1 August 2014

As I have informed some of you previously, this is one of the bonfires that I regularly set in aid of navigation for jet airliner pilots 35,000 feet above me flying between Denver International Airport and O'Hare. I provide this service only in clement weather. The rest of the time they are on their own.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

I like to start every day slowly and then taper off. This affords me time to consider interesting questions.

Many have asked me, "Steve, what does it feel like to be the luckiest person in the world?" How does one answer that question? It seems to me that question calls upon me to draw some contrast between how I feel and how an unlucky man feels. Since I have had luck for my entire life, how am I to know how an unlucky man feels in contradistinction to how I feel? At a loss in the face of that question, I usually turn the conversation to the weather.

We are all vainer of our luck than of our merits. --Nero Wolfe.

Probably true and also the reason that I shall not list the various ways in which I have been--and am--lucky. Modesty, albeit false, prevents me from doing that. In lieu of that mind-numbing itemization, I propose this. Because I am hands down the luckiest person in the world, I happen to know a good deal about luck. Many have pretended to some expertise on the subject and misled impressionable youth with mistaken ideas as a result. I intend to set straight some of this.

I am a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have. --Unknown.

This is just a sly, snarky way of demeaning the preëminent value of luck. No, Samuel Goldwyn is not the source of this. And whoever first attributed this statement to Thomas Jefferson was a disoriented soul indeed.

Let us for a moment suppose that this unknown deponent had instead idled about and never worked at all let alone in a hard way, a lifestyle about which I know something, too. Who is to say that he would not have been just as lucky or perhaps even luckier? Putting it another way, he may have simply fucked up the larger supply of luck he did have with all that hard work.

Gary Player is credited with a cute variation on this to the effect that the more he practiced golf, the luckier he was at the game. I believe that the sooner we start ignoring the bon mots of grown men who make their living playing a game while other grown men watch them, the luckier society will be.

Shallow men believe in luck, believe in circumstances: It was somebody's name, or he happened to be there at the time, or, it was so then, and another day it would have been otherwise. Strong men believe in cause and effect. --Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Don't get me started on Ralph Waldo Emerson . . . . Oops! To late! I am already started. Some years ago I was sitting in a movie theater watching Saving Private Ryan while munching on some popcorn and some Dots® and washing it all down with a large Coke®. Somewhere in a lull in the action, Captain Miller has a conversation with Corporal Upham about Emerson. Both characters are educated men. I said to myself, "Gosh, I need to read some more Emerson."

Fool that I was, I set about to do just that. This is a writer whose style is utterly opaque. And as with all opaque stylists, one soon finds that the opacity is there for a reason. The man has nothing of any truth to say. I would rather go mine salt than read another word of Emerson. Poor confused man. Consider this that he wrote:

War educates the senses, calls into action the will, perfects the physical constitution, brings men into such swift and close collision in critical moments that man measures man.

Reading that makes me want to jerk him forward to 1968, air drop him into Quang Tri Province, let him thrash around there for 13 months, and then see what this benighted man has to say on the subject after he comes out, if he comes out. If he were to come out in one piece, he would no doubt be a big convert as far as belief in the efficacy of luck is concerned, assuming that God gave him any sense at all, a proposition in support of which I have no evidence to offer.

Looking on the bright side, I see progress in American thought on the subject as evidenced by its literature:

The only thing I ever learned was that some people are lucky and other people aren't and not even a graduate of the Harvard Business School can say why. --Kurt Vonnegut.

Lest I seem cynical in all this, let me leave you with a heart-warming sentiment. The distribution of luck is not the zero sum game that characterizes so much of our contemporary life on this beleaguered planet. Simply because I am the luckiest person in the world and have soaked up so much of it does not mean that you cannot have some luck, too. So it is that with the warmest of personal regards, I wish you ¡Buena suerte!

We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred? --Richard Dawkins

Views: 145

Comment by koshersalaami on February 16, 2017 at 2:30pm

Truthful or a lucking fibberal?

Comment by nerd cred on February 16, 2017 at 4:05pm

I have nothing to add. The photo is gorgeous, the ideas brilliant, the writing wonderful. Thanks.

Comment by JMac1949 Today on February 16, 2017 at 4:18pm

Despite a population of more than seven billion, being born human on planet Earth is a remarkable event against astronomical odds.  No whining.

Comment by marilyn sands on February 16, 2017 at 4:32pm

"Luck".  Is it being Lucky in love, in health, in family, in monetary fortunes, in friendships, in education, choice of profession or being able to lie all the way to the White House?  Or is it - just not being superstitious?  R&L

Comment by Stephen Brassawe on February 16, 2017 at 4:40pm

Yes, I confess it, Kosher.

You really are too kind, nerd cred.

JMac, ‘tis true. Soon to be nine billion. I hasten to add that I do appreciate that there are those who are born into a brief life of relentless pain. I do not pretend to know how they would react to this proposition. I do not know, but I would respect their perspective. I suspect that they would recognize the concept of luck in some fashion similar to how I perceive it. As for me, the luckiest person in the world, this scrawny little body of mine has provided me with one helluva pleasurable ride. That is a large item in my itemization of many other things.

Comment by Stephen Brassawe on February 16, 2017 at 4:57pm

Aha, marilyn. What a cogent question! Truth to tell, I have some problem with Nero Wolfe's observation. Not all are vainer of their luck. There are those about whom the converse might be said:

  Some of us are vainer of our self-perceived merits than of our luck.

So how do we define luck? Lucky how? I do not envy anyone who lives a life of material opulence. They are too often fucked up.

Comment by greenheron on February 16, 2017 at 6:27pm

You managed to watch Saving Private Ryan while eating a box of dots, a bag of popcorn, and a coke without barfing? You ARE a lucky man!

I'm pretty lucky too–a high school drop out runaway, lived on the street, in a tipi, in a commune, food stamps for two years, shoplifter, doer of Bad Girl things. I was supposed to die young, or end up in the pokey, or the psych hospital, or rehab, where most of my friends from those days are. Something happened. I'm not sure what.

Anyhoo. Congratulations. You deserve it.  

Comment by Foolish Monkey on February 16, 2017 at 7:07pm

this is good - thought provoking. 

I believe in luck and I always have - that being born an american in new york when it was really new york, born with the gift of obsession and creativity, relative good looks, coming from strong stock, so I've got solid bones, cute toes, big teeth, I've seen some things, been some places, not too shabby in love....I had what might be termed phases  - like the moon.  I gave birth to a couple of great sons who gave me dazzlingly goodlooking grandkids with maybe some smarts, and all of us are alive - knock on wood.

my life could have gone decidedly south, but it didn't.  the way it went was good and I'm grateful. 

Comment by Stephen Brassawe on February 17, 2017 at 10:04am

I love those comments, Foolish and greenheron. They illustrate something.

I intended this piece as an expression of my impatience little adages and nostrums and memes that are fronted up with the implicit suggestion that they provide salutary rules by which we ourselves should lead our lives. The fact is that they often fall apart under any scrutiny because they do not at all capture the complexity of it all.

Take the sentiment first expressed by the unknown person. We always hear it expressed in an economic context, luck being synonymous with the accumulation of wealth. That is shallow as both of your comments illustrate so well.

I acknowledge that I did fall short in one regard. In the attack on Ralph Waldo Emerson, I was attempting to channel the constant, ill-controlled rage of John Goodman's character, Walter Sobchak, in The Big Lebowski. I find that character to be hilarious. I can do it fairly well orally, but it is very difficult to do in writing, I find.

Comment by Theodora L'Engle Knight on February 20, 2017 at 9:01pm

what nerd said!!! and a lot of what others said. someone said that luck is preparation meets opportunity. that makes sense to me and i think is a lot of what you were talking about. malcolm gladwell in Outliers talks about how people who achieve great things put in at least 10,000 hours to reach those heights. and luck in relationships??? has a lot to do with emotional intelligence. i'm being too clinical here, i'm sure.

i like what greenheron said so much. and i totally relate and celebrate the resilience, GH!

i work at it but i don't feel lucky. a lot of challenging things happened starting when i was a toddler. the luck is, i guess, that like GH, i am not a heroin addict or a stripper or a hooker or in jail or in a psych ward although i would kind of kill to be able to afford to check in to one from time to time. one of the few visits there i was very popular with the nurses because i was high functioning and could find my room and didn't wear my hospital gown backwards. those are my peeps, man.

thank you so much for this. i'm praying to find a comedy buddy to go with me to open mikes. those are my peeps for real. if i can do that again, i will feel lucky and like i deserve to be on this planet.


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