I haven’t read Clive James (yet), but I have read Patrick Kurp quoting from Clive James, and so far, it has proved profitable:
“It would be a desirable and enviable existence just to earn a decent wage at a worthwhile job and spend all one’s leisure hours improving one’s aesthetic appreciation. There is so much to appreciate, and it is all available for peanuts. One can plausibly aspire to seeing, hearing and reading everything that matters.”
This theme could serve as my own personal manifesto. Over the years, I’ve found quite a few expressions of the first half of it — the lack of professional ambition, contentment found within humble limits. But the second half completes it — the gratitude for living in a time when great books and music are so plentiful as to be inexhaustible. Lack of professional ambition does not equal lack of interest or passion; a life of unadorned modesty does not preclude an inner vitality. Wifi alone allows many of us to be bounded comfortably in the nutshell of our simple lives while enjoying the benefits of infinite space.
Growing up in Charlottesville, when the town had a population of 40,000 not including students, I was always quietly puzzled when my peers would complain about the boredom of living in a “small town.” To me, a small town was the sparse collection of buildings we’d see scattered along rural Route 29 South between Charlottesville and North Carolina. We had B. Dalton’s, Waldenbooks, and, eventually, Barnes & Noble, in addition to all the fascinating independent bookstores on the downtown mall. What possible excuse was there for someone to be bored? How much stimulation from the outside world would be required to fill the bottomless lacuna in your head?
As a member of the last generation to reach adulthood without the omnipresence of the Internet, I certainly appreciate how many questions and ideas were stillborn, or simply failed to conceive. When no practical means for satisfying curiosity were available, we settled for idly wondering. Now, in our hyper-fertile interactive media environment, there’s no such thing as a question with a sperm count too low to produce an abundant litter of direct answers and tangential asides. Even for those with the discipline to avoid disappearing down rabbit holes of ephemeral trivia, there are countless lectures, explainers, and free classes available to occupy every moment of spare time. If anything, it feels a bit like trying to drink from a fire hose. I’m never bored. The closest I get to it is feeling a vague sense of guilt for not using my time well, for not making enough effort to fully appreciate this cornucopia of culture.