Everything we do is meaningless, yet we must do it anyway*

I read this article the other day about what it takes to be a writer. The author’s theory is that the twin luxuries of money and time are the magic ingredients that divide those of us who dream of writing books from those of us who actually write books.

She’s probably right. If all of us aspiring writers had the money to quit our day jobs (and retreat to a private beach house whenever we are feeling stuck), we would probably finally put aside the excuses and write something.

But I think there is a more essential ingredient, without which, all the time in the world is worthless. And it’s one that, much of the time, I lack: Faith.

Faith that it makes any difference whether I put words on the page. Faith that it’s more important to write these words than to tackle the kitchen full of dirty dishes. Faith that it’s worth making the effort instead of allowing myself to fall into the downy cushion of reading a good novel or scanning social media (again).

I understand the inherent faith that creative work requires every time I walk into an art museum. Recently, I found myself staring at an enormous white canvas, on which the (very famous) artist had painted a single black line and a few randomly placed red dots.

I thought: How did he know that one wavering line was worth drawing? How did he know it was worthy of that giant canvas? How did he know, when he placed the last of those sparse dots that the painting was complete? How did he consider the infinite possibilities and decide, on that day, to just paint this one black line and this handful of red dots?

The answer, I’m sure, is that he didn’t “know” anything. He just trusted the process. And that is its own kind of faith.

As a so-called writer, and as a person trying to make my existence something more than an endless cycle of mundane tasks, I need to cultivate a little of this stuff in my life:

Faith that creative pursuits are worth doing just for the sake of doing them. Faith that I don’t have to weigh their relative importance compared to everything else I could be doing. Faith that I don’t need to justify them by citing studies on their health benefits. Faith that I don’t need to make excuses for the time I spend on them, or achieve any kind of external success to make them worthwhile.

I just need to turn off my thoughts, silence the inner critic, close the internet browser of procrastination, and allow something true to emerge.

*This was a saying in a page-a-day Zen calendar I had years ago. I kept it on my desk for most of the years I was a reporter. I think it sums up my entire theory of life.

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