I had to… I apologize.
You see, I’m still debating whether this is a thing worth doing, this blog thing. Writing in a vacuum seems very strange. But since I’ve decided to make this site dedicated to all my side-projects, my little orphan ideas as I call them, I can’t very well just give them shelter and leave them to fend for themselves. That’d be inhumane.
Though the question of subject matter does strike me as quite the obstacle. Especially with a format like a blog, or as I like to think about it, a series of articles about certain things. I’m not what one would call a supporter of the weepy-woe-is-me-now-look-at-my-food-and-read-about-my-life thing so I’m going to do my best to give that a wide berth and leave those people to their audience. It’s not my cuppa. Maybe that’s why you’re here instead of there… for now anyway. To spend any more time thinking on it does seem totally irrelevant, and utterly on the nose or apropos considering the nature of this string of thoughts. Perhaps we have something in common, or not all for that matter. It’s all the same.
By the way, can we agree that the word “apropos” is having some strange resurgence, a renaissance if you will, and managed to find itself part of the affluent persons everyday vernacular. A bit of tell in many ways. I find it quite funny actually, especially when many of these people are educators preaching about the importance of outreach and education across socio-economic class divides and using words like “apropos”. How many people are we alienating when using a word like “apropos” when you could easily use the word “appropriate”? It’s not an insult, at least I don’t think it is, but my nature compels me to make note. Though it’s less about the right or wrong of the word choice and more about the why isn’t it? Not why or why not use “apropos”, but why would the accessibility of a thing as simple as a word cross my mind in the first place and persuade me to use another in favor of decreasing the risk of misinterpretation or worse, losing the audience. That’s the real trick. The answer is sad and boring and… easy to answer. It’s convoluted and mired in socio-economic disparity with roots murkier than the blood lines in the House of Plantagenet, but it’s easy. (Link included as this reference may be elusive based on education.)
Personally, I tend to gravitate towards the world of questions and not answers. Especially in my writing, my thinking even. Questions are where the mysteries lie, where the magic lives, and dies. Answers are the destroyers of mystery more often than not.
So I found myself thinking, “What will I be writing about?” That is the question. And much like the question posed by Shakespeare hundreds of years ago, and this is just my opinion, it’s much less about the immediate answer and more about the ponderous nature of the question. A larger question that finds itself reflected in so many parts of life in so many ways. One could very well flip a coin and let fate or physics decide, for either answer is just as valid as the other. And like with so many others things in a life, we could just kill this one too, with a coin toss no less.
Assuming we did flip a coin, I don’t find solace in the answer any more than I find a truly clear answer. A facade of courage, acceptance, and understanding masking a deep dark valley of submission and uncertainty. It’s like “positive thinking”, only slightly less pathetic.
It’s the mystery of the question, the curiosity of the mind that allows us to follow our thoughts from stone to stone as they hop and skip across a vast ocean of ambiguity and skepticism on the smallest, most delicate of notions. Ideas that can barely hold their own weight somehow are able to carry us to a shore far, far away from where we started. On their own, they fail, they break, they dissipate back into the ether. The exploration of possibilities against all probability. There’s something to ponder.
Again, this is just me riffing a bit- To me, there is much learned simply by looking at the question and the initial responses one has to it. Where does the mind go? Are we following in earnest or trudging behind it with a sigh as if we’re babysitting a 7-year old on a sugar high. You know the one, just old enough to perform some surprisingly deft acrobatics and young enough to exhibit heart-stopping bravery in the most stupid ways… yeah, that kid. Or are we finding ourselves side-tracked by these constructions of our mind that lead us to hang on specific words like “apropos” because our skepticism has far overgrown the small stepping-stones our imaginations and questions once provided. Which begs me to wonder, what is the real question?
And I want to wonder. I want to explore the possibilities that simple idea has. And as much as it pains me for not providing a direct answer to the very thing posed, for the round-about excursion we just went on, I offer these posts.
This little haven for orphan ideas. I am not sure what I or my readers may expect, but if I can be honest, it feels good to not have to set up a goal or a mission.
There is a wonderful little letter from one of my favorite writers that I often refer back to when finding myself in a contemplative kind of mood, when I find myself in a place with many more questions than I normally allow to swirl about me. I’ve included it below for your perusal.
Perhaps you might find something in there for yourself. I highly recommend it. Just don’t expect any answers.
April 22, 1958
57 Perry Street
New York City
Dear Hume [Logan],
You ask advice: ah, what a very human and very dangerous thing to do! For to give advice to a man who asks what to do with his life implies something very close to egomania. To presume to point a man to the right and ultimate goal— to point with a trembling finger in the RIGHT direction is something only a fool would take upon himself.
I am not a fool, but I respect your sincerity in asking my advice. I ask you though, in listening to what I say, to remember that all advice can only be a product of the man who gives it. What is truth to one may be disaster to another. I do not see life through your eyes, nor you through mine. If I were to attempt to give you specific advice, it would be too much like the blind leading the blind.
“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles … ” (Shakespeare)
And indeed, that IS the question: whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this! Think of any decision you’ve ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong, but I don’t see how it could have been anything but a choice however indirect— between the two things I’ve mentioned: the floating or the swimming.
But why not float if you have no goal? That is another question. It is unquestionably better to enjoy the floating than to swim in uncertainty. So how does a man find a goal? Not a castle in the stars, but a real and tangible thing. How can a man be sure he’s not after the “big rock candy mountain,” the enticing sugar-candy goal that has little taste and no substance?
The answer— and, in a sense, the tragedy of life— is that we seek to understand the goal and not the man. We set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you. Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.
So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day? How could we ever hope to accomplish anything other than galloping neurosis?
The answer, then, must not deal with goals at all, or not with tangible goals, anyway. It would take reams of paper to develop this subject to fulfillment. God only knows how many books have been written on “the meaning of man” and that sort of thing, and god only knows how many people have pondered the subject. (I use the term “god only knows” purely as an expression.) There’s very little sense in my trying to give it up to you in the proverbial nutshell, because I’m the first to admit my absolute lack of qualifications for reducing the meaning of life to one or two paragraphs.
I’m going to steer clear of the word “existentialism,” but you might keep it in mind as a key of sorts. You might also try something called Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre, and another little thing called Existentialism: From Dostoyevsky to Sartre. These are merely suggestions. If you’re genuinely satisfied with what you are and what you’re doing, then give those books a wide berth. (Let sleeping dogs lie.) But back to the answer. As I said, to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.
But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors— but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires— including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.
As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal), he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).
In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life— the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.
Let’s assume that you think you have a choice of eight paths to follow (all pre-defined paths, of course). And let’s assume that you can’t see any real purpose in any of the eight. THEN— and here is the essence of all I’ve said— you MUST FIND A NINTH PATH.
Naturally, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. You’ve lived a relatively narrow life, a vertical rather than a horizontal existence. So it isn’t any too difficult to understand why you seem to feel the way you do. But a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.
So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life. But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.”
And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know— is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.
If I don’t call this to a halt, I’m going to find myself writing a book. I hope it’s not as confusing as it looks at first glance. Keep in mind, of course, that this is MY WAY of looking at things. I happen to think that it’s pretty generally applicable, but you may not. Each of us has to create our own credo— this merely happens to be mine.
If any part of it doesn’t seem to make sense, by all means call it to my attention. I’m not trying to send you out “on the road” in search of Valhalla, but merely pointing out that it is not necessary to accept the choices handed down to you by life as you know it. There is more to it than that— no one HAS to do something he doesn’t want to do for the rest of his life. But then again, if that’s what you wind up doing, by all means convince yourself that you HAD to do it. You’ll have lots of company.
And that’s it for now. Until I hear from you again, I remain,