I’ve already worked out what I’m not. With that in mind, what should I do, and how can I think, and what values can I have, so as to make my life meaningful? I’ve always had the lucky knack of muddling along in most things. But muddling along isn’t what I want. Muddle isn’t meaning: it’s the opposite. Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy enough. But I’m restless.
I’ve got little religion in me, beyond a mixture of high Anglican culture, Lancashire Catholic upbringing, intuited paganism and imperfect humanism. I like to think of this as my own, but in reality I probably share it with many others of my age and class. Regardless, I don’t see myself desiring “more religion” than I already have. So I have to look elsewhere.
Some find meaning in their work. My historically established day job—the cul-de-sac, if you like, in which I find myself—is almost synonymous with pointless, low-effort toil. Indeed, to cover up for his lack of a job, Peter Parker claims (intended as a joke to the audience) in the recent Spiderman film that “I do some web design.” We are, in a sense, in the era of the non-job, the job you can’t explain to your parents and barely at all to your friends.
Almost to make up for that, I’ve tried hard to work ethically and sustainably, and to help “good causes” when I can. Will posterity be satisfied? Does it matter, beyond this week, this month, this year, the date after which my last worked-on website is decommissioned or replaced? Has my work therefore meaning? Might a “real company”, some kind of edifice, give it more of that? Is there anything I can do, in and with my work, that might do so?
Volunteering is supposed to be good for the soul; more often, it also positions the volunteer in a situation where what they are doing is the moral thing to do: there are few moral systems in which a Samaritan volunteer does not have the edge on a hedge-fund manager. But how can one do that yet still keep a roof over their head? Does the very notion of any particular compromise—say, doing it in your spare time—undermine the meaning, with the meaningless it implies for e.g. your day job? And how does one work for nothing without burning out, seeing as (in my experience) so few people value what they don’t have to pay for?
I’ve been in a band; I can still strum a guitar. I’ve been a singer; I can still hold a harmony and find a relative pitch. I’ve written books; I can still turn a paragraph. I’ve tried sketching, crafting, DIY, harmonica, sewing, cycle training…. Gardening has now crept up on me, and taken possession of me in part. I like how it makes my brain work; and yet, can I turn it into something more than just a natural high? Every hobby, that I might turn into a vocation, begets the question again and again: and so what? And so what?
Is this; this thing that I do now; that I do next; that I choose to hone, beyond the dilettante and into the world of defining, vocational craft; that leaves behind me good will, permanent changes for the better, or maybe simply things that will fade, after all: is this enough? Has it… meaning?