Staircase wit, or l’esprit d’escalier, is what you should have said, had you thought of it before leaving down the staircase.
A friend of my daughter Jenny’s once said to me, Buy what did you tell people you did before the DVD?
The answer, Tammy, is The same thing as I told them after the DVD. The DVD isn’t my identity. Once something is done, it’s over, and you look ahead. That is where an artist lives. In the future. For the next poem, the next painting. I tell people what I think they want to hear, unless I respect them, and then I tell them the truth. I’ve never worried about who I am or what I do because once I wrote a great poem, and what more can anyone do in life? Having done it, I could die in peace. The fact that I might have written even better oems later on didn’t really matter.
Whether or not who I am comes out at a party or even in my lifetime isn’t important to me, as long as my wife and my best friends know it. What is more important than to be loved for ourselves by the people we care about, as opposed to the arrogant egotism of lording our accomplishments over strangers? To get a table in a restaurant based on anything other than how nice I’ve been to the host is to be slimed by my own values. To be in a room where all that counts is your income or your star power is to be in the wrong room. People who have achieved celebrity by definition do not care about anybody else. To love them is to betray the very idea of love.
Woody Allen has said, after many others, that getting even is the best revenge. To me, the very notion of revenge contradicts genuine achievement, which is done out of quiet joy to share, not to wound or impress. And showing off is really only an attempt to put others down. To put oneself up is to be put down by oneself, in the long run.
My other daughter once said at her college graduation, Wouldn’t it be great if you were a great poet and we could go to dinner with my friends?
The response, Liza, is that I was a great poet, but that you and your friends didn’t know it because you needed the world to certify it, and so you missed dinner with a great poet, even though you had it. But one does not point out these errors in timing to sweet young daughters.
My father once said to me, But what makes you think you’re authorized to write? The fact that my father was unaware that the answer lay in his own question was answer enough. To author is authorization enough.
A neighbor once asked a friend of mine what he did. Upon hearing that my friend as a concert pianist, the neighbor responded, “Yeah, but what’s your day job?” Fortunately the question was not asked of me, because, years later, I am still speechless at it.
My niece Paige didn’t have to wait for the staircase. A snide friend of her step mother Lynn Forrester’s once asked Paige at a party, And what do you do?
I am a writer, said Paige.
Oh, said the woman, are you a writer professionally or just casually?
Paige immediately came back with, “Are you a bitch professionally, or just casually?” I’m sure that by now the woman has thought of a reply.