Fresh Lettuce for Our Salad Days

When I was a university student I had a friend who walked around for an entire semester reminding all of us that we were living our salad days. As a starving student I thought he meant we were poor and hungry and could only afford to eat lettuce. Years later, having finally come to understand what he was talking about, I think about the salad days and wonder if my salad days are gone.

Our salad days are, depending on the definition one follows, either the green days of our youth when we are full of indiscretion and light on wisdom, or they are the time of our life when we are at the height of our abilities, regardless of age.

The latter definition implies that there is a point of greatest apex, a time when we maximize our potential, to be followed thereafter by a decline. Like salad greens we come in fresh, potent, and full of energy. And like salad greens we then wilt and decay. A sad prognosis for those of us still hoping to attain a certain level of sais quoi after a long struggle with our craft. So the question begs, are we engaged in a desperate race against a gradual decline prior to the close of the mortal window, or is there hope for lifelong production at a high level?

There is far more to the science of the brain than I could hope to know in making my argument here, but then I’ve always been an intuitive soul impartial to empirical evidence (that’s a joke, son). We’ve all heard that the brain is full of untapped potential, and that tapping into that potential very often requires little more than using our brain intentionally to envision the results we want. Thus, if we listen to adages that tell us we are bound to decline, and that we only have so much time to reach our potential before it’s too late, then it stands to reason that we will program our brain to follow that precise outcome. Humans are quite adept at self-fulfilling prophesies. Like we discussed last time, “will it and it is no dream” – this goes for nightmares, too.

Our “salad days” should be lifelong. I believe this is entirely possible (though not easy). Over time the energy we put into our thoughts affects things like our health, happiness, wealth, success, relationships. Our beliefs guide our expectations and our expectations manifest into results (good and bad). The bottom line is that by expecting to maintain a high level of performance, particularly in the mental arts, there should be no end to our salad days potential.

The challenge comes as we age, when it takes a bit more will to meet the demands of high-level performance. We become a little more jaded, a little more world-weary, and if we lose our passion and the will to continue strong then we may well lose all desire for the thing we formerly wanted so badly. To keep up our strength for the road ahead one might prescribe meditation as a tool for staying mentally sharp. Personally, I would also suggest the martial arts, particularly tai chi chuan (or one of the milder variations such as tai chi chih). Yoga may also help. Whatever works to bring the mind and will together to continue working at a high level. A runner doesn’t stop running the race when they get tired, and the committed lover of life shouldn’t stop living until that life comes to its eventual end.

Many of us are still hard at work despite creeping into middle age, so it’s worth noting that middle age encompasses the majority of our functional and effective lives. Old enough to have some education and accomplishments, and hopefully with the maturity to be the masters of our own lives, this period has the potential to be our most lucrative while setting us up for continued growth into “old age.” But it takes a life of dedicated focus on the good – focus on the intentional outcome of high quality.

And so this is a call to the joys of our salad days. A little bit of impishness, a sense of mischievous criminality, just like when we were first discovering life’s great taboos and the thrill of crossing a line – this is where we want to stay as creatives. Bold in the assurance that we are in, or have yet to reach, the peak of our greatest potential. To always have something more to do. And to always be doing things well. This is where to live out the decades of our lives, letting the products of our heart’s work litter the ground behind us like dragon scales in the molting season of our great and beastly imagination.

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8 comments on “Fresh Lettuce for Our Salad Days

  1. jcollyer says:

    I like to believe we never stop learning: whether that be about your craft, the world or yourself 🙂 if you find that listless or unsatisfying (if you want get there, achieve something, be the BEST and be it NOW) this will mean it’s a slog. However I see it as positive, progressive, full of potential and other words beginning with P 🙂 it is also liberating: once you wrap your head round the fact that you will always be moving toward something better, whether you ever get there I think is immaterial 🙂 or maybe I’m just lucky enough to not be jaded. Yet.

    Thank you for another beautifully eloquent and thought provoking post

    • emperort says:

      Thank you, JC – there are certainly many reasons why people create. For me I don’t want to fall short of the vision I have in my head, and worrying that my time is limited doesn’t help ease the angst. But then I realized that a lot of our limits are self-imposed and that when we apply the same level of energy toward positive expectations we can change the outcomes from negative to positive – so I thought why not with age as well as anything?

  2. jcollyer says:

    And apologies that my iPhone seems to have missed out all the punctuation in my reply!

  3. I love that analogy, and I’ll probably be using it in the future…the thing with age is that you be unhappy at 20 and happy at 30 or whatever, it’s entirely up to the ‘user’. We all have peaks and troughs. I guess university time is a time that we may be greenest, but being green isn’t always the best thing to be either 🙂

    • emperort says:

      Right, Lion – green is a liability in the former sense of the definition of “salad days.” What we want to be is fresh! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You make a good point.

  4. I confess I’ve never heard the expression, but if I think back to my college days, maybe I’d be more inclined to call them the “Salad Bar Days.” When we’re young, we’re far more likely to treat the craft like a buffet, cramming our plates full of whatever ingredients strike our fancy. We don’t shy away from trying new things — as opposed to the mature writer, who knows what he/she likes and sometimes is reluctant to stray from “the usual.”

    Sure, sometimes the combinations our more adventurous selves concoct are less than appetizing, but maybe we’re better off if we don’t entirely lose that zest for experimentation.

    • emperort says:

      Thanks, David! You remind me of what Frost said about experimental poetry. He said he doesn’t set out to write experimental poems, he writes poems that fail and then they become experiments. Anyway, humor aside, I agree – we never want to lose a little of that “zest.”

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