Writing and the Meaning of My Life

Writing and MeaningI’ve been having this strange experience after I go to bed. I lie there and think of nothing in particular. But I know that I’m thinking about my life and it’s lack of meaning. That’s especially true regarding work. What is the point of it? Work has always been very important to me — central to my sense of meaning. But I no longer think that way. Work is a means to an end. And that end is…

You see the problem. We get to the usual issue that Schopenhauer explained so well. We continue on so that we can continue on. Until we don’t. The ultimate goal of life is to die. So why not today? It’s not that I’m suicidal. In fact, my will to live is extremely healthy. But that’s the thing that bothers me. It’s so irrational.

When I was younger, I determined that the meaning of life was to have a good time. That is about the only thing that you can use to push back against Schopenhauer. Life isn’t a total drag. But more and more it seems to be. I keep thinking about this one little speech that Aaron gives in the film Broadcast News.

As you may recall, Aaron got his big chance to anchor the evening news. But he broke out in a fit of sweating. It’s a funny, but tragic scene:

Afterward, Jane comes by his house and finds him happy. She asks why, if things went so terribly wrong, is he so chipper. He replies:

I don’t know. At a certain point it was so off the chart bad — it got funny. My central nervous system was telling me something. Jane — sweat running down my face — makeup falling into my eyes — people turning this fusillade of blow dryers on me — all so I could read introductions to other people who were covering stories which is what I like to do anyway.

Now in the film, the truth is that he’s in love with Jane and that’s where the scene goes from there. But I think he’s dead on when he says that he’s providing introductions for people doing what he most likes to do.

I like writing. I can’t not do it. And I’m a professional. I can do it at any level you ask. If you want something cheap, I can do that. If you want something finely tuned I can do that. I can write ad copy. I can be clever. I can be technical. I can write something so boring no one will ever read it if that’s what you need. I like writing. I’m good at it and it makes me happy to do it.

But I don’t really write for a living. I manage other writers. I make sure that they do an acceptable job of what I would prefer to be doing. Sure, I get to do some writing: for the other writers. And I put more style into this writing than I ought to. I write it off as the price that has to be paid for my not going totally insane.

So what is the point? I know this is a meta-grumble. I’m doing very well. This is why I’m lying in bed wondering about meaning — because I’m not lying in bed wondering how I’m going to pay my phone bill. Still, there ought to be more. And I could pay my phone bill through writing alone.

12 thoughts on “Writing and the Meaning of My Life

  1. I live to go on vacation. But right now I have no idea where I want to go.

    I kind of want to go back to England but I don’t have anyone to go with. I want to go back home to California but no idea what I would do there. A few other places are too expensive.

    So I am kind of like “where do I go?” Oh well.

    • May I suggest?

      Look through state park, forest service, and BLM cabins on public land. You can get cheap, comfy facilities in highly scenic areas for less than a hotel. And while cultural visits are really best if you share them with someone, scenery drives can be enjoyed by yourself with a car you own or a cheap rental. Back when I took vacations (I haven’t had the time for years) it was my default lone-traveler choice. Reserve America coordinates many of these sites, and very few people know about them.

        • Sorry, nope. Just camping with a heater and electricity. But sounds like nature isn’t your cup of tea.

          I’m afraid I know little about fine hotels. Friends of mine who like those things usually mooch frequent-traveler points off their rich acquaintances in the “off season” — say, summer for Hawaii or winter for Europe. Maybe you might know somebody with free/reduced price travel perks to share!

    • You are asking the wrong guy, obviously. But I really didn’t like England that much. Holland was nice — very nice. You could go to what my grandfather always called “the old country”:

      Actually, I would like to take my father there before one of us dies.

      • I already had your trip half planned in the twenty minutes we talked about it.

        I know how to travel. I just don’t know where to. As for England, I am obsessed with English history so I would get more enjoyment out of it then you would probably.

        • I just remember that everywhere I went in England was dirty and the food was (and I’m sorry for the cliche) bad. But I’m convinced I could have a good time anywhere. But I’ll admit: my heart is more in Paris than in London. But it would be cool to see where Mary Wollstonecraft and Thomas Paine hung out. Of course, part of that time was in France — where both of them almost got killed! Ah, good times!

  2. Trollope happily worked at the postal service. It paid his bills and didn’t involve writing, so he had energy left over for his fiction. As a free-lancer it must be very difficult to turn down work when it’s offered you, as one doesn’t wish to seem uninterested. I suspect you’ll find a way to balance work and creative space. It just might take a while to figure out.

    • No, I really haven’t managed to figure out a way to balance it. The main person I work with tells me that you just have to get good at turning off work when you aren’t on the clock. I haven’t figured that out. I feel exhausted and stressed out all the time. But it can be and has been so much worse. And I’ve gotten to spend a couple hours reading Thomas Frank so that’s been nice. God, he’s a great writer.

      • I’m coming up on the library list any day now. I haven’t really read anything in two months (and I used to read two books a week on the bus!) I’m hoping that one will get me back in the groove.

        • I was happy to get it so fast, although it did interrupt my reading of Slave Nation, which is also excellent.

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