Finding meaning in the every day....

2012-10-02 16:16

My son, nine years old, came along and asked, ‘What’s the meaning of life?’ I wasn’t in the greatest of moods. ‘There is no meaning,’ I said. ‘But there must be a meaning!’ he said.  And because I felt immediately sorry I’d brushed him off, I said, ‘Okay, sit down, let’s talk evolution and ethics....’ He couldn’t have run off fast enough. ‘Mom, to an old person that might be interesting, but to me it’s just a load of mumbo jumbo!’

Why am I telling this story? As a new contributor to 'Voices' it got me thinking about this column. What will my focus be over the next few months? In what tone will I write?  What sort of content will I include? I reckoned, forget Juju and Marikana and the rising price of petrol and Global Warming. There are plenty thought leaders with their fingers on the pulse of the ticking time-bombs of politics and economics. Why not tackle more personal issues? And today, nothing can beat existential angst.

Philosophical musings are entertained in an attempt to understand the random, unexpected, often seemingly unfair nature of how life unfolds, for each of us, in varying degrees. Why leave it all to Nietzsche and Schopenhauer and A. C. Grayling? I have thoughts of my own around the Big Issues (not to be mistaken for THE Big Issue, which I support btw). Indeed this is what ‘Voices’ allows – the opportunity to express who I am and what interests me.

So what is the meaning of life then? Let’s not beat about the bush. The lyrics of a Monty Python song go ‘life’s a piece of shit / when you look at it.’ Marcus Aurelius, in his Meditations, writes that, ‘the art of living is more like wrestling than dancing.’

Science writer Stephen Jay Gould is less frivolous or stoic: We must construct these answers ourselves – from our own wisdom and ethical sense. There is no other way.

For me the meaning of life then is increasingly about trying to get my words scribbled every day (quite often staring at a blank screen wondering what the hell happens next), focusing on getting my current novel done for the 2013 deadline. Then fetching and carrying kids from school, negotiating the aisles of Shoprite, doing Maths with my son in the evening (Mental Abuse to Humans, as he insists on denigrating the subject). Basically getting through each day as best as I can. Going to an occasional movie (what white South African growing up in the eighties can miss Searching for Sugarman?), writing the occasional column, interview, blog, short story. I keep going. Encouraging my students with their creative writing. ‘Perseverance,’ I tell them, ‘is the one factor that separates those who finish writing a novel from those who don’t’. Encouraging my children. Yelling at them quite a lot, I admit.  A typical day for this working mom.

There’s a book on writing, titled Bird by Bird by Anne LaMotte. She tells a story of her brother having to do a project on birds and having left it till the last minute - as a procrastinator myself I can relate. He ran crying to his mom about all the work he had to do. She said, ‘Well boy, the only way to do it is bird by bird.’ Something like that. It could have been his father who offered him the advice. I don’t have the story quite right. This is the way I do life, probably the way most of us do life: a little haphazard.

The meaning of life right now, right this minute, is an adolescent ginger cat running across the couch where I’m comfy with my laptop. Pizza is a street cat. A cat my kids saved by taking in. He’s ugly, a bit battered. If he was a human teen I’d take him to have his skew teeth fixed.  But he likes it at our house and he’s here to stay. I am in the moment, appreciating his offbeat appeal.

Last night the meaning of life was catching up over a meal with an old school pal who’s been retrenched -how do you find meaning in that? My friend also reminded me that when she was ten her mother, aged thirty-four, died of breast cancer (btw it’s breast cancer month). She still struggles with her loss. And how do you find meaning in the hardship and struggle most people in this country have to face keeping a roof over their heads, putting food on the table (if there is a table)?

I picked up this quote, wisdom shared by an unknown author, from the Internet: ‘Life is an endless struggle full of frustrations and challenges, but eventually you find a hairstyle you like.’ I’ve been blonde, brunette, streaked, short, long.  I get through plenty bad hair days. I do what I can to achieve a measure of satisfaction, and find delight in the everyday. A walk on the beach, a hug, sharing a kind word. Finishing a piece of work. Pressing ‘publish’.

When my son ran past again I grabbed him. ‘You wanted to know what the meaning of life is?’ I said. ‘You, sweetie, you are the meaning of life.’ I kissed him. He pulled a face, and he couldn’t run off fast enough.

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