When life wears you down, you’re not alone

One day this week two of my vital appurtenances suddenly wore out, almost simultaneously – my electric shaver and the Pentel Rolling Writer ball point pen I was using to take interview notes.

Everything wears out eventually, much as we hate to concede it, but two essential tools breaking down at once? It crippled my day. My shaver had been humming along reassuringly when it not only quit, but the head jammed so I couldn’t get it apart to see what the trouble might be. As for the Rolling Writer, that’s the way they always behave. One second they’re writing a nice bold line, the next second blank.

I should be philosophical about things wearing out, since everything does: machines, bodies, fads, even ideas. I should be reassured that as individuals falter, the universe as a whole maintains consistent self-renewal, frequently resulting in improvement. Still, from a personal point of view that is hardly comforting.

I used to think it might be nice to live forever but a friend who was a chemistry major disabused me of the idea. If people lived forever, he said, the nitrogen cycle would not be completed and the result would become biological disaster. I don’t understand the nitrogen cycle but his fervency of argument convinced me.

Over the weekend I saw the movie “Pollock,” about the life and death of the painter, Jackson Pollock. Here was an example of how even great talent wears out. Pollock’s drip paintings are considered masterpieces. Yet, in the film, Pollock can sense his work and public interest in it have gone stale. A friendly art critic tells him that after all Pollock has had a good run of 10 years as the hottest artist. That’s not enough for Pollock and he drinks himself into disaster, not painting at all at the end.

Not everything wears completely out. Christianity is still going strong. Yet its form has changed so greatly through the centuries we can say certain core elements wore out while others got added. The enthusiasm for track and field events dates back to the ancient Greeks, but the idea of having such events performed only by nude men wore out.

Professional athletes wearing out provide the saddest example. They become instant millionaires but eventually wear out, often in less than five years. They have to adjust to a life of relative penury and some aren’t able to carry on without descending into drug dealing or other antisocial activities.

Our greatest athletic phenomenon is young Tiger Woods, a major golf champion. Yet, Tiger may wear out at an early age. One expert on the body, Pete Egoscue, predicts Tiger will succumb to back problems because he habitually carries one shoulder considerably lower than the other. Already, we have heard talk of Tiger experiencing a sore back.

As for ideas wearing out, is it possible to think that women are not capable of voting? A century ago that idea prevailed.

Think how quickly television stars wear out. Jay Leno demonstrated that recently when he televised a “survivor” competition featuring such forgotten stars as Danny Bonaduce and Gary Coleman. Nothing wears out more quickly than the entertainment idols of young teen girls. Where is Corey Haim today? Or Richard Marx?

Most of us throughout those heady early years can believe we’re never going to wear out. Yet the lesson starts early.

I never became attached to a teddy bear, but my late brother did. He couldn’t go anywhere without Go-Go. Go-Go went-went so much he wore out incrementally. Mom had to build him an entire new nose twice along with other patches to body and limbs. By the time Go-Go retired, he looked like the survivor of a lifetime of surgical stitchups.

Currently in the wearing-out stage is the lowrider jean made trendy by Britney Spears. Every young women’s shop in town fills its windows with them. Even as this fashion approaches senescence, new ideas, or perhaps revivals, appear. Last week I saw young women wearing skirts with knee socks. Knee socks? My youngest daughter tells me they were a Valley Girl fashion.

This is all okay, though. Richard Carlson, author of “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff … and it’s all small stuff,” assures us that if you see the glass as already broken (and everything else too) you will gain much needed perspective toward becoming a more accepting self. All life is in a constant state of change, Carlson says. In time, everything disintegrates and returns to its initial form, and there is peace to be found in this Buddhist teaching.

“Feel grateful for the time you have had,” he advises, and he promises you’ll keep you cool and appreciate life as never before.

Okay, Richard, thanks a lot, but as for me, I’d rather move all that gratitude and appreciation as far into the future as possible.