“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” –David Copperfield
I know I’m not the first person to think of this–Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” says it with much more wit and poignancy than I could ever muster–but what with this being 2015 and all, 31 years since 1984, 14 years after 2001, and the very year, I learned from a TV news program the other day, that 1989’s “Back To the Future II” is set in, I have been a little overwhelmed by the fact that I am living in what science fiction has primed me to think of as the far-off future. I’m not exactly senescent, but I’m far enough past the mid-point of my allotted three-score and ten that “middle-aged” is a euphemism. The narrative arc of my life is way past the point where something big and triumphant could occur to redeem or vindicate it, or send it off in any new direction but down. I’m too married to get the girl and too old to land the big promotion; my children are already out in the world. If I ever was the hero of my own life, its times for heroics came and went without any major fireworks.
Everybody probably feels this way at some point, even bonafide A-listers. Our subjectivity, the fact that we experience the world from the vantage of our own heads, and hence through the lenses of our prejudices, interests, desires, and disappointments, creates the illusion that we are the ultimate subject of whatever production it is our fate to be cast in.
A long time ago I was waiting for a table outside the dining room of a mediocre expense account restaurant when I noticed that the man behind me in line was Robert L. Bernstein, who until just a few years before had been the Chairman and President of Random House. If I’d had any doubt who he was, it was dispelled when he gave his name to the hostess and she impassively checked it off her list. He was wearing an expensive suit, but he didn’t fill it out quite like he did when I’d see him climbing into or out of a limo outside 201 E 50th Street. Seeing him was a little like reading the obituary of a former personage you hadn’t realized was still alive–a Hollywood star of the 1930s; the first black US Senator since Reconstruction. In his mind, though, the world was still revolving around him, because of course it was, right up until he drew his last breath.
Stupid people go through life without realizing how stupid they are, because they are lacking in the smart stuff that would allow them to take the true measure of their capacities; supernumeraries like Rosencrantz and Goldwag believe that they are really stars, even if they are just walk-ons, or more likely still, faceless extras in an unimportant crowd scene.
No matter how humble and self-effacing we try to be, we are all narcissists and conspiracy theorists to one degree or another. It’s how we’re wired.