Life is Much Worse for Them: Quentin Crisp, Bobby Fischer and Me

My evening was spent watching Resident Alien, a film made about Quentin Crisp at the end of his life in New York City. The viewer finds Quentin peddling his witty quotes over and over again in loops as an infamous celebrity and dinner party-goer, and yet he only subsists on Heinz Beans and lives in what we would consider abject poverty today. It is a gut-wrenching film about a man who takes his life’s tormenting demons and turns them into hand puppets to be used in a carnivalesque show.

Last night I watched Bobby Fischer Takes on the World. Both of these men rose to new heights from horrendous childhoods. Crisp subverts his stagnation at age 73 by moving to New York, while Bobby fades into a pathological paranoia at the heighth of his game.  Quentin takes a Margaret Atwood’s “victim position four” and runs wild with it through Harlem and the Bowry, while Bobby sits in madness and anger.

I compare that to our world; the one we now live in within the confines of North America and the rest of the First World. I listen to BBC World News and the doom and gloom resonates hour after hour, but really…really…are we not all living a life of unimagined dreams where even at our worst we have food for the table and a clean pot to cook in?

From my travels in the Third World I know that the rest of the world does not live such charmed lives. In Marrakech hustlers pound the street selling whatever they can. Their water is compromised. Garbage litters the landscape. Education is non-existent beyond that which extolls the virtues of Islam or that which will enable tourism. We are fortunate to be where we are, and yet we are not happy. We fear loss. We fear the future. We bemoan our conveyor belt towards death in lieu of acknowledging the beauty (and perhaps the horror) of the now.

Perhaps the days ahead will be difficult, but I have to believe that there will be great opportunities for those with the vision to let go of their fear, to let go of their need for doom and to embrace change. Through change comes growth, and through growth comes new ways to improve the world for all. The game will not withstand our continued march towards materialism without education, without craftsmanship and without understanding of our limits.

This week is about acknowledging my own limits. We all come to our personal boundaries of health, education, finance, and age; what makes heroes of ordinary people is the ability to put the toys down to address what one needs to do to surpass the limits. I have come those my own limits about twenty times so far; each time the wall is all the more solid. I have also sat, re-evaluated who I am and who I need to be to go beyond that very real limit. It might mean eating less meat or learning how to do a difficult task; it might mean paying the bills before you buy a new toy, and it might mean finding a way to tap into a new reserve of energy deep inside a body that is unfathomable to a younger person. With every closed door comes a key, but not all keys are made of metal or shaped like you would expect.

My favourite quote from Quentin Crisp was:

“People are always complaining about being used by others…Think of all the people who are never used. Life is worse for them.” 



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