I am a stay-at-home dad. I retired from the software biz five years ago, my wife earns the money and I raise the kids, keep the home, walk the dog, etcetera, etcetera. My life, to put it mildly, changed a bit in this transition and I won’t say it was easy. I managed it, and here we are.
The largest change, or at least the one that I have most noticed, is this: almost everything I do has ephemeral results. Sweep the floor, and 30 seconds later a kid spills sugar all over it. Wash the dishes, then cook a meal, and lo, the dishes all need to be washed again. You could argue, and I do, that the whole process is producing a long term result in the form of well-fed children who are in turn gradually evolving into older children presumably well educated and finally, one hopes, into well adjusted, interesting, adults.
This is a bit hard to see from here in the trenches. From here, it looks like I do the same tasks over and over to no permanent effect. Sometimes this is, uh, a bit of an emotional challenge.
Well, so it goes, right?
Indeed, for essentially the entirety of human history, everything any human did had this exact character. Dig roots, gather grubs, cook and eat them. Repeat. Eventually, recently, we invented agriculture, so you could plow a field and it would stay plowed until stuff began to grow but even then almost all the labor was the kind of thing I do all day.
Only in the most recent times have we come to the idea that normal people ought to be able to do things which last, to make marks on the world which are not erased by the incoming tide. The universality of this notion even in the west, the idea that we even ought to be able to make such marks, is, what, 100 years old? If that? In much of the world it’s still nothing like universal. There is no place in the world where the ability to make semi-permanent marks (like, say, blog posts) isn't at least a little of a privilege. I dare say there are vast swathes of humanity for whom the idea is at best a distant dream, and maybe even undreamed of.
And yet, it seems to be an in-built human yearning. Someone was drawing stick figures of animals on cave walls a really long time ago. Probably someone who had a whole great whack of people gathering roots and doing the mundane daily work of feeding everyone so Thag could go draw animals.
After that we see cultures building pyramids, or as my father liked to observe, piles. Every culture builds pyramids, because all you need is rocks and slaves. Something urged the warlords of everywhere to direct things to be piled on top of other things, which seems an odd choice considering the other more direct pleasures that could have been gotten with those same resources. Surely those same slaves could have been deployed giving backrubs, or incredible amounts of sex?
Backrubs and sex do not mark the world with anything like the permanence of a gigantic rock pile.
I feel it myself, and I think anyone reading here feels it too. That urge to make stuff, to make marks that last. In our case, mostly photographs. In my case, not enough photographs, and too many words.
My thoughts return to Michael Reichmann who made a bold play at some permanent mark, but didn't manage it. His web site remains, kinda, but it's not very interesting any more and anyways photography as something Everyone's In To is kind of petering out. His endowment and his book just kinda sank, and while the web site will no doubt putter along for a few more years, maybe even decades, it too will fade away. I sympathize, despite my distaste for the man.
Where am I going, here? Hell if I know. Partly I am just whining about the fact that so much of I do feels pointless and stupid on the bad days (not all days are bad days, I assure you). Partly I'm struggling with the fact that even the more permanent marks I make will pass away, probably much sooner than I imagine.
Is Buddhism just a set of ideas that boil down to "nothing you do will leave a mark, be happy anyways?"
I'm tryin' I'm tryin'! Settle down over there Guatama!