A question that has exercised my mind for a long time now is why anyone would ever force themselves to do anything again when they have a huge success to their name. I know that for me, just the one, even middling, winner to my credit would, were it sufficiently lucrative, be carte blanche for me never again to lift a finger.
To tell you the truth, I don’t recall ever having had any energy even as a child. I would have brief injections of liveliness while a) preparing to enter Luna Park’s huge concrete mouth; b) buying a showbag at the Royal Easter Show; or c) taking my preferred route around Fantasy Glades, an excellent fairytale-based theme park in Port Macquarie. (It focused primarily on Snow White but also gave space to such lesser lights as Mother Hubbard, and had, I believe, been founded by a dwarf husband and wife.) Of course, the only reason I remember these instances of feeling energetic is that they were so unusual. So, given my lifetime lack of vigour, I am a real enthusiast for the concept of resting on one’s laurels; I would only like the opportunity to do so. Therefore, I am disgusted at the way that those who manifestly do have the opportunity so often do not seem to want to take it.
Perhaps the most obvious exponents of this conduct are Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld. With Seinfeld, I need hardly say, these men managed the extremely rare feat of creating something that was hugely popular and also highly respected. Nonetheless, Larry David then saw fit to plunge into doing Curb Your Enthusiasm. Naturally, we are all thrilled that he did, but that doesn’t mean I understand why he put himself to the trouble in the first place; there would have been less risk for him in travelling back in time and taking part in ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’. Jerry Seinfeld, of course, did something even madder, by throwing himself back into doing stand-up comedy. I would find the prospect of being conscripted less troubling than that of having to do even two minutes of stand-up comedy. I do understand that the man was performing for massive sums of money, in front of adoring fans primed to laugh the second he opened his mouth, as opposed to taking his chances at the open mike night at the Friend in Hand, but it would still have been a most effortful thing to do.
What can the explanation for their behaviour be? Now, I know from the Tom-Hanks-driven Punchline, 1978 Jack Albertson telemovie The Comedy Company and Alan Parker’s Fame, that comedians are all mentally unstable and have something to prove to their fathers. I know this because of the inevitable climax when one of their monologues disintegrates into crazed, tearful rambling in front of an uncomfortable audience and they have to be led off stage. This can be seen in all three of these works, not to mention Tom Hanks also dancing tormentedly in the rain. But, even assuming that Punchline, The Comedy Company and Fame are truthful to a point of documentary realism, being nutty and having parental issues describes everyone walking the earth, as far as I can see; this doesn’t, though, make most of them any less keen to retire as soon as humanly possible.
I do recognise the helpfulness of paid employment in making a person feel as though her existence isn’t entirely pointless. But wouldn’t a massive success, and the resulting pots of money, give you enough sense of accomplishment for a lifetime? Yes, I often hear people say that they like a challenge, but can this really be so? I don’t like a challenge; what I like is for everything to go smoothly and for no one to bother me. Further to this, I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard people in office lifts talking of how much they have on their plates, but saying that they prefer to be busy. Me, I do not prefer to be busy; what I prefer is to spend the maximum amount of time at work uninterruptedly attending to my own concerns. Also, the less I have to do, the less I want to do. When I am on holiday, it takes about half a day for me to get to the point that I am outraged at the idea of even having to walk down the street to post a letter.
Like most people, I am going to have to work ceaselessly into my old age because if I don’t, I will starve to death. If it weren’t for this, though, I would spend my days reading thick books about show business and eating ‘gourmet’ ice cream straight from the carton. However, I would enjoy these activities even more if I had a major triumph safely behind me, and so could relax in good conscience. This is when I look to the example of Harper Lee. I’ve never actually read To Kill a Mockingbird, and I’m confident that if I did, I wouldn’t like it, but there is nothing that I would like more than to emulate her style in turning out a staple of high school syllabuses all over the world and then just leaving it at that.
To my mind, having a big success and electing never to do anything else again has all the benefits of dying and having everyone talking about your unrealised potential, yet being around to savour their many laudatory comments. If life offers anything sweeter than that, I would like to know what it is.