Lessons From…Ozymandias

If you’ve been keeping up with this blog (and why wouldn’t you, honestly), you’ve probably noticed a trend of discussing legacy, immortality, and achieving some sense of greatness/grandeur that surpasses one’s lifetime. It is still a thought and desire that haunts, but I wanted to examine another perspective this time around. What are the results of such a dogged pursuit of immortality and infamy? Amazingly, I think the best possible answer comes from the past classics of all places; the poem “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

¬† “I MET a Traveler from an antique land,
Who said, “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is OZYMANDIAS, King of Kings.”
Look on my works ye Mighty, and despair!
No thing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that Colossal Wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

While the poem is pretty spectacular, there is something to be said for hearing it out loud by the right voice, so:

Although we foolish men try to create empires and totems and anything that will leave a mark on this Earth, everything we create will eventually crumble and turn to dust and ash and be retaken by the ground beneath us. Even though this knowledge should be deflating, I actually find it kind of inspiring. If everything we make is ultimately lost and forgotten by the ravages of time and nature, then the only thing that really matters is the act of creation.

After all, it is through the process that the transfer of knowledge, the evolution of art, and the growth of self actually occurs. And as much as my ego would love to be remembered long past my eventual demise, I also want to be worthy of that possibility, and that is not currently truth.

Besides, none of the past greats were trying to gain immortality; they were simply pursuing their art and passion. Acclaim was a happy accident. Maybe it will be one I am lucky to find as well. In the meantime, I will keep creating and pursuing perfection and be content in the process and where I finally land.

Thus endeth today’s lesson.

On Obsession

I have written on the subject of obsession before, sort of, but it came back to mind after watching the incredible film, Whiplash. GO, WATCH THIS MOVIE! It is just fucking amazing and deserving of all the accolades and notoriety it received. I won’t spoil anything, however the basic narrative revolves around Andrew (Miles Teller) trying to become one of the greatest jazz drummers ever under the tutelage of the iron fist of Professor Fletcher (J.K. Simmons).

Quick Note: There might be some SPOILERS in this post, so if that is going to be a problem for you STOP reading. Go see the movie and then come back and read this.

Yeah, that is pretty much their entire relationship and the movie in a nutshell. In essence, the core of the film centers around questions concerning concepts like genius, nature versus nurture, obsession versus devotion, and what it takes to reach one’s full potential.

Andrew wants to be one of the greats. It is not enough for him to be good, or even great. He aspires to be one of the immortals who is remembered for decades after his death. He wants his name spoken of with the same reverence as Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, and other greats musicians. He desires this so much that he becomes obsessed to the detriment of everything else in his life. Romance, sanity, health; everything is secondary to Andrew’s goals of being the greatest drummer.

The best part of the film is that this is not simply hyperbole or wish fulfillment. Andrew does not just become an awesome musician because he is the protagonist. Nope, not that kind of movie. Instead, the audience is treated to the hours long sessions of him practicing in a small room (even sleeping with his drum set to have as many hours of practice available) sweating profusely until his hands are blistered and calloused and bleeding. There is no glory or pomp or circumstance just the pain and blood and agony of drilling every movement into his muscles improving incrementally, or at least attempting to.

Then there is Professor Fletcher’s involvement. He, like Andrew, wants to achieve greatness. However, he is not striving to be one of the great musicians but instead to find and create the next great talent. He pushes his students beyond their breaking points; physically, emotionally, and mentally. It is the equivalent of cutting and forming a diamond in order to get the “flawless” stone. We are led to believe that Fletcher’s methods are cruel and cause horror and terror among his students, but they also seem to be effective to some extent. Or at least it suggested they might be by the film’s conclusion.

This obsession with greatness is Andrew’s driving force (and Fletcher’s as well) and it kind of makes sense to me. I know this film should be taken as a sort of cautionary tale, but honestly to achieve anything, much less be great at something, requires a certain amount of sacrifice. Yes, it appears the Andrew has lost a great amount due to his desires and obsessions, but they were things, people, relationships he willingly let go of.

There are countless examples of aspiring individuals asking well known established artists the age old question, or some variant of, “How do I become like you and achieve your level of success?” The answer is always the same, “Go do it.” I know it sounds trite and cliche, but it is the most honest response anyone could give. Their is no road map to success, especially in artistic fields, but the one common factor among every great writer, poet, musician, singer, dancer, and artist was that individual working their ass off to get where they ended up.

Did other factors play a role? Of course, but even so they worked and worked and continue to do so. That is what made them great. Andrew’s path is just the culmination of that philosophy. Does he already have some inane talent? Possibly, but at that high level where everyone has talent, commitment and work, to an obsessive nature, separate the elite from the great.

Obviously, the criticism would come of whether such devotion is healthy or recommended. Frankly, I don’t know. Would someone with such a singular focus and purpose have a “happy” and fulfilled life? Depends on what that means to an individual. All I can say is that I understand why someone would desire to be so great at something that everything else would be forgotten. Would I recommend someone do that? I don’t know. Nor do I think I would try to “fix” or help someone who was going down that path.

So what do you all think? Is there anything in this world that you would pursue with such blind obsession in order to obtain it? What would you be willing to sacrifice to achieve it?

Looking forward to your responses.