Thursday, October 28, 2010

The perennial injustice of being Michael Owen

"But I'm 30, I have been around and I understand how it works. I am not going to kid myself because... I know I am not as good... Maybe 10 years ago you could argue I was – but not now."

It hurts me to read it, not because of the statement's undeniable obviousness but its scathing simplicity, the gentle resignation of the emotion behind it. The mundanity that has come to replace the greatness that once stood in its stead. He must have come to hate that word, that terribly cruel "once" that has shadowed him all of his lime-light filled adult life. But I suspect he no longer does, not because he's tired of it but because I think he truly understands what it means. What it means to be part of a once.

For that has been his destiny, to always be remembered for being young once, to endure the perennial injustice of being a genius that once was. Sport has an almost ruthless curiosity when it comes to its prodigies, filling its lore with tales of the ones who unequivocally fulfilled their potential and the ones who fell by the side along the way. And it's the accidental misfortune of the latter to endure the rest of their lives inches beneath the threshold, condemned to wonder and rue for all of eternity how it could've been different. History may inevitably end up placing Owen in that company, but that tells us more about ourselves than it does anything else. We mortals are easily bored, unsated by mere excellence, we want more, we seek immortality in our idols, we make promises on their behalf and then punish them for reneging on them without ever bothering to think who it was that made them in the first place. Almost as if it was an unforgivable crime for him to have been that teenage footballing prodigy that flood-lit night in St.Etienne twelve years ago. Maybe it's the scourge of genius that it is bestowed upon so few and understood by even fewer.

I admire Owen for many things, but more than his prodigious skills with the ball, I admire his endurance, for abiding with dignity and humility the long chain of injustices handed out to him - to haplessly watch his game deteriorate with every misfortunate injury, to be unwanted by the very people who once idolised him for his abilities and to be incessantly convinced on the sidelines that he was 'past his peak'. Maybe some might say it was inevitable, the resignation, that he had to eventually come to terms with his frailties but even so, the obviousness of a path doesn't make it any less harder, does it? After all, it's not so uncommon, sport's unkindness towards its aging prodigies. Some refuse to acknowledge it and pay the price, some part ways early knowing they can't stomach the reality, some even convince themselves of eternal youth and make fools of themselves and some, like Owen, silently press on every single day, enduring the sublime burdens of dissipated genius. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

The question of the muse

Okay, that was long.
Did the over-long hiatus end up giving you the impression that the previous post had a more clandestine connotation, in other words, that it was meant to be a simple sign-off from all further writing endeavours here? I hope not. Ah, a voice from the back, "Sorry to disappoint you man, but no one here has been waiting for your words with bated breath." Ouch, should I say? Okay, there you go. With an exclamation? Okay, ouch! Forgive me, my gracious heckler, for that's the perennial, and some would even say despicable, peril of a writer's art, that regardless of the cretinous vapidity of your artistic output, you believe, almost to the point of irrefutable certainty, that somewhere in one of the countless spaces of this world, there's at least someone who is smart (/naive) enough to be engaging (/wasting) their precious (/purposeless) moments reading what you're writing. (The parentheses are for the staunch optimists, the rest of you can kindly ignore them.)

It was a very early morning for me today, and when I woke up it was with the cacophony of absurd traffic in the usually peaceful introspective alley of my mind. (Yeah, I know, the unpardonable crime of beginning a sunday with an "introspection", it's almost vulgar, for lack of a better word. But then I asked myself if there's any productive way of beginning a sunday other than not beginning it at all. And since I had so grandiosely failed to accomplish that by already waking up, I had no other choice but to deal with the vulgarity.) So I decided to don the cloak of the responsible citizen and clean the mess up, what with all that flagrant honking and revving up that was going on. (Ever noticed those citizen traffic regulators on our dusty and rainy streets these days, frantically trying to make our driving lives more tolerable? It's quite admirable, and also seems to have become fashionable, I should say.)

Goethe had his rotten apple, Balzac had his caffeine, Poe had his siamese cat, Coleridge had his opium, Hugo had his nakedness, Nabokov had his placards, Eliot had his cold, what do you have, oh what do you have, young man? 

(Insightful as my question was, it was quite uncomfortable, really, hardpressed as I was to stop my over-active imagination from taking over. Overwhelming as the thought of all that humongous literary talent crammed into a single chamber was, I didn't think I'd be able to stomach the image of them collectively plying their trade in all their glorious oddities. Imagine Nabokov fretting over his misplaced placards amid Eliot's sniffs and sneezes, Goethe holding his rotten apple with a delirious contortion of his face, Balzac screaming for his evening jug of black coffee and Poe's cat purring menacingly as Hugo cavorted around the room naked, parchment and quill in hand... You know, sometimes those things can scar you for life.)

And so I recovered, composed myself and decided to seriously answer the question, reminiscing on my muses. Turns out my last great muse was a dusty, unswiveling orange chair in a dimly lit wooden corner and more importantly, a blue-white kenzo and a blinking box that made kind little noises from time to time. But the corner isn't wooden anymore and the blinking box seems a little mad at me now, though I do still retain the kenzo and the dimness (I don't like the light too much, it makes seeing too easy). And now, in addition, there's the speck-free milky white ceiling to be stared at, a white window that looks exactly like a letterpad with ruled paper, the elegant madame Rimsky-Korsakov to engage in conversation, the new black matte lamy fountain for the itching parchment and why, of course, the venerable Messrs. Bolano and Gombrich waiting idly by the nightstand. 

I've been asked this question before - So what do you do when your lovely muse spirits away all your free-flowing streams of verses and leaves you hanging on a block of frosted words? Set off into the hinterlands in search of her gliding shadow and steal back your palimpsest? I'm not the really adventurous kind so I usually check into my lounge mode with some magazines and just wait. For that sunday morning I'm jerked out of sleep by that block-shattering moment of sweaty, self-confessed inspiration, for that bursting sentence to write itself, for that most glorious of all pittances the literary muses offer us mortals, that moment when I shall be exceedingly pleased to announce to my dear ladies and gentlemen that my shadow-stretching, falsetto-singing, infinity-loving, memory-making, sleep-usurping, abstract-sketching, swift-walking, childhood-worshipping, metaphor-slinging, H2O-guzzling, randomness-doting, head-banging, time-hopping, stupidity-wooing, verse-sputtering blue-eyed muse is back.