I Regret Everything

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 rw-self-ink-1976

          In my last year of teaching in Trinidad I had a good student who asked me one day,

          “Mr. Winsor, you have had such an interesting life and done so many things. Do you have any regrets?” And I replied easily, naturally,

          “I regret everything.” And he smiled as if he understood and I also smiled as if I understood. We shared a moment that touched  truth even if we were not able to grasp it.

          The choices we make, the roads we travel, negate all the other possibilities which in retrospect might have been more fruitful. If we look at it that way our contemplation is full of regret. Regret is a taint on experience but not the only one. Even the best experiences, the bright moments, have a sense of foreboding or a sense of inchoate loss. Very rarely is experience complete without something negative hanging off it. Nothing lasts in this world. That is at the root; a sense of time passing, opportunity lost, and mortality itself waiting to end what we know and take away everything we ever had.

          The existentialists- Camus, Sartre- felt the angst of existence, a panic sense of entrapment caused just by being in a body if for no other reason.

          When I first started drawing at age twenty-eight during a spiritually energetic time, my first graphic expressions were of a prison cell, a metaphor for the restrictions the body places on the spirit. That is how I felt it.

          Some people shake free, maybe by strength of character. I knew an old woman up in New Hampshire, tougher than a pine knot. Her name was Gert. She said,

          “I don’t spend much time thinking about what could have been or should have been.” Surely this is a recipe for peace if one can accomplish it, either by receiving it as a gift or by making it a habit through force of will.

          Maybe sensitivity makes the struggle more difficult….

From John Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” 1819

“That I might drink and leave the world unseen,

And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget

What thou among the leaves hast never known,

The weariness, the fever, and the fret

Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;

Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,

Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;

Where but to think is to be full of sorrow

And leaden-eyed despair,

Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,

Or new Love pine at them beyond tomorrow…..”

 

Ricker Winsor, Denpasar, Bail, Indonesia, November 17, 2013

 

The Search for Self

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          Shakespeare’s character Polonius said to his son Laertes, ” To thine own self be true and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield went out to “find himself.” The Delphic Oracle of golden age Greece said, “Know Thyself.”

These statements sound good and important but what do they mean? And what are the costs of trying to find out what they mean? What are the costs of ignoring what they might mean? “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” observed Henry David Thoreau. He did not want that fate for himself.

My first wife said, quoting a philosopher somewhere, “The man who knows what he wants get what he wants; the man who doesn’t know what he wants gets what he gets.” That  makes sense and I always envied to a degree those people who knew exactly that they wanted to be a lawyer or a doctor and just focused on that until they possessed it.

Growing up I saw scores of successful adults. That was the culture I was in but they did not impress me. I didn’t see a lot of happiness in them at all. I saw frustration, drinking, anger, stress, and anxiety. So in my way of thinking I liked the idea better that I would cast myself into the world and take my chances. I didn’t want to know what would happen next; I wanted to be surprised.

As a young adult I saw my contemporaries making their little secure nests and planning for the future, all the things one is supposed to do in order to gain some security and comfort in the world. They inevitably had children and then “the full catastrophe” was complete to quote Zorba the Greek.

A person can be very distracted by family and career for a long, long time and there certainly are  satisfactions in that. But for me, I saw all that as a trap. I didn’t  want twenty years to go by and find out I was lost because I had sacrificed the search for myself  on the altar of security and comfort.

So I retired at twenty five and whatever I did for a living after that, including teaching teenagers for fifteen years, was secondary to my attempt to know myself better, to try to be a better person, and to make progress toward an understanding of what is true and real for me.

Ricker Winsor in Bali, Indonesia

 Coming up:

The greatest art work is one’s own life.

The true value of honesty

Using the fringes of time

“Nice guys finish last.”