Rhoda has rocked her ships to shore. Whether they have anchored, whether they have foundered, she cares no longer.”

I find myself often searching for Inspiration.  In some situations I’ve found myself on fire — totally enthusiastic, engaged.  Unflagging.  Other positions leave me weary from the start.

It’s not hard to identify inspiration; it is hard to commit to it.  It’s hard to discern between character-building inspiration-less endeavors and those satisfying influences that tend to stoke the personal fire.

The quote above comes from Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, but more immediately from Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project that I cite rather relentlessly around here.  Woolf’s quote is so evocative because it captures both of the two kinds of inspiration while pointing subtly to the difference between them.

Inspiration can be fleeting.  What I picture for this first variety is the whole of that lovely French film, La fabuleux destin d’Amelie Poulain, but particularly the scene where Amelie dips her hand in a sack of dry lentils.  It’s completely sensual and it makes my brain run, with all the words that spring to mind at the idea of being immersed in dry lentils.

Connected tangentially to that is the bigger idea of Inspiration — a mission, some goal that refreshes even as it challenges.  This bigger “Inspiration” is the reason for this entry, and the reason I open with that terrific Woolf quote.

Inspiration isn’t critical merely because it blows refreshing life into one’s work.  It’s much more basic than that.  Indeed perhaps the best way to avoid problems like drift is to identify and commit to what inspires in this big way.  Commitment to first order inspiration requires leaving discretionary time to pursuing “second order,” smaller inspiration that won’t act like red herrings and interfere with first-order big dogs.

I recently came across the word bashert, a Hebrew idea of destiny.  Google tells me that “bashert” refers primarily to having found one’s perfect match in a spouse, the test being:

1. Are we attracted to one another?

2. Do we share common goals?

3. Do we bring out the best in one another?

For me the idea of searching for one preordained partner seems like a dangerous fiction designed to keep starry-eyed young girls chaste.  Though of course the question of “is this  meant to be?” haunts every relationship, my more urgent questions have always been: What will I be when I grow up?  I’m in my fifth year of graduate school.  Questioning my path is no small task.

So I fall back to inspiration.  In business school I loved classes like Finance and Economics.  I liked to put things together and see how markets react.  But I remember hating some classes — most notably Accounting — so much that once I crossed a street without looking both ways, reasoning: The worst that can happen would at least keep me out of Accounting class!

Law is completely different.  I adore working on the cleavage between almost-imperceptibly discrete moral arguments.  Every legal question has the propensity to fall into a series of cracks — jurisdiction, standing, mootness, technicalities — but even these “cracks” reflect a much broader pattern.  Every case suggests that there’s rhyme and reason even to the most mundane parts of our lives.  True, Tax is not as sexy as Torts, but reflecting on the funding relationship individuals have with the State still represents an intellectual conundrum worth exploring.

Lately though I’ve been returning to my roots.  I’ve gone back to practicing Rachmaninov.  I’ve stayed up long hours reading the kinds of books that I haven’t made time to read in years.  Lately I’ve been considering this concept of bashert and needing increasingly tangential nourishment to get my inspiration fix.

I ask myself the three bashert questions and I have to admit that I feel a little more like the best version of myself when there’s some poetry to round things off.  Does this suggest that I should quit law school to devote myself full-time to the Rach II?

In fact it may better suggest that I work harder at law school, so I can finagle a position as a Tax attorney, so that I can afford the time and the Steinway necessary to make Rach sound his best.  All of morality and all philosophy concerning trade-offs centers around this same ends/means disconnect.  As I get older and work harder the more I wonder whether there’s a disconnect at all.  Perhaps the whole point is to find one’s way along through that dichotomy, and trust the chips to fall where they may.

Though I’m not familiar enough with Virginia Woolf’s work to recognize the context of that opening Rhoda quote, the whole thing reeks of destiny.  More often than not in life the goal is to look back and say: It all seemed obvious.  We knew this from the start.  It was always meant to be.

Sometimes it seems that I explore the same concepts over and over, rehashing because I never get to the bottom of things.  Last year I posted an email conversation I had with five of my best girlfriends responding to a very old Atlantic article, “I Choose My Choice.”  We all rehash.  We are all conflicted.  Making and re-making critical choices is simply part of what we’re here to do.

Everything worth having demands some fairly surgical comparison among valuable, mutually-excluding options.  I am frequently tempted to throw up my hands and just determine to “do the best I can,” waiting for whatever is meant to be to happen.  But choice like any other “muscle” requires exercise, restraint, and attention.  The first step down the path of what’s meant to be is making some active choice.

Choice, of course, acknowledges that trade-offs are part of it.  Part of life.  Getting paid to do what you love usually requires some lower pay than you’d earn if you keep your hobby a hobby.  Working longer hours is a kind of toll that permits things like piano lessons for your kids, but precludes that extra time with them.

I suppose that on a quotidian basis it’s just a matter of following the inspiration and trusting that it will all paint the right picture in the end.  I love Borges more than I love Tax, and my unwillingness to forego Borges for Tax will likely preclude a career in Tax law, which will permit reading more Borges in the future.  It’s not signals.  It’s reaping the seeds we sow.

“Rhoda has rocked her ships to shore. Whether they have anchored, whether they have foundered, she cares no longer.”

Woolf’s quote inspired this entry because I too have rocked my ships to shore.  I  am still very much responsible for active anchoring, for preventing floundering.  I accept all of that; I embrace the responsibility.  And yet I am starting to accept that some “floundering” is part of the process.  It, too, is meant to be.

Perhaps this blog entry solves nothing; perhaps I’ve devolved into that detestable category of “diary” blogs.  But there is something worthwhile about embracing what comes.  About acknowledging that even the “floundering” represents direction.  That even an anchor provides only a fluid kind of stasis.


1 Comment

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One response to “Bashert

  1. I think a long-term career and a long-term (lifelong) relationship are both very difficult to maintain, if they are not bashert. Deep, deep down, you know if you have the tingling feeling: this is the one you were meant to love; this is the job you really excel at and love doing. Most of the time the feeling’s not there — and that means we haven’t hit the bull’s eye yet.

    Does there have to be only one bashert? I don’t think that’s an important question, do you?

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