Imagine you’re 80 (and other vacation thoughts)

I’m on vacation this week in the sun and made up my mind before I left that I would read some fiction while on the trip and take a break from my usual non-fiction learning-oriented self-betterment parade of books.

I guess I thought taking a break from thinking to much would mean I would maybe relax more.

Strange thought, I know.

But I just can’t help it. Even fictional characters in make-believe locations can teach you about yourself. Maybe even in more ways than the true stories.

Ok, so the novel I’m reading is Once Upon A Time in Hollywood by Quinten Tarantino (yes, I’ve also seen the movie). It seemed like a perfect by-the-pool book. The novel follows a couple of later-in-career, mid-life, male Hollywood denizens: one is an actor and the other is a stuntman.

The actor (Rick Dalton) is career-obsessed, egocentric, self-conscious, and moody. As you might expect, he is pretty unhappy much of the time.

The stuntman (Cliff Booth) is good-looking, unconcerned with the opinion of others, lives minimally, and seems to be ready for any opportunity. As you might expect, he seems pretty happy.

One theme of the book has to do with the different ways the two characters relate to the stage of life they are in. Are they past their prime or not? Did they waste their opportunities to this point? Do these questions matter?

The characters work because we can relate to them both, see a little (or a lot) of ourselves in each.

Before we left for the trip I was thumbing through Oliver Burkeman’s Help! How to become slightly happier and get a bit more done.In the first chapter, he writes about the following exercise as a helpful perspective shift:

Imagine you’re 80, then complete these sentences: ‘I spent too much time worrying about…’ and ‘I spent too little time doing things such as…’

I think those questions are really good for perspective setting, but I don’t agonize over them as much as Rick agonizes over his feelings that he is washed up at midlife. Maybe I don’t relate to that notion in the same way, but also, I’m only halfway to 80!

The answer to those questions could be answered by my impressions of these two characters in the Once Upon A Time. I spent too much time being like Rick and too little time being like Cliff. Don’t we all?

“What is success?
To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate the beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch Or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded!”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

As far as the first 40 goes, I think I’ve been pretty successful as far as Ralph defines it, which seems pretty solid.

Ok, now that I’ve got that out of the way, my thinking is done for the moment.

Back to enjoying some pulp fiction by the pool.

3 Comments

Thanks for sharing your thoughts in this post!

I consider myself pretty successful too, going by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s surprisingly (to most people) interesting definition of success that has nothing to do with cheap things like money, status, prestige.

Comments welcome!