At our house, we call this week between the holiday and the New Year “time out of time.” It’s our annual step outside the tide of daily struggle and strife to stop and think and search again for the peace in our lives. In the same vein, we’ve been talking here for the last few weeks about how to find Joy & Fulfillment through Writing, how to find Gratitude through Writing, how to find Community through Writing.
All of which leads to the greatest mystery of all, the purpose of fiction and the purpose of everything in general: discovering what makes life worthwhile.
How does being a writer help you find meaning?
Know that meaning exists.
It’s out there. It might not be intrinsic to this mortal coil—why are we here? where did we come from? where will we go? are there any answers? who knows?—but it is intrinsic to the self-awareness of the living. There is a spark inside you that animates the body in which you live, that makes it walk and talk and learn to play cards.
The fact that you are aware of this spark is profoundly meaningful. What are you? You are alive.
And the fact that you have the written word through which to explore that awareness will lead you to another question: “Who am I?” What does it mean to you, deep down inside, that you are alive?
Know that you have to search for it.
The meaning of life is not going to be served to you passively, like television commercials and monetized blogs. The only thing of value that you will ever get without trying is life itself (and even that goes away if you lie down and refuse to feed or clothe or nurture yourself).
As it happens, writing is excellent work for philosophers and spiritual seekers and questioners because writing isn’t easy. Writing is, in fact, quite a merciless angel, and it’s going to kick your butt. It is—for those of us who love it more than anything else—the ultimate metaphor for quest, the quest for meaning.
It is the powerful struggle with that metaphor—in all its convoluted, inexplicable, word-heavy impossibility—that makes the answers to our questions about life matter.
So when we have accepted that there is meaning to our lives, and sought that meaning through this extraordinary craft that is our chosen tool for revelation, and faced that meaning in those ephemeral moments of brilliance in our writing, and accepted our inevitable thwarting at its hands (which thwarting, I’m afraid, really is inevitable), we come to understand something.
We come to understand that a thing is true only because its opposite is also true.
We understand that for everything we’ve learned to express through the written word there is an equal and opposite thing yet to be expressed, and that no matter how long and hard we work at this craft, or how talented we were to start with, or how skilled we become in time, we will never write everything we could.
When we grapple with the potential buried deep inside that paradox, we come to grips with our unlimited freedom to write anything, although it will never be everything. That epiphany allows us to choose.
And those choices illuminate the meanings of our individual lives.
Our choices: they’re who we are.
Happy New Year, everyone.