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Somebody famous

Somebody famous

by Wolf Pascoe on February 19, 2012

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair! — from “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley

persepolisThe 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.

Hubble galaxiesA 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.




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.

Guerneville_Buddha“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.

Most times.



How much do you know about the world, dada?





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.)


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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Chopperpapa February 19, 2012 at 9:25 am

” 10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 2: 10-11

I believe God is always our friend, it’s that sometimes I don’t think we are His.


Wolf Pascoe February 19, 2012 at 10:13 am

Someone asked Lincoln if he thought God was on the side of the North. He observed that in great contests, both sides thought that God was on their side, and that each might be, and one must be, wrong. He thought it fruitless to speculate on the matter, and didn’t worry about whether God was on his side. What he worried about, constantly, was if he were on God’s.


pamela February 19, 2012 at 12:51 pm

You always have a line that takes me out at the knees. This time it’s this:

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.


Wolf Pascoe February 19, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Be careful of those knees. No more running accidents!


Barbara February 19, 2012 at 10:46 pm

At my writer’s conference this weekend, one of the speakers stressed that if we’re writing to just to be published, we’re doomed. We must write just for the story’s sake. It reminds me of when my kids were little and wanted to be paid for the A’s on their report cards, like their friends were. I told them the A should be its own reward. (P.S. I agree with Chopperpapa… “I believe God is always our friend, it’s that sometimes I don’t think we are His.”)


Wolf Pascoe February 19, 2012 at 10:55 pm

“If you write for God you will reach many men and bring them joy. If you write for men–you may make some money and you may give someone a little joy and you may make a noise in the world, for a little while. If you write for yourself, you can read what you yourself have written and after ten minutes you will be so disgusted that you will wish that you were dead.”

― Thomas Merton, Seeds of Contemplation


Barbara February 19, 2012 at 11:08 pm

Love that quote (I’m a huge Merton fan.) Thanks for the reminder – that needs to go up on my desk along with all of my fortune cookie encouragements!


Wolf Pascoe February 19, 2012 at 11:44 pm

Tommy Merton! Fortune cookie whiz!


Privilege of Parenting February 20, 2012 at 1:49 am

I don’t hunger for fame, but I do want to be included—or should I say my wish is to carry the consciousness that I, along with everything and everyone, is included.

When it comes to those times when I thought that God (or whatever placeholder we employ to signify all that we cannot grasp or fathom, but within which we reside like so many thoughts within a mind) is not my friend it’s turned out that this is sometimes the very anguished and intimate space where one becomes the very best of friends with some bleak shard of God-consciousness—that God who Herself feels that She has no friend and cannot be loved or understood.

To be truly known, to be loved… perhaps that is the very dish to sate fame’s hunger? But to love no matter what… perhaps that holds the power to free us all?


Wolf Pascoe February 21, 2012 at 8:53 pm

The idea of God needing a friend reminds me of this by Rilke:

“Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.”


BigLittleWolf February 20, 2012 at 8:24 am

Sometimes we walk in the shadows of our parents, rather than in the shadow. Perhaps in their absence, as well as their presence.

Creation should be its own reward. Yes. But sometimes, a little compensation other than its own reward wouldn’t be unwelcome, now would it?



Wolf Pascoe February 21, 2012 at 8:54 pm

Yes. A little compensation other than its own reward would be most welcome indeed.

Hello? Anybody listening?


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