A Morbid Topic: Life, Death, and Wisdom

The cover image for the "Strange Customs" podcast
Sasha Sagan’s podcast, “Strange Customs”

I was listening to the latest episode of “Strange Customs“, the podcast hosted by Sasha Sagan (yes, daughter of Carl), and the topic of death came up. I try not to be particularly morbid or maudlin, but it’s something to think about. So I started thinking about life and death and wisdom.

I am, as you well know by now, a Christian — specifically, I am an Episcopalian, though I haven’t stepped into an Episcopal church since the Before Times. Thus, I do believe in an afterlife. I differ from many Christians in that I make no belief statements about what that afterlife might be like. Is it spending an eternity in the presence of God, just soaking up their infinite glory (yes, I use they/them pronouns for God, since I believe God transcends gender)? Is it just like life on Earth, except you get to hang out with the likes of Socrates and Einstein? I don’t know. Frankly, I think it’s beyond the comprehension of us living human beings. It’s trite, but I like to think of the process of dying as similar to the process of being born: when we are developing in the womb, we have no idea what life will be like on Earth. Similarly, as we are developing on Earth, we have no idea what the next stage of our existence will be.

If there is a Heaven, then I think everyone will be surprised by who else makes it there. Except I’m not sure there IS a Heaven or a Hell. Again: I don’t know what the afterlife is like. Jesus hinted that there might be a physical resurrection, but I don’t know how to interpret that.

We’re not granted much time here in Earth. We are born, we live for a few decades, possibly a century at best, and then we pass on. Personally, I don’t think that we can gain a whole lot of wisdom in that period of time. We can talk all we like about how older people are wise for their years, but if we all meet a maximum of wisdom over our lifetime, we’d all be more alike. Instead, everyone is wise in their own ways. What kind of wisdom would we gain if we lived to be two hundred years old? Or five hundred? Or a thousand?

Okay, maybe that doesn’t make any sense. Eh, I’ll leave it in.

Of course, you don’t have to be old to be wise. Young children have their own wisdom to share. Adolescents do as well. It simply behooves us to pay attention and listen to what they have to say.  Wisdom is wisdom, no matter where you find it.

The third Jumanji film, Welcome to the Jungle, is a fun film to watch. Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillian, and the rest are a delight, and so is Danny DeVito. In the beginning of the film, Danny DeVito, whose character journey is, I think, the heart of it, states, “Being old is a curse”.  At the end, after all his life-and-death adventures and building up his relationships with his friends and family members, he changes his tune: “Being old is a blessing.”

Me, I’m currently five-five years old. I don’t consider myself “old”, though I suppose by some measures I am. I don’t think of my age as a curse, even as my body self-sabotages itself occasionally and close friends and family members pass on. I like to think that as I do get older and become a wizened old man, I will gain some wisdom, and be more like Danny DeVito at the end of the film. Life is a blessing, Old age is a blessing. Death itself, for whatever reason, might be a blessing.

We’re not given a whole lot of time on this tiny Earth. The time we have we should spend listening to others, being kind to them, caring for them and this precious Earth that we find ourselves on.

Difficult Decisions

Today I decided that I’m going to fire — or, at least, shelve indefinitely — my pirate novel. I had a vision for it, and I wanted it to take place in the real world as a novel of historical fantasy; however, the more I learned about the history and culture of pirates and the world they inhabited, the more I realized my vision just wasn’t going to work out. I may return to it someday, I suppose. I still have all the books I bought on the topic of pirates, and the books that people have given me, so I’ll continue the reading. Pirates are fascinating, and the history of piracy is a really interesting topic, but it just wasn’t gelling.

The other difficult decision I actually made several months ago, when it was time to enroll in spring courses for the MLIS program: I decided to drop out. This decision was made for a number of reasons:

  1. Stress. Last spring, I was very stressed out about the classes I was taking. While it didn’t really have any deleterious physical effects on me, I was getting depressed and anxious. And definitely not looking forward to the following Fall semester of courses.
  2. Academic ability. This is probably the wrong term for it, because it implies that I’m not very smart. I know I’m an intelligent guy, and that I can accomplish a lot when I put my mind to it. I’ve done it before. However, writing academic papers on obscure topics just isn’t my thing. I did write one, on the information-seeking behaviors of cryptozoologists, but it received a poor grade, and even though the professor gave extensive feedback, I still have no idea how to improve it. I have books on how to write academic research papers, but I haven’t read them.
  3. Career prospects. I did quite a bit of research into career prospects for entry-level librarians. They don’t look good. I would need to be a high-level librarian to make the kind of money I would need and earn a salary equivalent to what I earn now. This was extremely unlikely. In the field, you rarely are able to find a job that (a) pays what you need, and (b) is located near you.
  4. Future satisfaction. There’s also the fact that a lot of librarians simply didn’t like their jobs, and the more I learned about what their job entails, the less I liked the idea of being a librarian. Public librarians must act as liaisons to the community in addition to serving regular patrons, and these community members are often insane (think of the growing number of book bans happening throughout the country). Academic librarians — specifically, science librarians, which is where I wanted my own career to go — must deal with academia (very often a toxic environment), and, to progress in the field, often must possess an advanced academic degree IN ADDITION TO the MLIS degree. No thanks.

“But Richard,” I hear you say, “isn’t this the second time you’ve dropped out of library school?” Aye, it is. This time, though, I feel good about my decision, whereas the first time I was ambivalent and never really felt good about it.

The only guilt I feel about these decisions is financial. I spent a lot of money on pirate books and one-shot lectures about pirate history. I spent even more money on tuition and class supplies and various professional memberships. But without the semi-annual tuition cost, our finances might be better off.

The sunk-cost fallacy is hard at work here. I mean, you put a lot of resources into a thing, you may as well see that thing through to the end, right? Well, not if the end result is no good. In the long run, my creativity will be freed up to work on other projects, and my brain will enjoy not having to study all the time.

On the other hand, my brain has decided to punish me with an idea for a new trilogy of novels, which frustrates me since I haven’t finished And the Devil Will Drag You Under yet. But that’s a topic for a different blog entry.