Writer’s Life #5 – Philosophy at night

David_-_The_Death_of_Socrates At the corner of Maxwell and University is a large abandoned church. The back part of the building has been converted into apartments, but the front of the structure is long neglected. Doves have set up a nesting site inside the tower and you can hear their cooing from the steps.

The steps are where I sit (at night) to get online and try to spot meteors during meteor showers. Sitting in the shadow of the church tower, late at night, I notice a different type of life that goes on when the rest of us are supposed to be sleeping.

Cats come out. I don’t know where they come from, but they travel in pairs, or as individuals. They seem to know where they’re going. Usually, in a hurry.

They look like regular domestic house cats. Orange striped, gray striped, short-haired, others long-haired. A calico.

I’ve seen a couple in the neighborhood before, but most are strangers. I wonder how they survive. Are they really domestics on a nightly stroll, or are they strays? Could there really be this many strays haunting the streets?

The idea that haunts me about this, is that domestic animals like cats and dogs that become strays were once completely dependent upon us–humans–for their well-being. Somewhere along the line we betrayed the trust they lent us and left them to fend for themselves.

Though I see this as unfair, there are an awful lot of things unfair in life, aren’t there? It seems too much at times and if we ponder it too long, we can become victims of our own mental wanderings. Perhaps like Socrates.

The Socratic Method is a way of teaching through question and answer, used by Socrates to elicit truths from his students. Several years ago, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a Socrates Cafe in Iowa City.

Though I was familiar with Socrates prior to that, I wasn’t as familiar with the deeper exploration of subjects. Most of the time we left meetings with more questions than answers. Sometimes there are no answers and I think that’s probably the best lesson I could have learned.

I always want answers, but there are times in life they are not forthcoming. Instead, we learn to live with the questions, let it go. Or, become Socrates.

As a writer, I think many other writers explore those questions as long as they can. Becoming Socrates (going mad to some degree) is not an option. But there are some questions, though we learn to live with them, are always hanging above us, like the end of a sentence without a period.

I don’t know about other writers, but when I see a sentence without a period, I want to put one there. If it’s in a text, it irritates me to no end, because I’ve been conditioned to expect that ending. Without the little dot, there is no conclusion.

For me, most recently, I have been struggling with Red Box. Yes, the big red box that rents videos.

I’m sent a promo code every month for a free video. If I get one from a particular location, the video won’t play. If I go to one of the other locations (further away) they do play.

There are several complications that go along with this. I’ll call Red Box and let them know, but each time I call, they give me two more promo codes for free rentals, when all I want is for the video I received in the first place to play.

The last time I called, I told the customer service representative, “I don’t need more promo codes, because you guys gave me two on the last video that wouldn’t play.”

She apologized and gave me the promo codes anyway.

So, I ride my bicycle all the way to the other (further) location, use a promo code for the same video and hope for the best.

The struggle here is this: I don’t need more promo codes for free videos. I’m happy to get one free video a month. It feels like a treat. But when the videos don’t play, it takes a day before I can go back to another location to get one that does play.

I ask myself, is it worth it? But exploring this idea, I also asked, is my irritation with this really coming from something else?

Perhaps. The struggle to get the video that plays isn’t a whole lot like the struggle to get from one day to the next when you’re unemployed, looking for work, scavenging what you can and attempting to write another novel. In fact it seems a whole lot simpler. And perhaps when the answer is simple (going to that further location to get a video that will play), I become irritated the rest of life doesn’t have such easy solutions.

Worse, why do I keep trying to get videos from the closer location when I know they won’t play for me? As if this one time, I’m going to hit the lottery in playing disks. I will get lucky, though I don’t believe in luck. If it plays, I know I would have a moment of elation, bask in my victory, do a happy dance. But I’m disappointed every time. And still keep trying.

That’s when I realized, it’s not much like life at all, as it is like writing…

I wonder, is it worth it?


2 thoughts on “Writer’s Life #5 – Philosophy at night

  1. It’s only worth it if you enjoy the bike ride. 😀

    Stray cats quickly learn to become uncivilized, losing their domesticity and regaining their wild instincts. But, perhaps, just as quickly regaining their domesticity when again they move inside. I love wild animals. They would not have anything to say about the Socratic Method, however. But they may have some answers to questions we humans have been long stumped by. 🙂

  2. Excellent. 🙂 I think you’re right about this. Some animals seem to accept life on its own terms and are perfectly content with how it all plays out.

    I enjoy the ride. Fortunately. I think there have been times though when I’ve questioned why I do what I do. I think writers must be a bit mad to keep writing, especially when we know the chances of our work becoming noticed is close to nil. But it’s really part of who we are. I think of it as my inner creative voice, but I’m sure Socrates named that his daemon. 🙂

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