So There is Time Enough

Today’s New York Times has two op ed columns (Frank Rich and Timothy Egan ) that talk about Mad Men, the AMC series that follows Madison Avenue ad men in the Sixties – the Sixties that start in 1960.

So far it has covered the span of history that includes the 1960 election, birth of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), death of Marilyn Monroe, and Cuban Missile Crisis.

Racism, sexism, drinking while pregnant and/or driving, and smoking like a chimney were deeply embedded as cultural norms. Perfectly acceptable.

Tonight’s premiere begins in 1963. Should be an interesting season.

Note: Spoiler alert follows. Although, if you haven’t been watching the series, I don’t think it will spoil anything if you start to watch it.

The protagonist, Don Draper, is who he says he is, though only after assuming a new identity. He lifts the dog tags from his dead compatriot after he is burned beyond recognition in a scene that takes place in Korea.

It’s the moment that Dick Whitman changes his story and become Don Draper.

Story, Robert McKee, says is a metaphor for life.

I have become fascinated lately with rewriting the story. Not a short story or novel I’m writing. But my story. The story that I’m living.

Perhaps the best birthday present I am giving myself as I turn sixty (still two months away, but nonetheless), is to recognize that the story I thought I was supposed to live is not my story.

And so I have started rewriting my story.

Compassion, I believe, is at the base of all good story writing. That means compassion for myself for having tried to live a story that wasn’t mine; compassion for those who wrote the story I thought I was supposed to live; and compassion for the human condition.

And today, at least, I think the human condition is that we do the best we can with what we have. At its highest, the human condition allows us to learn that the best we can do can be really quite extraordinary – once we learn compassion.

In the old story, I was a monster. Monstrous because I asked questions; monstrous because my questions provoke the possibility of change.

In my new story, I understand that I have been given gifts: the gift of asking questions, the gift of being willing to embrace change; the gift of uncertainty. I have come to believe that faith is acting without the benefit of certainty.

And so I have faith in story: to allow story to unfold, reveal character with compassion, and let it end in ambiguity if necessary.

I have come to look at safety in a different way. I don’t think we can make ourselves safe from the unexpected, from the event that pulls the rug out from under us, from losing people we love, or even our own lives.

Now I think safety is more about living life fiercely so when it comes time to face my own death I can say that there was time enough.

Mad Men is good story. It shows the wages of living a life of quiet desperation. What it’s like to live a story that isn’t yours.
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As a coda, there is also an op ed column about the American poet Marianne Moore. Ford Motor Company asked her to come up with names for a new car it was getting ready to sell. They turned down all her suggestions – and named it the Edsel.

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