Meet George. He is the lesser known brother for Edvard Munch’s The Scream due to some hair gel issues and lack of motivation to be recognized. That is why this napkin from my local diner was the perfect venue for him rather than a canvas featured at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A note on the whole notion of mediocrity. I was listening to several parents this week speak of their children’s futures. One felt their 7th grader needed to be placed in an honors program because she got A’s too easily and seemed to be “drifting” into the realm of the arts. Another parent spoke of her child graduating with a degree in the arts. There was some talk of whether the graduating student should pursue teaching or “not settle for a mediocre life and go after her dream of being famous instead” within her chosen arts degree. The opinions about pursuing the arts, or teaching, for that matter was deemed to be the dreaded mediocrity! It’s a word that is treated like a social disease and a slippery slope into a life of dissatisfaction. The discussion brought me back to my teenage years in high school. A beloved English teacher of mine who appeared to like my writing style declared that one of my older sisters and one of my older brothers were destined for great things in life. It was true. Both siblings have done very well for themselves. My sister was (and is) very accomplished, intelligent, and had striking looks. My brother was an intelligent risk-taker with a lot of charisma, charm, and good looks. It was easy to see why my teacher would make that statement. Naturally, I asked, “What about me?” He declared, “Well, there’s something to be said about mediocrity.” I felt like I had been stamped with the Scarlet Letter M. I was devastated and, suddenly, resented my more accomplished siblings. Later on, he declared that I would probably become a teacher. He declared this after he told the class to never be a teacher. He made it seem as though he had just called me an ugly gutter rat instead. Clearly, he was having his own issues as a teacher and perhaps, I reminded him of himself at that age. I have been a teacher for nearly ten years so he was right about that too. I tend to keep to myself. Apparently, that was the blueprint for mediocrity in America since extroversion was valued over introversion. If you are an introvert reading this, pick up the book, Quiet: The Power of the Introvert in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. It’ll lift your spirits up in that regard. Here’s the ever popular Ted Talks lecture on the overlooked quiet ones as well if you give it a click.
Back to the present. After hearing the two parents make a plan to prevent their children from a life of mediocrity, I realized that the standard of mediocrity was based on societal expectations of success and not personal success. Glamorous, rich, and beautiful lifestyles are supposed to be better than our anonymous, pay check to pay check, and sometimes messy lives. And yet, one of the most popular books to date is a book called Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach. Each meditation in the book teaches individuals to find the extraordinary in the simple tasks of each day. I think it helps individuals to find their own path in life and approach each day with profound awareness rather than rely on the traditional roads to success deemed by society. I remember a line from my mom’s favorite poet, Robert Frost,
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Did I take the road less traveled? My career is a bit traditional. Drawing on napkins at diners lacks the ambition needed to receive any accolades. And yet, as I allow myself to draw, the creative reservoirs within me manifests itself onto my napkin. I discover something extraordinary about humanity in our ability to create. My ordinary interests belies extraordinary revelations found within the ordinary passing of each day. I have decided that I don’t think it matters which path in the woods we have taken. It matters what we observe along the way that makes all the difference.