The desire to create is at odds with the desire to live fully.
I want to create something before I die. I think most people do. We want to make something that lives on past our corporeal selves. The desire to create, whether through art, prose, a legacy, wealth, history, an invention, an equation, or a feat, is driven by the urge to create something lasting. I admit, anonymity lives high on my list of my personal fears. Who wants to be forgotten when it’s all over?
This thought was prompted by an Abstruse Goose comic I read this morning (click for large version):
We get 936 months, give or take a few hundred (one hopes). Here’s the rub: the desire to create is often at odds with the desire to live fully. There just isn’t enough time to carpe diem and write the great American Novel. It’s the nature of creation that it takes the lion’s share of our available time, energy, and focus.
The mathematician Andrew Wiles worked for seven years in his attic, largely in solitude, to prove Fermat’s Last Theorem. Though most of us aim a little lower in ambition, we face the same dichotomy. A lasting contribution mandates a trimming of life’s little pleasures. All too often, it’s one or the other. And what happens if we emerge from our attic, 7 years gaunt and pasty as hotel linens, without our proof in hand?
We, in the collective sense, fight with this balance. We want to win races, so we train for hours in lone, selfish solitude. Yet we also want to have friendships and keep a social life. We work late into the night to gain recognition for our work, yet we also feel like there is something missing in this process. It’s the nagging feeling you get at 2AM, when you realize the powerpoint slides, though necessary to impress your boss, are not what you need to be doing. It’s that feeling you get after writing a long blog post and thinking of all the ways that time could have been better spent. Create, or live?
I hope I’m conveying my point. It’s not about finding a balance between work and play. It’s much more profound. The process of creation takes time, but the time has immediate and greater value if used elsewhere. Just how much long-term prosperity do we trade for immediate hedonism? How much do we give up now so that we are remembered later? How many nights can we stay up late with friends before we are too tired to create something meaningful in the morning?
Oh captain, my captain, I have no idea.