Thursday, April 21, 2005

What do you do?

What do you do? This question - possibly the most asked question between strangers at a party - is perhaps one of the trickiest questions one can be asked. For what is it that you do, anyway? Does the asker desire to know the minutiae of your daily life, or is the asker simply asking you to attach a label, to boil all frivolous components away leaving nothing behind but a single word? A single word which can be easily acknowledged and comprehended in a moment? Most often, you answer with such a label, but in doing so you have only perpetuated an age-old falsity: you have answered in haste, misrepresenting yourself once again.

You can never become, in life, what you are striving to become, only strive to become it. As a human being, you evolve, you grow, through a delicate balance of tension and parity, being pulled in every direction simultaneously, while trying desperately to maintain the equilibrium in which you find comfort. But little by little you go forward, moving ever so closer to becoming what you are striving to become. You are not a writer, only a person becoming a writer. You are not a bricklayer, only a person becoming a bricklayer. You are not a lawyer, only a person becoming a lawyer.

But I write, you say. And I lay bricks, and I practice law, say the others. Does not that mean we do these things? And I answer: You do them, certainly, but that does not mean you have achieved mastery in the field. There is always room for improvment. There is always room for you to grow, to move closer to the ideal. If I know a little French and a couple words in Spanish, that does not make me a linguist. If I can change a tire on my car, that does not make me a mechanic. If I know how to run, that does not make me an athlete.

You strive, all your life, to become the archtype, the paradigmatic model in a profession you find appealing, not knowing that you will achieve such a goal only in the thoughts of others after you are gone. Only then can it be said with absolute truth, that you were a writer, you were a bricklayer, you were a lawyer. At the moment of death, you achieve your personal best in all things, becoming whatever people choose to remember you as. As you decay, travelling ever farther away from life's restraints, tension is loosened and parity lost - in death you have become the very ideal you strove your entire life to become. In memory, not only are you a writer, but you are a great writer, a superb bricklayer, the best lawyer.

So what do I do? I learn, and that is all. But I am not a student, and never have been. This is all philosophic double-talk, you say. So you've read a few books and appropriated a few ideas, tailoring them to suit your own agenda - that doesn't mean you're right. And of course it doesn't. And it also doesn't make me a philosopher - only a person becoming a philosopher. As we all are.

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