So, as I was saying. There was a sudden windfall of time and a suffocating obligation to use it wisely. There was an urge to be creative yet coherent, but the deluge of ideas and possibilities were paralysing. At the same time I was digging myself deeper and deeper into a hole of existential doubt, which shook the foundations of my free-spirited learning approach, which if you remember, was never about productivity or efficiency. In fact, now that I think about it, it is really mostly about self-indulgence.
The question is, if something is done purely for fun, is there meaning in it? If it doesn’t lead anywhere?
I had a skarty (Skype Party) with dear Robert yesterday and we discussed it. As usual, he knocked some sense into me in the gentlest, Robertest way ever. He gave me a Dutch proverb. “It doesn’t go forward, it doesn’t go backwards, it just goes.” And then he backed it up by saying, “I’ve picked up tennis lately. Do you think that there’s any meaning in hitting a ball to and fro repeatedly except that it’s fun?”
The conversation really was pretty full of Roberty wisdom but, as how skarties go, an hour and a half in I had had enough of wine to not remember very much of what we discussed. Except that I was nodding my head, thinking, “This makes so much sense, I have to remember it!” I should start taking notes of drunken conversations discussing the purpose of life. Who knows how many revelations I’ve had and forgotten.
Anyway, going back to before Robert’s intervention, I was in the midst of going through the ten thousand things that I was doing and reading to see if I could derive any inspiration for writing. As it turns out, Elizabeth Gilbert with her book Big Magic may have given me the breakthrough that I needed.
So Gilbert’s book addresses many points and is one of the best pep talks in book form you’ll ever get as a creative person – so hurry out and get yourself hooked up with it. But it is her central idea about “Big Magic” that gave me a way (or two) to think about my problem of having a finger in every pie. First, is the pretext, on ideas as “disembodied, energetic life-forms”.
I believe that our planet is inhabited not only by animals and plants and bacteria and viruses, but also by ideas. Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form. They are completely separate from us, but capable of interacting with us – albeit strangely. Ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will. Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner. It is only through a human’s efforts that an idea can be escorted out of the ether and into the realm of the actual.
Therefore, ideas spend eternity swirling around us, searching for available and willing human partners. (I’m talking about all ideas here – artistic, scientific, industrial, commercial, ethical, religious, political.) When an idea thinks it has found somebody – say, you – who might be able to bring it into the world, the idea will pay you a visit. It will try to get your attention. Mostly, you will not notice. This is likely because you’re so consumed by your own dramas, anxieties, distractions, insecurities, and duties that you aren’t receptive to inspiration. You might miss the signal because you’re watching TV, or shopping, or brooding over how angry you are at somebody, or pondering your failures and mistakes, or generally really busy. The idea will try to wave you down (perhaps for a few moments; perhaps for a few months; perhaps even for a few years), but when it finally realises that you’re oblivious to its message, it will move on to someone else.
But sometimes – rarely, but magnificently – there comes a day when you’re open and relaxed enough to actually receive something. Your defenses may slacken and your anxieties may ease, and then magic can slip through. The idea, sensing your openness, will start to do its work on you. It will send the universal physical and emotional signals of inspiration (the chills up the arms, the hair standing up on the back of the neck, the nervous stomach, the buzzy thoughts, that feeling of falling into love or obsession). The idea will organise coincidences and portents to tumble across your path, to keep your interest keen. You will start to notice all sorts of signs pointing you toward the idea. Everything you see and touch and do will remind you of the idea. The idea will wake you up in the middle of the night and distract you from your everyday routine. The idea will not leave you alone until it has your fullest attention.
And then, in a quiet moment, it will ask, “Do you want to work with me?”
Outlandish, but I love the thought of it. Ideas flitting around like elves, prodding people with their fairy-dusty little fingers, “Do you want to work with me? Do you? Do you?”
So, there are two ways to think about this. One is that my confusion is created by too many idea fairies buzzing around me, jostling each other trying to get my attention, and it all becomes a big confusing mess of prodding fingers and squealing voices. I can’t separate the signal from the noise. I should be thankful that they looked me up and knocked on my door, but I also have to figure out how to find enough of chairs so that every fairy gets a seat. Or, given that my figurative house has only a finite number of seats (like 8), I have to figure out which ideas I should collaborate with and which I should let go respectfully, so that they can go find another better human collaborator.
Now the other possibility, based on the same assumption that ideas are fairies, is that there is one particular idea fairy that I’m waiting for, who hasn’t arrived yet. While all my interests and projects do not seem coherent or lead anywhere in particular, it is possible that I’m just creating the conditions for the Fairy to come, so that one day there will be something that only an academic mutt and hobby philanderer such as myself, with the exact mix of interests and knowledge that I’ve accumulated, can create. In the meantime I just have to be patient and trust that the little fella will find his way – and when he finally arrives, we will co-create something that the world has never seen before.
Which one is it? Does it matter, if both are based on imaginary fairies that happen to be idea-bearing little worker bees?
It’s raining outside, and I sense that I’ve come to an end to this two-part series. I’m again staring at my empty coffee cup (wistfully – it was a really good one), but this time I feel lighter. Sign of better times to come?
I’ll leave you with this piece of music which tune and lyrics gave me goosebumps. I had it in the background a lot when I was writing. Ignore the exaggerated closeups of the audience, focus on the music.