Tuesday, March 04, 2008

"It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live . . ."

If you were given the choice, who would you be--George Bailey or Harry Bailey?

George Bailey, the star of Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (as played--surely you know--by Jimmy Stewart) is the dutiful son and family man. He longs to hear "anchor chains, plane motors, and train whistles" but he stays behind in Bedford Falls to live the life of a ordinary father and husband. Harry Bailey is George's younger brother, the one who leaves home to go to college, the one who goes to war and becomes a hero, the one who lives the exciting life with the fancy job and the congressional medal of honor that was pinned on by the president.

George is convinced that his life is meaningless and less significant. He comes to believe that it would be better to end his life and earn his life insurance payout (thereby becoming more valuable to his family) than to continue down a path of "bankruptcy and scandal and prison." It takes divine intervention for George to realize that the small increments of a life well-lived do have meaning . . . and just might make you "the richest man in town."

Who would you choose to be? Which path would you choose . . . or which path would you allow to choose you?

(I'm pretty sure you can guess which path I have taken and if you haven't it might be a telling clue that I have this poster framed in my house.)

I raise this question, because it got me thinking the other day when I ran across an Internet story about a new documentary that just showed at the SXSW movie festival last week. We Are Wizards tells the story of several people within the Harry Potter fan universe and in the process of the telling, illuminates some interesting aspects of the HP fandom.

(Here's the trailer:)

The topic of the movie excites me for what, I am sure are obvious reasons, but it is also significant that I am familiar with some of the people profiled in the film. But I am also saddened by the sense that these people are out there doing it, working hard, carving out a niche for themselves. As the movie site says these are "the influential figures leading the creative subculture surrounding the popular Harry Potter book series." I hear about these people that are (other than this part of their lives) pretty normal and unremarkable and I wonder "Why them?" I compare their blog sites, critique and am envious of their HTML designs. I observe their hit count statistics and I am (yes, I admit it) jealous of their success, jealous of their ability to go out and DO . . .)

To use another movie analogy, I might be like Richard Dreyfuss's character in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." He became absolutely convinced that what he saw was real, even though no one else understood or believed him. But he allowed his conviction and his obsession to rip his life apart in order to follow his obsession to its conclusion

Maybe these people achieve the "success" I am jealous of by putting so much of their extra life into it. I am simply a participant in it, an observer of it. To do anything else requires a reshaping of my life that I am not willing to do/am not capable of doing/am afraid to do/have no right to do. For what, exactly? How does any of this make my life more important, better, more meaningful? Ultimately, I'm just jealous of something that may seem easy, but I'm sure is anything but. (And once I some day watch the documentary, I'm sure I'll recognize how hard it actually is.)

So, in the end, I'm George Bailey.

And isn't the point of THAT movie to show you that this is actually a great person to be?


Sven Golly said...

It's worth watching "Pollock" again just to be reminded of how much fun it is to be a great artist.

lulu said...

You raise many interesting points, Burb. I am reminded of the Dave Matthews song "Dancing Nancies"--"Could I have been...a (whatever)".

What is it, exactly, that you want to do and aren't doing? It takes a large chunk of the day to do what you already do! Maintaining a running commentary on the gobs of media that you are interested in, and having someone stumble across that blog and making it an international phenomenon would mean other roles would be diminished. If not fatherhood or work, at least your time to decompress and just do nothing but watch.

I feel ya, Burb. I, too, have had my "am I a significant person?" moments, wondering about what I'm leaving behind on this earth, wondering if I'm truly a dynamic person or just another schlub, stumbling through the days.

I've pretty much concluded that I am a dynamic schlub.

But I'm cool with that.

Sven Golly said...

Let me add that this is an issue near and dear to my bourgeois, underachieving heart; my brother, whom you would like, is both Harry (Bailey not Potter) and George (long story), and he's married to Donna Reed. And who is the conniving villain played by Lionel Barrymore? Old man POTTER, of course! Coincidence?

David said...

Lulu, you are correct that to achieve in this way would demand sacrifices.

Ultimately, I recognize that my life is, in all important measures, a fantastic one. When I write this stuff, I feel guilty that I deign to even give any impression that I have significant stuff to complain about.

And yet . . . I suppose the point of it is that (from a significant distance) it seems that these people "got lucky" and have become recognized for their hobby/obsession. In reality, their hobby shifted into a second job a while back or they would not be recognized at all.

Anonymous said...

everyone should do the most he/she can to make the world a better place. as long as that's happening, he/she is doing okay.