Somehow I missed this the first time, even though Lisa told me about it. Garret begins discussing a recent encounter with the father of a friend of his from Vermont, how he made a point of visiting him at work and taking him out to lunch. He segues from questions about his future into thoughts about personal (and societal) development. Below I’ve excerpted a large chunk.
But the non-university way is different. It makes you different. Now I spend my time working, as part of the workforce. I work everyday, and I go home tired, so I sleep. I dream about all those authors who struggled with meaningless day jobs and had to write through the night (Kafka and co.), and I think about how difficult it is to penetrate the way of the working world and produce something artful. To even have time for art. And also how difficult it is simply to be in the professional position of doing something you love to do. Why are so many people doing things they essentially don’t want to do, but have to, for the sake of self-sustenance, for the sake of others? When life spins on the beat and figure of a paycheck (and for whom doesn’t it?) ultimately what kind of a society are we living in?
At times, I’ve become very dissatisfied with the current organization of society, even, and this is going to sound odd, murderously so. I killed ideas that suggested a life lived now, steeped in our “hypocrisies”, could be meaningful or worthwhile, and subsequently opened myself up to an entire freight car full of the same sorts of hypocrisies that I was decrying. Well, my situation was different, wasn’t it? I was thinking actively about all of the world’s problems. Thought is noble. Why couldn’t anyone see how wrong the world was, why couldn’t they understand that it was as paralyzing, unnatural, and cruel as I knew it to be? Why hadn’t anyone offered me an internship, column, book-deal, national talk-show, or willing congregation? Why should I have to give any of myself to get them? Aren’t I intelligent, clever, creative, and compassionate enough?
I had a similar attitude towards the English language.
The more I think about it, the more I wonder whether or not some of the things we think of as obstacles are necessary, or even beneficial, barriers. Sure, it isn’t right or just when someone who doesn’t deserve to be in a specific position arrives there with little effort, or due to nepotism. Arbitrary barriers are equally unjust. We live in a very free society, however, and one where an enterprising, passionate mind can make something of himself if he really works at it.
If you want to do something, devote yourself to it, and you will arrive there eventually. I really believe this, even though in truth I can’t say I have reaped an extraordinary amount of benefit from this philosophy. (When I speak of benefit in this sense I mean benefit in a way that means “visible, tangible, results”-otherwise I’ve gained quite a lot.) One post-graduate program, maybe. Marriage, can you count that? That’s a little bit different.
In some ways I would welcome a serious reorganization (of supply chains, communication lines, corporations), if that were possible. It does seem that much of society has grown stagnant, even self-destructive. (Maybe this a generational or “boomer” related phenomenon? Though if this is the case, I believe every generation must be, in some way, implicated.) But at the moment I don’t see a window of opportunity for achieving that, at least not yet. Inertia must be built and cultivated. We have to work at things at the personal level, carry that into the public, and be careful to remember our lessons when we age.
A person’s twenties, I think, are a frightening time. We don’t know enough. We aren’t anything, or most of us aren’t. I don’t know if there’s much you can do about that. The important thing is to be honest with yourself. The important thing is not to believe you are disenfranchised. That creates incredible, mind-stunting resentment. A person consumed by such believes he should be in a position of power, but almost definitely shouldn’t be.
Recently I picked up a book of interviews with “young” (ie: mid-thirties, forties) writers that I purchased four years ago. The interviews with the more successful were enlightening, even revelatory (specifically that with Yann Martel). Those with authors who perceived themselves as struggling were depressing and spirit-sapping. Why should I want to hear how Russell Smith, Governor General Award nominated novelist, national columnist for one of Canada’s most respected papers, believes he is being persecuted? How he doesn’t think he makes enough money? He has a platform (we all do, but his more visible) and if he doesn’t do anything with it that is his business. There may be something wrong with his motives, and that would be a very real (and more tangible) reason for whatever stunted career movement or sales growth he perceives as being due to bias (he dresses too well, he says), a failure among the Canadian literati or the publishing industry (“they should understand me“), or whatever else he might use as an excuse. It’s a sense of entitlement for something that you haven’t earned.
The point is that we’re a people that expect too much just for being clever. I can tell you right now I’ve often felt (and acted) the same way myself. Part of growing up (and this is a natural process that I’m sure happens to most of us, or should) is recognizing that truth: understanding that activity is a gateway, and work a pleasure. Honesty is paramount. I’m not quite there, but I’m trying to keep these things in mind.