Tracking Wonder, Quest 2015. Today’s question posed by visionary author, Seth Godin:
Who would miss you if you were gone?
Years ago, while researching my dissertation on Hannah Wilke, I met a colleague for breakfast in L.A.. She was working on a book, five chapters on five performance artists, including one on Wilke. We met to exchange ideas and explore common ground over eggs and toast. We both recognized that feminist art of the 1970s, which had been scorned by the previous generation, was ripe for reevaluation. I agreed to review her chapter on Wilke. She would keep me in mind for future anthologies and academic conferences.
Toward the end of our conversation, she leaned over the table to deliver what she considered sage advice. “It’s all about visibility,” she said. “You need be seen.”
For most of my adult life, I have been surrounded by people trying to get noticed–myself included. In graduate school we wanted to be noticed by our professors, recognized by our peers. Later we wanted to be seen at academic conferences, delivering papers at the right panels. We wanted our work read in the right journals.
When I was a critic and curator, I was bombarded by artists who wanted me to notice them, They hoped for shows or reviews, or at the very least, a studio visit. When I shifted my allegiance to the literary world, it was worse. So much anxiety over publishing.
There is nothing wrong with wanting your work seen and recognized, nothing unseemly about knocking on doors. It’s an essential part of the equation for artists, promoting your work and getting it seen.
About a year ago, at my daughter’s insistence, I read The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green. For some reason I bought it on iBooks and had to read it on my phone, one tiny paragraph at a time. The story was so absorbing, however, I forgot to notice. Not only did John Green nail the emotional life of adolescents, he wrote a poignant reminder that our time on this earth is short.
The two main characters — teenagers –both have cancer. Gus despairs that he will not have time to leave his mark on the world. He fears his short life will be a blip. The universe will take no notice of him. Hazel knows better and reminds him and us that it isn’t the job of the universe to recognize us. It is on us to notice the universe, to stop and wonder at a cloud passing over the moon on a winter night or the way our father shuffles when he walks now, slowed down since the last time we saw him.
As artists, we must stop looking over our shoulders and stare straight ahead. What’s in front of you?
Rather than ask who will miss you, try this topic from Natalie Goldberg’s book on memoir, Old Friend From Far Away: What will you miss when you die?
This is our job and sacred responsibility: to wake up and notice the planet and the other beings who occupy it–without judgement. To bring it all back in our writing, our music, our films, so that whoever comes upon our work will recognize themselves and wake up to the world, too.
It is the same in business. We don’t toot our horn to get customers. We listen to the people we want to serve, we see them, and then step forward to offer something of value–if and when we can.
What will you miss when you die? What will you notice and how will you pass it along?