I’m currently reading Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic, which I already know is going to be one of those books I’ll return to throughout my life.
The author intended these epistles to edify future generations, so they are very carefully constructed—often overly so—to the point that nearly every sentence is quotable, which is why I’ll have to revisit his words to truly absorb them.
Initially, I wanted to learn more about Stoicism since the name has found its way into our everyday use. I was surprised to learn that the lack of feeling traditionally associated with the philosophy is actually a misinterpretation.
The Stoic does feel the good as well as the bad but does not let fortune or misfortune change his character, for the truly independent individual is one who finds strength and contentment within himself instead of through outside forces. This concept is just one of the many topics Seneca discusses in his letters.
“So what does this have to do with Dorothy Parker?” you ask.
Well, I’ve always liked her quote: “I don’t like writing. I like having written.” I included it in a previous blog post on procrastination since it speaks to how difficult our craft can be. There I concluded:
While I find [Ms. Parker’s] sentiment true most of the time, the other day I wrote three new pages and resculpted three more. Oddly enough, I found the process itself enjoyable. I’ll have to read this blog entry occasionally to remind myself of what I’ve relearned.
I’m constantly striving to experience more of these moments. Anything you commit a substantial amount of time to should summon joy in its process, not just its result. Granted, as a witty writer, Dorothy Parker most likely had her tongue firmly planted in her cheek when she uttered her now-famous line—even though she acknowledged an all-too-often truth.
In letter IX he discusses the pleasure of maintaining friendships and building new ones. Since everything in our human nature is connected, he quickly equates friendship to art:
The philosopher Attalus used to say that it was more a pleasure to make a friend than to have one, ‘in the same way as an artist derives more pleasure from painting than from having completed a picture.’ When his whole attention is absorbed in concentration on the work he is engaged on, a tremendous sense of satisfaction is created in him by his very absorption. There is never quite the same gratification after he has lifted his hand from the finished work.
Having completed multiple projects through the years, I can unequivocally say this is true.
I am often proud of the final product—I like having written—but I cannot spend the rest of my life admiring the results. Completion of one piece requires commencement of another. Constant creation is much more rewarding than rehashing what is, by its nature, relegated to the archives.
If you don’t move on from your compositions, how can you ever enjoy and reassess them at a later date?
Plus…no one wants to keep hearing about that one cool thing you did once in your life. Don’t be that guy.