Not for Naught

This has all been said before.

My book, my blarg, my parenting foibles, my running follies… none of it is particularly unusual or original. I’m not the first, nor will I be the last, to attempt any of these things on their own or, even, in combination. So what the heck am I bothering to write about all of it for?

Originality is a big deal. Being “the first” to do a thing matters. First man on the moon. First woman to become a doctor. First guy to pedal backwards on a unicycle for five hundred yards while juggling machetes and whistling theĀ Battle Hymn of the Republic. Originality equals notoriety. But ours is a big world, and let’s face it… you have to go pretty far down the list of possible things before you find one that hasn’t been done already. And documented. And repeated under scientific conditions. And then tweeted about.

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows sums this concept up nicely with the word, “Vemodalen”.

There’s something in us that drives us to attempt things that stretch our limits, even though they have been done (and probably been done better) before. The futility of that knowledge is a futility that can seep into the bones, grind the hard oak of gumption into sawdust, and rot away the steel supports of sticktoitiveness like so much battery acid. What matter is my voice, or yours, or anybody’s, in a swelling sea of millions of voices? No, scratch that, an ever-blossoming infinitude of voices?

It’s all for naught.

Or, at least, it can seem that way. But I think, ultimately, it’s foolish to think in terms of the big picture in that way; the way of adding one more voice to the howling snarling mass of the internet. In the scope of human communication, human achievement, human history, even the gods and giants among men are grains of sand in a kiddie pail. So you have two million followers on twitter? In a few years, the next big thing will be here. So you sold two million dollars’ worth of books? In ten years, your book will be on the bargain rack, if people are still talking about it at all. So you ran ten marathons in a year? Well, so did that guy… and that girl… and this other guy, except he did it wearing a tuxedo.

If you set out to have a universal effect, you’re setting yourself up for failure. The universe — even the earth, or even your country, your city — is too big to be moved by the likes of one person’s achievement. Nothing I can ever hope to write or teach my kids or accomplish in any other area of my life will push the planet from its orbit.

What I can do, though, is enrich a few lives around me. Maybe I can teach the kid on my soccer team to keep his cool when the other guy is cheating and let his talent speak for itself. Maybe I can teach my kid that it’s wrong to throw cars at dogs, or to smear peanut butter on the curtains, or to take off his pants and dance in circles. Or maybe I could teach him that those things are okay if they make him feel good. Whatever. Maybe I can do the dishes without making my wife ask me to do it, and make her day a little brighter by removing a smidgen of darkness from it. Maybe I can pick myself up a little bit for going on a run, or maybe I can forgive myself for not squeezing in that run this morning. Maybe by writing about all of it I can clear my own head and hammer some understanding out of the soft metal, maybe by getting the minutiae of the day down in this blarg I can get some perspective, like climbing to the top of a mountain just to see what my backyard looks like from a mile up.

Who cares if my voice isn’t unique, or original, or if some days I don’t know what to write, or if I take a few weeks off from the project because I’m staggered? As long as I keep coming back to it, as long as I’m moving forward instead of stagnating, the journey has value. Even if it’s just for me.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.