An unfinished project is like a nagging bug bite. It itches and festers until I complete it. That’s how I have always been, and this characteristic’s tendrils reach into many facets of my life. For example, I even finish books I don’t enjoy. With the exception of one book (sorry, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, but your 1400 pages of technical jargon were simply too much for an ambitious 6th grader) I cannot recall the last time I didn’t finish a book. Whether or not I enjoy it, I view a book as the product of someone else’s careful labor; I try to treat it with what I consider its due respect. Rather than give up on it, I will generally just slog through the reading like an unpleasant task.
Recently, I added a second book to my “unfinished” list. As unfulfilling as it was to not see the first and final page, it would have been more unfulfilling to read the hundreds in between them. It was a fiction piece that attempted and failed to be six stories at once, and it was written like a teenager constructing a novel they hope will be adapted for a screenplay. The narrative was painfully elementary and every twist was transparent. I am positive that someone worked very hard on it, and I feel bad about both not finishing it and not enjoying it. However, I simply could not take it anymore… I had to stop. It is not my intention to be cruel, and I’m not sure I could produce anything better, but ending the slog was the right decision.
The next book I picked up is the polar opposite. The writing is beautiful and serves a complex but easy-to-follow examination of the authors ideas. Hardly an obscure work, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays by Nobel laureate Albert Camus is a time-tested and respected book. To boot, it is coincidentally relevant to my previous essay about taking a different stance on writing and, indeed, on my outlook towards life. The book begins as a dialogue on the validity of an emotional versus logical decision to end one’s life as a result of the recognition of “the absurd.” For those unfamiliar with the work, it is not one which advocates suicide or makes a case for its performance. Instead, Camus comes to the conclusion that the recognition of the nature of being as “absurd” requires a revolt against it. His idea of “absurdity” could (and has) had entire essays and books written about what exactly it is, but I think Camus sums it up nicely toward the beginning of the book:
“It happens that the stage sets collapse. Rising, streetcar, four hours in the office or factory, meal, streetcar, four hours of work, meal, sleep, and Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday and Saturday according to the same rhythm—this path is easily followed most of the time. But one day the ‘why’ arises and everything begins in that weariness tinged with amazement. ‘Begins’—this is important. Weariness comes at the end of the acts of a mechanical life, but at the same time it inaugurates the impulse of consciousness. It awakens consciousness and provokes what follows. What follows is the gradual return into the chain or it is the definitive awakening.”
Camus goes on to say that recognition of this affirms one’s consciousness and that that, in and of itself, is valuable. To toil against the constrictions of the formulaic, repetitive life is noble in his mind. The solution to these ills is secondary to the value of working against them, so labor we must.
It is up for debate how widely we can implement these ideas in a life which requires a job, a schedule, health insurance, etc. I certainly don’t have an answer for myself or anyone else, but in my own way I will try to fall out of the chain. I’ll continue to cook a different menu each week; I’ll never exactly follow a recipe; I’ll try to see things from as many perspectives as I can; I’ll never stop learning; and I will always ask Camus’ “why.”