Since I was a young man, I have from time to time fallen into dark spirals. Within the spiral, everything that was interesting to me the day before is as valueless and dull as used chewing gum, and every goal I set seems either empty, unreachable, or both. I feel as though I can see the future, and there’s nothing waiting for me there but rust and death and the disappearance of all my tiny creations.
Whenever I fall down into this spiral I inevitably find myself asking, “What’s the point? What’s the meaning of flailing around this place anyway?” It seems like a very important question to answer, as if up until that moment I had been wasting all my time in idle distraction, an aimless drifting that washed me onto to this empty shore. If only I had been focused on what mattered. “So what’ the point?” I ask myself again. “Why do anything?”
I am never able to answer that question, at least not while swirling in this dark place. Fortunately, I cannot swirl forever. Eventually, I come to rest. By and by, something catches my attention. It can be anything: a phrase of music, a memory, a snippet of conversation. It doesn’t matter where it is or what it is or how small it is. If I leave my attention on it not because of where I believe it will take me, or what I hope it will bring me, but only because it is interesting to me at that moment, something meaningful begins to happen.
Before long the phrase becomes the beginning of a song, the memory the first scene of a story a story, the conversation the start of a relationship. I am in the creative flow, and when I’m in it, when I’m composing, or writing, or talking, I don’t care about the future, or things that rust and die. All I care about is staying in that flow, and the best way to stay in it is by asking, “What next?” This is the best question to ask if you want to keep going where you’re going. I don’t worry where that flow is taking me because when I’m in it I’m already some place I want to be.
This is always the answer I’m asking for in my despair. The problem is that the answer is not point on a grid, it cannot be found on the far end of an “equals” sign. The meaning of life is life itself, which is permanently creating. I can either create with it or not. It feels lousy when I don’t, when I cross my arms and demand life tell me why I should bother joining this game if no one’s actually keeping score. Join and you’ll know why, Life always responds. Write and you’ll know why you’re writing, love and you’ll know why you’re loving, live and you’ll know why you’re living.
~William Kenower is the author of Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence, and Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion, the Editor-in-Chief of Author magazine. In addition to his books he’s been published in The New York Times, Edible Seattle, Parent Map, and has been a featured blogger for the Huffington Post.
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