Sweet and Sour

The past two weeks have been full of highs and lows. The ill wind of failure swept down from up north, but a breath of fresh air from England and the warm glow of Augusta’s sun helped soften the blow. Despite more than forty years of practice, I still have issues with accepting defeat. On the bright side, nothing other than my pride got broken and my fit of cussing was no worse than it is during a college football game. The upshot of that little affair is that my groove has been interrupted and I’m still trying to get my head back in the game.

Writing is typically the first casualty of disruptions in my routine. Rather than waiting for the fickle muse of inspiration to return, however, I’ve decided to keep churning out posts until I chase the bastard down. While the blog concerns itself with urban design and our fair city, I suspect that I will venture afield for the next few weeks- or at least until I’m back in my happy place. This week, I’m getting back on the horse to offer thoughts sour and sweet.

On Failure – The Sour

 Anyone who has been on the internet lately knows that failure is in vogue. The world is awash in articles by “innovators” extolling the virtues of failing. The gurus extol the virtue of failure as an opportunity to learn and get better, which theoretically leads to success in the future. Failure can also be a motivator – a la Michael Jordan’s pitiable approach. There is no glory in the act of failing, however, only the potential for redemption in the aftermath. The unfortunate reality is that while there are often opportunities for learning and growth, there are also times when failure is a dead-end. I hate losing. I am unfortunately inclined to wallow in my failures for extended periods. I have come to conclusion that I embrace failure, not necessarily as an opportunity to get better, or as a motivational tool, but because I enjoy feeling the failure.

On The Masters – The Sweet
In the broad variety of human endeavor there exists a “world-class” level of excellence. Some achieve standards that are unequaled anywhere around the globe. The world is a big place, and most common people don’t get the opportunity to experience the world class very often. As a very common person, this is especially true for me. Last year, however, I hit the lottery. Not the one that awards millions of dollars, but the one that grants admittance to a world-class event. I was drawn for tickets to The Masters. If you enjoy sports, this is arguably the greatest fan experience in the world. The venue is breathtaking, comfortable and generous, the crowd is well-behaved and knowledgeable, everyone working there is focused on serving the patrons, food and drink are good and reasonably priced, and even the restroom experience is a lesson in efficiency.

The grounds are amazing. The areas devoted to the galleries have grass that would put the greens of any golf course to shame. I would not be surprised to learn that each square foot of the course has it’s own groundskeeper who cuts each blade individually with tiny little shears. There are no gaps, no brown spots, and no weeds, just a tightly cropped, uniformly saturated emerald blanket. I could go on at length about the place- about how each of the tall pine trees has its own lightning rod, about how no blade of grass would dare grow out of place, and about how the pine needles even seem to know their place. Perfection may be not obtainable, but Augusta National is pretty damned close.
Who the hell allowed that stray leaf on the fairway? Shocking.
While the stage that is the golf course slowly evolves in rhythm with the timeless cycles of nature, the cast of players rotates from day to day and year to year.  In addition to dozens of the best golfers in the world, we got to see the great Alabamian Condoleezza Rice working the green on one of the par threes, we got to see a pink-haired Caroline Wozniacki caddying for her boyfriend, and (speaking of timeless) we got to see the threesome of Nicklaus, Player and Palmer play through.

This was my second visit to what are arguably the most hallowed grounds in the South. As Michelangelo freed Moses from his marble cocoon, Jones and McKenzie coaxed a masterpiece from the east Georgia forest. Southerners recognize the pine forest, it occupies a place in our collective memory. The monument of the course testifies to the undeniable quality of the place, but also tantalizes us with the idea that there exist innumerable other special places slumbering in their own cocoons in Mississippi, in Georgia, in South Carolina, in Alabama. Augusta National belongs to Georgia, but the promise of the place belongs to us all.

Yes, selfies at The Masters are bush league, but I couldn't resist.

I am conflicted about whether or not the return to “real life” from a world-class experience is good or bad. Would one not want to constantly experience excellence in all of life’s endeavors? Yet if one experienced nothing but life’s finest, would the joy of exceptionalism lose its spark?  Must we endure the mundane to appreciate the sublime? Is despair necessary for joy? What is the thrill of victory without the agony of defeat?

What is the sweet without the sour? Is feeling failure necessary to appreciate success?

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