gravy. But if all you had was a spoon and the bowl, you could be happy.

We get things so easily bass-ackwards, as they say in Texas, mocking the phrase ass-backwards. Striving for success becomes the goal instead of developing skill and nurturing competency. Now, there's nothing wrong with success and I like it as much as the next guy, but when the drive for success and the recognition that usually accompanies it, becomes all-consuming, we lose the joy inherent in becoming persons with capability. Gravy by itself may be tasty, but it fulfills its purpose when poured over something else.

A few years ago, someone (probably a relative, I can't remember) asked if I couldn't find something that was less demanding than medicine, something that paid as well but required less time investment. You've got to keep in mind, they said, you're not getting any younger. Income isn't what this is about, I replied, it's the fact that I'm better at this -- I'm more me -- than I've ever been at anything else; this is my one thing, to borrow a line from City Slickers.

Some people are truly like wine and it's wonderful to know and spend time with them. Speaking only for myself, though, I'm like water out of the tap. As long as someone's thirsty, that's all that matters.


(Public domain image of Mark Twain via Wikipedia)

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