September 28, 2010


Why do I do these things to myself? I’ve set a deadline to finish my fourth novel by the end of September. I’m not going to make the deadline but I’ll continue to write at a frantic pace, like a college student with a term paper due in 24 hours after having started it the day before. I could relieve my pressure by changing my self-imposed goal. But I won’t. I’ll keep working until it passes and I’m forced to set another.

We create goals for a reason: to be productive. Sometimes, we set too many which can make us less productive. That’s the irony. We end up like race car drivers spinning round a track, getting nowhere. On these occasions, it’s hard to know the difference between striving for a purpose and simply keeping busy. 

Samuel Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot” paints a grim picture of life without purpose. He puts two hobos alone on an empty stage. They begin waiting… but waiting for what? They don’t know. Other characters wander by but the hobos make no sense of what they see. They go on waiting… endlessly. I read somewhere that when the play was performed at a state penitentiary, the inmates gave it a standing ovation. Who better to observe the meaningless passage of time than men locked in an 8 x 10’ cell, serving out a long sentence?

I admit we come into this world without being asked if we wish to be here. We know our time is limited and we can’t be certain why we’ve come. But I don’t hold with Beckett’s view that life is meaningless. Instead of asking what life intends to do with me, I’d prefer to ask what I intend to do with life.

Great literature raises important questions. How we view success or failure depends upon our answers. Our solutions don’t have to be monumental like bringing peace to the Middle East or finding a cure for cancer. Random acts of kindness strike me as good enough.

Beckett may be right to remind us of the consequences of searching for meaning outside ourselves. But I refuse to dwell in his hopelessness. I’ll take the road William Ernest Henley traveled: “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul” (Invictus).