A fascinating interview appeared on HowlRound this week, in which Sarah Ruhl discussed her new book “100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write: On Umbrellas and Sword Fights, Parades and Dogs, Fire Alarms, Children, and Theater.”
What got me thinking was the pure, mundane humanity with which Ms. Ruhl spoke.
She expressed many of my own personal quandries: using time “unproductively,” having a career after children, how one can work through distraction, and what is life exactly? It was heartening for me to hear an artist for whom I have so much respect speak of such uncertainty and doubt in the face of the ordinary progression of life. It made me feel… kinship with her. It made me feel less alone.
I think that this is a trap that many artists fall into. Bearing their crosses silently, secretly thinking that, in a room filled with fools, they are the only true impostors. I think that it is healthy for us to speak about our insecurities and fears and doubts, and to allow each other to into that vulnerability. For it is from vulnerability, honesty in the face of internal resistance, that art is born, and sharing this internal struggle, allowing uncertainty to be neither MY burden nor YOUR burden, but OUR COLLECTIVE burden, is what forges a community.
Ms. Ruhl wrote a book of essays, entirely by accident, while feeling alienated from her creativity. Isn’t that comforting? That we can still think and move forward even as we stagnate. We can use the pain of stasis to fortify and crucible our thoughts. We can waste a year in India and return changed, having worked without having meant to.
Which brings me to the title of this post (and the title of the book). Essays.
Ruhl says that her mother told her that “essay” comes from the verb meaning “to try.”
In other words, this blog, her book, your life, all of human accomplishment does not amount to an achievement of any kind, but are simply many attempts by many people over time. Many tries. And we have no control over the end results of our lives, simply the output of our energy, the risk, which is to say, the essay.
I take this as a great source of inspiration. That I am not alone (and neither are you) in my lonely linear life. Rather, we are a jumble, a great insignificance out of which beauty can (will!) accidentally emerge. IF we try. All you have to do is try. And that’s enough.
So I issue a call to arms! Give life a whirl. Try something stupid! Let’s all give it a try!