The Critic as Artist: with some remarks upon the importance of doing nothing
by Oscar Wilde
Heeding my instinct for culinary improvement this afternoon I popped into Grace in the Kitchen on my way home from Bayshore shopping centre where I had been in search of a formal shirt with a wing-collar, French cuffs and button holes for studs. My first clue of the inutility of my investigation was the clerk's opening response, "What colour?" Shopping malls I have decided are solely intended for universal economy of disposable items and for young people (which apparently amount to the same thing).
By comparison my entry into "Ottawa's ultimate kitchen store" instantly elevated my chakra. The espresso coffee and gourmet bread and baked goods faired well too! When I began to pay for my purchases with a credit card I enquired how I might leave a tip for the young barista. To my astonishment he told me not to leave him a tip but instead to share with him a life lesson. I froze. Recognizing my bafflement he hypothesized that everyone has a life lesson to share. I have no idea what prompted him to say so. As unaccustomed as I am to such rejection, I divined it would risk offending his generosity if I were to contradict him or his own unanticipated wisdom. I therefore thanked him and replied that I considered he already knew what he was doing and that he appeared more than well-suited to the exigencies of life.
Apart from the singularity of this experience it amused me to recall that many years ago I had calculatedly asked several older people whom I considered successful what word of advice they might offer a young man. I also recollected that the advice I had been given - though meaningful and mildly entertaining - did little to address any particular secret to living and certainly wasn't on topic to my private concerns either then or now. In keeping with my shameless and unrepentant arrogance I fashion that I have lately reached the pinnacle of perception, the governing rules of which differ markedly from what historically prevailed. The upshot is that quips about sageness are at best beguiling but never trustworthy.
In case you're interested, here are three of the responses I received from my learned advisors:
1. "Don't stay out all night drinking liquor." This from a man who to my knowledge did exactly that. In addition his persuasiveness was exalted by having practiced law for 52 years, retired at 82 and lived to be 96 years of age (only the last six months of which were even moderately wretched).
2. "Any damn fool can make money but it takes a smart man to keep it." Once again this adequately reflected upon the agenda of my consigliere. As evidence of his failure to abide by his own advice, his wife reputedly once commented upon entering a bakery, "When I'm happy I eat. When I'm sad I eat. If anything ever happened to my husband I would put on so much weight I'd be so goddamn happy!"
3. "Actually I have three words of advice: read, read and read." That's possibly the closest I've come to deriving advantage from the enquiry. The author lived up to his dicta. It was not uncommon upon entering his drawing room to notice - in addition to the omnipresent highball of whiskey at his side - an enormous pile of volumes mounted on the floor next to his lounge chair. The books covered a variety of subjects and authors, all of which were inevitably stimulating. Though not immediately connected, I recall his account of a visit from the Witnesses of Jehovah. When he opened the front door to see who was there, the interlopers asked whether he were interested in world affairs and whether he had considered them in light of the bible. He drew himself up and, with his nose well in the air, pronounced that he owned more than one copy of the Bible, some in English, some in French - the King James version, the new international version and the red letter edition - and that he didn't need them to tell him how to read! At this he slammed the front door and returned to the comfort of his den.