Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Moderation or Excess?

Today, on our whistlestop tour of the Texas Hill Country, we visited the LBJ Ranch -- apparently known as the "Texas White House" during its time. As we rode in a little bus around the ranch, and listened to anecdotes about the main characters -- former President Lyndon Baines Johnson and his wife Lady Bird -- I couldn't help but notice the differences in the way they approached life.

LBJ was definitely a man of excesses: he worked hard and played hard. Apparently he was relentless in the pursuit of any goal -- and he dreamed BIG. It is hard not to admire a man who aimed for "The Great Society" -- and wanted no less than to bring education to all citizens, to eradicate poverty, to ensure civil rights, to conserve natural resources, and to provide free health care to the elderly. Of course, LBJ was also a rascal with a big ego -- and not above cheating, lying, tall-tale-telling, drinking too much, smoking too much, and definitely cussing too much. He died at 65 -- already on his third heart attack. According to interviews, he repeatedly warned his wife that he would never live to a ripe old age.

Lady Bird, on the other hand, was a model of gracious restraint. She was measured in both word and behavior -- and one assumes consumption of libations. Rather than try to tackle every wrong in society, she concentrated her energies on conservation -- and became known, specifically, for her efforts to beautify Texas highways with native wildflowers. She died last summer, at the age of 95, and managed to be one of those persons who inspire nothing but quiet admiration. Even the most generous critic couldn't say the same about her controversial husband.

So what's the best approach to life? Moderation? or Excess?

I'd like to think of myself as a Carpe Diem person, but I'm pretty sure that I'm actually a moderate: someone who usually remembers to apply the sunscreen, eat a well-balanced diet, and stop drinking before I'm actually drunk. But oh, do I admire those who throw all their energy at the Universe and don't stop to count the personal cost.

When I was in Fredricksburg, browsing all of the kitschy-cute, country stores, I came across a plaque with the following Motto To Live By:

Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming "WOO HOO, what a ride!"

It goes against my nature, but I want to be THAT person.

15 comments:

Brave Sir Robin said...

It goes against my nature, but I want to be THAT person.

We are more alike than you can ever imagine.

maurinsky said...

I am excessive in some areas and moderate in others. When I see someone who is really putting it out there in a big fashion, I often feel envious - I am too self-conscious to let go and be as free as I would like to, generally speaking.

But I have no problem eating too much!

Bad Bunni said...

I am definitely the excessive person.That whole carpe diem thing-well I grew up with my father taking me on rounds with him at the hospital and as a result I am absolutely clear that you only go around once so you better make every minute worth while.

But if I may tell you a story-

Years ago my mother invited a male friend of hers for dinner. We grilled steaks on the back porch and served them salad, grilled veggies and other assorted goodies from the garden. Upon receiving his steak, our male guest made a huge deal about how rarely he ate beef, how he was SO health conscious. I responded to him "Well you can be health conscious and eat steak, but you know even if not I would rather eat steak than die happy than eat toast ." He gave me a smug look and said "You'll think differently when you are older."

I don't. And I don't regret any of the many steaks I have eaten while our male guest may never have eaten another steak and also be perfectly happy for his red meat free life.

The key isn't figuring which one of these lifestyles is right, it's which one is right for you. I bet both LBJ and Lady Bird died happy even with different lifestyle choices. While you may envy the LBJ lifestyle, you may be very uncomfortable pursuing it and find the consequence too steep thus your moderate lifestyle. Still it's good every now and again to dip your toe in the water, just to see what it's like.

Incidentally your post reminded me of Nietzsche's the Birth of Tragedy.

Bitty said...

I suspect that while we cautious types envy a little bit the "WOO HOO! What a ride!" types and can even emulate them in miniature from time to time, they have not a clue about us.

Beautiful post, and bad bunni, I love what you've added to it.

Bee said...

I agree with everybody!!

One thing for sure, though, I can stay up late and talk with the best of them.

Bunni, I don't understand the Nietzsche reference. Please explain.

I love Kerouac and these words:
"the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad
to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at
the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars. . ."

You're right, Bunni -- you have to know who you are and work with what you've got . . . but I always think the "Artists" (fullest sense of the word) live full-throttle -- and I both envy and esteem that energy. Perhaps I overly romanticize?

k said...

bee!!!!!! i've missed you & your blog. my daughter has been soooo sick so i haven't been online much. she's all fine now and returned to school today after 13 days absent.
have a great time in TX! i'll catch up on here soon.

Bad Bunni said...

In the Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche writes about two forces-the Dionysian and the Apollonian-which are engaged in a constant struggle. The Apollonian is how you described Lady Bird, restrained and often rigid. LBG is the embodiment of the Dionysian, chaotic, disruptive, overly-indulgent. Nietzsche argues that the tragedy of Ancient Greece was the highest form of art due to its mixture of both Apollonian and Dionysian elements into one seamless whole, allowing the spectator to experience the full spectrum of the human condition.

Your question seemed to me a modern recasting of what Nietzsche addressed in his essay.

As for romanticizing the Dionysian, I think it's normal to see the grass as greener on the other side of the pasture if you don't push yourself to examine it closer. After a little experimentation, you might realize that there a reason you have chosen a specific lifestyle.

Lucy said...

Very ascetic people are extreme and excessive too, remember. There's a bit in Helen Waddell's 'Peter Abelard' (one of my favourites) where someone reproaches Bernard of Clairvaux that he only really cares about his flock of half-starved, self-flagellating religious zealots or else the wicked sinners in total perdition, everyone in between, who tries to be good but sins a moderate amount anyway, is of no interest to him.

I think really you have to be able to carry off the woo-hoo thing with a certain style which not everyone has, I certainly don't. I couldn't bear always stopping at a single glass of wine, but if I tried a loud whooping laugh I think it would sound utterly asinine! I can and do eat a bit too much because when I'm enjoying myself I don't want to stop, but I can't really do late nights, they become like endurance tests after a certain point...

But also, perhaps seizing the day,taking deep and great and unrestrained pleasure in things isn't always about having to have more and bigger and going further, but about squeezing as much intense joy as you can out of things.

There, I seem to have been excessively wordy in your comments! Woo-hoo!

Anonymous said...

I have a tendency to get very impatient with those who are temperamentally unsuited to thinking ahead. I do feel that it’s temperament. I’m a tortoise, not a hare. Maybe next lifetime I’ll live at a dead-run.

This seems related to me, but you’ll have to judge for yourself: I’ve been corresponding with an old boyfriend. He wrote that now, starting his 40s, he is liking where he’s at and what he’s doing. He said that whenever he had tried to force his life to go in a particular direction, it hadn’t worked well. But that going with the flow and taking opportunities as they came had been much more satisfying.

--Jenine

Bitty said...

When I was younger, both child and young adult, I was really down on myself because I didn't act a certain "way" that everyone, including my then-husband, seemed to expect of me. I think society (incorrectly) tends to see "woo-hoo!" as the desirable default, and everything else as a little dull, a little less worthy.

For instance, I'm no party girl. Dark, loud, boozy places make me sleepy. In a gathering, I'm not likely to walk in the room and take over the moment I enter, but I will sit off to the side of the action and talk quietly with just you for hours about...whatever. I guess I'm a Lady Bird. But the reason I'm babbling about all this is to echo what Jenine said the ex said: to force ourselves into a different mold to please others, or for whatever other reason, is a losing proposition.

Time gives some of us, like me, the wisdom to be ourselves and enjoy who we are. Others are just lucky and understand it early!

Bee said...

Coming to you from the most gorgeous Texas morning . . .

k -- I'm so sorry that your little one has been sick! I hope everyone is on the mend now, and that KC is getting a little "spring" action.

Bunni -- thanks for the primer on Nietzsche's casting of Greek mythology. Of course I am well aware of Apollo and Dionysus, but I don't think I knew (it is possible that I've forgotten) that the Birth of Tragedy was about these two opposing life forces.

Of course it is useless to live at either extreme . . . finding the "balance" is really the secret of life.

BTW, I drank a bit too deeply from the Dionysian cup my first night back in Houston -- and oh, did I regret it the next day! I don't have the constitution for excess!

Lucy -- YES! What I really mean is the "squeezing intense joy" bit; that is what I strive for. But I also admire people who throw themselves headlong into things -- and really give it their all. The (literally) drunken bit is really not attractive -- either to live, or to live by.

Jenine,
I want to have a conversation about temperament soon. There is an interesting bit about that in "Disgrace" -- one of my Booker books. Do I know the old boyfriend?

Bitty,
You're so right. And I'm with you on the dark smoky bar/pub thing as well.

Sarah Laurence Blog said...

Hi Bee,

What an interesting question about moderation or excess! I tend towards creative excess in my work. My novels are full of passion and drama, and I'm an obsessive writer. My personal life is quieter as is often the case with writers (excluding Hemingway!) because writing is such a solitary profession, requiring self discipline. I believe life is a balance of both elements. That ideal ratio would vary among individuals.

Nice to find another American married to a Brit! Now that's a whole different equation....

Antonio Candeliere said...

beautiful blog. hi

Bee said...

Sarah,
Thank you for visiting! Someday we will have to discuss the interesting topic of an English/American marriage.
Actually, I can think of LOTS of writers whose lives were pretty crazy . . . including some of Hemingway's peers from the Paris days. However, like you, my ideal ratio includes a large measure of serenity -- and a room of my own!

Antonio,
Ciao! Out of curiousity, how did you find me?

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