“Il faut estre tousjours boté et prest à partir, en tant qu’en nous est, et sur tout se garder qu’on n’aye lors affaire qu’à soy:
Quid brevi fortes jaculamur aevo
M. de Montaigne, Essais, Livre I, Chapitre XX, Flammarion 1969, p. 134 [quoting from Horace, Odes, II, XVI, 17.]
[I am not so sure about the below translation but it fits exactly with the idea of negligence/responsibility I am carrying around, lately.]
(amateuristic English translation: We always have to be prepared & ready to leave, insofar as we have it in us, and above all ensure that at that moment we only need to heed ourselves:
Why, in a life so short, form projects with such
This is the opposite of the 90’s: a decade where striving to become irreplaceable jumped from nowhere to the top of the list of ‘things everybody should try to do if they don’t want to be seen as major losers’. The great men are now measured by what havoc they leave behind when they die (and it is not a coincidence that once in a while a woman is considered to be one of ‘the great men’). Everybody else is considered a ‘loser’; with some luck people will find the ‘silent passing’ as something that is ‘fitting’, maybe even ‘endearing’ but invariably the death girl’s opinions are received with: ‘Whatever, major loser!.”
Such is the legacy of a fin de siècle in which the sky was the limit. But how to step over this addictive point of view (it’ll be a.o. about our dearest little daughters’ and sons’ education)?
I’m guilty of starting too many projects, like this one. But I know: when I die I won’t leave anything important undone & the many things that I will leave unfinished, like this one, were such that I was simply incapable of finishing them in the first place. This need not surprise anybody: when I die I will leave my kids behind (I sincerely hope to a point of having the desire to force my death before they have a statistically significant chance of dying), and nobody is tempted to say that your kids are ever more than a ‘work in progress’. The fact that they want you around is testimony to the fact that they don’t need you to be around (& I do hope that they want me around rather than that they need me to be around).
But this is not what the rhetorics of the 90’s have left it at. Parents do see kids as projects, and while they may still know they are not projects that can be finished they sure as hell feel responsible to finish the project of educating their kids & in some way winning the competition of most successful ‘kid education’-project. Ultimately this whole project of trying to do something good turns around and becomes the biggest evil imaginable: because kids become a means to win this competition, winning this competition becomes the challenge in life the parents want to be remembered for and finally, kids become (as so many other things) a reason for one’s own continued survival.
One things is for sure in the lifestyle of stress: death is the ultimate enemy. It is the threat of all threats, so much so that in the stress of life people will only be able to commit suicide if they at the same time can commit multiple homicide – in the benevolently misguided opinion that either one saves the murdered ones from a lifetime of misery or one saves the survivors from a lifetime of being hassled by the murdered ones.
The problem for competition and this whole trend of ‘thinking in terms of success’ is that its consequence is the need to kill even the possibility of death. Whether it is whales or dreams of eternal youth: the consequence is we can’t live with the closure of death because the closure of death is an insult to the lack of closure our projects will have without us.
If it isn’t successful it isn’t worth it. If it is successful it is a crime that it has to end. Nothing can be farther removed from the slow dynamics of organic growth and evolution where every step is a step that somehow is memorized and where it is possible to know you can go because the important thing is what you have already done (and the fact you have done it with great care and enthusiasm) and not what will happen to your pet (project)s*.
The problem is not the multitude of projects but the fact that one is committed to the idea that one is required to finish them; that one needs to have an easy measurement of success in those projects. If one avoids the latter one can have a great many projects unfinished at the end of one’s life, as long as one can be sure of one’s self having taken the care to be as good at them as one possibly could and the care to leave them in a way that they can prosper without you.
We would do well to understand that all the good things that are successful represent at most one percentage of all the good things that are out there and working actively (without their creator being hell bent on increasing the success, for success’s sake). When people would understand this they would spend more time in looking to find for new things, & waste less applauding as cows in a herd for those things other people are applauding for (and that therefore may well be good things) ;-/
[Whilst writing this I was listening to John Zorn, The Bribe, TZADIK.
* This is, by the way, a reason why to always start relationships with pet owners in a guarded way.