Today I write from the main reading room of the 42nd Street library, where Blaise Cendrars supposedly “forged in the smithy of his soul,” as James Joyce might say, his fiery name.
Sublime places do that—inspire all of us to name ourselves again, the way James Gatz made himself into Gatsby on the shores of opportunity.
Maybe the great modernists are coming to mind this morning because I just saw Midnight in Paris for the second time. My mother called to tell me there was an index to the movie available online if I wanted to know who all the modernists in the movie were.
I didn’t win that award for excellence in English in high school for nothin’, Ma. Except salary-wise.
These awards we win—the ones we don’t—the ones no one has ever been awarded. What are they for?
I have always disliked awards and award ceremonies. Recently, I attended one such ceremony where it was announced, “And now, let’s honor the captain of the team, Devon Green!” Everyone looked around nervously. Who was this Devon Green? And had the captain of the team we all knew won an award or not? “Who is the captain?” the master of ceremonies asked into the microphone. We sat for a little while, and then he moved on to the next award.
When we recognize individuals for outstanding character, are we not essentially rewarding them for following the rules? Or for smiling, or being likable? I am not sure why all these wonderful traits are not reward enough.
If there were more awards for courage, or triumph over adversity, we might end up with more people with excellent smiles in the world, which would result in a net gain for all of us.
To invite Amy Poehler to deliver the commencement address at Harvard is to say, “Thanks, Amy, for not taking life too seriously. Could you spread the word about this, please?” Poehler then takes the podium and says “Yes,” and concludes her remarks with “And remember, everything you see on television is true.” What award would she win for this statement?
1. The lying award.
2. The Oscar Wilde Award for witty, epigrammatic quipping.
3. The Robert Benchley Award for procrastination. Benchley, a member of Dorothy Parker’s Algonquin Round Table, wrote an essay called “How to Get Things Done” introducing the virtues of ADD seventy-five years ago.
4. The Kate Keller Award for denial. Kate, the Mom in All My Sons ably played by Diane Wiest not long ago, was very good at denial, an important life skill.
5. The Fruit of the Loom award for frivolity or for being a dancing fruit in underwear. Self-explanatory.
6. The Samuel Johnson award for confidently making statements without any information. Johnson was known in the eighteenth century for writing prefaces to books he had not read, based on his ideas of what the book should be about.
If we are awarding life skills and not just affability, we need these awards too… whether or not they are for Poehler I don’t know:
Julianne Moore’s “Mother” character in The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio Award for resilience.
The Up Couple Award for knowing what is in your bank account.
The Justin Long Character in He’s Just Not That Into You Award for being able to spot people who are manipulative, difficult or needy.
The Matt Damon Character of Will Hunting in Good Will Hunting Award for the ability to do work that is beneath your level of intelligence and not mind it, and also to be able to flip a switch and focus on a question of either math or reading comprehension.
The Will Ferrell Character in Stranger Than Fiction Award for knowing what time it is.((.
The list of important awards goes on, awarding us for such life skills as Not Falling in Love to Make Up for Some Deficit in Ourselves, Avoiding Careless Mistakes, Not Losing Things when Traveling, and Being Neat and Clean.
When we award, recognize, and the like, we are saying these things: “keep it up,” “change,” or “just clap for others.” Who is anyone to make these pronouncements upon the rest of us? As we move into the adjoining room for brandy and cigars after the ceremony, let he who lives in a house made of Brie roll the first wheel.