Has this ever happened to any of you, where you find yourself reading something and somehow find yourself attracted to the mind and personality behind the words?
This has only happened to me twice, once with Alan Watts (but given the way he loved women and women loved him right back, that’s really not very surprising) and the second time with Scottish historian , William Dalrymple.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not into him or anything. In the great tradition of intrepid English travel writers, he has that foppish, slovenly air about him. An unabashed Indophile and Islamophile (he lives 6 months out of the year in Old Delhi with his lovely wife Olivia and their kids), I first encountered Dalrymple when I read his first book “In Xanadu” where he followed the footsteps of Venetian merchant Marco Polo and like Polo, he took holy oil from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and then travelled overland via the ancient Silk Route and Central Asia to Xanadu, the summer palace of Mongol emperor Kublai Khan in Inner Mongolia.
Polo gifted the holy oil to the great Khan and Dalrymple poured out the oil over the ruins since that’s all that’s left of Xanadu these days. I know, it sounds extravagant, impractical and pretentious but completely adventurous and wildly romantic at the same time, combining erudition, history, myth and cultural anthropology…and exactly the sort of thing I would sign up for in a heartbeat.
Aside from just being an amazing historian and whose writings are positively delicious in their detail and scope, Dalrymple represents one of a handful of Western public intellectuals who strive to look for the commonality amongst different people and their ways as opposed to looking for the “clashes of civilizations“, which other negatively fixated (and xenophobic) public intellectuals seem to always stress and then use to infect the public discourse of these issues, say like Samuel Huntington or that diabolical dinosaur, Bernard Lewis.
I bring up the qualities of Dalrymple and his ilk because I had a funny incident this past weekend. A buddy of mine and I went out for a drink after attending a dinner party we both were invited to. Now, buddy is a nice enough lady and a real knock-out of a brunette (she could easily pass as Brooke Shields’ younger cousin) but at 36, she is positively freaking out and looking for a “life-partner” and seems to always be scoping out every room we walk into. She’s pretty frantic about this stuff now and I keep telling her to tone down the over-enthusiastic vibe she gives off because it can easily be misread as desperation, a turn-off for most people. Not that she listened, because she made a bee-line for a blonde dude at the bar and started chatting him up and later found out that he’s 28 and he kept talking about video games and gaming for 30 minutes, much to her chagrin.
I belong to the school of thought where a person should really honest-to-God figure out what they want and what they DON’T want first, what are their non-negotiables because if you don’t know what you want, then who knows?
I don’t think anyone should ever settle for anything less than what they truly want and I believe there is absolutely nothing wrong with finding love later in life, particularly if values like spiritual and emotional maturity are important to you (there are always exceptions to every rule, some sleek young bucks are old souls, it’s true it happens). In the meantime, I think the safest bet is to focus on making yourself to be the person you want to be and become the person which will attract another who has those qualities you really need and want in your life.
I know that places me in a marginalized minority particularly in this let’s-beat-the-biological-clock-and-accumulate-lots-of-stuff-culture but when I see that I’ll-grab-anything-I-can-get mentality, I can’t help but shake my head at all the mismatched unions, bad marriages, headaches and heartaches which have come out of this obsession with time and physical expediency…and convenience.
Like I wrote, water always seeks its own level, I just wished more people figured out what their own levels were.