Print Edition: February 25, 2015
These are the defeatist words I find myself uttering more often than I’d like to admit. I am a full-time student with a full-time girlfriend making the big bucks at two essentially full-time jobs. On top of this, I’m involved with countless creative projects with countless wonderful people.
On paper, I suppose I live a pretty productive life for my age; the only downside is that I have to live it. I’m overwhelmed all the time, responsibilities fall through the widening cracks, and creative projects are nearly impossible to get off the ground as more important things (according to family and co-workers) come up in the moment. Sometimes I have to sacrifice sleeping and eating to keep the promises I probably shouldn’t have made. I often feel like giving everything up and resent the world for making this option so difficult. I don’t want to resent the world, so I resent myself for feeling this way.
If you got through all that without thinking “boo-hoo,” you’re probably in a similar place and I write this with you in mind.
Tiger Woods decided not to play in the PGA this year because his golfing has grown sub-par. When I heard this, I thought maybe I should give up school since my grades are nowhere near their potential and my degree seems arbitrary anyway. Or, I should quit my job since I’m sure there’s somebody out there more qualified for it and I could use some rest. Or, I should leave my girlfriend because she deserves someone with the time and energy to make decent love to her. Heck, maybe I should just kill myself.
But I’m only involved with all these things so that I might acquire the skills to say whatever it is I need to say and experience what I ought to experience. I realized that there would be a difference between Woods and I quitting, and it has everything to do with experience. There will be a time to retire, but it’s not before I’ve begun.
In chess, it’s considered good sportsmanship to resign as opposed to prolonging a doomed game. This is based on the understanding that one player has a critical advantage and only in the unlikely event of them forgetting their strategy could the tables turn. This is different from upturning the Monopoly board in frustration because there are no dice rolls, no twists of fate in chess that dictate the outcome, and so resigning demonstrates intelligence and respect for the other player instead of some hopeless grumpiness at God Almighty. In other words, quitting is here a sign of understanding one’s position relative to the bigger picture, and therefore a sign of wisdom.
In the realm of art, there’s a certain respect for the artist who understands their skill is declining. Director Quentin Tarantino said last year in a talk with Deadline that he doesn’t “believe you should stay onstage until people are begging you to get off.” His vision of his life’s work has an end (he plans to make 10 films before he’s through). On the other hand, a figure like Bob Dylan, who has continued to tour and record music long past his perceived peak, has no plans of retirement. The difference I think is that Tarantino’s vision is specific, while Dylan’s is always changing and tumbling in new directions. One artist sees himself exhausting his voice while the other renews it continuously.
Tiger Woods, like a chess player, understands he cannot win because he has the experience to recognize this. Quentin Tarantino can plan retirement because he finally approaches the realization of his self-proclaimed purpose. Bob Dylan can carry on because he just isn’t fucking finished. I’m not finished either — I’ve barely begun. When it is time to give up, I will know. I will know because I will have had an entire life’s experience behind me, and all this stuff I’m tangled up in now will seem only a moment of struggle, a worthy means to an end that I won’t stop living for.