Andrea James

The time of doing is short

Many interests fill my life, but whenever people ask me what I do, I always say “I write stuff.” Depending on their response to that, I might share specifics. If I don’t feel like getting into it, I just say “internet stuff.” They typically recoil in horror, which usually stops that line of inquiry right then and there, so we can talk about more interesting topics.

I’ve made a living as a writer since I ran with arms flailing from graduate school. Not my idea of a good time. Uptight neurotic folks who took themselves way too seriously. I had sweat-soaked nightmares about getting shipped off to some tiny school in the middle of nowhere and having to teach for the rest of my days with several randomly selected classmates. A few would have been great, but most would have been unbearable, like Gilligan’s Island with black turtlenecks, drab shoes, and/or clove cigarettes. So, I did a little stint at a media company, then went into advertising. I had always loved the ads more than the shows as a child, and I’d marvel at how ads got people to do things. The fascination of the abomination, as Conrad put it.

Doing things. That’s what it all comes down to, really. What do you want to do while you are here? That’s what finally prompted me to move to LA. Everyone in advertising wants to be a painter or a director, but advertising is commercial art, heavy on the commercial, light on the art. Most people end up doing side projects to get them through. Still, it’s hard to come home after grinding out a million cereal ad ideas and then work on a creative project of your own. I could feel the days slipping by. I’d not work on my own stuff for long periods. I was always haunted by Samuel Johnson’s ghost.

I wrote my master’s thesis on Samuel Johnson. An amazing guy. No matter what he accomplished, and he accomplished more than nearly any writer in English literature, he was tortured by a sense that he should be doing more. One of his most vexatious shortcomings in Johnson’s mind was the ease with which his friend and biographer James Boswell could effortlessly keep a regular journal. Each year, Johnson would try on key dates, but he just couldn’t do it. Here’s an excerpt from a typical entry:

I have now spent 55 years in resolving; having from the earliest time almost that I can remember, been forming schemes of a better life. I have done nothing; the need of doing therefore is pressing, since the time of doing is short.

This from the man who singlehandedly wrote the most in-depth English dictionary to date, wrote weekly essays, wrote a novella, and was probably the greatest conversationalist of all time. I know that my own attempts at journaling will probably suffer the same fate as Dr Johnson’s, so I’m going into it with modest expectations. I’m going to do mine in public, which I hope will shame me into regular entries. I plan to write about pop culture detritus and internet ephemera and other stupid junk, with an occasional foray into thoughtfulness. One vexing thing about the work I’ve done is that I’ve given the impression that I am kind and sincere because I genuinely enjoy helping people above all things in this world. Still, I am very sarcastic and don’t take much of anything seriously. The only things I truly hate are betrayal and fraud, and I tend to go after quacks, kooks and criminals with reckless abandon.

I have a couple of cool projects in the works right now, which prompted me to blow the dust off this personal site and revive it a bit. So, check in now and then, and I promise I will try to make it worth your while. Especially if you don’t take things too seriously. And whatever you love, whatever brings you joy in the world, spend more time doing it. Call a loved one. Go to a restaurant you’ve never tried. Create something. Make someone smile. Take a lesson. Take a risk. Have a better life, however you define that. And listen to Dr Johnson, for his words are wise and true.

The time of doing is short.

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