CAMELOT sailing Thanksgiving 2000
Confessions of An Unrepentant Idealist
I admit to a certain ambivalence as I write this. Certainly, from the perspective of today [in 2000 when this was first drafted], I have a bunch of questions I would ask Wright, Bucky, Bruce Goff and Ayn Rand. Questions I did not know enough to ask them at the time. Even if I had thought of these questions, even if I would have had the experience to ask them, I would have presumed the answers to be self evident. Now, I am not so sure. I have no idea how they would have - or even if they could have, or would have - answered them. One of my major motives for writing this biography is to answer these questions and to make them accessible to those who will come after me. These questions - and the answers - or, at least, a framework to think about the answers, would have been useful to me when I started down the path that has become a lifetime. This assumes, of course, that I would have recognized their value - which is not a given. The illusions of youth are strong and extremely important to the progress of the world.
What I would ask them, if I could talk to them today, is how they summed up their life - was it worth living the way they lived it? Would they, fundamentally, approach life differently if they had to do it all over again? I do not mean would they better grasp a certain opportunity, avoid a clear mistake or take a different tack here and there. My question would not stem from a concern about risk avoidance - or even optimization along a path, once selected. No, I mean would they - at the root of it - do it differently?
When I knew them, they were almost god-like to me - they had lived, failed, fought and succeeded - and in my view - won. I knew them, late in their life, at the peak of their careers and personal powers. We never talked about their doubts, unanswered questions or the ambiguities of life and work. To me, what they had endured seemed well worth it given what they accomplished. They were going on, as strong as ever, and it never occurred to me to ask them if they thought it was worthwhile. I assumed, to the extent I thought about it, the answer was an easy yes. If I had known them better, if I had known what to ask and how to ask - would their answer have been different than what I expected? What should I say, today, to a youngster starting out, who asks me a similar question? The truth - certainly. What is the truth is the issue.
I would no doubt tell them that in some things there is no choice. The great sin is to turn away from your own experience of what has value.
I did not model my life after Wright, Fuller, Goff and Rand. I was already “ruined” before I met them. They influenced me in many ways but did not set the attitude nor the direction that I took. They did, intentionally or not, encourage me along the path I was already on. They were all great encouragers. Goff was the one among them most cautious to impose the least of his own personal stamp. He was, in this regard, one of the greatest teaches I have ever met - inspiring yet not imposing and commanding.
Had I known more, I would have asked them how they resolved the conflicts of living a purposeful life with living a life; of contributing to the human venture while remaining a member of humanity. How to do the work necessary for the creation of art while also living a life of variety, adventure and value. Did they have regrets for the options turned down, the paths not followed, the conflicts left unresolved? What is the SINGLE thing, at the end, that they would have changed?
My other essays, in this series, are written from the perspective of time. I started this process in 1997/98 with 1947 [link]. A fifty year vantage point. I started writing this one piece in the moment - November 2000 - at a junction point when many aspects of my life and circumstances were in great change and transition. My last edit of it [may 2005], is made at the end of this autobiographical effort - I am just filling in the holes now (of which there are many) - as I shift the focus of this web site more toward the future than the past [link].
I have choices now - far more than ever before. There are always were choices, of course. However, in the past, these were constrained far more by circumstance than today - they were also far simpler - and in many ways less critical. Now, I can take many paths that apparently facilitate the same end-state. Real choices. There exists, of course, new constraints of another kind [link]. Years ago, my social options were far more limited than today - my personal options seemed unlimited. Today, it is more the opposite - or it seems so.
The issue I address is not the normal ambiguity of life - that you always have to act with imperfect information and that you can never replay the game - that the outcome always brings with it unanticipated consequences. The issue here is about the creative impulse and what that means to day-to-day living. The work required to produce a work of art - in any field - is far greater than that required to do the same thing on the level of adequate utility. In fact, the difference is quantum - it is not simply more. The vast majority of people choose to settle for the good - not the great.
And, the conflict is far, far greater the further you try to go. With this comes greater risk. The time, effort, dedication required to succeed goes up as does the social isolation - the simply pleasant things in life get tradded off. One question is: why does anyone do it? The other question is: if you can see the outcome, how can you not?
Is this “conflict” between a serious life and an average life normal - or is it a byproduct of of our social system? Is it a choice - one or the other? Or, is it possible to get to a point that resolves it? If is is a choice - that the two are incomparable - which is the better one?
If it were possible to know the end result of years of effort - effort that has had little recognition or apparent positive impact - then the choice would be easy. The reality, however, is that you cannot [link] know. You have to play the game out not knowing the end of it, or else, you have to play a very simple game. This is what I think many do - they base their decisions on what looks predicable. This preempts a great deal of life. Are they happy? No real evidence of that. Are they secure? Not really. Will they know what they missed? Not likely.
I suppose, at minimum, I will know what my failures are - at least many of them. By my standards, my life has so far been made up of many more failures than successes. Would Wright, Fuller, Goff and Rand say the same? I know they left work undone. I wonder, sometimes, how they felt about this.
And, even given all of it - I remain unrepentant.
I never have - and still do not - believe it is a choice. Hell remains one thing: to turn you back on you own vision.
There remains the condition: those who choose the path that I have are not the most pleasant people to be around. They can even be dangerous if they get unbalanced. A conservative society - legitimately - worries about this. I think about these things a great deal. I have tried mightily not to allow my creative impulses and specific ambitions make me into some kind of insensitive monster-type. I have never believed in the conventional models of creative behavior - the half crazy inventor and so on. I must admit, however, that it seems, often, to play out like a totally predictable grade B movie. This make me sad at times but it does not compel me to change [link].
The fact is I have a few friends - less than a handfull really. There are many I like and who like me. But friendship implies a certain kind of relationship and requires a certain investment. My work, for all practical purposes, pre-empts both. If I maintained even a modest social life, the margin of my time would be lost. The time it takes to reach the creative peak would be chopped in unpredictable ways. Focus - across time and projects - would be nearly impossible. As disciplined as my work process is, I cannot predict when it will be time to push on or relax. A diner appointment two weeks from now can be a disaster. There is much that has to be done to maintain any enterprise. The extra effort of the “creative” part is almost always extra time, after hours, weekends and holidays. Like most people I look forward to weekends but for an opposite reason I suspect. It is on weekends that I can get some work done unobstructed by interruptions.
I am very productive. I can multitask with the best. Still... the condition remains. As new opportunities come my way, I am confronted with all the work that was not done, all the projects not finished - I regret every hour that I have spent not bringing this body of work into existence. As I grow older and face the prospect that much of what I set out to do will not get finished by me, I wonder if my documentation is adequate to pass on these ideas with enough clarity so that they may find a champion in the future. Ideas do get lost. I wonder if I have squandered my life. That somehow I approached it all wrong. Was their a choice - or number of choices - that would have lead to a far better outcome? If I could travel back in time, what would I tell that young architect-to-be who stood in front of that glass door [link] so long ago so full of desire?
Sometimes I ask myself “why do you care?” The answer is perhaps the the most difficult thing that I have to confront. I cannot answer it. I simply do not know. I know that my life would be much simpler if I did not. Yet, I look at those who just drift through life with no apparent purpose except to go along for the ride and their existence looks like living death to me. I have worked to resolve this conflict. So far, I have not succeeded. It seems to be bound by time. It seems to be a requirement of the mental focus required to do seminal, extraordinary work. It seems to be a design tradeoff that demands a very high cost for anyone who chooses to cross the line from an ordinary life to one with a certain kind of focus.
WHY? I am not sure that the question can ever be answered.
Yet, after all the questions, I will not repent. I truly am sorry for the discomfort and pain that this has caused some. I have tried to resolve this dilemma - I will continue to try. I will follow this star to where it leads me - heaven or hell. I will document [link] so that those that come after may do better or, at least, be warned.
Return To Index
The First Decade
My Teachers
Matt Taylor
November 24, 2000

SolutionBox voice of this document:

posted: November 24, 2000

revised May 24, 2005
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note: this document is about 60% finished

Copyright© Matt Taylor 2000, 2001, 2005

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