I’ve recently come to the realization that my entire life—what motivates and has motivated myself and my decisions over time—comes down to a particular variety of bloody-mindedness.
In explicit terms, my life is a kind of personal experiment, an exploration of the potential for free will within society. Everything I do is motivated in some way by the desire to see whether what “they” have said can’t properly be done for social reasons can, in fact, be done.
I’ve struggled for years to try to understand what gets me up in the morning, what it is that keeps driving me forward into all of the strange places and roles I’ve held. Others have tried to explain myself to me over the years in very culturally current ways, i.e. “Even if you don’t feel it now, you must really love the subject, otherwise you wouldn’t have stuck with the Ph.D. for this long,” and other, similar kinds of thoughts about every phase of my life.
But no. I realize now that what makes me as determined and plodding as I am is the desire to prove—to myself as much as to anyone—that it can, in fact, be done—that you can get a Ph.D. without loving the subject, that you can sell photos without being a photographer, that you can move to NYC with only $400 to your name, that you can be a good and moral person without God, that you can be a serious person without taking yourself or others seriously—that the social consensus isn’t a definitive barrier, or even right most of the time. It’s a key question, because everything else hinges on it.
Can we stop war? Can we save ourselves from global warming? Feed the poor? Colonize Mars? Someday live forever? The overwhelming and very intense consensus says “no,” very often for social reasons. As a parent, these questions are more important to me than ever, even as the choruses of “No!” seem to me to be louder than ever.
Every “no” I’ve ever received, every “Very Smart and Distinguished” person that has ever addressed me and tried to explain to me the folly of my ways—these are what get me up in the morning. So that on my death bed, I will know, once and for all, whether it’s all nonsense, whether these people knew what they were talking about or were, in fact (and as I suspect), simply scared and small—as we all are in one way or another—and which would mean that there is still a great deal of hope, hope for a great many things that are every day in society written off as impossible once again and anew.
The most important fruit of this realization is the related realization that my life will not be complete until I’m able not just to test this hypothesis, but to docuument the result in some way. A book? A series of poems? Perhaps just as an oeuvre of various and sundry works and happenings over the course of a lifetime?
No matter the ultimate case, I need to bear this in mind—and remember, before I’m on my death bed, to find satisfaction in this way, whatever it takes—or it will all have been in vain.