Monday, June 27, 2011

Life Is Too Short

Although it didn’t feel that way to me, last Tuesday was the longest day of the year. And, it follows, the shortest night. I’ve had worse of both.

Still, it got me to thinking it was precisely those “longest” days for me that found me shortest on patience. It struck me that a new phrase had attached itself to my discourse: Life is too short.

If you use, or even think, a phrase as often as I have found myself doing with this one, you have to ask yourself a few questions, starting with, “Too short for what?”

The first answer came quickly—too short for some people. You know them, we all have them in our lives. Those “when I’m gloomy you simply gotta listen to me” individuals who drain you; whom your heart goes out to again and again. And again! Those who keep coming back for more—of you. Those who thrash wildly in your seemingly still waters to dodge drowning in their turbulent psyches.

Sound harsh? I’m not talking about family, loved ones or the dearest of friends. I mean the midnight callers, the gloomy Sunday drop-ins at your door. Ask yourself if they ever heed the counsel they seek from you. No point in asking them.

Your time is too dear. Life is too short.

Before we go any further, let me assure you I didn’t come to this quality-of-life conclusion as a result of any recent illness, but decidedly while I was of sound mind and sound body. I started eliminating several exasperating people-predators from my life several years ago, and found the cutting away liberating—so blissfully so, I share the revelation enthusiastically with you.

This is not an invitation to you to share your experiences with the clingers, imposers and sturm und drangers with me. While I’d be interested in your confirming similar incidents of exasperation and exhaustion [See: “Comments”], I’d prefer to skip your grueling particulars; I have my own, and imposing yours on me would render you a second-hand predator of sorts. Writing what I have thus far has made me feel lighter by the word: you’ll undoubtedly find your own way.

It strikes me that I’m likely to be on others’ life-is-too-short lists. Maybe yours, now. Fair enough!

For me, the “too short” yardstick, still novel to me, didn’t have to stop at people. I’d sat in too many theaters shaking my head from side to side in bewilderment over what Broadway and Hollywood can foist on the unsuspecting, undiscerning or simply unconscious as entertainment.

I started considering Broadway’s offerings in terms of shows I deemed I could live without. (Fortunately, I continue to see ones I wouldn’t have wanted to have missed.) I was amazed—you might be, too—by how good it felt to be off the hook, in just one season, for “Spiderman,” "Priscilla," “The Addams Family” and “Rain.”

As for films, a brief flashback. When the venerable producer-director-playwright George Abbott was in his late eighties, he told several riveted listeners he gave a film five minutes, and if it didn’t engage him, he walked out on it. “At my age,” he explained, “I don’t have two hours to waste.” He lived to the age of 108—and seven months… and six days—at work on a new show when he died. Imagine how much time he saved, and used better, over those last two decades! Proving? At any age, life is too short to trifle away.

I took Mr. Abbott (He was that to everyone who knew him.) to heart. I estimated that if he, with six decades on me, only gave a film five minutes, I had at least twenty, but no more than thirty, minutes to give a rudderless or pointless one.

More recently, fortified by my new prescription, I learned I didn’t have to see everything within three weeks, even three months, of its opening. At a Manhattan dinner party, I don’t mind saying, “I haven’t seen that yet,” adding, “I’m in no hurry.” Even if, blasphemous as it may be to other New Yorkers, it’s a Woody Allen film.

The “short” list is as long as you dare make it. Books, the news, politics. Television, radio. E-mail and social networks, and what have you. Separate the wheat from the chaff and, to paraphrase Adlai Stevenson, don’t go with the chaff. A friend told me she was reading a book she was growing increasingly impatient with. “Why don’t you spare yourself and stop reading it?” I asked. “I always finish everything I start,” was her answer.

If you weren’t finding this piece interesting, how could I expect you to finish it? Finding it less, it’s likely I wouldn’t.

Hold on! Please, before you click me away! What you won’t find on Twitter, in government or a Woody Allen film is: Life is too short for any of us to fail to get around to saying the things we should say to each other while there’s time. I rest my case.


  1. You hit the nail on the head with this one Ray. There's some excellent advice in there. I have already started on the people. I'm now moving on to the movies ;-)

  2. God



    Life is too short for psychic vampires. However, I will use this space to underscore that it is not too short to write about them, as you demonstrated.

    Hell, even Dante did, and in Inferno. (Where else?)

  3. Dear Ray,

    Nice piece, as always. And a word of advice: you can safely skip 'Midnight in Paris'.


  4. this piece qualified to be read to the very end...excellent writing!


  5. I could not agree more!! Thank you for saying what we ALL feel.
    And, heeding your advice, I will tell you, again (I try to tell you at least once a day) that I love you, dad!

  6. Agreed! So in concert with you my friend, beginning today, and forevermore, I am going to stop wasting time keeping lists! We keep so many lists in life that we need new lists each day to remember where we put the lists from the day before. I am herein declaring myself the high priest of the anti-list movement and from this day forward refuse to commit anything more than a single thought to a piece of paper! I am going to be listless in my listlessness!!! Anti-listers of the world unite!
    Steve Eskow

  7. Welcome back, Ray. You are, as they say (who are "they", anyway?), on a roll! When will be the next indulgence? Four weeks - or fewer this time?

  8. I think I started doing this even before I realized what I was doing. As we grow older and understand that our time in NOT unlimited, things begin to fall away -- people, Broadway shows, movies, books, all sorts of culture (especially television!) and we begin spending time more as we WANT to spent it. That's our privilege, and it's probably a pity that this does not happen earlier on.

    Regarding one of the anonymous comments, above, this is the first negative I've heard about the new Woody Allen film. Everyone I know who has seen it has liked it....

  9. Jim,

    Other than the "anonymous" comment you refer to, I've heard mostly good word on "Midnight in Paris" and been told I, "in particular," will enjoy it (for reasons I didn't dare question for fear of someone telling me more about the film than I want to know). I'm looking forward to seeing it, but practicing what I preached, just haven't gotten around to it yet.