MAKING THE WORK // Pursuing the Why
Remember when I told you that I’d realized that the book I’m working on was a wolf in sheep’s clothing and that it needed to shuck the fleece and just start being its wolfy self? I didn’t tell you what the wolf was because I still needed some time to take it in myself. I think you knew that the sheep’s duds represented the novel though, which is what I said—and thought—I was writing. Then, last issue I said that my book is a collection of linked essays, so that was it—I let the wolf out of the bag.
Now that we all know what the answer to "What?" is, I’ve moved on to asking "Why?" because it seems that I have a predilection for asking torturous questions that require me to plumb the depths of my own sweet, ridiculous soul. Also, because asking "What?" without asking "Why?" only does part of the job. The answer to "Why?" is how one finds meaning and purpose. And I’m one of those saps who finds a life grounded in meaning and purpose to be of the utmost value, even more so than happiness (though I welcome the intersection of the two... as Viktor Frankl said in Man’s Search for Meaning, “Happiness can’t be pursued, it must ensue.”)
So, these are the new questions I have vis-à-vis my writing life and my current work: Why write? Why write this story? Why linked essays?
Now, two things. One: it’s not that I haven’t asked these questions before, it’s just that I’m asking with more intention and clarity now that I’m dealing with a wolf (linked essays) and not a wolf in sheep’s clothing (hybrid novel-from-life). In other words, having found out what the true form is, I can feed the question of why into the process of creating the work.
Two: I’m not going to answer these questions here now—but I may in future issues. What I really wanted to share is simply that this investigation into why is the exercise I’m doing at the moment to help me move forward with purpose and more deeply connected to the work. The manuscript, when it becomes a book—fate willing, as the Buddhists say—will be the result, the answered what. Like Frankl’s happiness, it’s what will ensue.
WATCHING// Start with Why
This is an oldie but a goodie, and you may already be one of the nearly 20 million people who’ve seen it, but if not, hop over to Ted.com and listen to Simon Sinek’s talk How Great Leaders Inspire Action. Even if you’re more lemming than lemur, it’s a great talk to listen to because "Why?" is a question that lets us all connect with our purpose, which means we live more meaningful lives. Win, right?
In his talk, Sinek, author of Start with Why, uses a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership starting with a “golden circle” and the question “Why?” Using terms that turn sapiosexuals on, like “neo-cortex” and “limbic brain”, he grounds it all in biology.
That’s all I’m going to tell you because I want you to go watch it for yourself. This is why the mini-mag is published on Hump Days—so you have something to get you through the mid-week slump. Who needs kitten pics when you can contemplate your higher purpose instead?
Okay, I take back the fighting words. This can be an and not or thing...you can have your kittens and your higher purpose too.
FROM THE EDITING ROOM FLOOR // Untitled #1
This is a new column that re-purposes pieces of writing that I’ve picked up off the editing room floor, so to speak. This is the voice of a former character (my alter-ego) named Milly. In this piece she’s frustrated that she can’t know the answers to other people’s whys.
All my life I’ve wanted answers. I’ve always asked the question: Why? I used to get sent to my room for asking it one too many times. “She’ll ask ya why the sky is blue,” my father used to say. He said it the same way someone might say, “She’ll rob ya blind, this one.”
When my father would say, “She’ll ask you why the sky is blue,” I’d say, “Well, why is it?” and he’d say, “Some things we just don’t get to know.”
I just looked it up now. The sky being blue is rather sweetly explained at NASA’s website for kids. It has to do with sunlight and scattered light and gases and blue being the colour that has the shortest waves. Red light waves are the longest. Blue light waves are scattered sixteen some times stronger than red light waves. There is so much poetic possibility in the lengths of light.
My father was wrong about the kinds of questions that can be answered (though he also didn’t have Google). Why is the sky blue? That’s actually the kind of question that can be answered. He was still right about one thing though: there are some things we just don’t get to know.