Life’s Purpose & Dead Raccoons

Thinking about my life purpose, with some help from a poet,
an author/theologian/educator/civil-rights activist, a priest,
and a butter sculptor.


 

Two days ago, completely off my new-normal posting schedule, I issued post #303, a lovely palindromic milestone.   For anyone blogging daily, it wouldn’t be significant.  For me, with a weekly posting schedule only recently expanded, it’s a big number.  I remember being a little startled when I hit 100 posts!

Isabel Gibson at 4 1/2, Christmas 1956.
Christmas 1956 – me, aged 4 1/2.

Moreover, it represents about four-and-a-half years of my life, which is a biggish chunk.  After all, there was a time (Christmas 1956, to be precise) when four-and-a-half years represented my whole life.

I’m glad I didn’t stop then: I would have thought life was mostly scratchy dresses and bad haircuts, and would have missed job convulsions, physiotherapy,  and near-death experiences entirely.  Not that I’m bitter.

Like all milestones, this one offers the opportunity to look back and to look ahead.  That impulse is intensified because I’m now on a cruise descent into retirement, working less and, perforce, doing “something else” more.

So I’m thinking about what that something else will be, at least for the next little while.  It’s the age-old question (Hey!  Don’t say “old”!):
What will I be if I grow up?

So I thought I’d see what advice I could get from some pretty thoughtful people.

“I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?  Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your own wild and precious life?”     Mary Oliver

You know, Mary, at my age, I’m not sure “planning” is the best approach: “Doing” seems better suited to the schedule constraint.

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”     Howard Thurman

Howie, that sounds wonderful.  Truly.  But do what?

” . . . many of us hesitate to express our creativity for fear that we will be too-amateur and too-unskilled to measure up. And so we don’t write poetry, write music, write novels, paint pictures, do sculpture, take up dancing, do carpentry, raise flowers, or do gardening because we fear that what we will produce will be too unprofessional to stand out in any way or to measure up in a way that it can be published or exhibited publicly so as to receive recognition and honor. And so, mostly, we mute and hide our creative talents because we cannot do what the great ones do. We punish ourselves by thinking this way: If no one will publish it, no sense writing it. If nobody will buy it, no sense painting it. If nobody will admire it, no sense doing it.

But that’s the wrong idea of creativity. We are meant to create things, not because we might get them published and receive honor and money for them. We are meant to create things because creativity, of all kinds, has us enter into the deep center of energy at the heart of things. . . . Creativity is its own reward.”     Ron Rolheiser

All right, then.  Never mind that I’ll never be a best-selling author or a professional photographer: Writing and photography are part of what I’m doing with my one, wild, and precious life, because they make me come alive.  And as Ron argues, both are, indeed, their own reward.  (Not that I’d ever, you know, object to a little critical acclaim.)  But both are also tons more fun when shared.  So thanks for coming along.

But, you know, it’s possible to get a little too serious about this.  It turns out that I didn’t need to go to such high-falutin’ sources as poets and theologians for validation of my creative impulse, such as it is.  This week’s news included a report of a butter sculpture of a dead raccoon  (Toronto’s favourite dead raccoon, apparently) at the CNE.  Category?  Celebrities.

All right, then.  I’ll see you at my next milestone: a butter place, I’m sure.

Night scene of stucco, two-storied hotel with palm trees.
Villa Caprice, Fort Lauderdale

 


 

With thanks to Wayne Holst (whose blog introduced me to Oliver, Thurman, and Rolheiser) and to Norm Kelly (whose  tweeted butter pun I appropriated).

 

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10 Comments

  1. Thanks for helping to ease me away, if only briefly, from my crisis-level mind lock. Alex remains in critical condition while the “experts” change a pharmacopoeia of meds he would never have considered taking in his most drug-addicted days. They expect him to reach a level of consciousness where he can respond to commands while they ensure that he cannot! Having discovered what I want to be when I grow up, I’m not sure how to be the grownup in this context of experts who don’t really know enough about what they are doing. Remembering your beautiful photos gives me a mental place of calm and creativity — and wry humour — in all of this insanity.

  2. Jim Taylor

    “When I grow up…” I never never really accepted the fact that I’m growing up, and up, and up… and eventually out. I see those ads on TV that invite me to train as a heavy equipment operator, or a long-distance truck driver. I get invitations to be the president of this club, or to dedicate myself to this political party. Every TV program seems to have an abundance of people who are destined to fall in love with other. And I have a hard time realizing that they’re not talking about me any more. I can’t count on starting a new career, a new life, a new romance, because I won’t (or may not) be around to finish it.
    I don’t want to “grow up” in the sense of setting joy and exuberance behind me. But somehow I got to the point where the opportunities are diminishing.
    Jim

  3. Alison Uhrbach

    I like the idea that we can be creative, and never achieve fame, or even expertise. I love quilting, but feel discouraged when I go to a quilt show ( moral of THAT story, don’t go to the show!). I love the ACT of creating, and I love being around creative people. We need to not be limited by our age, but I do struggle with the thought that I’d better get going if I’m going to learn/do new things in my life. Good luck with retirement Isabel! It’s a challenge at times.

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Alison – I do think Rolheiser is onto something important. It’s hard to create without purpose, and his approach imbues any such activity with a noble purpose. At that level, what matters isn’t how well we do it, but whether we do it. Not easy to hang onto!

  4. For me, after 40 years of being an artist, it is still The Process that is the most exciting. Can’t remember which famous artist answered the question of what’s your favourite piece with, “The next one.”
    Making something, anything, puts you in a zen state of mind: you just “be” and time disappears. And I think you grow younger!

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