Everyone wants to make progress in life. The feeling of being stalled or stuck somewhere isn’t pleasant. Progress and the concept of forward motion are relative and perhaps an illusion. Where are we going? What’s the ultimate goal? The list of goals pursued in the search for personal satisfaction ranges from the relatively humble, say the childhood wish of wanting a puppy to the megalomaniacal, for example the desire to imprint one’s will on all of humanity.
I’ve found that two things, while not assuring happiness, at least give the feeling that the overall momentum of one’s life is going in the right direction. The first is having options. There are no rules as to what constitutes an option. An option may be having the choice between, if we imagine a healthy 17-year-old honors student, attending Yale, Harvard or Brown. I knew a guy in that position in high school. He’d received perfect scores on the SAT’s and it seemed like he was set. Within the context of the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, for a moment he occupied a high place.
There are different levels of desirable options. For a person in the grips of a serious illness, the simple ability to feed oneself may take on major proportions. I once saw a woman who was unable to open an orange due to her loss of motor control. I thought to open that orange was more of a challenge for her than for a healthy person to climb Mount Everest. This led me to think that options are a set of potential variables that depend on where one is at any given moment of one’s existence.
The second requirement is the feeling that one is in the right place, with the right people. Again, this is relative. Being around the imagined “right people” suggests that the company one keeps is something of a mirror of one’s self. One wants to be able to look around and feel situated; that the frame is the right one. Strangely, it strikes me as a form of invisibility. I met a friend for a drink the other day. I suggested we meet in Belleville, a popular quarter with lots of cafés with sidewalk terraces. She balked at the idea, saying she was sick of hanging out in those types of places and wanted to upscale her life, take it to the next level, not spend all her time hanging out with the dregs of humanity in dumps. She said that Belleville was filled with either art-pretenders, tourists or whores and she was sick of it. I said I wasn’t opposed to trying a new place and what did she have in mind. She suggested we go the bar at the Hotel [redacted]. She told me it was a famous hotel where movie stars, real artists and successful businessmen hung out, that the bar was fantastic and the quality of the people found there was of a different type.
So we met there, and it was different than Belleville. There were doormen who greeted us at the entrance and made sure our clothes were up to par. We were allowed to enter. The main room was huge and filled with designer furniture. We ordered two gin and tonics and sat down on a comfortable chair-sofa. I looked around and checked the place out. After a while I began to wonder if it was really that different. There were a few “artistic types” here and there, tourists, guys in suits, etc. In fact, they were the same types one sees in Belleville, just better dressed. Next I noticed two tall women who were standing around scanning the bar with faces like predatory foxes. Something about them struck me as odd. Then I saw them break into ready-made smiles and go up to a much older man who seemed to be half their height, ask him a couple of questions, take his arms in theirs and then they all left together. They were obviously call girls, but better dressed and groomed than the street whore in Belleville. But is there a difference? It went on, people came in, some were better at making their entrances than others, some were even shabbily dressed but treated with great deference by the hotel staff so I assumed they must be really rich. I can’t say I enjoyed the place, though it did give the feeling of being in a movie. Maybe that’s what money buys, the ability to fantasize. At last the real difference came along with the check, for the bill was 70 euros for the two drinks.