Finitude's Melancholy

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2021-05-16 08:00:00-04:00 No comments

Over the last eighteen months or so I've experienced an explosion of ideas that stand a very good chance of being developed into full-blown works. Some are resurrections of older ideas in new forms (Nâga); some are proper gestations of ideas that kicked around for a long time underdeveloped (Shunga-Satori); some are totally new (Absolute Elsewhere, and the newly unveiled Charisma).

It hit me just now, in a way I haven't felt in a long time, that there's a nonzero chance I might never see all of those things come to fruition.

I'm not saying I'm going to be dead of something in six months, although in theory anyone can be dead of something in six months. Cancer, space junk, cars hopping the curb, disgrunted ex-coworkers with guns. (That last one is exceedingly unlikely in my case, but you get the idea.) Only that I'm experiencing the resurgence of a feeling that comes and goes throughout my life, that of how human life, my life, is a limited thing.

I've mentioned here on and off how I almost died when I was five years old, when I was hit by a car and could have been killed half a dozen different ways. Somehow I managed not to get killed by any of them; I just landed in the hospital for six weeks with two broken legs. (Kids apparently have rubbery bones that allow them to bounce back from injuries that might well leave an adolescent or an adult crippled for keeps.) I was just old enough to know what it all meant, and that someday I would die for real, and not have a near-miss like that.

It might not be death that keeps me from doing what I want to do. It might be external circumstances of one kind or another. I feel more uneasy about the future now than I have in a long time, and I try to channel that unease into action rather than let it translate into paralysis and resignation. I'd rather do something than nothing, if only for the sake of the people nearest to me.

What this affords me, then, is an opportunity to practice — to find a way to embody the reconciliation of my fears with the things I want to do. I might well find myself having finished all of these projects and saying to myself, damn, I feel like a fool for worrying, now, don't I? Or I might drop dead in the middle of one of them for reasons nobody, me included, could have anticipated. But outside of all that is the simple and continued devotion to the work for its own sake, which for me remains the highest of goods.

I sometimes think even worse than dying would be entering a condition of life where I saw no point in continuing the work, or where I was incapable of continuing for whatever reason. But I have to also ask myself, how would I know that it would be impossible without actually being there to know the full parameters of that situation?

It's not irrational to have a fear of the future. That equates to fear of the unknown, arguably the most basic and powerful human fear there is, and one we developed as a sensible survival trait. It makes sense not to stick one's hand into a black maw just to see what happens, because that's a good way to get it bitten off. But something else seems to have evolved to help discipline that: the human society that supports individuals taking risks for the sake of the good of the whole. So a few of us learn to stick our necks out for the many, and in the process learn how most anyone can stick their necks out — and, in doing so, make the fear of the unknown into something a little more manageable.

It helps to not think about the future as this place we can go to, the way we could travel to Montenegro or Schenectady (not like anyone would want to go to Schenectady, but never mind that for now). The future isn't a location or a destination, but a speculation based on experience, and not always an accurate one. It can be accurate in a general way, but rarely in a specific way, and never in a way that gives us any kind of genuine spiritual insight.

My benign example for this kind of thing is a night out at the movies. (Something I'm hoping I'll get to do again before the year is out.) I know that I have a ticket purchased for 7:30pm for the IMAX showing of Thundertwerps, and I know it's showing in theater 5 (because that's the only actual IMAX theater in the whole 'plex). But I don't know exactly what seat I'll be sitting in. I don't know who's going to be sitting behind me or next to me. I don't know if the popcorn I'm eating is going to be fresh or stale (I hope it's fresh, or I'm getting a refund). And I don't know what the actual experience of watching Thundertwerps is going to be like until I actually sit through all 115 minutes of it. All I have is an idea, and a general one at that, and only one that's useful for guiding me towards the experience. I don't have the future itself.

It would be nice if I got to write all of the things I have in mind right now. I think they're great stories, and I think they deserve to be enjoyed by all, uh, six of you. But I also know the universe is bigger than any wish or desire or aspiration or project measly ol' me can come up with. I guess all I can do is find ways to live with that gracefully, for however long I have the chance to keep doing that.

Tags: Zen creativity death future projects