11 March 2008

Safely Wasting Away

There was still a chill in the air this afternoon, even in the midst of dazzling sunshine, but don't bother mentioning that to the hundreds of people, adults and children alike, who were playing, running and lolling around Tompkins Square Park as though it were July.

Something has definitely changed in only a few days: those buds that were barely beginning to peek out from some of the more precocious trees are now starting to swell everywhere you look, and some bits of yellowish green have even broken forth from the brown-gray morass of winter. And now that the sun has crept higher into the sky, it's as though we're suddenly bathed in a new, brighter but yet softer light, and the sky itself has shed the gentian hues of winter in favor of a more benign robin's egg blue.

All in all, a delightful sight, and one to lift the heart, that was in fact lifting the hearts of most people along Avenue A. Instead of plowing monomaniacally ahead with nary a glance at their surroundings, they were just sort of bouncing along as though they had all the time in the world and thoroughly intended to enjoy it.

But my own heart was considerably heavier, for I had decided, somewhere back around 14th Street, that I was wasting my life. Granted, 14th Street can do that to a fellow even under the best of circumstances, but when I got to St. Mark's Place and the feeling still hadn't lifted, I was forced to reflect on whether it might in fact be true.

I'd actually started thinking about this the night before, somewhere around midnight, when I realized that not only had I not left the house for the entire day, but that I hadn't even gotten around to getting dressed. Though I finally remedied this by getting bundled up for a 2 am trip to a couple of neighborhood stores, I couldn't help thinking that this was a fairly sad state of affairs.

If I'm just going to potter around the house all day, couldn't I just as well do that in Omaha for a fraction of the rent? But staying in all day isn't necessarily bad, I argued with myself (I do that a lot); how would novels get written, symphonies composed, pictures painted, visions conceived and plots hatched if someone didn't occasionally stay in and see that they got done?

Then it came time to take personal inventory: number of novels, symphonies, pictures, visions and plots produced as a result of my staying in = 0. Oh, sure, I might have given a passing thought or two to at least one of those enterprises, but have you ever heard someone say, "I think I'll pop down to the bookstore and see if I can pick up some passing thoughts by my favorite author"?

But where did this idea that I have to produce something come from? Perhaps you'll agree with me that many of history's novels, symphonies, pictures, etc., could have been dispensed with without impacting negatively on the cultural climate. Not to sound unduly negative, but not every artistic (or social or political) concept needs to be realized, does it?

So the answer to the question, "Am I wasting my life?" isn't necessarily going to be answered by what I do or don't produce. If I ever do get around to writing something of substance, ideally it would be of value to others besides myself, but what if it isn't? What if it's just pure entertainment or escapism? Or what if it doesn't even meet that standard and is simply disposable? Would I then have been better advised to stay in watching television all day, or, if were feeling especially ambitious, to take a walk down by the river?

If I were a fireman or a teacher or a guy who fixes the streets, it wouldn't be necessary to think about these things, because even if I weren't totally satisfied with my job, there'd be little doubt that I was performing a useful service to my community and my fellow human beings. But having failed to pursue any of these common-sense careers, I'm left with having to judge the worth of more abstract activities.

For instance, those records I used to put out: public service or public nuisance? I'm sure you could register a significant body of opinion on both sides of that issue. The ranting and raving I did in Lookout and a number of other magazines? It seemed to amuse some people and infuriate others, but did it have any real value? What about my occasionally insightful, more often inane ditherings in this very blog? Waste of time? Waste of life?

I guess I won't know for sure what was worthwhile and what was not until the story's played its way to the end, and then, of course, it will be a little late to change things. In the meantime, I might as well remind myself that when a man seems unable to exert any effect on the world at large, it's probably time to turn his attention instead to refining aspects of his own character. That's one project that's never a waste.


Brooklyn Love said...

Like Aaron Cometbus said, we need that time alone indoors - that's where you cultivate your personality. Conversely, being outside and in the flow of life is the cross-pollination. Too much or not enough of either is when things go wrong.

And I actually had the good fortune to live in stereotypical Omaha, NE for one year.

Ironically, I found the city to be edgier, realer, and probably even more fun than my native NYC in its current incarnation.

Anonymous said...

you're unlikely to learn any new tricks so it's probably best that you just keep reliving your glory days over and over on a blog that no one reads. pathetic as you come across, you're not hurting anyone. waste is probably a good choice of words. if you are really realizing your uselessness, maybe you could take up knitting. or go visit a nursing home.