Conversation with my seventeen-year-old son:
Son: Mom, have you ever heard of Sisyphus?
Me.: Um, yeah
Son: We were talking about him in my English class today. You remind me of him.
Now for those of you who don’t happen to have random Greek myths churning around in your heads, Sisyphus was the man the gods forced to push a boulder up a mountain. Every day Sisyphus pushed the rock up and every night the thing rolled down so he’d have to do it again the next day. It’s the very definition of futility, of pointless endeavor. Really, of life itself, if you want to get completely nihilistic about it. (My son’s English class just read The Stranger by Camus and that is exactly what they’ve been talking about. What’s the point?) What my son meant was that it seems pretty pointless for me to write every day when there doesn’t seem to be any external reward (ie payment).
But here’s what I told him: What else was Sisyphus going to do with his time? Stand on the bottom of the mountain and look at the rock? Kick it? Sit on it with his weary head in his hands? Why not push the damn thing? At least you get a change of scenery along the way, some exercise out of the deal, a decent view when you get to the top. And later you can get a little entertainment watching the rock bounce back down again, right?
Seemingly pointless digression:
So the other day I went out and bought a hair dryer. My best writing friend and I have this pact. When one of us gets a publishing deal, that person will buy the other one a hairdryer. We got this idea from Stephen King’s book On Writing. Apparently, he had struggled too in his pre-published days. If I remember right, he and his wife and two little kids were living in a trailer and he was teaching full time and making like 6000 dollars a year in rural Maine. They had a broken down Volkswagen. They couldn’t afford a phone. When he got his book deal, for Carrie, it was some crazy amount of money, like two hundred thousand dollars, and the stunned Stephen King walked around in a daze, his head spinning with the news that his life had just changed. He wanted to buy something for his wife to celebrate and for some odd reason the only thing he could come up with was a hairdryer.
Anyway, my friend and I have this pact but we were having problems with our hairdryers. We were putting off buying them because (and I know this is silly) we kept hoping that a book deal for one of us would come through. Last weekend my husband told me my hairdryer is a fire hazard. This was true. Sparks spit out the back end. Only one setting worked. Finally, I couldn’t take it. I went out and bought one. There was a twingy thought in the back of my head that doing that—taking matters into my own hands—might force a deal for my friend. (Also silly, I know, but I’m operating under the belief in the forces that make it rain right after you wash your car.)
Okay. Nothing has happened yet. My friend bought herself a hair dryer too. She needed one and she was trying to nudge the universe along for me too. (We are both silly like that.) But my point is that we are taking joy in whatever we can as we push our boulders up our respective mountains.
I just finished writing a book today. It's a second draft of a first draft of a version of a manuscript I have literally been writing on and off for almost ten years. WOO HOO. So tonight I’m going to sit back on my rock and enjoy the view from the top of the mountain (really I’ll be sitting next door in my neighbors’ hot tub drinking chocolate martinis, but you get the picture).
In a few weeks I’m going to start writing a new book and push the rock up the mountain again.
Because it’s what I do. Me and Sisyphus. We’re silly like that.