Working with Meaning (Introduction)

When my niece and nephew graduated from high school, I saw each struggling with the same question- "What now?"

I was reminded of the predicament you’re in when you’re 18 and start fumbling around with answers to this quandary. On one hand, you want a career that provides financial security, yet you also want to pursue something that offers a sense of meaning and purpose. Of course, it doesn’t take long to realize that pursuing one often leads in a different, sometimes opposite, direction from the other. So… What's one to do?

To try and answer the question, I have begun writing a series of essays that I’ll be posting here titled WORKING WITH MEANING. When I finish, I will shape them into a documentary that will include interviews with individuals who’ve cracked the code so to speak and are getting financially compensated to do meaningful work they enjoy along with interviews from scholars who have spent their professional lives researching and writing about this very topic. If you're interested in this idea, subscribe to my blog in the right column and you will get an email every time I post something new. Hope you enjoy!

Critically Speaking

Recently, I watched Life Itself, a documentary about film critic Roger Ebert directed by Steve James (Hoop Dreams) and was reminded of just how counter Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel were to the public's perception of a critic's role. Most see a critic as someone who can’t be a musician or a filmmaker or a writer and has to resort, often bitterly, to critiquing those who are.  What better representation do we have than Salieri in Milos Forman’s 1984 film, Amadeus
All I wanted was to sing to God. He gave me that longing... and then made me mute. Why? Tell me that. If He didn't want me to praise him with music, why implant the desire? Like a lust in my body! And then deny me the talent?

Metaphorically Speaking

If you go online and look up “Bad Metaphors or Similes,” here are a few examples you’re likely to find:

The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.

The red brick wall was the color of a brick-red Crayola crayon.

He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree.

What makes these so comically terrible? For one, they each violate the blueprint of a good joke: recognizable set up, a moment of tension, then a hard right turn.  With the examples above, the turn, rather than being poetic or descriptive, is blunt and obvious- a U-Turn.
 
I realize that being a former English teacher makes me part of the home team so to speak, but it's difficult for me to imagine understanding anything complex or abstract without having a coinciding metaphor to illustrate it. I would even go one step further and say that metaphors can become a part of our personal stories, and that like personal stories, they become our "compasses and architecture; we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and our prisons out of them, and to be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of a world that spreads in all directions like arctic tundra or sea ice." Solnit, Rebecca (2013-06-13). The Faraway Nearby (p. 3). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition. 

Leonard Cohen, briefly.

When Leonard Cohen passed away, I rewatched Lian Lunson's I'm Your Man, the 2005 documentary about Cohen and his career. It's is a concert video of sorts with clips of other singers covering Cohen's songs. Interspersed throughout concert footage are interviews by the singers as well as interviews with Cohen himself.
I've included quotes from my 4 favorite scenes:

“If it is your destiny to be this laborer called a writer, you know you’ve got to go to work everyday, but you also know that you’re not going to get it everyday. You have to be prepared, but you really don’t command the Enterprise.”

"Is this the true burden of being a writer? Being a part of a craft that among other things, demands a strange faith? There is no goal line, no clock, no score? Being a writer demands faith. It's true, you're not commanding the Enterprise, but you're still on board as it hurls through space. You have to trust that you are going in the right direction and that you will get to where you're going, when you need to get there."

“Sometimes when you no longer see yourself as the hero of your own drama, expecting victory after victory, then you understand that this is not paradise. Somehow we embrace the notion that this veil of tears is meant to be perfection that you have to get it all straight. I’ve found that everything became a lot easier when I no longer expected to win.”

"After my father died when I was nine, I took one of his bowties and slit it open. I put a little message in it and I buried it in the backyard in the garden. I had no other way of connecting with the event that was so mysterious, and curiously, not devastating. It seemed to be alright that my father died. It seemed that he died and it was in the realm of things that couldn’t be disputed or rejected or even judged. And so, my writing, and I don’t remember what it was, perhaps just some kind of prayer to speed him along in whatever realm he was traveling."