I’ve been trying to teach my father how to use a laptop computer for about six years now. Maybe seven. Just simple things like creating documents, saving them and printing. He can’t retain the information – and not because he sustained a brain injury last year. It might as well be astrophysics, rocket science, alchemy. He can’t learn it. He won’t learn it. All I can do is try.
My father hates the modern world, modern comprising pretty much anything that’s taken place since 1965. He spends his time destroying things he’s collected all his life. Letters to and from relatives, paintings by his brother. Old sketchbooks of what he considers minor efforts. His own paintings too.
Dad is eighty, the last survivor of four siblings. Today when I went up to take him lunch and do a little bit of housework, he informed me he’d destroyed a box of his sister’s letters. I don’t want the burden to become yours, he explained. I told him letters were not a burden. I don’t know what to do with them right now, but someday someone might. Letters can be scanned to digital form. They’d take up hardly any space at all.
Because he can’t get his head around computers, he thinks everything to do with them is bad. People who use them don’t care about important things. Such people can’t be trusted with letters. I pointed out that I do all my writing on computers and that I care about important things. I told him how I’m having all my old negatives scanned to digital not because I want them now but to leave my options open for the future.
I eventually realized that what he was actually expressing was distress at the fact that a person’s achievements across a lifetime will inevitably be reduced to a pile of dusty boxes. A life of art and detailed observation about which no one really cares. People care if you’re Picasso, D H Lawrence or Greta Garbo but the rest of us might as well not have bothered.
I guess it all boils down to whether you think the destination is important or the journey. Or both. Or neither. Or something else I’ve yet to contemplate. I’ve been struggling with my own artistic journey (for want of a better term) this year, so much so that the destination part seems almost immaterial.
Perhaps the hardest thing for those of us cursed with a creativity is comprehension of the reality of our own insignificance. Some folks seem content to matter to their loved ones. Others seek the approval of the world. Am I a waste of space? Has all my effort been for nothing? These are the questions that churn over and over. How do you gauge the value of a life or, more specifically, a life’s individual marks?
As an archaeologist pal once explained to me, nothing matters. In 100,000 years the 21st century will be nothing more than a thin line of blue plastic in the rock strata.
Amen to that one, buddy.