Carpe Diem

14 May


Have you read that Uncomfortable Plot Summaries thing? You know:

300: Gays kill blacks.
ALIEN: Ship fails to deliver cargo, crew don’t get bonus.
ALIENS: An unplanned pregnancy leads to complications.
BLADE: Obsessed loner stalks minority group.
MICHAEL CLAYTON: Attorney works against client’s interests.
MILK: Uppity queer dies.
SIGNS: Jesus trumps science.
TITANIC: Crazy old widow disregards lifelong memories of husband, children, and grandchildren in favor of that one time she fucked a bum.
WONDER WOMAN: Princess from isolationist culture lectures Americans on equality.

You should really read the whole thing. And then make a Bollywood version for my entertainment. But that’s not where this post is headed: it just reminded me of this story in The Atlantic about a study tracking the lives of a random group of men (including, bizarrely enough, John F. Kennedy) over the past 72 years (!) to find out what makes people happy.

It’s an interesting enough story by itself but what really struck me were the descriptions of the men in the study. Take for instance the man whose obituary made him “sound like a hell of a man—a war hero, a peace activist, a baseball fan.” And yet he’s the same guy the study notes went off the rails at age 31.

[To be fair, he only went off the rails by 1950s standards – by today’s standards, he sounds like everyone I know. Hmmm.]

That’s kind of what obituaries do, isn’t it? You look at a person from the outside and everything is sunshine and roses, their problems are not so bad, they make more money, their kids get better grades and their house is always tidy. And the fear bred by our certainty that we are somehow lesser than our neighbors makes us go the the extra mile to show off the slightest of successes and bury our mildest failures.

Why is it so difficult to take a moment, look at the mess you’ve created and say, “I screwed up”? I’ve been trying my best for years now, but it never seems to get any easier. I don’t mean apologizing for the little things – I can beg pardon and say I’m sorry with the best of them. And I’ll mean it too, nine times out of ten. From the bottom of my heart.

No, I mean the screw-ups that can’t be fixed with an apology. The I-ran-over-your-dog, I-locked-your-child-in-the-basement, I-totally-spazzed-on-delivering-those-papers-you-wanted-delivered-and-now-your-house-will-be-foreclosed kind of thing that requires you to accept responsibility and face unpleasant consequences. The sort of stuff that makes you wake up in the middle of the night ten years later with a blush on your face and your heart racing like mad. The things you never want anyone to find out ever and makes you glad you’re not a celebrity because nobody’ll go ferreting for the “truth” of who you really were as a person and will instead let you be that anonymously bland person who can be summed up in two lines by the local newspaper.

Why is it so important for us to be the people we are on our best day while completely disowning the people we are on our worst day? Especially, as one person in the Grant Study points out, the people we are on our best day usually turn out to be something less than heroes, if not exactly the Nazis he categorized them to be. Constant perfection will do that to you.

Most days I think people need to own their mistakes a little more. Stop running away and trying to push it on to someone else. Just raise your hand and say you did it, even if it is just to yourself. The sky won’t fall, the world won’t end and ice cream will still taste just as good.

And then, some days I think we need to cut ourselves a bit more slack. So you’re pretentious, angry, small-minded, mean, jealous, greedy, and you actually did that thing that you still can’t believe you did, even all these years later. Give yourself the day off from worrying about it and do something nice, either for someone else or for yourself.

You can do it.


Posted by on May 14, 2009 in Life, Personal


11 responses to “Carpe Diem

  1. ppcc

    May 14, 2009 at 6:09 pm

    OMG one brain, Amrita! I just read that wonderful Atlantic article too. I loved it so much I’ve begged the author to write a full book about it.

    OK, now actually going to read your post…

  2. sraboneyghose

    May 14, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    I think we want to be our best everyday because of our need to be liked, loved, appreciated and accepted…These needs are sometimes so strong that we strive to do so at the expense of our true authenticity…And why do we need to be liked? We need to be liked because we always feel we are not good enough…

  3. Gradwolf

    May 14, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    Sigh. I saw something light and funny shaping up and it ends up being this deep.

  4. memsaab

    May 15, 2009 at 10:54 am

    There is such a thing as cutting yourself too much slack, too…I should know ;-P

  5. Ramsu

    May 15, 2009 at 11:35 am

    I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Up series of documentaries directed by Michael Apted. It tracks the lives of 14 Brits since sometime in the 1960s, and a documentary is made every seven years on their lives. Apparently quite riveting to watch, something I am not surprised by. See if you can find the DVDs, if you haven’t seen it already.


    ps: More comments on the content of your post in a bit.

  6. Amrita

    May 15, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    PPCC – that’s a book I would buy! I love stuff like that.

    Bones – yup. I find though that as I grow older, my need to be liked has split into two distinct camps – there’s strangers for whom I’m interested in maintaining a shiny exterior and then there’s the people I really care about with whom I’m often at my very worst but still want them to think the best about me. And then there’s people in the middle who I really don’t care about except in a vague way. It’s all very weird 😀

    Adithya – awww! This weekend the blog is all about escapist cop dramas though!

    Memsaab – that is not something I suffer from! 😀

    Ramsu – I’ve heard about them, they’re referenced all over the place but I’ve never actually seen them. I really should though!
    …Look forward to it…

  7. Amey

    May 15, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    I am freshly out of well-thought-out comments, after all it is Friday afternoon. So I will just take this chance to plug my 30 second summaries blog post.

  8. Ramsu

    May 16, 2009 at 12:06 am

    Maybe it’s some mutated version of a basic survival instinct. We’ve civilized ourselves to the point where the concept of “survival of the fittest” is no longer about being able to get to the food first (no matter what my experiences as a grad student tell me). It’s not even necessarily about being smarter than the rest, although that certainly helps.

    We’ve created such a network of relationships that the term “social animal” begins to sound less like a platitude and more like reality. We need the massive support system we’ve created. Or, at the very least, we’ve convinced ourselves that we do. So we present our best face to the outside world because that is what “fittest” means now. Even when we choose to rebel, or not care so much about what others think of us, we usually draw a line somewhere to indicate who we mean by “others” and who we don’t.

    Maybe I am wrong about this. To be honest, I fervently hope I’m way off base. At some level, it doesn’t feel like a great situation to be in. Then again, maybe there’s a buck sitting somewhere saying, “I really wish I didn’t have to go through this stupid head-butting thing today.”


    • Amrita

      May 16, 2009 at 3:46 pm

      Oh lord, today is absolutely the worst day for me to be thinking about the tyranny of love. I’m afraid you’re right on the money but I try to comfort myself by thinking, the alternative where nobody genuinely gave a crap about you and what you did would be far worse. I didn’t feel that way for about three hours today but now I’m back to feeling that way. 😦

  9. sachita

    May 17, 2009 at 1:06 am

    “people need to own their mistakes a little more” – how does it make it any better?
    I am extremely good at owning up however bad my mistakes are, I use that to find outside consolation, a possible closure. But the net result is still a bunch of albatrosses across my neck. I will still wake up 10 years later!

    And ofcourse, i get the faint feeling i might be the only one with these crosses.

  10. Sue

    May 26, 2009 at 6:56 am

    Yes, yes, but if you take even the guilt trip away what fun do we have left, I ask you?

    *looks injured*

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