"'Tis shameful to take on a load that is too great
Then leave it when our knees buckle beneath its weight."
* * *
I am a fool for aphorisms and epigraphs. A fool. A right fool. They embody a kernel of the larger idea to come and carry with them the full weight of certainty, of obviousness, the pithy declamation of a wiser soul than me am. They guide me into what I want to say and control how far I'll go.
This one rhymes, too, and that can only be a plus.
* * *
Atlas is burdened with holding up the sky after placing a wrong bet on the outcome of the war between the Titans and Olympians. He is personified by the quality of not merely strength, but endurance. There is an appeal in this metaphor which guides the fucked on their merry way to their fuckedness: the pride of withstanding unjust punishment.
To be fucked is to not know shit from shinola, is to confuse one's circumstance with one's fate, is to mistake the necessary with the applied and so become a shot berry, a half-formed person. Pride in one's suffering is a sign of mental illness, not enduring strength. There are are true martyrs in the world, but they are rare and their sacrfices are for causes larger than themselves. Suffering (ig)nobly because you don't have a handle on your abilities, your name is not martyrdom. It is a waste.
One of the best markers of the fucked, like the Mark of Cain, is the willingness to bear it all, to over bear, to take on a load greater than the capacity to achieve it. Doing so guarantees failure, but such a well-intention failure it is. And it is, after all, in failing that the fucked find their rest.
* * *
The last few years have found me scrabbling for work. I have run from pillar to post taking on doomed and ill-paying projects because they held out the promise of a bit of work NOW. And while I know I did some good for those I worked for I also know I worked far below my ability because I had too many plates spinning and the crashing was just part of the cost of running from pillar to post.
But it never feels too good and each project that limps over the line is a voice in the chorus whispering: "You're fucked. You're fucked. You're fucked."
There is nothing noble in being fucked. Grace and nobility arrive when you stop.
But what is it in us that calls us to burdens that are not our own, that we willingly take on knowing there is no way in hell we can succeed? Like in most things that are fucked fear is the root that feeds our vanity.
Whether it is fear of being found out to have no idea what we're doing, or fear of not knowing what to do, or fear of being left out, or whatever fear floats your boat, it is fear that fucks you. For me it was fear of money, of not having it, of my lack being used against me as a judgment of my ability to parent, to love my children. I took on work that a blind man could see was going nowhere and I walked that knife-edge of dissolution and the next thing with a fury and panic that kept me fucked and stuck and only finding more of the same.
We fucked fuckers are the prophets of self-fulfilling prophecies.
But baby needs new shoes, right? We all gotta work. The challenge is to find YOUR work - not the scraps that get heaved your way. Your work and no other. But keep this in mind - I'm not talking about what job you have. I'm talking about your work.
* * *
Eventually Herakles journeys to the western edge of Gaia to where Atlas is holding up the skies. There are two stories that branch out of that meeting. 1) Herakles holds the sky up for a while Atlas gathers some apples and tricks the old Titan into bearing the load again, and 2) Herakles builds two pillars to hold the skies and so relieves Atlas of his burden.
I'm going to go with the second version.
You don't have to go it alone, and there's got to be another way.
Did you know Atlas was also the god of astronomy guiding sailors on their way and helping farmers know the seasons? He is stuck in our imagination as a stoic bearer of a weight beyond all comprehension, but in truth he is the root of discovery, civilization, of human society.
Set your false burden down and find out what you can do instead.
* * *
And I have nothing to do with Ayn Rand.