Icarus Transfigured by m. l. teague (page 59)

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Omar

Chapter Twenty-three, Section Four

Aloysius and Omar went to an Ethiopian restaurant for lunch. Taking a table by a bright window, the painter broached his subject circuitously. “Do you have a better opinion of Emma now you’ve talked to her?”

“I’m resigned to her,” the lawyer said with unanticipated forbearance. “It’s good to know that, when you die, there’ll be someone to care about you beyond neighbors complaining about the stench coming from your apartment.”

“Can this be taken as a blessing?”

“Blessing?” grunted Omar. “I’ve already exhausted my charitableness on this topic.”

Aloysius eyed the shared platter of wat with determination. “I’ll settle for approval.”

Omar, tearing off a strip of injera, dove in first. “I just want you walking into this with your eyes open,” he stressed. “There’s necessary compromise in relationships. There will be consequences—especially for your art.”

“Of course.”

The friend explained, “It’s no mystery why most of the great philosophers were lifelong bachelors. Why Beethoven, Brahms, and Schubert never married. Genius is a hothouse flower, and domesticity is not a hothouse.”

“One might conclude we are deluded for counting ourselves in such company, Ommie.”

The attorney shot back. “If you know your own worth, then the most anyone can accuse you of is lacking false modesty.”

Aloysius brooded over his food. “The point is moot. It’s not like I’ve ever gotten anywhere with my art.”

The friend was almost conciliatory. “The odds were always stacked against you. Success in life is a matter of meeting expectation, not exceeding it. Being different is never good, unless you’re different in the same way everyone else is. People only admire genius to the degree it anticipates the next well-beaten path.”

“You may be right.”

“I know I’m right.” The philosopher climbed back on his soapbox. “The enemies list for every new idea is long in this world: There’s apathy, cliquishness, political and social agendas, people who say ‘think outside the box’ but only mean the wrapping paper, MBAs who want to focus-group every rare, excellent, and difficult idea out of existence, the graveyard of academia where dead ideas go to be canonized, and so on and so forth. The great conceit of culture is the presumption that we know every worthy mind that ever lived. The truth is, if it weren’t for a few people working on behalf of others, no one would have ever heard of Kafka, Van Gogh, or Shakespeare. ‘Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness on the desert air,’ as Gray said.”

“The world is hardly bereft of talent.”

The friend was sardonic in his reply. “Prodigies are a dime a dozen these days. One can find a thousand preschoolers who can play Beethoven’s violin concerto without dropping a note. What we don’t have are more Beethovens.”

“Sitting around and commiserating about what misunderstood Beethovens we are is not likely to win us allies.”

“If we have no allies in the world, who is going to rally to our cause if not ourselves? We have nothing to gain by ‘hiding our light under a bushel.’ We beat legalized abortion by fifteen years, and have been fighting to validate our unintended lives ever since!”

“Some might say we’ve never grown up, only bitter.”

“Either way, our childhoods are unfinished business. We’ve left open a window others have been only too happy to close on their way out.”

“Then what is to be our fate besides arrested adolescence?”

The lawyer rose with bravado. “I see only Divinity’s hand in my life, and whether I am despised through instruments of envy, or merely dismissed as being indecorous in my arrogance, I will be the pearl in the shit pile to inconveniently remind others that not all in life is shit. As Nietzsche said: ‘There is more difference between man and man than there is between man and animal.’”

“What’s to be my fate?”

Omar did not hesitate. “Yours, my friend, is to grow up.”

The painter reeled at the prospect. “Me? Grow up? That would be the ultimate irony.”

The friend was arid. “Irony is the name observant people give to life.” He slapped a twenty-dollar tip on the table.

Exiting the café, the two men strolled across an esplanade; late afternoon light set them reflectively on their way.

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