Monday, October 11, 2004

Life imitates Art
…or is it the other way around? (Part II)

The truth comes out
For me, the turning point of the play was when Serge responded sarcastically to Marc’s assertion that he “didn’t have the right” to have such an opinion about the white painting.

(Partially paraphrasing…)
“Oh, I was unaware of the extent to which you own me, Serge smirked.
“Of course I own you,” Marc asserted. “Friends need to be chaperoned, otherwise they'll get away...”

Marc went on to explain (again paraphrasing) that he simply could not abide the fact that his friend, the one whose purpose was to validate his own existence, could possibly turn to an ideal so foreign, so opposite of the sensibilities that he had. It was clear that Marc considered the gift of individuality to be granted only to himself. If his friends exerted opposing sensibilities, it would be simply unacceptable. He would not allow his world to be compromised in this way.

He wasn’t smiling when he said it. The audience grows silent. Somehow the joke is no longer funny. Suddenly the viewer is forced to form an opinion. Does Marc "have the right" to feel this way about his friend’s choices? Laughing off such overt self-centeredness was no longer an option. This wasn’t George Costanza asserting that he has “hand” in the relationship. This was a moment of abject frustration, forcing Marc to be frighteningly honest, revealing a sad side of human nature that we all should guard against falling prey to.

According to my personal observation, the number one target of Seinfeld’s satirical bow is the self-absorbed, mercenary nature of modern society. How often is our attitude based on “what’s in it for me?” instead of doing something for someone without outward reward or recognition?

How often do we join Marc in assuming that our friends “have no right” to change, grow and/or pursue interests which differ from our own?

Marc is so ridiculously mercenary in his opinion of Serge’s position about what is important to Serge, that it actually is comical — and sad. The question is how close to home does it hit?

Still too close for comfort
So how does this relate to my previous friendship-related stories? When I first decided to write about the play, I thought it interesting in terms of how much differently it posed the concept of friendship than what I’d just again experienced in re-connecting with my old friends in California. The unassuming nature of Bee, the always unsolicited random acts encouragement from Cindy. These relationships, I thought at first, are miles from the petty, controlling calculations revealed by Marc. What a wonderful foil with which to talk about how wonderful my friendships are. Once again, "Geeze Louise, I’m glad I’m not like that guy!"

Yet upon reflection of the play and thinking about how to describe it, more and more I was reminded how many times I have in my heart of hearts thought and responded so much like Marc.

I thought about the way I felt toward my friend Skeez, in the wake of our friendship’s all but complete atrophy in the years soon after he got married. How dare he suddenly not have time to hang out with me? Even more, how dare his wife restrict my access to the friend who was my constant companion for years before she even knew he existed?

And that wasn’t the only time I’ve been stupid enough to have those kind of petty thoughts. There have been times even recently that I’ve caught myself feeling jealous and hurt about friendships that inexplicably die off, regardless of my attempts to revive them.

The fact of the matter is that people and their circumstances change. Sometimes they take you along, and sometimes they don’t. Most of the time it’s nobody’s fault. It just “is.” Unfortunately I don’t always want to accept that.

Am I the only one who is that shallow? I certainly hope not — not that I’m looking for company, mind you. I’d really just like to forget that such a notion has ever existed in my head. I’d much prefer that the person I try so hard to portray on the outside is always the same inside, instead of the selfish, bitter self-serving twerp that still rears his ugly head from time-to-time, just beneath the surface.

But sometimes I do need to be reminded that he still exists.

And sometimes opportunities to peel the onion* a few layers deeper show up when you least expect them.

The climax of Art, interestingly enough is a happy one. Marc’s indignation is assuaged by Serge via a somewhat symbolic, yet meaningful gesture. The true tragedy in my opinion is that the wrong person acquiesced. Sure, we’ve all known a few “Marc’s” in our lives, and we also know that most of the time they’ll never allow themselves to be so introspective to be able, let alone willing to see their own shortcomings. So sometimes you just have to take the good with the bad and be the "bigger person."

But I think the most important thing I was reminded of is that I can’t worry about trying to make other people change — I can only strive to be honest with myself — and always be the best that I can be.

And that is an art unto itself


*Peel the onion is a registered catch phrase of Inanna.
©2004. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
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