Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Hommage á Saint-Exupéry

Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is exhausting for children to have to provide explanations over and over again.

So then I had to choose another career, and I learned to pilot airplanes. I have flown almost everywhere in the world. And, as a matter of fact, geography has been a big help to me. I could tell China from Arizona at first glance, which is very useful if you get lost during the night.

So I have had, in the course of my life, lots of encounters with lots of serious people. I have spent lots of time with grown-ups. I have seen them at close range... which hasn't much improved my opinion of them.

Whenever I encountered a grown-up who seemed to me at all enlightened, I would experiment on him with my drawing Number One, which I have always kept. I wanted to see if he really understood anything. But he would always answer, "That's a hat." Then I wouldn't talk about boa constrictors or jungles or stars. I would put myself on his level and talk about bridge and golf and politics and neckties. And my grown-up was glad to know such a reasonable person.

[The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1943), translated from the French by Richard Howard, Harcourt, Inc., San Diego, 2000, pp. 2-3.]
Little known fact about Articulate Dad: he has a collection of The Little Prince, now comprising 15 volumes in 13 languages. Hungarian (Magyar) version will be added around the top of the year. Less known fact about Articulate Dad, he sometimes takes himself too seriously, and is ashamed to perhaps be considered "a reasonable person" by the likes of the narrator of The Little Prince.

I recently mused about the possibility of getting scooped in my work. Recent events have led me to reflect a bit on life and expectations and meaning and worth. My friend WhatNow? writes of coveting and of taking her job search further afield. Yes, life sometimes deals us an unlucky hand. But then, perhaps our luck at cards should remind us to get out of the casino; flowers are blooming elsewhere, just waiting for a nose to smell them.

I can't say I'm ready to quit the academic job search. But I feel myself edging closer and closer to not caring as much. Perhaps, one way or another, this will be my final season of looking, at least looking at this pace. I'm actually okay with where I am. I am committed to my research. But then, I recognize it may all come to naught. What defense do I have against that? Only this: to not take it all so seriously. To ensure that there is else in my life that gives meaning to my works.

My father once said that our choice in life is whether or not we will be good. History alone can determine whether we will be great. My work is important to me. It gives me direction, a sense of meaning, purpose. But... it is not all. In focus, we sometimes forget the day to day.

Too many people live each day as if it were their last, some ensuring that fate. I used to say live each day as if it were your first, with the wide-open wondering eyes of a child. And yet, I find myself too many days losing patience with my children's wonderful curiosity. I need to work hard to remember the things in life that we can control, and those which we can't. I need to recall to be thankful, as my friend Trillwing recently put it, to have "first world problems". Ah yes, these things to remember.


Bright Star said...

oh, I love that book.

Breena Ronan said...

Great post, great book.

Lilian said...

Yes, I'm a big fan of The Little Prince as well. I own a CD of the narrated French version as well as the book in French and English. I need to get a copy in Portuguese to give to my sons, if you like, I can get one for you too ;)

What Now? said...

First-world problems indeed. Sometimes I grow frustrated with myself that I'm so insistent on having work that is meaningful, challenging, and pays well -- maybe I should just get over myself and get a damn job already?!

I'd love to hear more about the children's books you've written. I too am experimenting with some different types of writing in my non/post/extra-academic life; it's still too early to tell how this will work out.

All of which is to say that I'm glad we're fellow travelers on this strange career adventure; it's nice to have some company through these twists and turns!