Friday, March 21, 2014

Fickle: On Going Nowhere

Solomon wrote it at the beginning of his philosophical rant: There is nothing new under the sun.

I often think the same thought when it comes to writing. By now it's all been said, and rather nicely I might add. There's no new message or even any way to improve upon the old ones. No possibility of something more artful, eloquent, intelligent or beautiful. Why bother?

On the other hand, there's the equally sad and paralyzing idea. There are a vast number of words in the English language, infinite possibilities when it comes to stringing them together that hasn't been exhausted yet. Where to begin?

Chapter Six of Annie Dillard's The Writing Life is about paddling against the tide, only to exhaust yourself and get nowhere.

"I lived on the beach with one foot in the fatal salt water and one foot on a billion grains of sand" (page 89).

You don't have to be a writer to live on Dillard's beach or row her boat. You just have to be someone who makes art. Cooking, sewing, painting, athletic competition, making music, restoring old homes, investigating crimes. No matter what you love to do, part of you wants to do something extraordinary and brilliant, but part of you is convinced there's nothing left to do. That desire to make a contribution to your field keeps you pressing onward in the face of both nothing-new-under-the-sun and the infinite sky that holds that sun.

"...the infinite assaulted the page again and required me to represent it" (page 90).

The difference between a beginner and a master is the willingness to embrace the fatal and the infinite and row anyway.

Dillard is here to tell you — and me — to not stop paddling. Eventually the tide that goes out will come in, and that which was holding you back will spur you on.

So if you are contemplating giving up, don't. Dig deeper. Paddle harder. Spend yourself working hard to go nowhere fast. The tide will eventually turn.

And old man Solomon? His philosophical rant became holy writ. So there's that.

Tell me, what motivates you to keep going when you feel like quitting?
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