While on occasion I compliment myself to suppose I possess a degree of polish, it is likely nearer the cold truth that I am at best a plagiarist and at worse a sham. I regularly seek to submerge my confessed want of depth by expropriating what is recognizably the superior productions of others – redoubtables such as Jane Austin or Edward Gibbon (though shamefully I draw the line at Tolstoy for reasons yet unclear). Living vicariously through the brilliance of others is perhaps bordering on deceit but it’s the best I’ve been able to come up with so far.
At least that is if one discounts the treasure of dwelling in the shallows. There the waters are warm and clear, free from invaders and the imposition of standards. One can go about one’s business without having to prove anything or having always to look over one’s shoulder. As a consolation for my foibles I’ve effectively settled for the threat of superficiality, living on the shoals where life is uncomplicated even though maybe less histrionic. This entails a headlong capitulation to instinct which like all things elemental is potentially fraught with narrowness or insipidity. Whatever! Honestly it’s too late for me to recover.
Upon reflection it actually takes some talent to live within one’s means, not just financially (as is the customary thrust of the strategy) but also spiritually and philosophically. Yet in whatever manner the tactic is applied it involves compromise by which I mean not so much agreeableness as concession – a willingness to jettison certain remote aspirations for other immediate realities. This doesn’t mean the result is necessarily trite and thereby less worthy, just more intense and personally meaningful. Some people actually prefer hamburger to filet mignon so there’s the social parallel as well. Being “comfortable in your own skin” may constitute a more fulsome rendition of what I’m struggling with here. And speaking of Tolstoy, it was in fact he who observed that those who lack personal confidence often insist upon speaking a different language as though the facility somehow elevates them above others. Consider a more humorous context such as that promoted by E. F. Benson in his “Mapp and Lucia” series wherein Lucia goes to extraordinary lengths to fake a knowledge of Italian:
The novels feature humorous incidents in the lives of (mainly) upper-middle-class British people in the 1920s and 1930s, vying for social prestige and “One-upmanship” in an atmosphere of extreme cultural “Snobbery”. Several of them are set in the small seaside town of”Tilling”, closely based on”Rye, East Sussex”, where Benson lived for a number of years and (like Lucia) served as mayor. Lucia previously lived at “Riseholme”, based on “Broadway, Worcestershire”, from where she brought to Tilling her celebrated recipe for “Lobster a la Riseholme”.
All this is to say that none of us is perfect and that putting on harmless airs isn’t always the stuff of trenchant ethical battles. More significantly it serves us better to look upon the the happier side of our inadequacies and accommodations. Frankly I find I can oblige my scruples quite nicely by submitting instead to my preferred pleasures. There is no need to insist upon the metaphor of travel and distance to sanction worth; the more proximate details of living can be just as diverting as far as I am concerned, living in the shallows.
When it comes to being transparent about one’s gratifications there is nonetheless an apprehension which lingers. First, do I really presume that anything I privately think or do warrants publicity? I mean, dissolving into effusiveness and becoming all wrapped up in one’s petty undertakings is hardly the stuff of certain entertainment. But even leaving aside the debate about the true grit of living, certainly there is a level at which the discussion either fails the test of absorption or – dare I say it – intellect? Yet I have thrown up my hands! It has to be an advantage of decline to feel entitled by some connate measure to pronounce one’s broodings. If nothing else time is running out, so why not?
It is the magic of living that I am capable of extracting from almost any adventure, the succulent nectar. Circumscribed though my experience may be in comparison to others I nonetheless rejoice living in the shallows. Mine is a contented disposition though not a smug immodesty.