The Value in a Body of Work

I know I’m getting to this blog about two weeks too late, but life has been life lately, and for that I don’t apologize.  Today I learned a friend who meant a great deal to me has shed this mortal coil for whatever comes next.  I’m not a deeply religiously committed person, but I do believe there is more to this world than what we can see.  And whatever comes next, Emily is certainly there enjoying all the wonders it has to offer.

Her death was sudden.  It was without symbolism.  It was simple and unexpected.

We’ve lost plenty of members of our writing community over the years… some who have been like family, some maybe closer.  And every time one leaves us, I look inward and ask myself the same question.  Always the same question.  Will my body of work mean anything when I’m gone?

Does It Have to Mean Anything?

There is so much in this world that matters.  The extra large tip you left your server on her worst day this month, the time you held the door for the exhausted new mother, the simple joys of sharing stupid jokes over drinks with friends.  But for us, for writers, our entire careers stretch out before us, in all directions and for the absolute entire world to see.

When we’re gone, that’s all that’s left of us, really.  That’s our proof that we existed.  Those words.  Those little shards of soul we sprinkle everywhere.

When I’m gone, will anyone care about the thousands of articles I’ve written on plant care and insect control?  Will they marvel at the reporting I’ve done for small, local newspapers?  Will they notice and remark upon my clever business and financial insight?  Will anything I’ve done matter?

Or will it all become yet another blip in the history of the internet?  Fast, fleeting, cheap, and lost under the next shiny thing?

I know that I am just one of a throng of writers that create the virtual world we all inhabit.  I am just another dreamer, spinning a new dream.  This week it might be changing your car’s clock and next week it might be about hot real estate buys, but they’re all someone’s dreams.  Dreams of Efficiency and Practicality.  

Eat that, Blake.

Eventually, It’s All Just Noise

One of the things you have to realize about this job, about this existence, is that it’s all just noise in the end.  It doesn’t matter if you’re William Shakespeare or William Bradberry.  It’s all just noise in the end.  Your body of work doesn’t matter – not really – to the grander scheme of things.  You are just a cog in the machine.

Only a rare few of us achieve actual fame and glory.  The rest of us live in a strange gray zone where people we know think we’re famous, people we meet HOPE we’re famous, and everybody else could care less if they pissed on us in an alley.  

And it’s ok.  It is.  

Your career will ebb and flow through various shades of gray notoriety.  It’s still just a job, after all.  Anybody can do it if they put in the work.

To Be Truly Remembered…

There’s only one secret to really being remembered.  It’s not a word count, it’s not a list of publications, it’s not bylines by the bushel.

It’s simply this:  You should be kind.

My friend Emily was exceptionally kind.  She was a beautiful person trapped in an ugly world.  She gave everything to those people around her and embraced everyone as family, without hesitation.  She was a harbor for the outcast.  She liked to say she was everyone’s Auntie Em.  It was true.  So true.  And as I sit here writing this, I realize that’s really what she will be remembered for.

Her body of work will be her unending acts of kindness.  Those are things that change the world for the better.  Those are the things that matter.

For all I’ve done, for all I’ve accomplished in this relatively obscure field we have chosen, I will never accomplish half of what Em did by simply being herself.  I have far too much catching up to do at this point.

If you want to truly achieve immortality, don’t look to your work.  Look to your deeds.  Look at how you treat people.  How you work with others.  How you influence young writers, even.

Kindness is everything.  Kindness is what lingers long after we’re gone, not these words we put on the page.

You should be kind.  The rest will flow.  Your body of work isn’t your legacy, remember that.  

It’s just a job.