Thursday, September 11, 2008

One Must Imagine Sisyphus As Happy...

SISYPHUS, by Titian, 1549

I have to say, being a full time writer is far more preposterous and more Sisyphus*-like in its process than most I can imagine. I mean, forget the 'artist' part - that's just play, for most of us. You observe any artist at work and you can see that what they're doing, the piece they are creating or discussing on film, is the one thing they want to be do, more than anything else, at that exact moment.

No, The Sisyphus task I’m talking about is launching the day in the sense of deciding to get to work, and then doing it. Because - and I truly loathe this fact - before you get to be an artist, you have to work at it. Every fucking day. There may come a time when you feel you can comfortably rest on your laurels (or anything else you like) but many mad artists are too stubborn to face any plateau or cliff face straight on and say, Here. This is where I rest. No, they keep on, like Sisyphus, because we all just know that the day and that next mountain is going to be FANTASTIC. And we're genuinely surprised when the rock falls back down.

It only spurs us on, I'm afraid.

When I had an office to go to in San Francisco and a full-time, mid-level ad agency creative position, I had people to see and places to go - sometimes surreal and potentially harmful places decided by very exacting VP's with the authority to stop my paycheck. I had twenty-year-old production assistants bringing me dishes of fresh fruit, slices of kiwi, mango, papaya and fig fanned into a circle on a Limoge platter, with a single perfect orchid in its center. Every morning I drove across the golden gate bridge and drank its beauty into my body, I filled my inner eye with the Palace of Fine Arts and I saw Alcatraz as my own personal, edgy accessory, like a Gautier bustier. I mean, I loved that. I flirted with the other commuters, they were all driving late-model luxury vehicles, except for the few insouciant men in their vintage Porsche roadsters, the kind with the split windshield and the gas tank tucked conveniently under the driver's seat. All this vanity leads to no good, of course (see James Dean, it's the same Porsche he died in) but it feels tremendous. The ad agency gig was tremendous. For about three years. For three years at this nice ad agency. Then, slowly, gradually, accumulated psychic harm and the hungry maw of corporate teeth did their grim work. I felt like Prometheus, alive and having his liver plucked out by fucking birds. A most unproductive state.

So now ,this is better. The classic Sisyphus writer life. Just getting up, brewing the coffee, before anyone's awake. Not even the birds. And move that blessed rock.

The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.
If one believes Homer, Sisyphus was the wisest and most prudent of mortals. According to another tradition, however, he was disposed to practice the profession of highwayman. I see no contradiction in this. Opinions differ as to the reasons why he became the futile laborer of the underworld. To begin with, he is accused of a certain levity in regard to the gods. He stole their secrets. Aegina, the daughter of Aesopus, was carried off by Jupiter. The father was shocked by that disappearance and complained to Sisyphus. He, who knew of the abduction, offered to tell about it on condition that Aesopus would give water to the citadel of Corinth. To the celestial thunderbolts he preferred the benediction of water. He was punished for this in the underworld. Homer tells us also that Sisyphus had put Death in chains. Pluto could not endure the sight of his deserted, silent empire. He dispatched the god of war, who liberated Death from the hands of the conqueror.
It is said also that Sisyphus, being near to death, rashly wanted to test his wife's love. He ordered her to cast his unburied body into the middle of the public square. Sisyphus woke up in the underworld. And there, annoyed by an obedience so contrary to human love, he obtained from Pluto permission to return to earth in order to chastise his wife. But when he had seen again the face of this world, enjoyed water and sun, warm stones and the sea, he no longer wanted to go back to the infernal darkness. Recalls, signs of anger, warnings were of no avail. Many years more he lived facing the curve of the gulf, the sparkling sea, and the smiles of the earth. A decree of the gods was necessary. Mercury came and seized the impudent man by the collar and, snatching him from his joys, led him forcibly back to the underworld, where his rock was ready for him.

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