Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes Absurdity

Ovid by Luca Signorelli
Ovid (or not) by Luca Signorelli (circa 1445-1523)

“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”

As hoary old aphorisms go, this one is right up there on the tiresome scale with “a penny saved is a penny earned”, “you miss 100% of the shots you do not take”, “when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping:” and “insinuations are lavender, nearly.”

Nevertheless, I have a particular fondness for “the grass is always greener on the other side” because its sentiment cuts so closely to my own life, psyche, and existential feelings of victimization: well, duh, of course everyone else’s life is better than mine, of course I’m missing out on something everyone else has, of course everything always happens to me, of course I’m a fraud and everyone else is not. “The grass is always greener on the other side” addresses, perfectly, that generative emotion held so dear by so many composers, authors, poets, painters, sculptors, architects, musicians, singers, and actors (to say nothing for the rest of the population) and that is envy.

What we might call “the grass-is-always-greener syndrome” is surely as old as humanity itself: “the cave is always bigger on the other side.” For our information, the first person we know to have actually put it into words was the Roman poet Ovid [Publius Ovidius Naso, 43 BCE – 17 or 19 CE], who wrote in his Art of Love that:

“The harvest is always richer in another man’s field”.)


Envy. We read that in the heart of every great comedian is a wannabe dramatist who desperately wants to play Lear; and in the heart of every great dramatic actor is someone who wishes he/she could make people laugh. Envy: no matter how good or accomplished we might be, it’s rarely (if ever) enough, because (or so we think) if we are capable of doing something it can’t possibly be special.

Now please, in confessing my own envy (and the self-loathing it represents), I am being neither pathetic nor particularly candid. I long ago accepted that a degree of both envy and self-loathing is integral to the human condition, and I take no small comfort in the knowledge that to some extent the vast majority of us deal with “the grass-is-always-greener syndrome.”

(Frankly, the people who worry me are not the envious and self-loathing. Rather, it’s the folks who aren’t: those megalomaniacal crazies whose mental deficiencies have allowed them to convince themselves that they are perfect and that everyone else is a sucker and a loser; people who exist in a pretend world of their own creation without self-awareness or shame.  These are the people that worry me.)

Envy and the desire to be something they are not will drive some people to do the darndest things.

Which brings us to the subject at hand: the prescribed recording……

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