Today while I was watching an performance and interview with Stephen Fry from the Sydney Opera House* for ABC1 on October 6, 2010 on Youtube he said something that hit me in the face like a slap:
“[Oscar] Wilde said ‘If you want to be a grocer or a general or a politician or a judge, you will invariably become it. That is your punishment. If you never know what you want to be, if you live what some might call the dynamic life but I will call the artistic life – if each day you are unsure of who you are and what you know – you will never become anything and that is your reward’”
I don’t know if any of you are the same but I’ve never really felt like I knew what I was doing. I have never really known what the ‘ultimate’ goal was. I have spent a lot of time thinking about what I want to be when I grow up, but I have never known when that was going to happen.
Now my psychologist might say that this is just a result of a lack of appropriate guidance when I was growing up or an expression of my (wrong) assumption that there is something broken in me which makes me different to other children but I think there is more to it than that.
There is a part of this quote that says you are more than your job; you are more than the sum of your experience; you are bigger than whatever box people decide to put you in. There is something fundamental about the idea that you must never stop questioning what it means to be alive; that you should be unsure of who you are and therefore flexible enough to change. It seems to me that Wilde is saying as soon as you have accepted that you are something and that something defines you completely then you are doomed to live that way forever; you cannot evolve, you cannot question, you cannot see the beauty or ugliness around you or within you because all you see is that construct and not a whole person.
A person who accepts that they are something, one thing, deep down, and nothing else is a caricature of themself. They are shallow, they don’t exist past the definition of themselves, they fit neatly into a box and don’t see why that would be a terrible, terrible thing.
The quote speaks about all the people who think life is about destinations while I am trying to learn to enjoy the journey. But destination is almost irrelevant because when you boil it down all we ever have is now. All we have is this single moment and each moment, taken on its own, can only ever be part of a life-long journey. Our whole lives are spent on the journey, even when we arrive at the destination we realise that we have to create a new destination in order to stop from going mad.
How dull would life be if all you were ever going to be was what you were at one single point in time? If you had to keep living the same day over and over and over because that was all you were? What if I had gotten the marks to do medicine and my life were defined by that moment? I would be a doctor and I could never be anything more, or anything different to that one moment. Part of the joy of this life is not knowing who you will be tomorrow, next week, next year, in ten years… As soon as you are happy with who you are you are not able to grow or learn and growth and learning are what makes life worthwhile.
I dunno. I guess I also liked the quote because it means that it’s ok to have no idea what’s going on, or who you are, or why you do the things you do. It reassures me that I can be a great artist even if I don’t know how (and even if no one else thinks I’m great).
*The rest of this performance and interview is on Youtube in five parts, starting here.