I’m writing this for a writer friend of mine who is struggling right now as an artist. She’s hit a rough patch on the already rough road of writing, and now she’s wondering if she even is “a writer” at all. She’s wondering if she is “a real author” at all. And I’ve seen other people ask themselves this question a lot. I’ve seen them beat themselves up about the very same thing they love. I’ve seen long debates on writers’ forums about indie authors versus traditional authors, different people arguing about whether indie or “self-published” (a pejorative to many) are or are not “real” authors from the start. Some argue that people who write, no matter if published at all, are writers. Others will say that a writer is only a “real” author based on some abstract criteria they’ve dug up, some corporate approval thing, etc., while some others affix any number of arbitrary sales figures or income figures to their understanding of what it means to be a “real” author. Again, etc.
I think they are all missing the point.
Perdurance is a word I first heard in a metaphysics class. It’s also a word I am dedicating to my friend. And to all my fellow writer friends out there, whether I’ve met them or not. Perdurance is what I think my friend, and anyone else out there, needs to understand to find joy in their work, their art and their career. And since I know it’s not a commonly used word, or even a definitively defined one, I’ll explain it as best I can. And please, indulge me just for a moment in this. I believe it matters.
Perdurance is a type of existence. In the metaphysical context of this word, there are two types of existence, enduring and perduring. The difference between them is everything.
Enduring objects exist in three-dimensional space. They are “real.” An object, a person, a thing that endures does so in a complete state. This article, for example, when you came to my website, you could see it. A whole patch of words all stacked up start to end. You didn’t have to read it to see it, but you could see it. It was all there. It was a thing. An article. The chair you are sitting on right now. That too is an object. It is a complete thing that endures. Stephen King is an “object” if you will; he is a human, even a writer or an author as you please. As he sits there right now, he is complete, nothing conspicuously missing, therefore he, like my article, like your chair, endures in that state of wholeness.
Perduring objects exist in time. While they too have physicality in three-dimensional space, that existence is ephemeral; it changes constantly. A perduring object’s existence is defined by time. The best example of this is a song. When a singer begins to sing, or a violinist begins to play, a note is struck. Then another. And another. The song reveals itself one note at a time as it glides up and down the scales of sound, the melodies playing out bit by bit, the harmonies coming in and then fading away. The song takes place over the course of several minutes. The song is not finished, not complete, until it is done. When the last note is drifting away, its last echoes sounding in the rafters of the concert hall, those first notes are long gone. They have been long gone for a while. And yet, you would not say they did not exist. They had to exist, for without the first notes, there could be no last notes. Without them all, there was no song. The song is a “thing” an “object” that exists in time. It is real because it perdures.
The same holds for a person. A person is a thing. An artist is a thing. An author is a thing. But they are perduring things. The you sitting your chair right now, the Stephen King sitting in his chair somewhere, exist as people, and yes, the you sitting there right now could be called an enduring thing, since you are a physical, fully-constructed human. However, you also perdure. You are still the same you that was born one day long ago, are you not? The same person who went to kindergarden? The same person who had that first kiss? You certainly did not look the same in any of those places and times as you do now, just as the notes in the song are not all the same. And yet there you are, the very same you. Different, but the same.
That is because you perdure. The enduring you only ever exists in a moment. Take a photograph of yourself. That is enduring you. Only then. Everything else is perduring you, the song of you.
To my sweet, fretting friend I have only to say that the song of you is still singing. The author you is still being sung, as it has been since the first note, the first word you ever wrote. Of course you are a real author. A better question to ask yourself is which part of the song are you on.
So take a breath and enjoy where you are. It is not where you will be, nor is it where you have been. But it’s all you, and it’s certainly all real. It’s actually more fun to worry about whether that you in the photograph, that moment where you captured enduring you, is real. Because, really, that’s just a photograph in your hand.
Great post, John! Very inspiring. (And I learned a new word too!).
Hmm. There’s a lot in there to think about. Perhaps even to write about. This is an existential crisis that plagues me daily. I may return to this often. So well said.
Hey, is there a word to describe the absolutely awesome smell of rain on warm concrete? I love that smell.
LOL, I see what you did there, Michele, and yes, I will take this opportunity to use my other favorite P word, and say: Why, yes, Michele, I’m glad you asked. That word is “petrichor.” 😛
You know what? I just read the word ”petrichor” in a novel today. What are the odds?
Just proves that a really amazing word is being recognized by people who make and shape language as part of what they do. You have to admit, it’s a great word for something that needed a word. We all know precisely what it means the moment we discover what it means. There is not one among us who does not look that up and go, “Ahah, yes, I should have known there was a word for that!” I love it, and I’m glad you found another utterance of it. I hope you will find reasons to use it in every day speaking, and in emails and all kinds of stuff. It deserves to be spread around, and it’s people like you and I who will blow life into the ember of this nascent term. While they won’t know that they do it, people a hundred years from now will be grateful to those of us who helped propel this awesome word into relevance.
I really really enjoyed this post. Thank you for posting this beautiful, inspiring piece of Enduring art 🙂
Thanks for reading it, and taking the time to leave a comment. I’m glad it resonated with you. It really does matter.
Your friend should not fret, because these days, EVERYBODY is a writer (the same way that now everybody is a “photographer” or a “critic”). The Internet made that possible. Celebrities had been doing that for a long time. Even trash TV stars now write their own “books.” She should not worry about whether she is a writer or not, she should worry about how she would separate herself from tons of unworthy people who claim to be “writers” as well, and how to protect the craft of writing from them.
An interesting take on it, Mikaelo. As a writer myself, or one who presumes to be one at least, I can’t help but notice some very active adjectives in your post. You use terms like “trash” TV stars and “unworthy” people. I think that opens up some interesting points that are at the root of what she was struggling with.
I do wonder, though, how it is that the “craft” of writing is in need of someone or something to come along and “protect” it from people who claim to be writers. That part of your post is a puzzle to me. I mean, I can claim to be Superman if I want to, but I still have to pull off some feats before anyone else will give a damn. The proof is in the pudding so to speak.
Speaking of pudding, as another example, I am not a very good cook, if I’m being honest, at least not when compared to the great chefs in New York’s or Paris’ high end restaurants. Heck, I’m not even good compared to my daughter who has been learning from my wife for years. However, I can throw down an edible barbecue that people enjoy from time to time. I might even be able to do it at a BBQ restaurant and get paid as long as the place wasn’t too high end (I suppose if I worked there long enough, I would get better too). Maybe. But I am the first to confess to having no mastery in any way of the craft of cooking. And yet, I can please a few eaters with what I do know. I certainly wouldn’t call myself a “chef,” but is it entirely inaccurate to say that I am a cook? And, whether it is or is not accurate to apply some words, some sounds made by humans expressing air through their mouths and noses to codify some concept or thing … I have to wonder, does the CRAFT of cooking need to be PROTECTED from me?
I’m not saying it doesn’t. Perhaps it might. God help us if I ever try to make a quiche. But I just never thought of myself as somehow being a threat to the entire craft of creating food. That seems like something that exists outside of what any individual cook, or writer, could possibly do. Good is good. Bad is bad. Opinions may vary in between. At least it seems that way to me.
I read this as a philosophy professor about to teach this concept and looking for enrichment; I absorbed it as a writer with all the questions that entails…
Thank you for saying so. Have fun this semester. It is such a fun concept to chew on.