I have been reading ‘A Confession’ by Leo Tolstoy (1828 – 1910); a short work on the subject of melancholia, philosophy and religion. It was written in 1879 (when he was 51) and in it he addresses his depressed state brought about by a need to understand the meaning, or rather the non-meaning, of life. My purpose in reading his work was not to depress myself as ‘A Confession’ could easily have done but to gain some insight as to why such a creative and successful man took to writing, not because of a passion but solely, because of the financial need to support a young family.
When he posed this question to himself
“Why should I live; why wish for anything or do anything?”
I could feel his frustration. The fact that he was successful, well-off financially and a great writer meant nothing and was of no value to him or of any consolation as he could not find a meaning to life. Of course he is not the only person to have grappled with ‘what is the meaning of life?’ but to be successful and feel it is all pointless must be a very sad feeling indeed.
I am sure it must have been difficult for intellectuals of that era to grapple with a world that, largely and still, blindly, accepted old superstitious beliefs based on ancient unsubstantiated manuscripts written by people who had a fraction of the knowledge available today. It seems that science, as it was then, was unable to provide Tolstoy with any answers or theories to support his justifiable questions. That is hardly surprising. Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’ was published in 1859 which must have been a significant pointer, yet I have not yet seen it mentioned by Tolstoy. This was 20 years prior to the writing of ‘A Confession’.
What would I give for an iota of Toltoy’s talent? Certainly not my sanity or the melancholy he suffered. I discovered at the age of 70 the immense pleasures of writing and over the past 3 years it has become to me as eating – a necessity to sustain life. For without it now I would surely die; maybe not physically, yet of that I am not so sure, but creatively definitely.
The more I write the easier it becomes and the easier it becomes the more I write.
Writing is energising yet at the same time energy sapping. It consumes my waking hours and then does not cease in slumber, depriving me of the sleep I need. In short it has taken on a life of its own and I, its willing slave, the conduit for creative outpouring – the muse that lives within is my new vitality. And every time I write I pray I won’t drop dead before the piece is finished. Such is the force that sometimes my creative spirit is so powerful that it drags my physical being along for the ride.
I dare not be too analytical for fear I may stifle the creativity. So the great ability, no doubt learnt over time, that great writers have of marrying creativity and technical skills, may well be missing. The more I learn the more I realise there is to learn but there is no need to concern myself with that as there is no end to learning; it is not a finite process. What I do know is that at my age I have little time to dwell so I must learn what needs to be learnt on the hoof. One thing, for sure, is that I could never write to earn a living. Not because I am not good enough, although that may well be the case, but because it is the very joy of writing for its own sake that spurs me on – not any financial reward that may, by chance, accrue. So in that alone I regret a little that my discovery of the joy of writing came so late in life but feel much luckier than Tolstoy in that I have accepted there is no meaning to life and I can just enjoy the rest of mine writing, along with a few other small pleasures.
I have wanted to write a novel for such a long time. Although the seeds were planted long ago they have been slow to germinate. The time, somehow, just had to be right for me to start the process. Now is the time, at last, and as the story starts to unfold in my head day after day I am sure it will take over a big part of my being until it’s done.
I have heard about writer’s block but cannot imagine how it can happen. Imagine all the knowledge, information, experience and emotional turmoil contained within, just dying to be set free. No – time and wellness are my only enemies. How many of us possess the artistic and creative ability to unlock the potential within, while we have been too busy trying to survive, by any means, while growing old? Probably a lot more than we realise.
I, for one, am not going to die wondering and am having a lot of fun pulling it all out.