Friday, April 23, 2010
Someone once told my father-in-law how to decide if he was ready to take up sailing. "Put on your best blazer," the guy said, "and then go down to the bank and take out your life savings in $20 bills. Go home and stuff the bills in every pocket of your clothes. Then get in in the shower and turn on the cold water. When you're completely soaked and chilled to the bone, start pulling the bills out of your pockets as fast as you can, shred them into little pieces, and stuff them down the drain. Do this for at least five minutes, and then ask yourself, 'Is this fun? Am I having the time of my life?' If you answer 'Yes!' then you're crazy enough to take up sailing."
My experience of blogging has been a lot like that. You put in countless hours and dollars to create a blog that is something more than an artificial vanilla, blog-in-a-box, like this eblogger site – you put your heart and your soul into it – and then some hacker comes along and f's it all up. So you invest more time and money you don't have, you rebuild the site with updated and supposedly more secure software, and within weeks a "rogue script" starts running on your site, bringing everything to a screeching halt. Now we're facing the task of moving the site to a new hosting service and rebuilding it – one – more – time.
Maybe it's more like the absurd comedy in Monty Python's Holy Grail, where the King of Swamp Castle explains to his son how he built "the strongest castle in all of England": "When I first came here, this was all swamp. Everyone said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built it all the same, just to show them. It sank into the swamp. So I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. –But the fourth one stayed up!"
So are we crazy to try and build something on a "swamp"? When forces in the world are always at work, blindly tearing down whatever we create as fast as we can build, are we crazy to keep trying to produce something of some small bit of beauty or utility? Probably. But what other choice do we have? I had it drummed into me long ago (back in grad school) that the world may not be worthy of our best work, but what other choice do we have than to continue to offer it, to give our best? Because the alternative is to resign ourselves to a world without beauty, without craftsmanship, without even small bits of work – a garden in spring, a neatly painted wall, a well-stitched seam, a nourishing meal set before us – that are well done. And who wants to live in such a world? As ee cummings wrote, "if and when roses complain their beauties are in vain," then "life is not worth dying."
These reflections remind me of another quotation, by Albert Camus, that I pondered while living in a garret apartment in Paris. Meditating on the question of how we go on living in the face of the ultimate injustice that is death, he concludes that we need to live our lives precisely so that death comes as an injustice rather than, say, our just desserts. Ultimately, I think that's why we go on creating, making, blogging: to protest against the waste of our better gifts, to try and leave things a little better than we found them.