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After the Golden Age by Alvin Schwartz
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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 11/03/2003
Volume 2, #100

I get a lot of mail and Message Board comments on how great it would feel to be like Superman--or, in fact, to be Superman. But let's start with something much less-- like owning a Ferrari, so I can demonstrate what we're talking about, which is the difference between the anticipation and the reality. In fact, the work on getting the Ferrari (or its equivalent) has already been done by various experimental psychiatrists. And the major finding was that the anticipation was always greater than the reality. You're never as happy with the thing desired as the original desire promises. You get your Ferrari and--well--it's nice. It's okay--and then maybe--well-- you get used to it and it isn't so much after all. That seems to be the case with everything from cars to sex to money. In fact, the findings are that our anticipations tend to mislead us drastically in both directions. Even the fear of an anticipated catastrophe appears to be never as great as the actual catastrophe. Somehow, we find a way to cope beyond what we anticipated as possible. In other words, we're driven mostly by our anticipations, and we're usually let down considerably when those anticipations are realized.

One of the psychiatric findings was the discovery that beyond a middle-class income, there's really not much zest added to life by suddenly coming into millions. Once past the anticipation stage--things get down to being--well--pretty much the way they were. Not nearly as great as we imagined.

Now Superman appears to be a different case. Think of it--you can do practically anything you want-- fly, go back in time, wrestle 100 lions, see, hear and take note of practically anything anywhere. But you don't need the psychiatrists to tell you that here too it's all in the anticipation. It's obvious to anyone who's ever read a Superman story. Life for Supes is just one problem after another. No--not just because otherwise there wouldn't be any story. It goes deeper than that.

You get USED TO BEING SUPERMAN. No matter who or what you are--being that person, even Superman, is no great shakes. But when you're NOT Superman, it really looks wonderful.

Okay--I'm going to help you realize your dream. Presto-whammo--you're now Superman. You've got it all. And the thrill of being able to help all those people--just that alone makes it worthwhile--right?

Actually, if that were the case, Superman should be very satisfied with himself. So what does he do now? What's there to want that he can't have? What's there to do that he can't do? Think hard about that. There's nothing he can really want or needs to strive for. He has no desires he can't satisfy. Well--maybe some moral struggles about things he should keep his hands off. But, apart from having that much in common with the rest of us, he might very well be the most bored guy in the world, because he doesn't have anything he has to work for or strive for.

What all this means is that given a reasonable subsistence level, not one of us could stand being ourselves unless we had some desires and had to work for them. As the poet Blake put it so clearly: "Desire is the Holy Spirit." That's where the zest of living comes in. Not in the actual accomplishment, although there may be a bit of a glow for a while. Maybe even a big glow. But if we don't begin to get disappointed with that accomplishment pretty soon, a terrible lassitude sets in, a kind of deadness. We NEED to want things. And it's important too that in achieving those wants, they're always a lot less than we thought they'd be. Because then we have new wants and start to feel alive again as we pursue them. It certainly seems to work that way.

But--there's one want we can really do without. Do not--I say, DO NOT want to be Superman. You might wind up being bored to death. Even worse, if you ARE Superman, what else can there be to want? Ask Superman. He's used to himself. And probably pretty bored. So stepping out of his costume and becoming Clark Kent--that must be quite a relief for the poor guy.

Now--before I go, I'm going to let you in on something else. There IS something else. There's something that keeps you--most of the time, anyway--in a perpetual glow. It has something to do with realizing your connection with the universe. Thinking in terms of the endless hunt we all engage in--let's just say that the fox is in the mirror. And the mirror is in the hunter. And, for the most part, in these columns, I've been trying to tell you that in a great variety of ways and I hope you've been listening.


<< 10/27/2003 | 11/03/2003 | 11/17/2003 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.

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