Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Taking credit

I just read in the New Yorker the story of the unravelling of the Poincare conjecture, and all the messy political wrangling that the Chinese mathematician Shing-Tung Yau is going through to seize a bigger chunk of credit, while the Russian Grigori Perelman has refused the Field Medal for his achievement and is trying, with Olympian reserve, to not involve himself in arguments over credit for the proof.

I find such stories to be especially compelling for me, because I have known for some time that I'm an Enneagram Type Three, someone who sees things through the lens of "success," especially in the eyes of others. I know that, in my darker moments, I am more likely to be like Yau than like Perelman. The joy of the work is sometimes subsumed in the consideration of the credit. (One of the reasons I started blogging was to confirm to myself whether I liked the craft of writing as much as I liked the notion of "being a writer.") When I think about my "purpose in life," I find myself struggling with superegoic notions of what I ought to be doing, rather than "following my bliss" or some other squishy internal sense of what I find fulfilling.

It came as a shock to me when I realized that, at some level, I still believe in Heaven. I still think of my life as the "work" part, and that at the end of life, I would get the passing grade and be able to sit back and go, "Ahhhhhhhhhhh," and relax in the pleasure of a job well done and have no more anxieties of needing to do something. And I think most of the Yaus of the world think like that as well . . . at some point, you think you will have done enough to be impeccable -- literally, completely free of the anxiety of not being good enough.

You don't have to be that imaginative to see the hole that this lands you in. Existential anxiety cannot be aussaged on this plane; no amount of relative success or relative security can bring absolute success, absolute security. Only something along the lines of Grace can give you that.

What I've yet to figure out, though, is how to let go of the egoic demands for accomplishment without regressing to the opposite error: the self-centered, self-indulgent demands of mere whim. Because that's certainly where your life's purpose is: when the best part of yourself is engaged in something beyond itself, and because of something beyond its self.


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