I was in a bad mood when I took down holiday decorations last week. I ripped down the lights, the ornaments, the tiny plastic tree and shoved them gruffly into a cardboard storage box. I wasn’t upset that the holidays were over – I was grumpy that they’d happened in the first place.
The pressures of maintaining traditions, shelling out cash for gifts, and visiting family and friends are piled together in a smorgasbord of glitz overload and giddy exhaustion. Then we turn right around and enter the season of teeth-grinding, finger-crossing, willpower-testing new year’s resolutions.
On Christmas Eve – Christmas Eve! – I drove by a gym on my way to pick up extra butter and saw a small army of go-getters pounding their treadmills to nowhere. I wanted to roll down my car window and shout into the abyss, What’s it all for?!
That’s what one of my writing professors had shouted in the middle of class twenty years ago. Without warning, pomp or circumstance, he threw open the window, pushed half his body through, and yelled out that aching question to the passersby below.
Really, I was surprised that the window had opened. It was an old building, and most of the windows were stuck, painted over multiple times throughout the years. Perhaps the feverish internal demand of an existential crisis had fueled him with herculean strength.
Working windows aside, you know what I’m amazed by? Writers who write despite ornaments to hang, cakes to cook, existential crises, depression, anxiety, full-time jobs, parent-teacher meetings, high cholesterol, broken toes and last but not least, vacations. I suspect that they do it because they have something that I’m looking for right now: purpose.
It was purpose that drove me through draft after draft of the poems that would make up my thesis manuscript. Before that, it was purpose that drove me to write, print, staple together and distribute a chapbook in the style of the ‘zines circulating at the time.
Purpose is as varied and perfect as a snowflake. I’ve learned that it can also be just as fleeting. We go through changes in life, and our sense of purpose waxes, wanes. Hopefully, our next purpose is falling gently upon us just as our previous purpose fades.
However, sometimes, like I am now, we go through dry spells when purpose falling upon us seems as likely as a snowflake in, well, you know where. Because purpose comes hand-in-hand with passion, it feels like life itself. Without it, the day-to-day seems a drudgery, even with multicolor lights blinking brightly and yards filled with massive blow-up snowmen.
I know that when I find my next purpose, my next passion, I’ll leave the dishes and sneak off to my work. I’ll rush and revise, repeat cycle, until it renders Rumpelstiltskin’s gold spun from common straw. Writing is the medium through which I express my purpose. That medium is still there, just waiting for me to find my raison d’etre, my What’s it all for?
What is your purpose? How does it express itself in your writing, in your reading choices? How have you worked your way through times when your sense of purpose seemed less present?
Amber Shockley is our Assistant Poetry Editor.