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The Zen of Mediocrity
By Jeff Kahn

Success is great. And, there's nobility in failure. But, mediocrity is a quicksand. The more you struggle to free yourself the deeper you sink in. Failure is something you can actually succeed in. Consider the crucifixion of Jesus: He goes from executed criminal to God. In three days! Or, take the whopping "19", I scored on my eleventh grade geometry Regents exam. The failure was so spectacular it actually felt triumphant. Sure, my parents grounded me for a few weeks, but my friends saw it subversively heroic. "Kahn got a fucking 19 on his Regents. That is so fucking punk!" "Punk" being the most scandalous thing you could be in 1979, Albany, New York. I proudly flew the "19" like a "I don't give a shit" flag to impress girls in my non-stop campaign to get them to give me hand jobs. Cause there's something dark, romantic, even sexy in failure. Often, drugs, alcohol and copious amounts of gratuitous sex accompany it. There's also that: He was misunderstood/ too good for them/way ahead of his time in failure. Not only does that go over well with the ladies, who feel sorry for you, but also you always have that solid, built in, "they'll appreciate me when I'm dead," excuse when your life becomes a huge, disastrous, pile of shit. And yes, there's always the slim chance of the Van Gogh of failure. You're dead, but your name lives on in a sappy folk song by Don McLean; your art work hanging on the walls of countless freshman university dorm rooms.

Success is universally admired and, unlike failure, you get your money's worth while you're still around to enjoy it. Moreover, you don't even have to be that good, talented, or, accomplished to be successful - You just have to succeed - I call to the witness stand, one Jennifer Lopez. With power, status and wealth, Success always gets the hot chick, no matter how genuinely nice, sweet and understanding the guy she's currently dating is. Years ago I was dating a Norwegian model. Five foot-ten of Scandinavian perfection. There was a definite "what-the-hell-is-she-doing-with-him?" vibe about dating her that I reveled in. Then, one day, I introduced her to my extremely successful friend, Ben Stiller… Never heard from her after that. Yet, success can also be just as dark as failure: Mathew Perry had his intoxicated Porsche accidents, Dick Cheney, his two-hundred and eighty-seven heart attacks and Phil Spector, Robert Blake and O.J. kill their women. But nobody straddles the line between success and failure more successfully then the failures of Robert Downy Jr. He's got the best of both worlds.

When I was growing-up, in response to my parents enthusiastic misunderstanding of me, I aspired to become something so undeniably unique and renowned, so sublime and awesome that my parents would be the laughing stock of earth. I'd be a rock star. Oh-yeah, and after years of lessons and countless hours of playing guitar instead of doing my homework, I had become the world's most average guitar player. Yeah, I had my own punk band for a little while and sang in a hideously fake English accent, ("This song means a lot to me, it's 'Anarchy in the UK - A-One-two-three-four!") It was painfully clear I'd never be a Beatle, or a Pistol, or Hall or even an Oat. Still, there must something else I could exceed in that could make me an irrefutable success. There it was staring at me from every magazine cover.... I'd become a famous actor!

Think of it: All I'd have to do is read, memorize lines and, bang, people would love me. They'd adore me. They'd worship me. They'd want to sleep with me. I'd be rich, but everyone would give me everything I want for free. It seemed so simple and easy I wondered why everyone in the world didn't also want to be a famous actor? And then I got out there and I saw that everyone in the world does want to. After striving, crawling and scrapping my way through ten long, hard years of acting purgatory, I survived to watch my closest actor friends become wildly successful and famous TV and movie stars, as well as Indie film icons and celebrated HBO talent. It's cool though, because at first, I got to hang with my celeb actor friends. But then it starts to dwindle down to special occasions like their birthdays, premiers and when they need to me to feed their dogs or egos. And then, eventually they stop calling. Being famous is like relocating to a newer and far better country. A nation of solely famous citizens who allow no one across its borders unless they're also famous. Rule number one in the book of fame: Famous people must befriend, marry and socialize only with other famous people. Rule number two: No matter what - Never stop being famous. Ever. (Even if it means reality shows like "The Surreal Life.")

I was at a crossroads. I could give up my dreams of success and greatness and become that noble failure - Dabble in drugs, fetishistic sex and cultivate an aggressive alcoholism, or, I could turn to that last vestige of scoundrels... Writing. Why not? All I need is a computer with a spell check. I'm short, funny, Jewish, why couldn't I become the next Woody Allen? - Minus the creepy, incestuous, pedophile thing. Yet, as pilots never quite made it on fall schedules and screenplays went un-produced, I was as far from success as I ever was. However, I'm paid enough to make a living so I'm also not an utter failure. No, I'm something much, much worse. I am mediocre. All my life I feared it. To be common, ordinary, neither here-nor-there, middling, moderate, run-of-the-mill, standard, so-so, par, normal, average, to be just like… Just like… My parents! I guess, it had been there all along, from faux Brit punk rocker to struggling actor to mundane writer. I was just too oblivious to see it and now it's too late. I'm stuck in the muck of mediocrity like a mastodon in La Brea Tar Pits.

You may be saying to yourselves that this is all just a shameless and cloying piece written solely to make you feel sorry for me. And to all of you I'd just like to say, you're right... What a cheesy, sentimental ploy at acquiring your sympathy, while blatantly self-promoting myself. It's disgusting. I know. I'm sorry. I apologize. This was all I could think of. I can't help it. I'm mediocre! For now on, my sole recourse is to find the Zen of mediocrity. To embrace my nondescript, tepid fate for all it's worth. Why not revel in it? Let's face it, most of the world is mediocre and they don't seem to mind. And this is America… We've made mediocrity an art form here. We take Cinema and turn it into "Walking Tall," starring the Rock. News journalism becomes The Fox News Network. For Christ's sake, our president Bush is the poster child of mediocrity. I have to learn to stop trying so hard and start caring a lot less. Instead of fighting it, I should dive into the pool of mediocrity and enjoy the over-crowded, lukewarm, kid's peeing in the water with the rest of humanity. There's a real future in it as I'm sure anyone who's ever bought anything at Pottery Barn can attest to. And now, I'm part of that future. Who's to say that I couldn't ironically succeed at being mediocre? Perhaps, I have finally found something I can genuinely excel in…

Dear, God, I pray you help me find peace on this perpetual loop of mediocrity I'm spinning in like some giant karmic hamster wheel. Please, Lord, hear my plea... No more rock star, no more famous actor, forget that whole, I'm the next Woody Allen… Just help get me a staff job on Yes, Dear and we'll call it a life.

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