Roger Marolt: A man in full retreat
I wonder if my life in Aspen would be better if I didn’t care about development. Does the satisfaction of constantly fighting the next big project outweigh the energy lost, frustration layered on and angst spent fighting it? What do I become at the end of each fight? I feel like I am punching at the wind known as “the inevitable.”
I’ve been reading “A Man in Full” by Tom Wolfe and it has polluted my mind. I have come to the conclusion that, if you like who you are and the way you think and believe you are smarter than most, do not read. It will ruin everything.
This novel is set at the turn of Y2K and it brings back memories of all the yuk of instant real estate wealth that was infecting Aspen, too, at that time. For that alone, it is a cringe-worthy read. I promise it will remind you of rich people hanging around here who you didn’t really like, but diligently skied with anyway, and did other things more embarrassing than that in many cases, because you thought they might tip you a new Rolex or Range Rover at the end of the holidays.
A lot of loosening up that kind of dry phlegm stuck in the societal throat comes about through homeopathic teaspoon doses of the teachings of First Century stoic philosopher, Epictetus, to the main characters. In contradiction with much post Renaissance thought, Epictetus believed that, instead of trying to change the stuff that basically makes up our destinies, we should be focusing on how we react to it. That is the only way a man can become great. He believed most of what we worry about is completely out of our control, so we should make ourselves better by staying true to our natures while enduring it.
By way of example, Epictetus and a prominent government official were called upon by the emperor, Nero, to dress up and be made fools of in front of Nero’s party guests. Refusing to do so carried a penalty of imprisonment or death. “What shall we do?” asked the government official. Epictetus answered, “You should partake, but I shall not.” When the official asked why the answer was different from himself, the philosopher replied, “because you have considered it.”
It’s beautiful! Epictetus knew dignity was worth more than the comfort of his body, which he described as “a bunch of bones and a quart of blood.” He refused to live as Nero’s fool.
We see a version of this playing out almost continually in Aspen. Developers come to town and do just about anything to get their projects built. They schmooze. They act as the caricature of big shots. They will lie to the public and politicians. They are shameless in the game of give and take. They claim to have the best interest of the town in mind, but the minute the best interest of the town might cost them a dime, a nickel’s worth of paid consultants comes in and explains to the town why the town couldn’t possibly benefit from the things the town wants. It matters not the cost of lost integrity, they must cash out with a profit.
The way I see it, every time I have jumped into this fray in opposition to the next great project for Aspen, I have donned the costume of the concerned local, willing to tie myself to the elm tree in front of the widow’s house so the bulldozers must idle for a few minutes longer. I am a character in the comedy. In the end, I am Nero’s clown because, persistent as the drips of water that eventually form a canyon through stone, the developers always prevail. In the end, new buildings do not create character in town, but the fool doesn’t see that neither does the lack of them.
I look at all the buildings, houses and subdivisions that have gone up since I was a boy and one salient question persists: “What difference did it make whether I wanted this to happen or not?” I am not less happy because of them.
Which leads to a more important question: “Would I have been better served focusing on my own character rather than the town’s?” After all, aren’t those two things one and the same in the end?
If I continue to play the role of “the concerned citizen” I will likely end up bitter. I feel it’s insidious creep and there is plenty of precedence. If, on the other hand, I step aside and let things be, I feel like I may be equipped, if the time comes, to leave in peace for a more suitable home. If that time doesn’t come, then I might die right here, happy and content. I should not consider anything else.
Until recently, Roger Marolt had forgotten about a memorable paper he wrote on Epictetus in college. Email at email@example.com.