Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Myth of Sisyphus Debunked

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. For the Greeks, this was the myth of Sisyphus. For reasons I don't remember and don't feel like looking up right now (my copy of Bullfinch's is downstairs), he was sentenced in the afterlife to forever roll a heavy rock up a hill, only to have it roll back down again. Whereupon he had to walk down and start all over again. Forever.

Lately, this feels like it has become my life. In multiple regards.

I need one of these for my life.

Today's particular bout of Sisyphusian futility comes via my taxes and my bank account, which happen to be diametrically opposed this tax season. Two years ago, in the way back that was 2010, things were looking up, I thought. I had work, I had started to amass actual savings, and my back account was further in the black than I had ever thought it would be. That was two years ago, and the weird economic entropy that is my life has reasserted itself.

It's not that my spending habits are bad. I do suffer from the occasional impulse buy. Show me someone who doesn't, and I'll show you someone who is never in a store. Or at Amazon. But I have gotten much better about putting things back on the shelf in recent years. No, my economic woes are for the most part external, and unavoidable. Last year was lawyer's fees; this year it's taxes. Next year it will probably also be taxes, even after I fix the issue that occurred this year.

There isn't a whole lot I can do about that. I've cut back where I can, but avoiding the occasional impulse buy or reducing my grocery bill only goes so far against the tax numbers I am looking at. I am somewhat resigned to this.

Camus, in the only book of his I have ever read, once posited that at the apex of the hill, when the rock has rolled all the way back down, just before Sisyphus starts his descent, there is a small moment of satisfaction there. I do not remember why Camus felt this way. I do know I thought it was a crap, pseudo-Zen argument even back when I read it. Living it, I rather assure you it in fact is a crap, pseudo-Zen argument. Being resigned to a fate is not the same as gladly embracing it.

And yet... and yet.

It is not just my budget. There are other things in my life to which this could apply, including my writing. (This is, after all, supposed to be a writing blog.) I have a somewhat Sisyphusian relationship with my writing as well. I write, in spates, often for months at a time. And just when it seems like it's going well, that this particular rock in my life will make it up and over the hill, finally, it comes right back down. And it's months before I write again in any way that counts.

I have come to realize that it doesn't have to be this way, though. I have not, to the best of my knowledge, been sentenced to an endless loop of almost-satisfaction followed by a return to drudgery. Not when it comes to my writing. That is entirely within my ability to do something about; it is a pattern I can break, if I so choose.

I have also come to realize that I am perhaps going about it wrong. It is not necessary to roll the whole thing up at once. I have other tools at my disposal. Hammers, for instance, that I can use to break the rock into pieces. Pieces which I can then take, bit by bit, up to the top and throw them over to the other side. It will still take many, many trips, but at least then I know each trip is accomplishing something, no matter how small.

How do I turn this metaphor into something rock-solid? (Pun intended, as always.) Small goals, small projects, that can be overcome, bit by bit, until the forward momentum becomes self-sustaining. With a little shove, now and again.

So, if you'll excuse me, I have a hammer to swing, things to write.

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