Posted on April 10, 2012
I’ve written here about that mythical day when I will be able to read things I want to read again without having to deconstruct any constructs or argue about any arguments. That mythical day is so close I can taste it and when it arrives it will be, let’s just say, a cause for celebration.
I took a grad school break today to read brainpickings, which is one of the few blogs I read. Today there is an interesting piece about C.S. Lewis’ Letters to Children, a book full of his correspondence with the many kids who wrote him. Lewis’ letters are full of advice that is just as useful to adults (and hags like me who are more than ready to go back to the business of being human again) as it is to the little folks who read his Chronicles of Narnia.
In a 1949 letter, Lewis writes to a little girl named Sarah, explaining that “there are only three kinds of things anyone need ever do: (1) Things we ought to do (2) Things we’ve got to do (3) Things we like doing. I say this because some people seem to spend so much of their time doing things for none of the three reasons, things like reading books they don’t like because other people read them. Things you ought to do are things like doing one’s schoolwork or being nice to people. Things one has got to do are things like dressing and undressing, or household shopping. Things one likes doing — but of course I don’t know what you like. Perhaps you’ll write and tell me one day.”
Dear C.S. Lewis — Here’s what I like: Telling stories. Here’s what I don’t like: School. When I get done with this coursework (and its associated torments), I intend to make up for two years of lost time by getting back to the business of telling stories. That will fill my heart with all sorts of joy. I like your wisdom. Please write back. Signed, Paige
Some years later, in 1957, Lewis tells a girl named Joan that “a perfect man would never act from a sense of duty; he’d always want the right thing more than the wrong one. Duty is only a substitute for love (of God and other people) like a crutch, which is a substitute for a leg. Most of us need the crutch at times, but of course it’s idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs . . . can do the journey on their own.”
Dear C.S. — I hear what you’re saying about this duty thing. But I’ve felt it was my duty to finish school because I started it, for crying out loud. I’ve felt this way because I have an example to set for a small person in this household who needs to see that finishing school (or anything we start) is important. (There is the corollary: But if it’s making you unhappy, then what’s the point? Point well taken, my sage. But still…learning is important and I suppose I learned a handful of things these past two years, so all is not lost. Maybe.)
There is good in finishing what we start, C.S. So that’s where I am on duty. Love is all around me, always and especially now. I like to have it both ways. Yes, that was a joke at my own expense. Journey…without crutches…I’m ready for it. Signed, Paige.
Maria rightly points out that Lewis’ advice on not letting your sense of duty eclipse your desire fits neatly with her post on finding your purpose and doing what you love. There’s never been any question for me that I was put here to write stories and that I love to write stories. The question for me going forward is how this graduate school experience meshes with my prior professional experience. I think I know the answer and I’m hungry as hell to see how it all unfolds.