The Pleasures and Sorrows of Life

Van Gogh - Old Man in Sorrow

I’ve always thought it a sin against life to waste today in hopes that we may savor tomorrow. An endless stream of input from phones, laptops, all distractions adding up to a dull mind, headaches, and weary eyes. We find ourselves scratching our heads wondering where that great idea we had a few minutes ago went. The question remains,

What is it that I’m doing right now? Is it worthy of the time? Often, sadly, it is not.

Regarding our dreams, most of us will never achieve the recognition we crave for our: writing, art, music, oratory, leadership, design, or indeed any skill or endeavor we’ve taken up in life. Even our friends, families, and spouses may not have the time or interest in our works, and what a cruel slap in the face it is when we realize that our artistic endeavors will have to take a back seat to some current financial issue, or new movie release.

How can we compete with the endless assortments of time consuming wasting offerings which are but a fingertip away? Even major companies nuke television programs they likely spent millions developing only because they couldn’t secure some marginal amount of viewership as compared to the thousand other programs, notwithstanding how good that show may have been. Any Farscape fans out there? At least Farscape (my favorite show, btw, and I feel the greatest show ever…more on that later) had a good run. Many shows are aborted after a season, or even shorter runs. This is the world we live in today, a vastly different world than I grew up in.

We all must face the choice of soldiering on, or quitting in the face of an utterly indifferent mass of humanity. And while this seems to be a dead end, I want to turn this on its head, if I may. The problem is in our craving for the acknowledgement. If we’re honest, we put too high a price on the attention of the mass of humanity. Need we remind ourselves what is popular, what sells? Have we any need to rub our faces into the fact that there will be more over-priced blue jeans/shoes/handbags sold this year than works by literary giants? (I have no concrete proof of this, but you hopefully get my drift.)

Let us not forget that Mozart once went on a trip to Paris and failed to find work. Mozart. Mozart couldn’t get a job. His mother died while he was away. Seneca had to deal with Nero. Beethoven, Schubert, think of the lives of these giants, and consider our fates. Are we to be truly surprised when we do not sell many copies of work we hold in high esteem? Is it possible we overestimate the taste of the hordes with disposable income? I reckon that we do overestimate their taste, and that we should raise the yoke off of our backs. Incidentally, I may come off as a bit of a snob here. I am just as much a fan of certain crassly commercial offerings as I am of obscure works by the likes of Josquin des Prez.

The important thing is the work, in the final analysis. Surely, we must keep on writing, making art, music, whatever it is, and by all means, we must continue our vain attempts at promotion and marketing. Yet we must remind ourselves, as often as possible, that our current commercial failure does not equate an artistic failure.

Our current commercial failure does not equate an artistic failure.

This is more than just some trick of the mind to keep ourselves sane.

It is THE trick of the mind to keep ourselves sane.

It is medicine, if you will. I so often need reminding of it, that I have taken up the task to set this down, for others as well as myself. And while it may seem some small consolation, I think it behooves us to be frank with ourselves about why it is that we’re writing, and where we honestly think we fit into the pecking order of our trade. If you’re only writing to get rich, perhaps your heart isn’t truly in it?

For what it’s worth, I’m a huge fan of Marlowe, as well as Shakespeare, and I think it odd that we know more for certain about the former than the latter. We may even suppose that the latter is in fact the former (cue gnashing of teeth). But think on it a moment, we really don’t know who the person (or persons?) are who wrote Shakespeare. It’s baffling to consider.

My point is, if we don’t know who it was that wrote the works of Shakespeare, arguably the greatest works in the English language, give or take, then does it really matter who we are?

Think on it. And please let me know your mind in the comments, or by contacting me via the form on the about page here.

* I’m a fan of Alain de Botton. Those of you familiar with his work will know that the title of this post is a variation on a book of his, one I highly recommend, titled: The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. I recall many warm summer days spent reading this book on the stoop in front of my building, contemplating my existence, frustrations with my working life, and things the book discusses like cookie manufacture, and airplane interior design.

The truth is I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Alain. A while ago I happened upon his video On Pessimism, which had a remarkable impact on me. It was the first time I’d ever heard of Alain de Botton. It was also the first time I’d been properly introduced to Stoic philosophy.

I had heard of Stoic philosophy, but I’d heard wrongly about it. Alain’s introduction to the likes of Seneca changed my life, for I dove into the works of Seneca, most notably the Letters to Lucilius. I found Seneca’s writings to be medicine for my spirit and mind, and continue to read his works, to learn from them and be humbled by them.

Thank you, Alain.

Recently I ordered two more of Alain’s books, Religion for Atheists, and How To Think More About Sex. I’m currently reading the first book and am wholly impressed. This isn’t surprising to me, as I find Alain’s mind and style of writing to be a breath of fresh air. It seems obvious to me that his mind is free from the typical constraints imposed by society, the kind of constraints that lead to boring thinking and writing. He dives in with abandon and declares,

..let us bluntly state that of course no religions are true in any God-given sense.

No pussyfooting about here. I love this clear-cut, to the point writing. But he’s not reckless. He’s just rather honest and knows that while he may alienate some, he must press on and let his mind be known.

Reading his books I feel I am taking part in an important conversation, a mental discourse that deserves much time and attention by all of us. These are the things we should be talking and thinking about, the questions we should be asking ourselves. Questions such as: how can we properly deal with the problems of society? Problems which stem from the fact that we are all pretty much self-interested, lazy, and at times, hateful people. We must live together, even if we wish it weren’t so. These are the kinds of problems that his books address, and to read them and engage our thought in them makes our reality all the richer. I’m reminded of a quote attributed to one of my personal heroes and favorite filmmaker, Werner Herzog:

Read. If you don’t read, you will never be a filmmaker. Those who watch television or are too much on the Internet, they lose the world.

[Update Feb. 24th, 2013. My friend Kristen has pointed out to me that she introduced me to AB by sending a link to a TED talk he did on Success. I neglected to credit her for the introduction to him. Kristen, thank you.]

Like this blog? You’ll love the books:

Reading sonnets will make you smarter, guaranteed! (actual results may vary)



2 thoughts on “The Pleasures and Sorrows of Life

  1. Pingback: Let Go Of Anxiety By Letting Go Of Expectations | Anxiety-Schmanxiety Blog

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