I Am (Two or More) Legends

The recent death of writer Richard Matheson (most noted as author of the apocalyptic novel “I Am Legend“) prompted me to muse about legends of another kind.  Living legends (the best kind, believe you me).  My own, specifically.  Because in at least two distinct spheres — the professional and the recreational — it seems I’m a legend.  Of sorts.  Last year I actually heard someone say they’d been told I was a legend in my field, and although I could think of several reasons why that might be so, I wasn’t quite sure which aspects of my oeuvre were in current circulation.  Ultimately, it didn’t really matter:  I didn’t burden myself with any particular pressure to live up to such exalted(?) status, because if you’re a legend you don’t need to.  Still, it would be interesting (and possibly informative) to know which constitutive elements of legend were considered most significant, remarkable or fascinating.

This legend thing may run in the family — at least in the male line of the current generation.  My brother is also known as a legend in his line of work, although my sisters are not (yet?).  In my brother’s case, legendary stature was achieved through the traditional American ‘virtues’ of hard work and capital accumulation.  He raced through college to get his undergraduate degree in three years so that he could start making money as soon as possible.  Unlike Mark Zuckerberg, he actually graduated.  Maybe that’s why he’s not (yet?) a billionaire.

I don’t claim to have achieved legendhood through hard work, although sometimes work did seem difficult.  Especially the part that involved getting out of bed and actually showing up at the office … day after day, year after year.  Instead, I attribute my success to the voodoo guardians who adopted me as their special protégé.  It’s much easier to have things go your way when disembodied spiritual entities are taking care of minor obstacles from behind the scenes or passing you warnings and hints on the fringes of dreams.  So sometimes I tell people that it’s not as important whether or not you believe in voodoo as it is that voodoo believes in you.  And when you believe in each other, things progress more smoothly.  Most importantly, attributing my notable achievements (such as they are) to the assistance and collaborative effort of others seems a more suitably modest and humble perspective rather than claiming that everything sprang fully formed from my creative genius, molded into shape by my towering intellectual powers.  Let’s spread the credit around, especially where it’s due.


On the other hand, I’m still not entirely sure what to make of how to deal with the other legend that ripples around me.  For more than a year after it began circulating, I was largely unaware of its existence.  Something was noticeably different about the way people were reacting to my presence, but I didn’t understand why.  I finally figured out what was going on when I belatedly remembered a dramatic incident that had started it all …

Since then, I’ve spent a couple of years blundering around in the altered local landscape engendered by my improbable legend.  Unfortunately, I haven’t found any guidebooks that provide helpful suggestions for interacting with this new and evolving environment.  Regardless of whether or not you originally sought legendhood — and perhaps especially if you didn’t — you’re no longer exactly who once you thought you were and so you gotta deal with it, on terms not entirely your own.  When you encounter people aware of the legend in any of its many garbled forms, ordinary everyday human interaction has the potential to be suffused with implicit expectations that some of your heedless behavior may inadvertently confirm or confound.  When you’re not sure who has heard the legend and who hasn’t, who reacts positively to its general outlines and who not, it’s pretty clear how quickly things can become complicated.  It ain’t all sunshine and roses.  But it’s much better than being hated.

After much reflection, I’ve concluded that being a living legend entails/imposes particular ethical responsibilities, which probably vary from case to case depending on the specific characteristics of the legend itself.  I’m still tediously working through some of the more intricate ethical issues, but one thing I’m pretty sure of:  legend or not, try to be nice, try to be kind.  Whenever possible.

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