As a fan of Woody Allen, his writing and his humour, I know exactly where he’s coming from when he relates many of his characters’ inner struggles to existential angst. Why are we here and what is our purpose? Could we live without the extra burden of knowing that existentialism claims we all have the freedom and responsibility to plan the course of our lives as we choose and only have ourselves to blame when this doesn’t live up to our expectations? It’s hardly surprising the effect this can have on your average human, be that emotionally crippling, motivated in to action, or simply left with a sense of feeling overwhelmed and inadequate.
The problem is there are just too many choices in life. The individual would need to live many parallel lives or the same life several times over in order to achieve and enjoy the variety of options available. Should we stay single or live in a partnership? Should we bear children or enjoy a life free of these responsibilities? Do we devote ourselves to career or family? Is it ever possible to reach the right balance?
In my case, I beat myself up when I’m not writing. I torment myself that if I’d spent every available hour of every waking day practising my art, I would have honed the necessary skills to be a published author by now, perhaps with a string of novels to my name. Then again, this prolonged activity might have proved to be a complete waste of time and the effort better spent engaging in something less mentally strenuous and leisurely. How do we know what is the right path to take? I dream of seeing my name on the front of a book cover, but do I want it so badly that it could be at the expense of time enjoying the minutiae of life with family, reading a book, or settling in to a Nordic noir box set when it could all be for nothing anyway? And, even if I achieve my goal, what are the chances of my work being in print or remembered a generation on after I’m no longer around? There are a finite number of authors like Dickens, Austen and Shakespeare that will always be remembered but even the likes of J.K. Rowling with her current popularity may not stay in vogue forever. Is it worth handing over your precious time to writing projects that are potentially worthless to anyone other than the author? I suppose only the individual can answer that one and most writers would answer ‘yes’ because that is their only option: they feel impelled to write.
I hope when I reach the end of my life (not for many decades yet, thank you, if any higher power is listening) that my regrets are few and that I believe the paths I have walked along to be the right ones. And, I hope there’s a whole row of books on a shelf in Waterstones, or its equivalent, with my name on their spines.