Ruining Our Lives for an Ideal

Certified Copy A few days ago, I finally caught the film Certified Copy at the local art cinema.  Directed and written by Iranian Abbas Kiarostami and starring Juliette Binoche and William Shimell, the movie is an afternoon-long discussion by a man and a woman as they visit a Tuscan town.  Their conversation covers a lot of ground and it is never clear whether they are or are not a married couple.

As the story opens, we see that he is an author in town on a Saturday afternoon for a speaking engagement about his new book, in which he argues that copies of masterpieces are as valuable as the originals themselves, in that the copies can bring us to the originals and a greater appreciation of them.  She is in the audience but has to leave early, giving her number to the organizer of the event.  

The following morning, he shows up at her shop and she drives him to a nearby town to see a famous painting there that was, after hundreds of years being assumed to be an original work, determined eventually to be a copy.  It is on that journey that their conversation happens.

I won’t talk about the film as a whole, although it is worth watching.  What struck me, so much so that I grabbed a notepad from my bag and scribbled it down, was a phrase uttered by a secondary character. 

The man and woman stop for a coffee at a small shop.  The man steps outside to take a phone call and the old lady running the shop speaks with the woman.  She assumes that the man and woman are married, an assumption the woman does nothing to dispel.  In fact, the woman complains about her husband’s long absences for work, propensity to shave only every other day, and his other faults.

The old woman running the shop observes that it is a Sunday morning and the man has taken his wife out for some coffee, whereas most men would instead choose to sleep in.  “It would be stupid of us to ruin our lives for an ideal,” she admonishes the woman.

It would be stupid of us to ruin our lives for an ideal.

That line seems a very apt piece of advice, both about relationships (certainly!) as well as our lives in general.  It also seems to balance nicely the entry I recently wrote about being the best possible version of ourselves.  While perfection cannot be achieved and we should certainly strive to be our best, what is the value of striving if the cost is the ruination of our lives?


Are You the Best Version of Yourself?

hamill_tabloidcity_custom While lying in a massage parlor a few blocks from home, letting someone with strong forearms unknead the knots in my back muscles, I listened to an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air with author Pete Hamill.  A journalist and columnist starting back in the 1960s, Hamill also wrote novels.  He was on the show speaking about his most recent book, Tabloid City, a thriller that takes place in an old-school tabloid newsroom that is struggling to deal with the digital era.

During the discussion, interviewer Dave Davies asked Hamill about a previous book he wrote, A Drinking Life, and his own struggles with drinking, which he eventually gave up cold turkey.  It was Hamill’s response to the question, “What did your drinking take away from you?” that caught my attention and got me thinking.

Here’s his answer with my own added emphasis:

I was [a] very prolific journalist because I could always squeeze enough from my talent to get a newspaper piece done.  What it took away from me was the courage to test the extent of whatever my talent was.

… From a professional and personal standpoint a lot of it was about trying to find out what was there as a writer.  Because my ambition was not to be better than Faulkner or Hemingway or anything like that.  It was to be the best version of myself that I could conceivably be.

This resonates with me because my own upbringing was very much along these lines.  Both sides of my family, but particularly my mother’s side, really emphasized the idea that each of us has a responsibility to live up to our fullest potential in life.

Unlike many of my friends, whose parents expected them to follow a specific career – doctor, lawyer, engineer, etc., my parents emphasized success by pushing me to be the very best I could be, regardless of what field I chose.

To this day, when I look at my own performance I can be very critical of myself in areas where I recognize I’m not being the absolute best version of myself I could be.  And, likewise, I can be very critical of others when I see that they are not making full use of their potential.

What about you?  What does it mean to you, to be the best version of yourself that you could conceivably be?