My name is Ozymandias, king of kings. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair! — from “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley
The question comes innocently enough, one of those last, dreamy attempts to stay awake after the bedtime story has ended and the lights have gone out.
“Dada, are you famous?”
“No, Nick. I’m not famous. If you ever have to choose between fame and money, pick money.”
I’m not rich either, but at least I have my priorities right. Why the hell does it matter to him if I’m famous?
“Go to sleep now, you can ask more in the morning.”
“What land are you going to?” he says.
“I’ll be going to Dreamland.” I say.
“See you there,” he says, shutting his eyes.
I turn on his night light and close the door.
I have famous friends, friends in high places. Their names would astound you. I’m friends with Queen Elizabeth. I had sleep overs with George Washington. Julius Caesar and I are in a writing group together.
It starts young, this obsession. When I was Nick’s age, I wanted to be president. Didn’t we all want to be president? What is it?
Lately I’ve been reading Alain de Botton’s Status Anxiety. I think the idea was to relieve my anxiety by understanding how it’s universal and not particular to me.
A technique de Botton mentions is to think of how large the world is, how very large and long, yet how it pales in the fires of the Milky Way, and how the Milky Way thins to a dust mote on the horizon of time.
Once, only once, on a clear, moonless night at 8,000 feet in the Sierras, I looked up into a sky so brilliant that the stars were lanterns you could stretch out and touch. This is your true home, I thought, and God is your friend.
The thing is, sometimes God is my friend, and sometimes not. And when he is not, then I have to be my friend, which isn’t easy.
I suppose I must admit, if I am honest, that I would have liked my father to be famous. Would liked to have known that the person most important to me was important to the world and counted for something in the eyes of others.
A trap, that is.
I once heard Allen Ginsburg read at a local venue.
Somebody asked him what his life was like.
“I spend 25% of my time being a writer,” he said. “And 75% being Allen Ginsburg.”
I think Nick would not like it if I spent 75% of my time being Wolf Pascoe, leaving him to grasp for his share of the remaining quarter. So I’ve put that off for the time being.
I have a friend who has a famous grandfather. Not fifteen minute famous, but hundred-years famous, reputation still growing decades after his death. My friend’s father, son of the great man, worked in the same profession. Walked in that shadow his whole life. It didn’t turn out well for him.
“The thing is,” my friend says, “My father was more talented than my grandfather. But he didn’t know how to promote himself.”
The 75/25 problem again.
ARS LONGA VITA BREVIS
In the long view, nothing we create lasts. Creation must be its own reward. Not an original thought, nor a comforting. I try to convey it to Nick even as I struggle to make it real to myself.
He shows me a drawing he’s working on.
“Dada, do you like this?”
“The green jumps out at you,” I say.
“But do you like it?”
“It looks like you had fun drawing it,” I say. “See how this line turns back on itself like it’s laughing.”
He seems satisfied. A bullet dodged.
“Is writing fun?” he says.
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:
Tom O’Bedlam reads Shelley’s “Ozymandias.” Worth every bit of your minute. Nary a better poetry reader is to be found.
Image credit: Guerneville Buddha by Dennis Mojado
What’s your knock on fame? Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)
If you like this post and have a Facebook, Twitter, or other social media account, please consider sharing it. Click below.