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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Monday, July 07, 2008

laboring in freedom

Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.
Thus spake Einstein. (I forget now where I found that quote; I copied it into a document I have for recording quotes.) I've mentioned it before, but it's one that I keep returning to in my mind.

I realize that I place tremendous importance on this idea of laboring in freedom. Indeed, I've bet my whole life on it.

What it means to me is that one' s work is generated spontaneously from within, and not in response to outward inducements from others. Not as an assignment given by someone else, not in response to the supposed cravings of the "market", not in order to gain the approval of society or any subset of it. Instead, one becomes inspired by one's own relationship with something--an idea, a possibility--and, with the energy of this inspiration, which is the same thing as enthusiasm, one works to realize the inspiration.

This can never be a practical decision. By its nature it is the opposite of practical: it is not a means to realize some near-term worldly or economic end. For those of us who have a worldly, practical nature, this disconnect produces anxiety.

At least, that's how I feel. The worldly part of me--which is not a small part--looks on with a kind of horrified fascination at the "enthusiastic" or creative part of me, the part that is devoted to an inspired task and doesn't give a damn about anything else. The worldly part finds itself in the position of having to think of ways to sustain the inspired part, which doesn't seem to care or even notice whether it's being sustained or not.

"When's this thing going to be done?" Worldly Part says.

"Huh?" says Inspired Part, not looking up.

In the earlier part of my adulthood, the worldly part of myself tried to be in control. It saw itself as the manager of the whole system, and the inspired part as subordinate. Creativity was to be put in the service of worldly aims.

That was the wrong way around. Whatever feelings of confidence or security may have come from it were illusory. I may not have felt direct anxiety over my creative life--but I should have. (Indeed, I did have a lot of anxiety, and I reckon that my creative life was possibly one of its chief bases.)

Now I do have worldly anxiety: I worry about my long labor at such a vast creative project. Like the audience in a good movie, I wonder, "How's this going to turn out?"

I don't know. It's not a script I've written. I'm playing my part, and hoping for the best.


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