The Mask of King Tutankhamen
We have been told that each of us has some orderly arranged, but randomly selected set of genes that makes each of us different. We know that is true from physical appearances, and from personality traits. From knowing identical twins we know that even they are not perfectly the same. The difference may be simply because one had a better experience in the womb, or one suffered a childhood infection that missed the other one. And then there are all of the experiences that happen throughout lives. After a lifetime of experiences we are, truly, all unique.
We gain education in a number of ways, some formally and some through the school of hard knocks. Using the toolkit we were born with we observe and experiment, observe more, experiment more, learning to walk and then to talk. Everything is practical at first and then we begin to learn concepts and to form abstract models of how the world works; even the Universe.
Some of us do a better job at one thing or another. Others find that their toolkit works better along another path. One of us becomes a mathematician another a running back. Some of us find that we don’t handle numbers well and can’t run fast, but are better at sales or waiting tables. It’s all good.
One of the concepts that arose from the Protestant Reformation was the concept that all work is good. The word “vocation” meant calling. Being a priest of a nun involved being called by God to do that work. Other jobs were venial and were referred to as avocations (not called). Luther, however, described the Church as a “priesthood of all believers” in which everyone who believed was called and therefore the work that each did was good. Vocation came to mean occupation or means of livelihood and hobbies were called avocations.
So, some of us were taught, as I was, that there were no jobs beneath our dignity, however it was our responsibility to do them well. My father used to say, “I don’t care if you are a ditch digger as long as you try to be the best ditch digger around.” He meant it. My mother was the one who said, “I hope you will go on to college.”
And so I did, became a professional, and in most people’s minds that defined who I was, but is our occupation what defines us? It seems so. Think about the surnames, Cooper, Smith, Wright, Miller and Carpenter, Those were historically all occupations, and some still are. I don’t know whether the one who sings the liturgy in a Jewish synagogue gets or got paid, but the name Cantor, I imagine, related to that work. Most of the members of church choirs work for nothing other than the chance to share their gift.
For many people the thing of which they are most proud is not the thing that puts bread on the table, but some avocation. Attempts to make one’s hobby one’s livelihood are sometimes disastrous.
Q; What do you call a bluegrass musician who breaks up with his girlfriend?
Even if the change pays the bills the switch may take all of the joy out of the thing which used to make one happy. That happened to a couple of fishing friends who became fishing guides.
One of my now deceased friends was an excellent bluegrass mandolin player. He hobnobbed with folks like Johnny Hartford (who apparently made friends with anyone who was a good musician) My friend was also a family physician. He said more than once, “I’ll never be the best. I had the choice of being a good doctor and an above average musician, or an excellent musician and a bad doctor.”
Still, although his patients may remember him as their doctor, most of us remember him for his music.
Here’s the rub. When we die we cease to exist except in memory and evidence of the work we have produced. Architects and painters leave beauty trailing in their wake. For musicians the evidence dies with the last echo in the music hall unless their performance was recorded. Even then, the recording is temporary. Imagine if your work was recorded on cassette tape – or eight track – or reel to reel.
Writing - really good writing - may live on after us, but again, how can we ensure that? The medium is the problem. Those of us who wrote on Open Salon, unless we scurried to the site and saved everything saw years of writing vanish. If we saved it onto a drive what will become of it?
Paintings fade, buildings crumble, in the end all memory and trace is gone. Or is it?
We influence those around us in good and bad ways. My parents had good work ethics. They passed that along. My wife got the same gift. Our daughters have that ethic. I think it has shown up in our granddaughters. Was that gift in our genes, or was it the result of example? I don’t know. Perhaps both contributed.
I am disappointed that, while my daughters and granddaughters have musical ability, none are musicians. That disappointed my mother, as well. She was a pianist who taught herself and then took music theory to understand what she did. She once made the observation that the difference in me and my progeny was that from the very beginning I had to make music. It was not a choice.
That did not get passed along.
Maybe that is a good thing.
Artistic drive is something of a curse.
Kansas - "Dust in the Wind"