Monday, July 29, 2013


Earlier this evening, in replying to a thought-provoking letter from a friend (thanks Tom), I wrote that "creative activity is my raison d'être". On further reflection, after sending the email, I felt that my statement was not really true and that I should clarify it. So, for the sake of honesty, and maybe also as a way of breaking this prolonged Blogger's Block, that's what I'll try to do here. 
First of all, before I could have a raison d'être, my parents had to have their raisons d'être and their parents before them and so on as far back as genetically possible and when that retrospective reaches the point where there's no further back to go to, then perhaps that is where my real raison d'être is hidden. 

What I understand raison d'être to mean is a sense that my life specifically, and life in general, has a purpose - a reason for being. And yes, I do believe this. You might say that there is no rational reason for being at all but that we can still live purposefully. Or you might say that in order to live purposefully one must believe in an ultimate reason for life. The pros and cons of these and other views could be endlessly argued but if I were to join that argument I'd be evading what I set out to answer: is creative activity truly my raison d'être

The truth is: I don't know. The truth is: I wish it were more so. The truth is: I'm always uncertain about my raison d'être, always feeling that it's on the tip of my tongue, just out of reach. The truth is: time goes by and creative activity ebbs and flows and I still think I have all the time in the world to discover my raison d'être. The truth is: deep down I know that I have much less than all the time in the world. The truth is: more than anything else in the world I would like to feel that I am fulfilling my raison d'être

Don't misunderstand: I'm not gloomy, not dejected, not lacking in self-confidence. On the contrary. I enjoy life. I can do Mindfulness, I can do Here-and-Nowness, I can do Serenity, I can do Let It All Hang Out. Yeah, really, I can do all that, no sweat. And I can do creative activity by the dozen. But it's not true that it's my raison d'être

So I haven't answered anything. But at least I've written a blog post. Now a picture to go with it.



Tom said...

Natalie; I am experiencing difficulties at the moment re my blog. I love what you have written, and perhaps your final is what I need right now. "So I haven't answered anything. But at least I've written a blog post." My thanks for possibly loosening my inner log jam.

Roderick Robinson said...

Yes, you have written a blog post (almost a a tautology there) and I was beginning to despair. The hot weather seemed to be turning you into a wimp. Reminding me of an occasion when my clock was well and truly wiped. I hadn't banked up his open coal fire, I told my father-in-law, because access to the coal hole was outdoors and it had been raining. "Are you sugar or are you salt?" he growled. The put-down's almost mystical qualities left me uncharacteristically speechless. But not today.

Surely a raison d'etre is merely the potential for something to happen, it's not a guarantee. It can of course be stated deterministically after the event but that's for critics, not for the writer. It's not something you can comfort yourself with. Saying that life has a meaning is putting the cart before the horse. "May have" is better. It all depends on how you respond to that possibility. If you choose to lie abed then lying in bed becomes the meaning.

Just twist things round a bit. In trying to decide whether creativity is your raison d'etre might you equally be wondering whether you've been touched by genius? Yeah, doesn't sound good does it? Not something you'd care to utter aloud.

There are a million excuses for not writing a sentence, painting a canvas, coming up with an escalope de veau à la Zagreb. But only one reason for getting these things done. It's either important or it's not. If you want some kind of spur take gloomy reassurance from the fact that most times it isn't important. Reflect too on whether a bad novel completed is better than a work of entrancing beauty still awkwardly located only in the mind of some delicate belle lettriste who's afraid to lay his spatulate fingers on the keyboard.

I hope I've not arrived like Joe Bftsplk in L'il Abner, causing disaster and negative thoughts wherever he goes. Reflect finally (and sarkily) on why I wrote all this when I could have been adding a few paving stones to the 17,000 already laid one behalf of Hand Signals. Whether I'm wondering about those forthcoming 103,000 stones (at the very minimum) and might be taking time off to assess their importance.

Dorothee said...

great reflection. a thought i had later: maybe one of the raisons d'etre for an artist is - beyond the creation - the questioning.

Ellena said...

Could it be that we are not supposed to know what our raison d'être is. The less we know it, the less we can modify or adjust it and maybe the stronger it becomes. -an interrupted short thought of mine -

Jean said...

Natalie, I love this! Grosses (and hot, sticky - sorry!) bises.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Tom, it was your letter which provoked/inspired this post so you must take credit for it. Your log jam (blog jam?) can't be any worse than mine has been of late so let's hope for a fast and furious downstream current to un-jam us.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Roderick, the wisdom in your comment is almost guru-like. Are you turning into a Zen master? Or have you always been one secretly? Shall I have to get all respectful when addressing you?

"If you choose to lie abed then lying in bed becomes the meaning."
"The hot weather seemed to be turning you into a wimp."

Those two sentences alone are worthy of being carved in stone. Or tattoed on my forehead.

I really needed to hear all that you've said and I'm seriously grateful. Really.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Hi Dorothee, good to see you.
Yes, the endless questioning is certainly part of the raison d'etre, if not all of it. But questioning doesn't actually work until it's translated into work: given some kind of shape, structure, function. A question that just hangs in the air, formless, is like an echo, endlessly talking to itself.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Ellena, "not supposed to know" implies that somebody or Something knows our raison d'être but hides it from us. I could go along with that supposition but then I'd get very angry when my legitimate requests for information were left unanswered. I'd demand rights according to the Freedom of Information act.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Jean, glad I struck a chord with you. How's your raison d'être these hot and muggy days? Maybe someone should invent a R d'E cocktail for us susceptibles?

Roderick Robinson said...

Wisdom? Nah! I'm an ex-journo which means I know a tiny bit about an awful lot. Saucers are deep in comparison.

But not on your forehead, not while I'm around and your comment box is available for acts of self-aggrandisement. I will not have you disfigured. Working from the evidence of the cartoon I am reminded of the literary conceit about "broad intelligent" foreheads. It seems you might have one. If so it must remain inviolate. How about a ballpoint note on your wrist? Actually, you're not at all a wimp.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Roderick, relieved to know it's not necessary to curtsy and walk backwards in your presence. Not as deep as a saucer eh? So that would be, like, crêpe suzette-deep? Extremely difficult to achieve.

My forehead has been hidden under a fringe ('bangs' in American. Why?) since the age of about 5 but I assume it's still very intelligent. The cartoon looks like my cartoon alter ego Augustine more than it looks like me.

Catalyst said...

My raison d'être is my constant curiousity about nearly everything. I suspect it is yours as well, dear Natalie.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Bruce, that's a very good raison d'être and certainly figures prominently in my life too. Far from killing the cat I'd say curiosity keeps it alive.

Hattie said...

I love reading this. And it's nice to hear from Roderick, too.
I hope your heat wave has broken by now.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Hattie, the heat wave intensified but now it seems to be retreating and predictions are that it'll be cooler. But weather forecasts are not very reliable, in spite of all that technology cluttering up skies and outerspace!