Tuesday, December 7, 2010

noses notwithstanding

There is something to be said (if begrudgingly) for goal setting. Recently, my son played trombone in an honors band concert. One of the guest conductors, having been filled, it seems, with the spirit, offered (no extra charge) a brief homily on the importance of music in the kids' lives. The main point was that kids engaged in the arts have purpose--as a rebuttal to the notion that such programs are useless. What struck me as a platitude at first, later sunk in as a meaningful truth.

Because what's the purpose of purpose? To simply have and hold til death come and swipe it? My cynic's brain would have it so. But the purpose of purpose is movement. The goal of a goal is impetus.

Let the ends resolve into what they will, but let the means be always churning.

Sure, there are certain goals one should strive to reach for the reward of having finished and, presumably, to have a showable product to point to; but often, in our various and plenary endeavors, the end is amorphous and possibly unreachable. It is especially in these latter cases that the importance of movement is crucial to a life worth living, or, at the least, to a purpose worth having.

As a writer, this is a monumental revelation. And then some for a little fish, big pond writer like myself. It is easy to become lax, go limp, forfeit, take a nap, get on Facebook, make a blogpost when the inspiration whimpers-out. Easier still when the inspiration never yawps-in to begin with. I need hardly admit that these maladies of indolence afflict me regularly. But I admit, anyway. For the record.

Over the last week or so, I have been writing a blank-verse treatment of young Charles Darwin's adventures on board the Beagle. The idea came to me while listening to a lecture which touched on the history of phrenology and physiognomy. As a point of amusing interest, the lecturer relayed an anecdote from Darwin's introduction to Captain FitzRoy of the Beagle. It seems D was applying for the job of the vessel's Naturalist and FitzRoy, a dabbler in the "science" of phrenology, almost withheld the position on account of Darwin's "squashy nose." Indicative of a lack of resolve, not a good trait for a long journey.

The rest of the lecture was a blur. I was absorbed in the notion of a naturalist's nose. How Darwin lacked one. How such an arbitrary presumption nearly altered the course of history. Sure there were other naturalists well on their way to completing evolutionary theories, but would the proliferation of those theories have been so wide-spread? These were my thoughts as the lecture wore on.

And then the next thought.

I will write a story about that. An alternate ending. The repercussions of not being hired. Darwin left behind to trifle with beetles. Oh how brilliant it will be, my story. How worthy of the man himself. To say nothing of the ironies. Brilliant.

As I said, my treatment is a poem, not a short-story. Furthermore, I did not end up following the alternate route. I took a stricter approach historically, taking my liberties in the form of poetic devices and fanciful asides. But the point is . . . I had a goal. The means of reaching it morphed and vacillated, but it kept me going days on end, plodding line of pentameter after plodding line of pentameter. And now, it is finished.

It is what it became, not what it was meant to be.

Goals can be illusions even delusions but what they must be are infusions of purpose. Momentum is the key. In states of inertia no music is made, dreamed of perhaps, but not tromboned.

[Stay tuned for excerpts from "Snapshots of a Voyage: 1831-1836"]


  1. Very interesting that you posted this at the exact time I was just hit by a thought of my own.(while watching Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares)The thought was this: you can be given or taught the necessary tools to succeed in any area of life. Whether they are actual physical tools or intellectual(learned), you can be swayed by an outer influence but what cannot be given to you is the passion for an endeavor. It can be coaxed along but it has to be there to begin with. Apathy is the greatest enemy to every type of success.

  2. Nice, Larry. Companion thoughts, for sure.

  3. Wow! You have been at work. You put me in mind of these lines from Samson Agonistes (I read this yesterday, and must rejoice in my short-term memory as my long term barely exists):

    This Idols day hath been to thee no day of rest,
    Labouring thy mind
    More then the working day thy hands (1297-9)

    Not the idols, per se, but the idea that even when the body's hands have holiday/rest the mind can wear the body out.

    I'm staying tuned, for sure.