But Mr. Watterson…
Mr. Watterson, when I watch this movie trailer they made about you, it makes me realize that I want to create something as fulfilling and real and Calvin and Hobbes. But at the heart of it, I think I want to be as fulfilled as I imagine you were every time you finished a comic that gave us a glimpse at the unintelligible voices in our heads.
So, how do I do this?
Bill: Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement.
Me: Yes, I know — and this hardly seems fair. Don’t we all deserve to have our lives be the brushes of our soul? But, as you’ve said, it’s rare. Maybe this is selfish, but I want that. I guess I’m lucky enough that I feel it’s within my grasp. But an incredible fear invades my heart when I stray too far.
The other day, I was talking to a college friend, and he mentioned that he was about to be promoted to a senior position. We’re the same age, so it struck me quite sharply; what did I do with the last six years that was so different from him?
Bill: In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive.
Me: I suppose I’ve done a lot of things that have made me happy. And I suppose it’s never been for money or for position, but rather — things like this: Writing or building because I think it will satisfy some desire within me to be, well, creative. I used to think it was selfish, but in grad school a very smart woman said, “Creativity is not the game preserve of artists, but an intrinsic feature of all human activity.” I saved that message in my inbox so I could look at it day after day. It reminded me that it’s not selfish for me to be creative, but rather it’s normal; it’s rational.
Me: You know, I moved with a girl to Boston and then New Haven. I did it because I had an ambition to love her. The word ‘ambition’ isn’t really used like that these days.
Most days, I believe with conviction that any other choice would’ve been a poor one — that whatever I may have given up was nothing. In fact, these adventures have taken me wide and far — not just geographically, but also within my own mind. These adventures have been molded into who I am, and I believe I am a better person for it.
But occasionally a voice will sneak into my head that wonders what could’ve been — whether I could’ve been that one being promoted to a senior position.
Bill: Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential — as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.
When I left the Globe, there were two types of responses — both of which I related with. One was people who told me stories about the sacrifices they made for their loved ones, and how they never regretted it. I heard love story after love story. The second type of response was the people who asked me what the hell I would do in New Haven. I told them I didn’t know, and they asked how far New Haven was from Boston. I related to both — I wanted to be both. But it was clear that they were two opposite desires.
Bill: You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.
Me: Hmm. I grew up a huge sports fan, and I enjoyed the stories about the athletes who never gave up. In fact, the greatest ones were never satisfied — the Michael Jordans, the Wayne Gretzkys. It was such an inspiring storyline, such a Greek tragedy, that I didn’t understand the intricacies of it. I just wanted to be the hero of the story. And it does seem quite tragic to never be satisfied — to never fully allow the soul to breathe, like wine in a vase.
I’ve been waking up every morning with terrible anxiety because I don’t have a job, and because my current trajectory of life is unsustainable. I feel like I’m breaking some terrible rule of adulthood by waking up and staying in my pajamas until noon. I feel like I’m sitting in the dressing room while the rest of the world gets on the stage to perform, and I only experience the play through the stories of the actors and actresses as they change out of their costumes.
Bill: To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.
Me: I don’t want to invent my life’s meaning. The thing is, I think it already has meaning; I think it inherently has meaning — at least in the cosmic sense. But is that not what you mean? After all, that cosmic meaning seems so irrelevant when I sit on my Ikea couch at 2 p.m., with no real direction. It seems so irrelevant when the world gives me a badge for something I’ve done, and it validates my actions. I don’t know. I feel like I’m asking more questions than ever before. Sure, my questions are getting more poignant; I feel like Job, reacting to the world with questions that cut deeper and deeper, just enough to scar but not enough to reveal.
Bill: Your preparation for the real world is not in the answers you’ve learned, but in the questions you’ve learned how to ask yourself.
Me: So maybe, just maybe, I’m making progress asking all these questions? Feeling more lost than ever? Maybe this is what makes it so rare — that soul-quenching life that seldom flashes by. But I want it, Mr. Watterson. I want it.