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Wolf DeVoon

Purpose

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Hi, this is a very long post, and it begins by quoting myself at length from a 2011 magazine column I wrote for Alrroya Aleqissadiya -- one of the coolest jobs ever, 30 cents a word and guaranteed ink, published weekly opposite Paul Krugman. He was easy to oppose.

Let's turn the time machine back to 2011 and talk about purpose:

* * * * *

Quote

 

It's been years, perhaps a decade since I considered the subject of purpose.

It might be a distinctly American idea, to choose an individual purpose in life, by which I mean a distinct goal of fairly ambitious scope, sufficient to inspire years of endeavor and considerable risk. If one's purpose can be achieved by doing something simple like making money, advancing a career, and being a good neighbor, then you've done a good job in everything except personal purpose.

Not everyone feels free to select a personal purpose. Most people are compelled to define their life's work and aspirations according to the dictates of religion, nation, family or peer group. As creatures of history and society, it seems rather far-fetched and implausible that an individual could segregate himself from the crowd and its steely imperatives of value and virtue.

Not everyone is prepared to buck public opinion or family pressure.

Americans are not quite so firmly stuck to tradition as other cultures, primarily because many different nations and ethnic groups joined the American Experiment and learned to tolerate each other's beliefs and expectations. Their children were exposed to the idea of individual liberty as a personal legal right. More than a few black sheep wandered off the reservation, as we say in the States with our usual amalgam of metaphor and malaprop. I won't try to explain, except to say that US kids often frustrate their parents' demands and prayers.

Rebellion against traditional work practices and antiquated technology results in progress. But to rebel against family and friends is not a productive innovation. At best, it's neutral. If one erases something, what's left is an absence of color and texture, a blank page.

On such blank pages, one is theoretically free to create something individual and new.

Doing this later in life seems unfair. It's rightly the prerogative of youth to strike out on a fresh, reckless adventure of their own. Not old people who are set in their ways.

I'm writing about purpose today because an older man of my acquaintance raised an eyebrow when I said that I was "just turning the crank" to earn a living and care for my family.

Bless his heart, I needed to hear again that every man needs a sense of purpose. It's not enough to do the routine business of living. I'm no different than a machine unless I define a new goal for myself apart from obligations, habits, and duties that clog and threaten to fill my remaining days.

Personal purpose takes us into the realm of dreams and fantasies.

There is a natural time for ambition, in young adulthood, ages 20 to 30, making our first unfettered strides in business or a specialized career.

But it can happen to older men and women, too, especially when their children are grown and gone, living independently. What does one do at age 60 with an empty nest, too old to start at the bottom in competition with younger, brighter, faster, tech-savvy whippersnappers?

To my mind, there is an infinity of opportunities for older men and women. Young people need leadership and inspiration, marshalling their raw ebullience and energy toward a distant and difficult objective involving sacrifice and heroism.

Armies and revolutions spring to mind involuntarily, however horrible it may seem. Leaders are forever trapping youth and bending their will in service of an old man's dream of glory.

That's not for me, nor for any man who seeks a personal purpose. The essence of an individual purpose is to do it alone, or with a minimum of others who have to be captured and led.

I like contractors. We can agree that their purpose and mine will be aligned for a brief period of time to achieve a specific task, no further obligation. I can use many, many contractors without sacrificing ownership of the project, and they don't have to pledge allegiance or surrender their private ambitions.

So, the question for me is simple. It doesn't require an army. What project ignites my personal ambition and inspiration, deserving of personal sacrifice and labor for the remainder of my life?

Supposing I have five or ten years to invest, what would I like best to achieve?

What sort of thing is extremely difficult and rare, so that I will die serene in the knowledge that I chose a noble purpose, as Spinoza defined it?

Making money and providing for my family is not an issue. I will always do that.

But there must be something personal, strictly for myself, or else I'll perish as an individual without dreams and aspirations of my own.

What I came to choose, after much thought, for my purpose at this stage of life may seem trivial compared to others. Individuality forces us apart. What you might choose is entirely your own.

I have chosen to make a photographic collection of the beautiful. Call it a hobby. But it will be mine, undertaken solely to express the yearning depth of a personal vision like no other.

 

* * * * *

Okay, flash forward 6 years. I was never a major contributor to the family bank account. My wife was the earning champion by leagues and ratios best explained with exponents and polynomial expressions. My thing was writing, which paid small sums at best. The Abu Dhabi magazine was fun, but I also had full-time salaried writing gigs, $5600 a month as recently as 2013. It was one of those awful things people do, shave every morning and wear a tie. Zero personal purpose involved, when you take a corporate writing job. I lasted four months.

The meaning of purpose is first in my mind these days again, as it was in 2011. Perhaps it's never been far from first. I recently changed the main picture on my Facebook page, a little inventory of my career, most of which was independent and creative. Corporate jobs were short-lived. I had a six-month contract at Crown Communications, but that was an exception granted by a brilliant creative boss. It was a pleasure to work for Marc Wright.

Hmm. I was just reminded of directing, which paid well on occasion. There ought to be a law against auteur filmmaking, marshalling others to execute a personal artistic purpose. I was saved from vanity by blundering as a young director. It always made me crazy directing. The intense privilege of being instantly obeyed by a group of capable actors and crew was a little too rich for my equilibrium, being fundamentally shy and easily embarrassed.

So I became a writer and feel most natural in isolation.

Now then, about purpose (as a writer). After a lot of experience and nearing the end of my useful productive days, I've started a series of short novels, entitled The Case Files of Cable & Blount, with two nice books completed, confident that I can write three or four more with the same characters. Chris and Peachy are ideal people, expressing a settled purpose, which is unchanged. In the "movie of the mind" that good writing can achieve, Chris and Peachy are a collection of beautiful pictures, finally achieving the purpose I spoke about in 2011.

Whether I will be empowered to continue writing is up to an agent and a publisher, which Chris and Peachy would simply shrug at. Their beauty is not blemished by quietude or death or the poor opinion of others. They love each other, and they earned the right to love each other for better or worse, in sickness or health. You couldn't pry them apart with a crowbar. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the meaning of heterosexual romantic love.

When they met in A Portrait of Valor, romantic love was involuntary and right for all time, an ideal couple, equally courageous and vulnerable, driven into each other's arms by passion for the best that life offers. In a very real sense, Chris and Peachy got lucky, because they found each other in their late 30s, fully formed and tested, single, alive to the wish for true love.

I cheated a bit, making Chris heroic and Peachy brilliant, murdering Peachy's billionaire father (the butler did it) so they wouldn't have to scrape the floor for crumbs and splurge on tuna casserole once a week. I am fully acquainted with poverty, and there's no happiness in it. My characters are like Dashiell Hammett's Nick and Nora Charles, fabulously rich, free to strike heavy blows against an evil opponent in my second book The Tar Pit.

It's a fun series to write, whether I get to write another word or not. I'm on strike until an agent steps forward and a publisher opens her checkbook. Chris and Peachy shrug. They don't care whether I write more. Two happier people don't exist in literature.

Purpose accomplished.

 

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I read to the first idea.  I went to a bar last night, I ACCOMPLISHED something.  I did the hardest thing and tended to a can in a fire-you know what I have?  a can that is different from others.

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Wolf wrote: "I like contractors. We can agree that their purpose and mine will be aligned for a brief period of time to achieve a specific task, no further obligation. I can use many, many contractors without sacrificing ownership of the project, and they don't have to pledge allegiance or surrender their private ambitions."

We are on the same page (so to speak).  I spent the latter half of my working life as a contractor.  I was a Jack of a few trades,  and a Master of fewer. 

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I'd say that purpose is the function of something within a larger context.

 

Like the purpose of a steering wheel is to point the car in the direction it should go.  Purpose needs to have a context and as you get more abstract your context because too big and you can't know the context.

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20 minutes ago, RobinReborn said:

I'd say that purpose is the function of something within a larger context.

 

Like the purpose of a steering wheel is to point the car in the direction it should go.  Purpose needs to have a context and as you get more abstract your context because too big and you can't know the context.

The context is an individual life.

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