Category Archives: Good Work

Harrison’s Spoken Essay on Gardens

I just wanted to share this with you. Grab a scotch, as Harrison does, and listen to poetry, myth, philosophy and other beautiful things.

Care (good work) seems to be innately human (though, in some sense, I would argue that animals share this). If there is to be any meaningful fulfillment, it has to be done through care. Put at its worst, there is no joy without hard, often painful, work.

I wonder. What of those moments where work itself seems to be meaningless and where there seems to be nothing worth doing? All is Vanity. Where would this fit in to this essay?

The World Beyond The Barrier

“At the close of the nineteenth century, Nietzsche expressed his scorn for his contemporaries’ stupid insistence on trying to “see through everything” (263). He protested the lack of reverence and discretion which fueled their tactless attempt to “touch, lick, and finger everything” (213). The phenomenon Nietzsche decried is the frenzied desire we still see all around us, the desire to cast aside every veil, penetrate every surface, transgress every barrier in order to get our hands on the real thing lying behind it. We seem to have installed in the modern world a new “beyondness,” a new untouchable, or a new secularized sacred, one that inspires a new desire for transgression. This secularized sacred originates not in a belief in the existence of another world, but from the belief that what we want in this world always lies behind a barrier which prevents our access to it.” 175

This is taken from Joan Copjec’s The Object-Gaze: Shame, Hejab, Cinema. I found this last sentence to be just as profound as it is provocative. But is it true?

There is a similar belief that says: anything worth doing requires hard work.

There is a great satisfaction that one gets from learning something new or completing a project, especially when they are difficult. We all know this kind of satisfaction. But I’d like to examine it in more detail. So for me, this often means learning a difficult piece of music.

In order to let the music speak, I must be sensitive to every detail and challenge that it presents to me and let the details of the music unfold according to their role within the piece. This kind of engagement takes time. The more advanced the piece is, the more time I must spend with it. When one spends time with something, a relationship is formed. In this case, it is a demanding relationship with very specific expectations. I expect to make the music my own. I expect that my previous work has enabled me to meet every challenge and that I will grow because of it.

Difficult challenges install in me frustration, anxiety, fear of failure, and even despair. So I must take each challenge in manageable portions, lest I become discouraged and quit. When they are conquered, I have confirmation that my previous work is valid, enriched, and I am given confidence and excitement to keep going. Equally as important: it gives me reprieve from anxiety, frustration, fear of failure, and despair. I know that these small success are important without having to think about it because they are signs that the work is nearing completion. In isolation, the importance of each of these scattered challenges and the success that might await me are thrown into question. Only within the context of the complete work do they gain their unified importance.

The importance of the entire work is deemed as such if it is consistent with a more general, believed idea. An idea, or a truth, that orients one’s life. For instance, anything worth doing requires hard work.

This relationship between the work and the idea that propels it is fundamental to our experience of the world. The completed work means nothing without the idea and vice versa. The point is not to complete your work, but to continue to complete challenging work consistent with the idea. This also means that one should not attempt to derive ultimate satisfaction from the finishing of the work.  Rather, the completing of the work ensures that the believed idea continues to function. Without the work and the idea contributing to each other, both will die. Feed the idea with your work. Feed the work with your idea.

Let’s turn back to the original quote. Is it true that what I want always lies behind a barrier? I think that, on the contrary, the joyful experience that I have of overcoming barriers and obstacles is so powerful that it extends to so many spheres of my life — So far, in fact, that obstacles come to be looked at as life giving opportunities.

Sometimes it’s great to be a musician

Being a musician is a lot of work. It’s not just the hours of practicing that are difficult. It’s that when we practice, we are working towards something. The performance, which lasts just a few minutes, looms over every hour of practice. And one gets more and more anxious as the performance date approaches. I believe this to be good work. For many reasons. There is a joy in practicing for a performance and a joy in just practicing, for the fun of it. Most of this work, for me at least, is done in solitude. I like solitude. But most music is not possible without other musicians.

Tonight I was privileged enough to perform one of the most beautifully mournful pieces ever written: Klaglied, by Buxtehude. And it could not have been possible without three other VERY fine musicians. I have never heard them play, and sing, so beautifully. The piece was written after his father passed away and it’s prolonged, rolling, dissonances make it a piece that truly can transform the performance hall. To me, it seemed like the walls and the portraits felt heavier and were filled with sorrow, remembering the past suffering that they have bore witness too. And yet the music seems to lift these burdens as it calls them forth. And so, when I hear that there were tears in a few people’s eyes, it makes all these hours of rehearsals and practicing worth it.

Here is the translation of the first and last verses:

Must death then also break those chains

No earthly circumstance can unfetter?

Must it also wrest from me

The one who cleaves unto my heart?

Alas! a father’s mournful passing

Brings too bitter sorrow with it,

When from the breast the heart is torn

The pain exceeds the throes of death.

Sleep in peace, beloved one,

Live in peace, O blessed soul;

I, your son, now deep in grief,

Inscribe upon your hollow grave:

‘Here lies one whose gifts of music

Once gave joy to God Himself;

Now his spirit, full of gladness

Has joined the heavenly choir above’.

What do we do?

It seems like anyone who really cares and works on the greatest problems of our time (Environment, racism, poverty, etc.) has to do it full time in order to make a difference. Anyone who does it part time isn’t really doing anything except trying to have a meaningful life and are actually ignorant of a lot of issues which will probably negate anything that you think you are working for. So, either you are a professional activist or you are a naïve citizen.

Sooooo. What is to be done? one gets the feeling now and again that everyone should stop and evaluate what we are doing and see that we are ripping apart our world and our future. But this only happens during the times of crisis.

I guess we should wait for the next crisis before drastic change takes place.

Writing to grow

Having your thoughts published on the internet, or wherever, is a revealing endeavor that leaves one feeling exposed. What if the great idea turns out to be ridiculous, trivial, incoherent, or even racist? Maybe it’s best to just keep silent and comfortable. It’s this point that I’d like to highlight.

A great deal of our ideas about how the world works are what guide our activities, guide our notions of how success (in whatever form) is obtained. When your thoughts are exposed, your life is exposed. So keeping your ideas private are ways we keep ourselves safe, continuing on as we always have. If I open myself up to criticism, my path could change at any moment, derailing my current vision of how the world works, how things are, where I am going and how I will get there. But I believe that opening yourself up to the wisdom and experiences of others is also one of the practices that fosters the most growth. Your ideas will either be met with agreement or disagreement by a community. It’s nice when others like your ideas. But disagreement opens up the realm of choice and deliberate thinking: am I right? why do I think I am right? What do those whom I deem wise say of my ideas? The answers that you give to these questions fundamentally orient your vision, either by entrenching yourself in your position or altering your course.

Disagreements, then, can either be looked at as opportunities to change or to hold your position. The choice is yours. And, remember, it is a choice. One of the freest kinds of choices we have: choose to change or stay the same. The disagreement is the signal that a choice must be made.

So — Write, listen, and make your choice.

Finish your work

“A creative artist works on his next composition because he was not satisfied with his previous one” – Shostakovich

I also take this to mean that a creative artist finishes his current composition in order to start a new one.

Finish your work. People often say that they have a lot of unfinished projects. I think that this is often the case because they are afraid that it will not live up to their high standards. Well, finishing the work is often the hardest part. In order to finish a great work, you must learn how to finish a great work.

Furthermore, finishing a work and seeing it in written form is one of the greatest ways to learn. When you see your work in front of you, you can also see the errors, as well as the great things. You are able to think new thoughts that you were not able to do so before it because you no longer have to have it memorized, you no longer have to develop memorized thoughts from memorized thoughts, but can develop new thoughts and ideas from those already written down.

The Christian’s Destination as Ongoing Work that is Good

I often find it helpful to think of the Christian life in terms of journey and Good work. And I also find that we best think of this journey or work as ongoing. In this way the destination of the Christian’s journey is journeying in friendship with God. God does not call us to something that is other to Godself, and God does not give us hard work prior to a reward in abstraction from this work. Certainly God promises rewards to the faithful, but these rewards are in fulfillment of the good towards which our faithful actions gesture. Martyrdom, for example, is a confessional embodiment of the Kingdom reality of “living together in love,” which is promised the reward of the loving communion of the resurrection.

This approach has the advantage of not separating God’s gifts to us from our reception of (and participation in) these gifts. Grace and discipleship are brought together rather than severed. Such an approach also holds the potential of dispossessing us of any pretentious to absolute truth. We may be called by God, but this calling does not mean that we know in advance where and how God’s truth may be found. In fact, it actively calls us to a certain openness towards unexpected discoveries of God’s grace. For if our goal is ongoing work, then perfection involves continued growth and learning, not “having it all together.” And finally, seeing the Christian journey as ongoing removes any separation between God’s being and God’s act. God both is love and gives love; resting in God’s love is not different than living a life of love. Continue reading The Christian’s Destination as Ongoing Work that is Good