The Philadelphia Museum of Art has an incredible collection and, when I lived there, I used to like to take advantage of the free admissions on Sundays. In particular, I was mesmerised by this painting by Giorgio de Chirico, The Poet and His Muse. I still have a postcard of it on my desk, alongside postcards of Carlo Crivelli’s The Dead Christ supported by Two Angels, two postcards of Henry Miller, one of Brian from the Magic Roundabout, and a giant badge which says ‘BE NICE, it’s catching!’ whose advice I only sometimes take. There is lots to love about this painting, but what I tend to get stuck on, is the size of the muse compared to the poet. It feels right to me that the muse towers over the poet as if it were the poet’s progenitor; but more, the muse feels protective of the poet as well as infinitely more wise. All of these are truths to me.
Sometimes I wonder if we all have a single conundrum that we wrestle with all our lives or if it’s just me. As I have indicated before, the singular issue for me is about finding meaningful work. Someone recently asked me why we even have the notion that work should be meaningful. My immediate response was Protestantism. It’s been a long time since I read it, but I definitely still subscribe to Weber’s theory that the Lutheran notion of being called to serve God by our activities in the world has become institutionalised in Protestant and capitalist cultures. Being called to serve God is de facto meaningful for those who believe and so, whilst we may have lost the Protestant framing over the centuries, the notion that we should find meaning in our work remains.
For what feels like all of my life, there has been an inherent tension between what I have to do (school, work) and what I want to do (read, write, exercise, make things). I think that fundamentally, human beings are creative beings, if we understand creativity as discovery and exploration which is channelled according to our desires and aptitudes, but I have never figured out how to marry my creative urges with work. There just isn’t anything I want to be when I grow up. When I was in my twenties, I solved this conundrum by working in environments I enjoyed (nightclubs, the music industry) as they were creative environments where it was okay to be not like the others. I didn’t mind so much that I felt unfulfilled professionally as at least I was supporting good times or the art/music of others. Moreover, I made sure that my personal time