For a variety of reasons, I have thought a lot about this question since the onset of the new year. I have thought a lot about it over the past days too. I don’t have a single answer, I have many answers, depending on the mood I’m in. Some of them are kind and noble, others are nasty and sarcastic. I believe all of them are true.
Take for example this blog. Writing a typical post complete with pictures, captions, and editing usually takes me about 2.5-3 hours. Many times it has been a real struggle to write, because writing is a creative effort that requires uninterrupted time, concentration, and inspiration. Many times it has also felt quite senseless to write too. Many times I have made and unmade my mind to send it all to Hell and never bother with blogging again. What I mean is, who on Earth cares about what some 35-year-old Bulgarian woman has to say on hugely unpopular subjects? And if someone does care, isn’t it a far better idea to communicate in person?
So what’s important in this is having grit and keeping in mind the broader purpose, and in this case it’s this – I use this blog to order my thoughts and record my life, which is more cerebral than eventful in the real world, and which I bet is far more interesting to me than to anyone else. Going back to reread is always a hugely educational exercise, as it helps me observe the evolution of my thoughts and, not unimportantly, the improvements in my English. What’s important is also this – I do need to communicate, and blogging is the communication means of the lonely.
Further, take the guitar. I am sure this is true of any instrument, but I can assure you the guitar is pretty hard to play. Unlike bowed strings, it is tempered, so I at least know where the notes are, but while playing, my right hand literally hangs in the air, which is quite hard a state to achieve tone quality and dynamics in. Identical notes are located in several places along the fretboard, which makes sightreading a challenge. And if one has to be really nitpicky, the notes one hears while playing sound an octave lower than the octave they’re notated in. Pressed for time and exasperated by slow progress, in December and January I stopped my lessons twice, and came back after days to weeks of painful reflections on the meaning of it all. I came back, because I figured that what’s really important is this – I love music, I have to go on in spite of hardship and despair, I have to find more efficient ways to work, and I have to make time for the things I love.
Neither the blog nor the guitar are utilitarian – they won’t bring me either money or recognition whatsoever – but they answer needs that I have and thus, hopefully, help me be a happier and a more enlightened person. They also help me discover, learn, and remember, which keeps me alert and interested in the face of boredom, routine, and loneliness that would eat me alive if I let them.
In line with all of this, imagine how amused and touched I was to discover in my mailbox a post from a classical guitarist website that I follow, which apart from musing on those very same issues, also quoted a book I admire very much and until very recently thought I was the only one to have ever read and appreciated. The post is this, and the book is Alain de Botton’s marvelous essay How Proust Can Change Your Life (of which I have spoken here and here).
The key takeaway now, taken out of de Botton’s book:
“For Proust, the great artists deserve acclaim because they show us the world in a way that is fresh, appreciative, and alive… The opposite of art, for Proust, is something he calls habit. For Proust, much of life is ruined for us by a blanket or shroud of familiarity that descends between us and everything that matters. It dulls our senses and stops us appreciating everything, from the beauty of a sunset to our work and our friends.
Children don’t suffer from habit, which is why they get excited by some very key but simple things — like puddles, jumping on the bed, sand, and fresh bread. But we adults get ineluctably spoiled, which is why we seek ever more powerful stimulants, like fame and love.
The trick, in Proust’s eyes, is to recover the powers of appreciation of a child in adulthood, to strip the veil of habit and therefore to start to look upon daily life with a new and more grateful sensitivity.
This, for Proust, is what one group in the population does all the time: artists. Artists are people who strip habit away and return life to its deserved glory.”
So what I think is this:
One very often does find what one is looking for. What’s really, really important is to find what one wants to look for. And to keep.