Learning frustrates me; more so, I think, than things that ostensibly should aggravate me. Learning cements it further in my mind that I’m an organism in merciless comparative anguish: inspection of past actions, beliefs, attitudes, and their juxtaposition with those I have at present, provide – at the risk of sounding egotistical – a clear paragon of reflective improvement. At least, to me it seems to be. I look back and my hitherto polished sensibilities – gracious things, they are – count my older self irredeemably in the ranks of cretins; I look at things with an eye much more refined now, they seem to think, and they have the knowledge, experience, and often addled but nevertheless productive rumination to back up the assertion. And I believe them, because it’s painfully obvious: younger, I was more naive. Less so now, though. And shouldn’t that make me happy? Improvement is good.
And it is, except that it doesn’t. If it has happened then it will again; it must, it’s not like at seventeen I’ve grown to spearhead the world’s echelons of the intellectual and erudite, nor is that anything less than laughably outrageous; it would take much more gargantuan an ego than mine to fall to that delusion, although I do make concessions to the gods of self-love, truncated though they may be by my insecurities. That’s another thing I’m not quite sure of: are my insecurities the reckless results of an ego I wish killed and gone? Or is my ego a development necessarily, thankfully, confining the impressions of my insecurities to manageable radiuses? Or are both just naturally present because they should? Either? Neither? Both?
I’m frustrated because, unrealistically and against my every scrupulous hint, I want to get there but do it now. I want to the knowledge, the deft, discerning mind and impeccable comprehension of life and living; the erudition of the linguist, the consummate artistry of the seasoned fifty-something novelist, the prestige of the able and the gratification of the triumphant — all that good stuff! But I don’t want to wait to get them; I want them now. And that’s the stupid part, because only precious few ever get those, still less (or, like, no one ever) at this age. It frustrates me that I can’t, and that I can’t parse out the meaning of life for you in an elaborate but blindingly resonant aphorism, that I’m not choking the reigns of academic dissemination is an insouciant but unassailably firm grip, that I can’t write books that rival absolutely the literary offerings of the great and lauded. Zadie Smith wrote about this in an essay of hers. “But that’s fiction for you: it taunts you with the spectre of what you cannot do yourself.” She’s very good.
It frustrates me that such disparity exists between my (scrupulously assembled, promise!) idea of an ideal self and my current rendition, and that the person I am now, my best and irrevocably failed attempt, will seem my future self’s misguided, purblind imbecile. But credit him, he tries.