Tuesday, September 26, 2006

life's little questions

A few weeks ago I made the mistake of starting -- but not finishing -- a novel before school started. As a result, and because it seemed to lose its way through the middle, finishing it dragged out for three weeks. I'm glad I stuck with it, though, because there was a passage toward the end that made me sit up and pay attention. The situation was not immediately familiar (a failed musician finding out why his girlfriend dumped him months earlier -- not that I've never painted a lousy picture or been dumped before) but the message was loud and clear. It'll sound somewhat simplistic and melodramatic out of context (the book itself is actually a sort of tragicomedy) but what the hell. Here it is anyway:

"I never said anything about finishing with you because you weren't going to be a rock star," said Lizzie after awhile. "You know that really, don't you?"
I shook my head. I didn't know, did I? Not once in this story have I ever owned up to any kind of misunderstanding, deliberate or otherwise. So far as I was concerned, she was dumping me because I was a musical loser.
"So what did you say, then? Try again. And I'll listen real hard this time."
"It's not going to make any difference now, because we've all moved on, right?"
"Kind of." I wasn't going to admit to standing still, or going backward.
"OK. What I said was this, I couldn't be with you if you weren't a musician."
"It wasn't such a big deal to you at the time. You don't even like music that much."
"You're not hearing me, JJ. You're a musician. It's not just what you did. It's who you are. And I'm not saying you're going to be a successful musician. I don't even know if you're a good one. It was just that I could see you'd be of no use to anyone if you stopped. And look what happened. You break the band up, and five minutes later you're standing on the top of a tower block. You're stuck with it. And without it you're dead. Or you might as well be."
"So...OK. Nothing to do with being unsuccessful."
"God, what do you take me for?"
But I wasn't talking about her; I was talking about me. I never looked at it that way before. I thought this whole thing had been about my failure, but that wasn't it. And at that moment I felt like crying my fucking heart out, really. I felt like crying because I knew she was right, and sometimes the truth gets to you like that. I felt like crying because I was going to make music again, and I'd missed it so much. And I felt like crying because I knew that making music was never going to make me successful, so Lizzie had just condemned me to another thirty-five years of poverty, rootlessness, despair, no health plan, cold-water motels, and bad hamburgers. It's just that I'd be eating the burgers, not flipping them.

A Long Way Down ~ Nick Hornby

Some of us take what seems like an infinitely long time to figure out what seems like an obvious truth when stated so plainly. And it all sounds kind of tragic. But which is more tragic: a difficult life 'condemned' to some hardship so that you can do what you love, or a life spent chasing, and even achieving status, money and power just because you don't know what else to do?

Another question this particular excerpt generates is this: if there is something specific we are meant to do with our lives, is there someone specific we are meant to spend it with? And is there a comparable statistic, say 18%, of people who find their muse that also find their soulmate? Not that the 18% of those who have found their life's work have also found their life's partner (your karma would have to be pretty much perfect to manage that), just that the chances of hitting the jackpot in one of those areas is statistically about the same?

At the end of the book our hero had started busking in London tube stations and his ex-girlfriend did not take him back. (And that's not a spoiler because the book wasn't about that.) So he rediscovered -- and finally understood -- his raison d'etre ... but lost his other half.

Statistically speaking, he did OK.


Blogger Cherrypie said...

I read that too. I like your summary. I wasn't so struck on the book though. He's written far better ones

26/9/06 2:44 p.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Part of the reason I almost abandoned the book was the lack of momentum. It's like he didn't quite know what he wanted to say. High Fidelity and About A Boy were better in my opinion.

26/9/06 2:48 p.m.  
Anonymous kyknoord said...

Statistically speaking, I'd give this entry two thumbs up. I like being in the majority.

26/9/06 10:30 p.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Thanks, K. But I wouldn't put you in the majority just yet. Apparently I scared more people away than usual.

27/9/06 6:28 a.m.  
Blogger andy said...

Hi Andrea, remember me? ;-)
A post like this is almost guaranteed to draw me out of the woodwork - trouble is, although these are themes close to my heart, I don't have much useful to add. So I just thought I'd drop by and say hi :-)

27/9/06 8:18 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

What scares others away draws you out, Andy. I'm sure there's a message there somewhere... (and 'hi' back)

27/9/06 8:59 a.m.  
Blogger andy said...

Ah well, it's nice to be cast in a different mould... I think...

27/9/06 9:20 a.m.  
Blogger tlc illustration said...

Hmmmm.... Not scared, just musing. I loved the header graphic at the top of the post, btw.

27/9/06 11:24 a.m.  
Blogger ChittyChittyBangBang! said...

I’d be ok if I can hit the jackpot in at least one area. For the rest I am perfectly happy to settle for a near-miss or a near-hit… depending on how you look at it. Probably makes me a bit of a slacker, but I would be a happy slacker nonetheless.

27/9/06 1:22 p.m.  
Blogger Bibi said...

Interesting. I just interviewed a career expert whose studies showed that 66% of workers are not happy/fulfilled in their work. Pretty sad when you think how much time we spend at work. I think, scratch that, I know you can have both...soulmate and passion in your work. But then I'm an opmtimist!

27/9/06 3:59 p.m.  
Blogger kj said...

andrea, what a thoughtful thought provoking post.

i AM a career expert (among other hats) and can confirm that well over 50 % of folks are very dissatisfied with their work.

the most frequent time for heart attacks is monday morning. that says alot.

i'm still thinking about this book. i may have more to say....


27/9/06 4:50 p.m.  
Blogger kj said...

andrea: oooh. squeal. i did something very exciting tonight. the only hint i will give is esty.

i am thrilled.

27/9/06 5:55 p.m.  
Blogger ValGalArt said...

Interesting post and I just think in my humble opinion that success and happiness and love and all these things come in waves, never everything all the time. It wouldn't be good to have all that one desires as you would end up like Paris Hilton. Bad example I know but we need hardships on a certain level to really grow as people and to have empathy for others. You are always poking at my brain Andrea!

27/9/06 6:30 p.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Tara: I got that bitmap image in my email *as* I was writing the post. Very weird. I just had to use it!

Chitty: You strike me as a glass half full guy all the time. You'd probably find the silver lining in your harsh, rough bedsheets during your incarceration. :)

Bibi: You, too, are clearly glass half full. A lot of it has to do with attitude, doesn't it?

KJ: You are my favourite person today! :)

27/9/06 8:01 p.m.  
Blogger Joyce said...

statistics or perception?
I remember working at a nursing home with a lot of bitchy women who felt trapped in their jobs, waiting for the magical day when they could retire. I concluded that I'd rather take my chances with a "secure" future and enjoy my life fully, while working and playing. To some extent the same is true for your spouse. "Love the one you're with" comes to mind.

28/9/06 6:29 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Val: You are so right. And so much of it is stae of mind, don't you think?

Joyce: Who was it that said, "Life happens when you're making other plans" or something similar?

28/9/06 3:58 p.m.  
Blogger Within Without said...


Super thoughtful post that, thankfully, makes a person think. And I have done that and I'll do that, but have to go out.

I'll come back later. Scary? No. Great post!

28/9/06 4:42 p.m.  
Blogger Within Without said...

Sorry, A, but now HE's bringing his act over here. So don't have much time...

Ah, a pointed question: can you have both love of a soulmate AND love of what you do? Simultaneously?

Methinks you can, but I think it's a fleeting thing, Instant Karma that comes and then goes.

I must say I think I've had it, but not right now. Think I can still get it back tho, at some point...

Anyway, the story and your specific question was about a guy who lost one and appeared to have found the other, or at least found his calling again after losing his soulmate.

I'm smiling for him. Because the passage makes her read like a twit. That doesn't mean he didn't want her for all the world, but he lost her anyhoo.

What he didn't lose was his music, even if it did mean wearing tattered jeans and lousy meals and sustenance living.

He's busking again. So his true calling is that, not this woman. You gotta do what makes you happy and grab on to that, even if some fallout from it mights makes you sad.


28/9/06 6:13 p.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

WW: I actually thought she was brilliant in a way. She knew him better than he knew himself -- i.e. she knew that if he wasn't making music that he'd be miserable, thus making her miserable. She recognized the power of a 'calling', as it were, and knew she was no match for it.

28/9/06 6:40 p.m.  
Blogger Within Without said...

Hmmmm...OK, fair enough. Maybe I've misread it or am not getting it, quite.

She comes off to me in the exerpt as being insensitive and logical and very practical about it all.

And he, despite his admitting to himself that on that level she's right, still seems torn in two in his heart by it.

I guess my reaction was more sympathetic to him because I read it as his music was the one thing that couldn't reject him, but she did.

I didn't really sally up to the practical part of it from her point of view or understand that really she wanted to be with him, but she couldn't compete against his love for his music.

28/9/06 10:15 p.m.  
Blogger Jana Bouc said...

I've actually been thinking about this subject a lot. I'm grateful to have my art and to have built my life to support it. And I've always dreamed of having a loving partner who also has a creative life. That way we could be together without having to stop doing our creative things. I could be painting and he could be writing, or making music or whatever. We could take breaks for hugs and coffee and chats and then return to our work. Although partners I've had have theoretically supported my creativity, they've also resented the time it took away from them. Have you read "Spending" my Mary Gordon? It's about a woman artist who finds her muse. It's a fun read.

28/9/06 11:27 p.m.  
Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

I think he's very lucky to have got one of them right, so many of us get neither right.

But, having said that it may be difficult to get the two perfectly right, I'm sure that many who get the muse right but aren't that good at getting the mate right will, on reflection, agree that many of those mate mistakes were good for their muse.

29/9/06 2:39 a.m.  
Blogger Within Without said...

The REALLY sad thing is that a lot of people -- a lot -- don't get EITHER of them right.

29/9/06 6:20 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

This is weird. It took awhile for anyone to comment on this particular post but once started a great discussion ensued. WW: you are so right about the number of people who get neither. Is it sad or their own fault or all in attitude or ...?

29/9/06 10:10 a.m.  
Blogger Within Without said...

The reasons must be many and varied, I figure, must have a lot to do with upbringing...

But for whatever reason(s), it's sad.

29/9/06 11:59 a.m.  
Blogger justin said...

A brilliant post, Andrea, and some very interesting comments. Do you think you'd be doing the same now, if you had to live your life over again ... or are you feeling dissatified in some way, or that you haven't achieved everything you really wanted?

2/10/06 12:13 a.m.  
Blogger andrea said...

Another thoughtful comment, Justin. As for me, I was one of those who "took an infinitely long time to figure out what seems like an obvious truth" when I quit teaching and started painting. It was a hard decision to make as I liked teaching, but I'm infinitely happier now. It was the right decision, it just took me a long time to get there.

2/10/06 9:35 a.m.  

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