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QUINTESSENCE

Meaning in the Daily

Adam, Auguste Rodin, Cantor Art Museum Sculpture Garden

It takes a certain maturity of mind to accept that nature works as steadily in rust as in rose petals.
- Esther Warner Dendel

One of the interesting aspects of writing on-line essays are the discussions triggered with readers who share and add to the dialog. I recently wrote about the value of the personal artistic versus public service ("A Content Heavy World," 9/14/2012). In this essay I mulled over a troubling dissonance in my mind between social and personal values; creativity versus practical service to others. A discussion evolved which included an Inland NW physician, and a recent PhD in the humanities from the Chicago area. I found their comments so instructive, I thought I would round out my original essay by sharing some of their comments with you. (Edited for privacy and presented here in rough chronology.)

MD:
Such an appropriate question for all of us. Especially those who yearn to have a meaningful life. You are asking very exactly the questions that my daughter, working in the arts and humanities, has had for ten years now. For those of you who are artists as well as pragmatically skilled, the contrast stares you directly in the face. For the rest of us, the choice may not be so stark, but the question still exists. And how have you reconciled writing vs. the State Department?

Me:
I'm not sure I have.

PhD:
This very much reflects the paradox of my chosen path. What a wise thinker (the two don't always correlate). It is so hard to measure the impact of work in the humanities. I'm not sure it puts me at more ease but it is nonetheless interesting to compare my tension (in a productive sense) with another's.

I think what matters most is that each individual finds fulfillment in the everyday of work life. I can only hope work within something bigger than myself... my tensions will begin to subside.


Me:
Our shared perspective!

I think my sensitivity to the pendulum of "personal usefulness" was partly behind my standing back as my daughter made her career choice, giving her space to weigh, and ultimately switch from humanities/art history to medicine - the obverse of the "practical v. creative" service choice I made. I believe she felt she would ultimately always express in her life, and appreciate, the arts, while coming home each day from work in medicine would provide her with a concrete sense of purpose. To be fulfilled in the way only she can be.

I think because the fields of the arts and humanities are by definition open-ended, perpetually yielding to new territory, rendition, and discovery, the artist/scholar never feels something is concretely, genuinely accomplished, but always part of a subjective shifting evaluation of worth. It is the burden of artists (and some scholars) to have to settle for a role as a voice of translation: The light that shines brightly on thinking and understanding, yet is transitory. The perpetual "work in progress."

I like the definition of valuing meaningful work in the every day. I agree. The haunting sense of the bigger effort/bigger picture perhaps settles out in how we use our "voice," and in the many other things we do in life and love that impact the micro and macro human story.

To be capable of both the artistic and practical! Such a gift of engaging complexity. My favorite intellects are those that quest from science into art and back again. Or from one track to it's cross. I spent dinner in California recently with a friend of my late husband's who reminded me of the richness of balance and complexity. This gentleman is a chemical engineer, as well as entrepreneur and spiritualist, who traverses all boundaries. He has found a way to make his inner creative practical as well as personal. As to observing those in medicine, there is clearly art in the science of the body human, machine in the art. Scalpel as tool of discovery?

Perhaps it is not so much the choice of one particular professional path or "field of dreams" over the other, but as was expressed above, holding true to the importance of committing to "work within something bigger than myself."

Thanks for a great dialog, readers!

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