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Guercino: Allegory of Painting and Sculpture (1637)
"I answer another question entirely …"

As I "finish" manuscripts, preparing them for sharing on into the world, I catch myself asking the inevitable question. "Are these works living up to my original intention for creating them?" The answer might prove unimportant for judging their quality as writing or even as literature, but I have not been occupied these past four and a half years just writing or merely producing literature, I have been—or intended myself to have been—fulfilling an original purpose. It might prove to be a fair question to consider whether I seem to have spent my time focused or if I became victim to some distraction. Lord knows I have encountered plenty of distractions.

That I even need to ask myself the question might suggest something about my writing practice.
I acknowledge that I do not revisit my original purpose before starting each new essay. I have not made it my practice to weekly reconsider my trajectory, either, though I might backhandedly reconsider it quarterly, when I select a new series theme, but even then, nothing comprehensive. My purpose for writing these pieces serves as more of a mantra than a blueprint, I am not attempting to create something out of nothing, but more attempting to capture glimpses of myself as experiences pass by me. I never intended to produce a self portrait or sculpture, but more a series of impressions, for my original intention was to represent my manner of living more than my daily activities. Manner of living amounts to some slippery business which can perhaps only ever be glimpsed and never captured. One might gain a sense of it without really gaining the ability to recognize it passing on the street. Have I succeeded?

The finished manuscripts might make no sense without considering their originating purpose, or mine. I wondered then, before I began writing them, after my grandfather's manner of living. I knew the man, or would have claimed that I did, for he'd been present throughout my childhood. Not living down the street but across the state, though he would visit regularly enough that we remained far from strangers. We never really engaged in what my more adult self might have labeled 'deep' conversations. He was always poking fun, not always kindly, and to my mind, he'd emerged from cowboy times. He'd gone barefoot to a one room school until he completed third grade. Then he enrolled in the school of extremely hard knocks. I never once sought his advice and rather lived at arm's-length awe of him and so I never came to understand his manner of living, what moved him and motivated him and terrified him and delighted him. I consequently wonder if he even knew or if he'd buried what I might consider his authentic self beneath so much simply surviving that he consequently had no clue who or what he actually was.

I wondered how my progeny might unwrap me after I'm gone. Have I also lived my life so opaquely that nobody, perhaps even including myself, would ever come to understand or appreciate my manner of living? I felt no compulsion to tell anyone else how to live, but in that moment I felt deeply moved to consider how it was that I lived. When I read my ancestors' histories, I easily discover their lives' milestones: birth and death, marriage(s) and relocations, but I find nothing in the historical record about their manner of living. What did they prefer to eat for supper on weekday evenings? What did they choose to read? Could they even read? What was their manner of living? Their surviving journals tend to capture mere activities without also representing accompanying feelings. I can see that they painted their house in the summer of 1932, but I cannot understand why or how they felt about their work. We seem to be so much more than just what we accomplish and what we attempt.

The purpose of each series has been precisely the same, the same purpose viewed through different lenses. That purpose has been to represent my manner of living. I expect without really knowing, for I could not possibly know, that these little miniatures might prove valuable to future generations, when my 5X great grandson wonders after the manner of living his forebear might have engaged in. My philosophy of life might well seem as alien to his eyes as eighteenth century spelling seems to mine, but it might also foster some understanding. Further, I suspect that us, today, only very occasionally take in very much in the way of each others' manners of living. We focus upon other aspects of our fellows instead, accomplishments and political convictions, "lifestyles" and conspicuous consumptions. We struggle to know with whom we travel, the same as we do with our ancestors.

Of course my RevisitingPurpose tends to ask fundamentally unanswerable questions, for if my original purpose was to influence future generations, it will always be too early for me to tell if I'm satisfying that intention. I seem to be no closer to knowing for sure and reconsidering just amplifies the fact that I will never be certain, but certainty was not even a contingent element of my original charter. I work on spec, on the chance that my effort might make a difference. My reward comes from continuing the conviction rather than as a result of ever actually confirming it. My purpose, then, of all this damned writing and editing and compiling and putting myself out there was apparently always and only to maintain a continuing faith in myself. I might ask myself if I have managed to make it up and in front of the keyboard each morning? Have I attempted to honestly (if not always strictly accurately) represent my manner of living on the resulting pages? I answer another question entirely when I attempt to explain why I'm seeking to publish these stories. That response tomorrow. …

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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