I’ve been thinking a lot about our obsession with the expectation of permanence in what we do with our lives. We’re all aware of impending death as the only truth in life, and yet we blame French thinkers for coming up with the idea. Or rather, just as morbidly, thinking about it a little too much. But, I think it’s good to think about it from time to time. Keeping the depressing aspect aside, I think it ultimately helps us live our lives better. Not in the way insurance advertisements or, lately, cellphone adverts show them but, in the way we make our day-to-day decisions. Because, nearly every decision of our lives is informed by a sense of permanence, when, even the slightest consciousness of death, will show us the “im” that is written in invisible ink before it.
This is not going to be a rehashing of queasy things like, “Live like there’s no tomorrow.” Uh, if I did, I wouldn’t know what to do when I do wake up tomorrow, and waking up tends to happen more. I’m very conscious of the randomness of life but, it makes me think more of life than death. It’s all very well to think about death, and maybe experience it, but there is quite a varying bit of living to get through first. Now, how many of us think of that?
Recently, a fellow blogger of mine had a blog scare which, though it turned out to be nothing, still had a disturbing effect on me. All these months, I had been thinking my work here was set in stone. Though the internet is a big, big place, big enough for even a tiny soul like me to go on doing this till eternity, there is no way my work here is permanent. Whether set in stone or megabytes, Of Opinions is not indelible or unforgettable. And that made me think, would anyone care if it’s gone? Of course, I would. It is not just a huge part of my life, it is who I am. Would all of this me, that has lived here these past few months matter, or even live, beyond now?
No matter how many readers we have, we all keep wishing for more. Not enough or even too much maybe frustrating to live with initially, but this is how boring human nature is: after a while, it adjusts to everything. So, if Of Opinions stops or is lost forever, will you, dear reader, miss it? Will you remember what it meant to you when you read it? Or will I be alone, and thus, lonely, in my loss, maybe the loss of me?
Well, the last’s a given and I’m not trying to emotionally manipulate you with the first question. But, when I think of all that is lost, that shouldn’t be lost, I try to see whether there is anything at all to be learnt from it. I was watching a video on popular music’s 27 Club the other day – musicians who died at that age. I am still a year away, and my life hasn’t even begun. Whereas Jimi Hendrix, who is in that club, had accomplished so much at my age. I don’t know if he was thoughtful of his legacy, but it has survived and is celebrated whereas, for example, a number of cinema pioneer George Melies’ films were melted in his lifetime itself to make shoes during the First World War*. Therefore, permanence of our work isn’t even a question that is linked to our own existence. It is purely a matter of chance, or of work that is so important and influential, humanity would do all to preserve it.
Speaking of music, there is one musical practice that gets the healthiest and most practical relationship we can have with our work exactly right – the Top 40 charts. Whether you actually get on it in your field is a different matter. But, what it does is this – it gives something that is good enough for it, its time. You get to know it, enjoy it, possibly love it, and that is all the time you have. After that, its fate belongs to a greatest hits compilation/ nostalgia radio/ one-hit wonders. Which, I think, is how we should all look at our work. We should keep trying to break into the Top 40 but, in case we do, we shouldn’t expect to be permanently on the charts. If you lose your cellphone, your house keys or something relatively innocuous like your train ticket, life is trying to tell you something. That, it is all true. Loss, oblivion, insignificance, they happen all the time. We can’t be exempt from it but, we can fight it. We can keep trying to end up in the Top 40.
* Melies is celebrated as well, but I’m only using him as an example of important people with incomplete legacies or people who were not given their due as early as possible, like mathematician Alan Turing.