I had to ask for the Chinese fortune cookies this week, which is why the lady dumped a handful in the bag as I left, sticking me with two fortunes and a choice of which one best suits me.
I’ve always been a lucky cur – growing up with almost no talent as opposed to my best friend who was artist, musician, writer, actor and such, and could never choose between them and so went from one to the other in an endless litany that made him resemble a pin ball bouncing off bumpers but almost no score.
I know someone today just like that – and have become addicted to songs, art and writing, only not to have the person leap off that kick leaving me hanging. I have read one piece of this person’s fiction so many times, I have it nearly memorized and can hum all the tunes.
I grew up imitating other people’s art, getting inside of it, learning how to do what the people I envy do.
I still do this with my reporting, reading what I like, especially reporters I work with, and trying to succeed the way they do. With one reporter I worked with in the early 1990s, I recorded his work so I could listen to it, as if his work was inside my head just as I’ve done for people like Tom Wolf and EB White, thinking that if I hear what they are writing, it gets into my head better, and with headphones, it is almost as if I am walking around inside their heads.
I still read many stories aloud from fellow reporters, drawing odd looks at the Coach House Diner when I do this over breakfast on Saturdays, forcing me to retreat to my car where passers’ by only see my lips moving and think I’m merely crazy.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they say, with me it’s more like adoration. I don’t try to absorb anything unless I truly admire it and want it to become part of me.
But then, I’ve always been a sponge, drawing everything I can inside me, trying to mix it up to come out with some sense of my own.
Having little or no talent growing up, I was forced to work harder at this, often making a fool of myself with my imitations because they started out as crap and over time grew into something meaningful, sometimes even nearly as good as those I admired in the first place.
But giving people too much of a choice is frustrating to people like me, who wait with breathless anticipation for the next song or poem or piece of fiction, only to find the author or singer or poet has moved on.
Now, with two fortune cookies, I’m in a similar dilemma.
Do I follow the first and “Think highly off yourself, for the world takes you at your own estimate,” or do I follow the second’s words of wisdom: “to think is easy. To act is difficult. To act as one thinks is the most difficult of all?”
I tend to lean towards the second, and have most of my life, leaving the first for other more notable people, others who need the world to take their estimate, when I know what my worth is already.