Essays About


I instinctively envy celebrities with their adoring crowds until I remember how little I like to socialize, altering my route on walks to avoid passing long-winded neighbors. I would only have wanted to be a celebrity before cameras and television, when admirers knew your name but not your face, and you could pass among them incognito. Today's celebrities enjoy every luxury except solitude. Like fugitives, they cannot visit the grocery store without hiding in hats and sunglasses. Their fame grants them access to privileged places but bars them from common places. To know yourself seems impossible when everyone knows you. The true self is the unrehearsed self, but spontaneity hides from an audience. I pity presidents who must issue official responses immediately after tragedies, unable like laymen to have a private reaction. They cannot attend to how they feel on account of planning what they must say. Even on private retreats where the press are barred, the protagonists of future history books are seldom alone, for they violate their solitude with the thought of their posthumous biographers. In fixating on how their fans and critics see them, they evict themselves from the private residence of their soul, giving up inner knowledge for a stranger's view of the exterior.

Privacy is life's consolation prize for worldly insignificance. Whomever the public does not ignore, it enslaves. Fame is like a spice: a little flavors life, but a lot ruins it.

Success, by way of ambition, leads to failure. The more we achieve, the more we think we can achieve; our hopes rise exponentially in relation to our skill. Talented drama students, heartened by the cheers of local audiences, journey to Hollywood after high school, where everyone was a talented drama student, and there are only jobs as extras. The best baseball players in the minor league go to the major league, where they are the worst players. As air bubbles rise through water and dissolve in the atmosphere, the above average rise until they are average. As we ascend the ranks, our status falls.

Most of our successes are so modest as to better resemble failures. The ripples we make in society are detectable only by ourselves. Happily, we are masters at making the most of little. Our small feats appear huge through the microscope of our vanity. We plaster plaques and diplomas on our home office walls, a private shrine to self with one worshipper. We re-read to infinity newspaper clippings that quote us. We slip references to our latest achievements into conversations, as others are otherwise destined to ignorance of them. An internet search gets us giddy that five web pages—out of five hundred billion—mention our name.

The mind's hunger is not like the stomach's. The hungrier the stomach, the more it needs. The hungrier the mind, the less.

For a few days after we die, more people think of us simultaneously than ever did while we were living. Friends not seen for seven years drive seven hours for our funeral. Neighbors remember us to each other while raking their yards. Church ladies compliment our common qualities as rare virtues. Reading our name in newspapers, the whole town sighs for us over breakfast. In a week, the talk is moving on to other topics, and, being dead, we are powerless ever to call attention back to ourselves again.

Our names burn out like light bulbs, briefly flashing before going black.

Could I be any kind of celebrity, I would not be a politician. No celebrity can be admired by everyone, but most celebrities are merely ignored by non-admirers. A famous scientist bores and confuses the masses, who therefore pay no thought to famous scientists. Teenagers who do not like a pop star simply do not buy her albums. But whoever does not like a politician is likely to hate him, because what he produces are not albums but laws. Few can be indifferent toward someone whose actions reach into their lives. Political fame must send confusing signals to self-esteem. Does a president toast his ego that he was elected, or despair that polls show half the nation hates him?

It must grieve dead composers that their symphonies and concertos are regarded by the masses as perfectly suited for background music. The compositions worthiest of analysis go not only unanalyzed but almost unheard, merely filling awkward silence in elevators and waiting rooms, or setting a mood for sipping cocktails or making love. Subtlety and complexity in art sadly tend to undermine themselves. They cost more labor with less effect. They are hard to notice, in proportion as they are hard to create.