I've been thinking a lot lately (not unusual) about the dire and sweeping problems humanity faces (also not unusual) and wondering how tiny individuals like myself fit in to times like these (all right, so, full disclosure, this is really something I've done all the time for a while. It's not a new thing at all). Within the larger questions I have about life lie many smaller ones, stacked like fractal nesting dolls.
One I've been stuck on lately is:
what am I doing with my life and why?
I know what I want to do for myself. I want to be paid to write novels (a dream) and also to teach the stuff I already do-- ESL and dance (a reality). But when I look at the rest of the world, at those dire and sweeping problems-- climate change, the growing divide between rich and poor, our disintegrating global economy, the increasingly insane political climate of the United States, not to mention all of the other senseless acts of violence that we humans commit towards one another and our world on a daily basis-- what I want often seems petty and selfish.
I vacillate between feeling
1. that my ambitions are not actually selfish-- they may amount to positive change in the long run and it will all be okay;
2. that it doesn't matter that my ambitions are selfish because I have no idea how I would change anything anyway;
3. that I am a self-centered asshole.
I can't seem to console myself with the idea that I am an artist and therefore my work is important. It's not because I don't think of myself as an artist; I have learned to think of myself as one without feeling self-conscious pangs of anxiety. However, I don't believe that art is inherently worthy of our time and energy, nor that art is always a force for good. Art can be a vehicle for pretty much anything, for blessings and for curses, as well as for pretty much nothing at all.
I know I can dance until my spine collapses and my toes fall off and it will do just about nothing to fight the problems I've just enumerated.
What am I doing and why?
I have some mildly convincing arguments which, at times, me feel kind of better about my life choices. Here are some of them.
One of the problems that I have with American culture is our rabid and insatiable desire for more stuff. If nothing else, what I am selling (experiences) doesn't take up any space, and won't hang out in a landfill once you're done with it.
I am empowering people to find meaning in their lives outside of the relentless pursuit of more crap. We are all capable of producing our own beauty; we don't always need to purchase it at a store.
I hope I am helping to undo some of the damage that the mass media has wrought on the minds of the women that I teach in regards to self-worth and self-image, without making glamour into a dirty concept (glamour being one of the things I hold sacred).
I know that the artistic work of others has added more to my life than I can possibly understand. I'm not sure I would want to be alive were it not for the work of some of my favorite artists. I don't flatter myself to think that I am what keeps people going, but who knows? I might at least make life more enjoyable for a few people, to make some of us feel a little less alone in the world.
Who am I kidding? I can't stop. I've tried to "grow up" and be a normal cog in productive society, and it sucked. Art is probably the only thing I'm good at, and without it I will shrivel up into a husk of a person.
There is a glittering mirage I can see far, far in the distance-- a beautiful dream, a vision of having influence. Perhaps at some point, I will have conned enough people into listening to me at once, into taking me seriously, and I will be able to force them to do my bidding, and we will start a zero-impact commune in the mountains somewhere-- wait no this is sounding like a cult.
Never mind that last one for now.
I'm not going to change course. I'll keep working, and I'll keep feeling conflicted. I'll probably still feel conflicted on my deathbed, looking back at my life and wondering if I made the right decisions, if I maximized my potential, if I made any lasting difference in the world.
I'm sure that many people would tell me to stop thinking so hard, to stop feeling so guilty, to let things go and let bygones be bygones or whatever. But it seems like I'm made to ruminate just as much as I'm made for anything else. From my perspective, it feels right and sane to ask myself these questions, and to hold on to my questions more dearly than I do to my beliefs about the world or my place therein.