Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Leaving One's Mark

Sunday morning started typically. I got up and went right to my office to look at my email and Facebook to see whether there were any urgent messages or news. Facebook alerted me that a high school classmate had a birthday that day, so I went to his FB page intending to wish him a happy birthday.

But someone had posted an announcement on my friend's page that he had died suddenly from acute pancreatitis. I was shocked. Then I thought, no, no, this must be an extremely tasteless April's Fool prank. I sent a message to his son to confirm that it was a joke; he replied the announcement was true.

According to actuarial tables, my friend should have lived another twenty-five years. But Fortuna spun her wheel and he received a different fate.

One sometimes hears the saying "Live every day as if it were your last." It's not particularly practical advice; if I followed it, I would never do laundry or floss my teeth or pay the mortgage, and we'd end up stinky and homeless, and I'd be toothless to boot. The Western style of life requires people to plan their days and weeks as if they'll be around for a while.

My friend wasn't a writer, but his sudden death made me wonder, how should a writer should spend each day so that she leaves behind a good legacy?

I have no answer to the question. If I knew I would die within the next year, I would stop exercising and otherwise caring for my long-term health and instead burn the candle on both ends to get a lot of words written. If I knew I would live another forty years, I would continue taking good care of my health and pace myself so that I didn't work so hard I burned out.

Not knowing, I stumble along, never quite sure whether I'm writing enough or exercising enough or experiencing the world enough or visiting my family enough. If I die soon, my legacy will be small to nothing and I'll regret (if regret is in fact possible after death) not having worked longer days and pushed myself harder. If I live a long time, I may wish at the end that I had spared more time for other pursuits.

How do you reconcile planning your writing career and legacy when you lack the most crucial piece of data, your lifespan? Do you agree with me that you would make different choices if you had only a year to live than if you had decades before you?

I'll be posting again at Novel Spaces on April 21. Please stop by again then.
—Shauna Roberts


Charles Gramlich said...

I guess that's the thing. Without any assurances we stumble along, making some good decisions, some not so good. But being human all that while.

Shauna Roberts said...

CHARLES, I guess I need to become more comfortable with uncertainty.

Jewel Amethyst said...

I was just thinking about that earlier today as I crossed the street and imagined what would happen of one of the maniacs turning left hit me in thre crosswalk and ended it for me.

I thought of all the things I wanted to achieve and hadn't yet achieved. Then I thought of all the things I have actually achieved that I never expected to achieve, and found myself being thankful for the little in life that I have achieved.

And you know what I concluded? If I knew my life was ending soon, I wouldn't change a thing. Life would go on in spite of me. If I never published more than the two books that I have, if I never acheived another thing, life for everyone around me would still go on. And I am just happy that God blessed me with the people around me who inspire me, make me smile, argue with me, challenge me, or complete me.

Liane Spicer said...

It does indeed seem a lot like muddling through. In hindsight it's easy to be critical of oneself but we do the best we can with what we have. I hope for the best, try to believe it all makes sense on some level and that I'm right where I'm supposed to be at any point in time.

Sounds very Zen, but that's the way I think. (Except for the times when I'm not in the least bit Zen, of course. That's when I obsess and second-guess everything I do or don't do. Contradictions, contradictions...)

Pamela said...

So true. Reminds me of the song - Live Like You Were Dying.
Sorry to hear you've lost a friend.

Shauna Roberts said...

PAMELA, thank you for your condolences.

JEWEL and LIANE, thanks for your perspectives. I practice yoga and sometimes meditation, but haven't yet reconciled that accepting attitude yoga teaches and that you both try to have with my ambitions.

Steve Malley said...

We're all dancing under a hanging blade with no idea when the music ends. One day the blade will fall, and all that truly matters is the manner of the dance.

I burn the candle at both ends and in the middle, but I still take care to maintain my supernatural vitality, get the rent paid, all that jazz.

I guess the key is living as though you may die tomorrow, but preparing as though you may not.