Seriousness

Artists, speaking generally and fairly stereotypically, tend to view their creative works in the long term. At least, this is the case amongst the people I’ve interacted with, and especially so for writers. Legacy is an issue for many, and the thought of their efforts “standing the test of time” or “being remembered” or remaining as a “gift to the ages” or as the proof of “leaving my mark on the world” is a major motivator. Such ideas are natural, perhaps, and it might be that any creature with a sufficiently developed sense of ego will tend towards them, but in the end this type of concern must be seen for what it is: self-defeating. Ironically so, of course, given that the core concern here is not the work per se but the self who formed the work. In many ways we humans are messed up animals. Beautifully tragic might be the positive spin, cripplingly self-obsessed the negative. Even our brightest stars can be subject to this trait (or failing, depending on how charitable one wishes to be), as a biography of Kurt Vonnegut revealed in its portrayal of a man who rather bitterly and tellingly asked the biographer to look up his name in a dictionary and, not finding it, to then look up Jack Kerouac’s, which was listed. “How about that?” Vonnegut asks.

We are ever so serious, and we take ourselves that way, but not only ourselves. We also take our work as reflections of our selves, and our work’s worth (judged externally or internally) as indicative of our own worth as people, as living beings with all of our many complexities. Could there possibly be a more potent recipe for misery than this? It’s just asking for trouble, particularly in the case of outside determinations as surely reception is one area beyond anyone’s control – even a shred of control. The best that could be done would be to increase one’s chances by essentially playing the lottery as many times as possible and hoping to sooner or later hit on a winner. Fate, it spins its thread (or, truer to the cultural roots invoked here, The Fates, they spin their thread), and on its fibers our lives dance and twist, rising and falling inexorably as we struggle to make some sense of it all. But I think there is sense to be had – when it comes to one’s work anyway – some sense and some purpose, although first we’ve got to get over ourselves, get over our selves.

Finitude: embrace it. The lesson of the existentialists, the smirk and the wink at absurdity. “One must imagine Sisyphus happy” writes Camus, and indeed we must, for if we don’t then we find ourselves stuck in the same rut as that poor hero. If it is, in the end, all a rolling a boulder up a hill only to have it roll back down again, all a repetitive straining that gains nothing of any significance or lasting value, then what’s the point? Certainly not chasing fame, certainly not daydreaming of immortality. We will be forgotten, and everything we’ve produced will wilt and fade, even if it does outlast our physical bodies to some degree and even if it does outlast our physical bodies to a great degree (we are, after all, still talking about Shakespeare – although will we still in a thousand years? Ten thousand?). Yet now we are alive and we are making something with our being alive – that is a wonder. The process, the act, the experience, the journey of it; who could ask for more? Who could expect more – why and how wisely?

For life itself and so for the labors of life. The fruits of our efforts are not in what they might or might not bring, rather they are in the efforts themselves, they are the efforts themselves. We lighten up! We sit to write with a sloppy grin on our faces for in all the wide world we have this, now: a keyboard, a typewriter, a pencil and a pad, an idea and a brain and a hand or two that can tell it. What a stunningly generous gift we have received, what a blessing it is to be breathing and to be capable of that to which we choose to put ourselves. There is no call for the frowning futurist here, only the silly person of the moment, the shouting and singing presentist twirling out a Dionysian jig and tossing afar her words in freedom and abandon. Come what may, she says, today I create, today I do.

 

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