14 July, 2010

The Meaning of It All

Mind you, I don't write in the summertime here in Washington state.  There's precious little summer, for one thing, and thus one has to be ready to take full advantage.  For another, it gives me a chance to catch up on long-neglected projects round the house.  It's a time to rest, renew, research and recharge.  But even though summer's not half over yet, I can feel my mind itching, my fingers twitching.  I'm afraid I won't make it to the end.

If we compare my writing life to a volcano, it's uneasily dormant.  Fumaroles high on the slopes are energetically smoking.  And harmonic tremors are shaking the mountain, growing stronger and more frequent as the days go by.  The thing looks set to blow its top.

But there the analogy breaks down somewhat.  We know what causes volcanoes to erupt, or very nearly - it's all down to that molten mantle thingy and the vagaries of plate tectonics.  But they don't have a purpose.  They just blow, and they don't spend time before the big eruption considering why they're erupting, or what ultimate benefit their erupting will have.  They don't look at the results of their eruptions and take pride in the fertile soils, spectacular scenery, and mineral wealth they create.  They don't strive to be the very best volcano they can be, inspired by other volcanoes and by the folks who benefit from their hard work.

Being a writer is a lot like being a volcano, at least for me: long periods of dormancy followed by vigorous eruptive periods, and there's not a damned thing I can do about it.  It's as inevitable as gas-rich magma rising up a vent and building up pressure until the whole thing goes boom.  I'm sure neuroscience will, someday, explain that inevitability, just like plate tectonics made sense of volcanoes.  But there's also a purpose, which volcanoes will never have.  Unlike a volcano, I can strive.  And this is it, the reason, the purpose, the meaning of it all:

It was never about how accurate the science was in science fiction.

It’s about the wonder and excitement of the unknown. It’s about the attitude of characters like Spock and Data, how they attacked problems head on and came up with creative solutions. It’s even about building a interdimensional portal in your basement. That’s what inspired me to want to become a scientist. And maybe this means we’ll never have warp drive or transporters like they have on the Enterprise. But we’ll create something better. [emphasis added]
I'm afraid I'll never be a scientist.  There are many reasons, which I won't go in to here.  But I've got it in me to tell damned good stories.  And if I tell them well enough, I might just inspire one person to want to become a scientist.  I might inspire one person to do something wonderful.  And that, I can tell you, is a very inspirational thought. 

I will have left the world just a little bit richer than it would otherwise have been (and, bonus, won't have wiped out hundreds of square miles of the landscape and possibly buried cities under mudflows in the process).  Worth striving for, that.

And at least now I won't feel so guilty about not getting the science 100% right.


Cujo359 said...

You'll never get something 100 percent right. No one does. The important thing is to try, and to recognize you'll have to correct something on occasion. People who are always right are really in the realm of science fiction.

Anonymous said...

>But they don't have a purpose.

Well, no that's not quite right. Volcanoes occur for several reasons, and they play an important role in continent and soil formation.

Volcanic processes are part of a larger geological pattern of crust recycling, just like your life and mine are part of a larger ecological cycle of biogeochemical processes.

Like magma that is transformed into rich soil and sediment, you pass through stages of Small and Big Picture ah-ha moments in life. Science, in particular, becomes less of a muddle and the haze and fog of vague understanding lifts as fact and process connectedness solidifies, poco a poco.

For the hardcore applied sciences (biology, geology, chemistry and medicine and engineering), conceptual mastery, when we are apt to make major contributions in our field of expertise, may not materialize until one is in her 40s or even 50s.

If you pay attention, you may ken your Purpose in time. Your joy and delight lies in finding and carrying out this purpose for joint benefit by self and others, in a mobius loop of positive internal feedback. Whatever it's forms, your Purpose is the best use of your natural talents, skills, education and acquired knowledge.

It need not be your profession; it can be a hobby, a volunteer effort that reaches out to community and reinforces healthy support networks.

In that sense, your present activities, here, are part of your finding your Purpose, but I suspect, it is not all of it.

Attaining and applying your best practical purpose will be an ongoing process of serendipitous connections, self-correction and refinement. Through patient pursuit, it affords deep contentment and daily pleasure.