Sunday, April 10, 2011


When was the last time you ran into something you considered "excellent" -- something that just struck you as very well made or very beautiful or somehow standing bright within its ilk? "Excellent" is one of those slippery words that refuses to be nailed down and yet my sense is that everyone has an "excellent" gene -- something that recognizes with joy a thing or thought or sound or sight or situation that fills the bill. Like the supreme court judge's observation about pornography, "I may not know what it is, but I know it when I see it."

I woke up this morning feeling as if there were a slow tide of mediocrity inching up the beaches of my country. Thought, word and deed ... somehow mediocre. The Republicans have worked hard to replace the tools that might inspire excellence with the tools that will produce the most revenue. It felt, in the moment of waking, as if the merchandising of merchandise had overwhelmed the merchandise itself ... and it felt like one of those oily soaps sold as 'moisturizing' which leave you getting out of the shower feeling as if you had been slimed ... instead of clean.

I hate amorphous whining of this sort and yet it was there this morning. I tried to conjure up things I considered excellent and the best I could do was the M-1 rifle, the quilts made by a woman who occasionally joins the peace picket, and an old Toyota that once transported the family from here to there. It was a motley list and I'm sure I could do better if I tried ... finding things that exceeded their advertising, things that were daring, things that had heart and originality, things that the merchants could not touch.

Perhaps it is just age wanting to have things its way, but mediocrity feels as if it were gaining a foothold.

I once heard that Lao Tse was feeling pretty cranky when he -- if he existed -- left home. When he was crossing the border, he left behind some verses inspired, in part, by his disillusionment with the society he was leaving. And out of that crankiness, the Tao Te Ching was born -- an excellence of its kind. I may have this story very badly wrong, but it appeals to me, whether true or false.

I guess the best anyone can do is not to fall prey to his or her own mediocrity, his or her own merchandising, his or her own lack of daring and heart and sweat. Excellence does not arise from out-sourcing or saccharine and ornate explanations.

And it hardly responds any better to white-whining like this.

So I'll stop as best I can ... and try to still the small whisper that nudges ... excellence does make the heart soar and the lips smile; there is relief and release at the honest aptness of things.


  1. Hope it's a good day today for you.

  2. It feels like mediocrity is gaining a foothold because mediocrity IS gaining a foothold.