Searching For Legacy In Fear Of Being Forgotten

Note: I’m a rebel and don’t underline anything like links to other websites. I do have links scattered throughout this article, though. You’ll find them hiding behind the text in bold italics. Except for that example just before this sentence. Go ahead, click the links. They’ll take you somewhere. Probably. Also, in regard to that whole ten-year challenge, the photos with today’s article are re-processed versions of self-portraits taken across several years. How many, I’m not sure. I know the baby in the second photo is a teenager now. No relevance, just something to amuse myself.

This week’s article is probably going to be shorter than normal. I was 3632 words into an article on Thanksgiving and its foundation in elitism, not reality, when I came across this article in The New Yorker that said almost exactly the same things, quoted or referenced many of the same sources, tossed in the author of a related book, and did it all in under a thousand words. Obviously, they were missing some of the humor and detail I was putting in my article, but at the end of the day, the article they published on Monday of this past week (November 18) scooped everything I was going to say. 

Insert heavy sigh and a couple of expletives. Now I have to find something else to write about and I have two days to do it instead of six. Maybe we just skip this week, or go ahead and run one of those “looking back” or “In the past ten years” articles that magazines use for filler when they can’t think of any decent content this time of year. I’ve done that before. I’m trying to not do that again this year. We’re just under 200 words at this point. How am I doing?

I’m panicking, that’s how I’m doing. Getting something interesting written isn’t the only reason for the panic this morning. The end of the year is some five and a half weeks away and with that brings the not insignificant decisions about what to do next year, whether to continue current activities or change course and try something else. On most things, I’m rather stubborn about continuing because most of what I’m doing is working the way I expected it to work. However, there are exceptions and it is the exceptions that are causing me angst. 

When I’m honest about what is going on, I have to admit that I’m dealing with something that perhaps is unique to older creatives: Fear Of Being Forgotten. This is in sharp contrast to the whole millennial FOMO thing. Missing out isn’t all that big of a concern for me. I don’t like flying because I hate airports. I don’t do arena concerts because what the fuck is the point if you can’t see the band or hear the music? I don’t do extreme anything because extreme things are for extreme people who the rest of us if we’re honest, find annoying. [Don’t worry, we’ll never say that to your face.] Missing out doesn’t bother me because I’m not especially motivated to do those things in the first place.

What bothers me is the fear that I’m going to be forgotten. The fear that if I miss a week’s post, or go a week without publishing more photographs, or even if I simply keep doing the exact same thing I’ve been doing for the past 35 years, I’ll one day wake up and no one will know, or care, who I am. I will disappear from everyone’s memory and everything I’ve ever done will be gone. 

I would think that I’m alone and psychotic in this fear and while I’ve not yet eliminated the psychiatric failings a couple of quick messages to former classmates assures me I’m not alone. As the world around us changes into something we no longer recognize, the need to be remembered grows stronger. The challenge is not that we fear being consigned to history but that we want to make sure our page is included in the book and not edited out.

Walk with me.

It Started With A Random Article

A long time ago

There are various places on various devices I use that feed me headlines to random news stories. Most of these are curated along general topics such as politics, art, news, weather, etc. Most days, they all link to the same stories from different sources. However, a couple of weeks ago, for reasons I’m not sure I can explain adequately, my phone offered up a link to an article written in 2013 by a young English woman named Vanessa who lives in Paris. She sounds sufficiently nice and perfectly millennial in all the appropriate ways but the article she wrote six years ago, Found in a Junk Shop: Secrets of an Undiscovered Visionary Artist sent a chill down my spine. 

WHY did Google suddenly think I needed to see this depressing headline right now? Every other article suggested was current. Why did they feel that this six-year-old article by a person I don’t know is suddenly relevant now? Why is the Smashed-Face Wheezer Kitty sitting in the dish drain cleaning himself? Life is full of too many questions and not nearly enough answers

The article is about a Prussian immigrant named Charles Dellschau who worked as a butcher and died in 1923. Several years after his death, a used furniture dealer bought 12 notebooks off a junk collector. The used furniture dealer paid no attention to the notebooks until an Art History student actually opened one and discovered absolutely amazing artwork on the inside. The entire contents of the notebooks are nothing short of incredible. 

Mr. Dellschau had spent the bulk of his elder years after he had retired from chopping up dead animals, documenting the plans and conversations of a secret organization known as the Sonoma Aero Club. Apparently, the club was composed of people, perhaps engineers or physicists, who were studying the possibility of human flight long before the Wright Brothers. Dellschau’s notebooks are largely the minutes of that club’s activities and include spectacular drawings done in colored pencil of the various plans the members had submitted for possible flying machines, many of which appear architecturally feasible. 

Mind you, the drawings start in 1899, more than twenty years before the Wright Brothers started piecing together bicycle parts in North Carolina. The notebooks talk about the goings-on of the secret society and hint at an even larger secret society that controlled their actions, so it’s not surprising that the notebooks were hidden and nearly lost completely. 

However, the presence of these drawings raises some questions about Mr. Dellshau’s past. These are not the work of someone who simply picked up a colored pencil one day and started messing around. Mr. Dellschau was 71 when he started compiling these notebooks. What happened before then besides the whole immigration and being a butcher thing? Where did he learn to draw? Did he go to art school in Europe somewhere? We do know he was 25 when he migrated to the US, but there’s a lot of ground to cover between 1853 and 1899. How could such talent have remained hidden and unknown?

Pretty easily, actually. Consider the time when he arrived in the US, just barely before the start of the Civil War. Art wasn’t exactly a bustling enterprise and being an artist wasn’t exactly the kind of job that paid the rent. Being a butcher was more reliable because if there’s one thing about US history that hasn’t changed over the years it is the fact that we are fanatical about eating meat.

Were there any other Dellschau works that weren’t secret though? We’ve no idea and there’s no way at this point to follow up on any conjecture. At some point, a nurse who had been looking after Dellschau’s elderly step-daughter was ordered to clean the trash from the house. The notebooks and many other things were put out on the curb for the trash. A junk collector saved the 12 notebooks, but there’s no indication as to what else might have been among the clutter. 

What we do know is that a single page from one of the notebooks was demanding $15,000 at auction in the late 1990s. The works of those notebooks are valuable for both their historical value and insight as well as the quality of Dellschaus’s artwork.

Reading through Vanessa’s article was both interesting and disheartening. What Dellschau documented has the potential to alter our view of flight history. At the same time, though, here was someone whose talent was shelved and literally discarded. Hundreds of pages of drawings that represent hours upon hours of handwork cast aside and totally forgotten even by his own family! The fact that absolutely no one cared is devastating.

Now we are at the point where the article triggers my fear. What is to prevent my own work from completely disappearing and being forgotten? Yes, I’ve given my boys instructions to publish my photographs through whatever means available when I die, but that in no way means anyone is going to give a shit. The digital works especially could easily be lost, deleted, or left on drives that later technology no longer has the capacity to access. Charles I. Letbetter could end up being as forgotten as was Charles Dellschau, and I don’t have a secret airship-building club to document for later retrieval. This line of thought is deeply disturbing.

What It Means To Have A Legacy

What Is A Legacy

By purest definition, a legacy typically involves the bequest of someone deceased. That’s not, particularly, how the word is used in popular culture, however. We often hear of the legacy of former presidents, for example, whether they’re yet dead or not. If President Obama can have a legacy, then so can I. He’s a year younger than me, that whippersnapper. 

If one is looking for help establishing their legacy, though, good luck finding it. While there are plenty of “financial planners” who will help you “manage” your estate while you are living, and a plethora of attorneys ready to help draw up a complicated will and/or establish living trusts or family foundations, there’s nothing outside the financial industry to help make sure one is remembered for anything other than investing well and leaving a pile of cash that everyone wants for their own projects. 

In recent years, though, a different kind of legacy has cropped up, a digitally-oriented existence that continues on after a person dies. The use of the term legacy is loosely derived from the tech world’s reference to older software and computer systems. That has morphed into legacy profiles, the continued existence of a person’s social media accounts after they’ve died. Typically, they’re maintained by a surviving family member as a way for friends to share remembrances of the deceased. They don’t typically get a lot of traffic and I always find it interesting how not everyone on their friend list knows or remembers that a person has passed when their birthday rolls around. I am friends with one such legacy profile of a former high school classmate. She’s been gone over five years, but I still get reminders from Facebook on her birthday and when I look, sure enough, there are clueless congratulations from people who have no idea she’s dead. 

These digital legacies are still new enough and uncoordinated enough to not have any boundaries around them. Nothing other than a family member’s interest determines how long the legacy profiles stay active. In theory, that family member could continue posting as the deceased, though that would be really creepy. Most I’ve observed just sit there with remembrances posted on the anniversary of the person’s death or, because we’re reminded, on their birthday. 

Others, though, become online places to grieve. One such profile, in particular, strikes me because of the frequency with which the deceased’s family post messages to her. The young woman’s untimely death four years ago is something her family still struggles to understand and her mother and sister regularly post messages to her wall, often at great length, as part of their grieving process. They’ll occasionally post pictures, talk about family trips when she was young, or recount embarrassing moments that make them laugh. For those family members, the profile is cathartic and maintains the legacy of their loved one.

There are other forms of digital legacy as well that are more professional and curated. At least, that’s what they set out to be. Google the name of most any deceased celebrity and you’ll see what I mean. Take, for example, the late actor Bela Lugosi. He became famous for his 1931 depiction of Count Dracula and went on to make quite a career in cinema’s early horror movies. At 6’ 1”, his towering height over most actors and his thick Hungarian accent was unmistakable. For millions of fans, Bela Lugosi was Dracula and the website celebrates his memory with movie clips and pictures.

Oh, and you can also buy stuff. The site, operated by the late actor’s son, licenses merchandise with the Bela Lugosi name, making it possible, if one is really such a committed fan, to purchase t-shirts, posters, beer, greeting cards, guitars, or even a life-sized resin bust. The family also operates Lugosi Wines. I’m guessing they specialize in reds. Blood reds. (If you didn’t roll your eyes just then, please check your pulse.) Even here, there’s a relationship to the financial concept of a legacy taking care of one’s surviving family. I’ve no idea how many people actually spend money on Bela Lugosi products, but I assume it’s enough to pay the annual web hosting fees so that the original on-screen Dracula is never forgotten.

Lugosi is fortunate in that there is someone who cares about how he is remembered and has carefully curated the site to protect his name and reputation. Not every celebrity gets that treatment. 

A perfect example is the late supporting actor Robert Prosky. He has nearly 80 film credits, mostly from the 1980s, and had a thriving stage career twenty years before that. He had a family with three children who, presumably loved him, but his on-screen legacy is in the hands of people who don’t have a direct attachment to the late actor. There are his IMDb profile and his Wikipedia page but both of those are subject to amateur curating and are not guaranteed to be accurate. There’s also a lack of warmth and emotion as both sites are designed to simply restate facts such as movies in which he appeared and the dates of stage performances. 

Also, no one seems to be aching to make money off the actor’s memory. Almost certainly, there’s some provision for continuing royalties to be forwarded to his family, but they’re not out there with Robert Prosky t-shirts, mugs, or 2-acre plotted subdivisions (I see you, Dennis Weaver family). That in no way means that his family didn’t love him and doesn’t appreciate his memory. 

If anything, I am disturbed by the uneasy connection between a person’s legacy and the licensing of their memory. I cannot help but wonder if the motivation for such lies in an effort to protect the reputation of a beloved person or to compensate for the loss of revenue caused by their death. I understand the licensing of a likeness or name as a means of protecting one’s reputation, especially regarding living celebrities or those recently deceased. Former NBA star Michael Jordan pretty much set the standard for making money off his own name and he jealously protects the brand he has created. Others, though, such as the Bela Lugosi guitars, seems like a desperate reach to make a buck wherever one can. One ends up asking the question of whether this is legacy or exploitation?

At the center of these questions remains the primary goal of remembering who someone was and what they did. If selling cheesy merchandise keeps someone’s name from being completely forgotten, is that worthwhile? Is that what the deceased would have wanted? Does it in any way reflect who they were, their goals and desires in life? Does the method matter as long as the motive is achieved?

Perhaps what bugs me, even more, is the question of whether it is better to have a cheesy, laughable legacy versus no legacy at all? If not selling licensed merch results in one being forgotten altogether, have we lost something important? Think of all the young people who had bit supporting roles in forgettable films or short-lived TV series and are now completely forgotten except as an IMDb listing with little information. For some, that is exactly what they want, having walked away from the film industry to make their mark elsewhere. 

Others, though, perhaps desired and deserved something more but fate intervened, taking their young lives early through no fault of their own. Heather O’Rourke, from the Poltergeist movies, comes to mind. Her only “legacy” remaining is the odd fact that died of cardiac arrest at the age of twelve while filming Poltergeist III. The child had been ill and was undergoing surgery at the time. Short of that oddity, she is all but forgotten.

There is no guarantee that just because someone did something noticeable once upon a time than anyone is going to remember whatever it was they did. Not everyone has a legitimate legacy, something that is remembered and is of value. What’s more, we don’t necessarily get to determine whether we have a legacy or what that legacy is. If we want any part in determining what people remember about us, we have to manage that memory before we die. Bet you didn’t have that on your bucket list, did you?

Managing Your Own Legacy

Who was this guy

Oddly enough, we’ve circled back around to the research I did for that article on Thanksgiving you’re not reading. When it comes to legacy management, the General Society of Mayflower Descendants (GSMD), or Mayflower Society as they’re more commonly known, does about as good a job of making sure the memory of the original pilgrims is kept alive and thriving. They’ve had to do that because if they hadn’t we wouldn’t be talking about Pilgrims and arguing about the treatment of native tribes. In fact, chances are reasonably high we wouldn’t think about that first set of 102 strangely dressed people at all if the Mayflower Society hadn’t commandeered Thanksgiving over 100 years ago.

You see, when President Lincoln declared the fourth Thursday in November as a national holiday in 1863, he had other motives in mind, namely, getting re-elected and ending the damned civil war. The establishment of a Thanksgiving holiday was an astute and calculated political move in an attempt to buoy up the spirit of a country whose moral was devastated by the prolonged war. Lincoln was looking at an election coming up the next year and while it might have been an electoral college landslide (221-21), he still only won 55% of the popular vote, which means a lot of people weren’t on board with how things were going. 

Establishing a national holiday was a call for unity, an attempt to put a positive spin on dire circumstances, and shifting the blame to deity because if we’re thanking God for the good things, we can blame him for the bad stuff, too. Classic governmental “it’s not our fault,” deflection.

What Lincoln was doing, in a manner so unique that a young Mike Pence made it the topic of his senior thesis at Hanover College, was co-opting religion for political purposes. Keeping the Union voters focused on “their godly duty” kept their mind off an ungodly war and the act that even when they were winning there were still a lot of people being killed. There’s no mention of pilgrims or Plymouth or turkeys or indigenous peoples in his declaration. 

So, along comes the dear folk of the Mayflower Society who decided that the legacy of their ancestors fit well with the new holiday and decided the two needed to be married. They sought to cement the legacy of what was actually only 40 people, most of whom died the first winter. [The other people, known as “strangers,” had been allowed on board because the Pilgrims couldn’t afford to pay for the trip by themselves.] However, since they were working with people who didn’t take copious notes of every aspect of their lives or Instagram every meal they ever ate, they decided they would make things up as they went, making their ancestors appear divinely righteous as they settled the New Land filled with savages. 

Yes, they intentionally made shit up, something for which they’ve apologized in advance of the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s voyage next year. They’ve also apologized to some 4,500 descendants of the Wampanoag tribe who were driven from their land by the first descendants of the Mayflower settlers. All this was done, however, in the name of legacy building, creating something that would justify remembering their ancestors. 

Such is the risk of dying. If we’ve not already established our legacies before we pass, we leave our stories to be told by someone else who may not have the same motivation in telling our stories as we have for ourselves. To protect our legacy, we have to begin managing them ourselves before we die. 

I’ve looked around at what it takes to build a lasting legacy and I, quite honestly, consider most of the advice horse shit. What you’ll find on the standard Google search is a bunch of feel-good claptrap with bullet points listing nonsense such as, “Dare to be joyful,” “Nauseate yourself,” “Consider the responsibility that comes with your power,” “Do the next right thing,” and just in case you forgot, “Die.” Apparently doing this is called “leadership” because every last one of those came from a leadership article printed in places like INC magazine and Harvard Business Review. Notice I’m not giving you links to the articles. They’re stupid, vague and unrealistic. Don’t read them.

No, I’ve done a lot of studying in the past 12 or so hours and this is the more honest list of what it takes to build a legacy.

  1. Have kids

Why? Because, “your children are your greatest legacy,” in theory. Of course, that’s assuming that your children actually turn out okay and do something with their lives besides sitting on the couch losing at video games all day. The flaw in this piece is that not every child is going to grow up giving a damn about what you’ve done with your life. In fact, they’re more likely to want to separate their legacy from yours, which means you’re not going to get any real help from them. Also, it’s apparently bad to pressure kids to actually do something. Kids are not dependable. However, if you don’t have kids there’s no one to verify that you actually exist. They don’t have to like you, they may call you names, but as long as they can confirm your existence they’ve done their part.

  1. Do something

What’s going to help you here is if you’re doing something no one else is doing, or do something first that everyone else wants to do, or, if you’re really desperate, do something better than anyone. Legacy is perpetuated on the concept that you’re different and thereby special, at least in that one specific area. Of course, this means you’re probably going to have to put forth some effort of some kind. I suppose there are some folks over at Guinness World Records who might care if you grow the longest beard or don’t cut your fingernails for 30 years but, for the most part, lazy people don’t get legacies. Maybe you create beautiful portraits by holding the fuzzy end of the brush in your mouth. Perhaps you invent a new and more effective way of impeaching presidents. Find a cure for stupidity and your legacy is pretty much a lock. But at the core, you have to do something.

  1. Monetize what you do

People are much more interested in what you do if you’re making money doing it. Why? Because they hope to copy you and make money, also. This is why being first is important. License your shit as you go so that no one can make money by copying you without your attornies suing their ass to hell and back. Having your work licensed before you die also makes it easier for your descendants to make money off your work which will please them very much because, like Bela Lugosi’s son, they don’t have to get their own job. Having a lot of money when you die helps pay for all the things necessary to make sure people remember that you made a lot of money. There’s also the fact that if people become accustomed to paying for your shit before you die they’ll go nuts and pay a lot more after you die. Again, something to make your kids happy and more willing, maybe, to care about your legacy.

  1. Organize your shit

Charles Dellschau’s work would never have been found had he not put it all in notebooks that he made himself. Millions of dollars worth of amazing art and artifacts have been lost to history because they were left sitting someplace where no one expected to find anything valuable. Your life’s work could be similarly lost if there’s not some reasonably organized method through which it can be retrieved. This is an especially difficult thing for creatives because many of us are, by nature, rather scattered and cluttered at best. Some of the most brilliant thinkers I’ve met are also some of the sloppiest in keeping things where they can be found. Get a safe. Get a lockbox. Utilize some method of organization that’s not subject to someone making monthly payments for the space. You want the memories of your life to be secure even if you die at sea and no one notices for a couple of months. Then, make sure someone knows where everything is. Don’t leave it where the maid might throw it out with the trash.

  1. Build demand for what you do

This part is super tough because let be honest, there are a lot of creative people the world is too stupid to appreciate while they’re alive. I worry strongly that I’m among that group. If there is demand for what you do before you die, then there is likely to be continued demand for what you did after you die. If that’s not possible, and it’s not always our choice, steps four and six are all the more important because when that demand does occur, when people finally get a clue and appreciate what you do, the work has to be organized and the right people have to be in charge of your legacy. Legacy is easier, though, if one has already made an impression and burned at least some small place in the public mind.

  1. Leave the right people in charge

Remember those kids we mentioned all the way back in step one? Here’s where they could finally become important. Once you’re gone you don’t get a lot of say in what happens to your stuff or your memory. People say what they want, remember what fits their own agenda. Sure, you can have a will, but the reach of that document is limited. Establishing a foundation or trust gives you the opportunity to assign people to manage what you leave. If your children are enthusiastic and competent, then assign them to the boards. If you’re not sure you can trust them, find people you can. Leaving the right people in charge can cause your legacy to either be great or a complete disaster.

  1. Die during a slow news cycle

31 August 1997 is a powerful day for many people for that was the day Diana, Princess of Wales was killed in a car accident. Do you know who else died that day? No, you don’t because the news of her death completely overwhelmed every other death for the next week. Two days later, Rudolph Bing, the fantastic manager of the New York Metropolitan Opera died, as did noted psychotherapist, Viktor Frankl. During a slower news cycle, both of those deaths would have been noteworthy but they had the misfortune of dying at a time when everyone was paying attention to what was happening in Britain. This makes it important to watch everything and everyone around you, avoid taking unnecessary risks, especially in the back of limousines, and be sure to take your vitamins. Kind of like looking both ways before you cross the street, try to make sure no one’s going to eclipse the news of your death; it makes the whole legacy thing difficult to establish.

Legacies Don’t Last Forever

The Old Man

When I’m taking my son to work we pass by two cemeteries within a few hundred yards of each other. The one on our left is over 150 years old and contains several large obelisks and massive headstones to mark the memory of someone who died a long time ago. The size of those monuments suggests that perhaps it is worth one’s time to investigate the legacy of the person buried there. The cemetery on our right is what is known as a “perpetual care” cemetery. There are no obelisks or massive pieces of granite. Instead, bronze markers are placed above each grave at a level that allows the grounds to be mowed and manicured with relative ease. To some extent, everyone is equal in this cemetery, a forced democratization in death. At the same time, there’s nothing here that suggests anyone in that field is worth remembering. 

There are precious few names, maybe 200 over all of history, that are remembered more than a couple of generations. Those names belong to people who radically changed the world or at least, their part of it. What they did still holds some effect today and that makes them worth remembering. For everyone else? Good luck being remembered more than a generation. 

A couple of years ago, Disney released an interesting movie named COCO. One of the subplots to the story is a centuries-old myth that when there is no one left among the living to speak your name, your soul dies and is gone forever. Accordingly, that is why celebrations like Día de Muertos are important, they keep alive the names of one’s ancestors which guarantees their souls’ continued existence. In essence, it becomes the responsibility of one’s family to facilitate their legacy. If the family decides that one’s name is to no longer be mentioned, as is the case in the movie, then that person’s soul can be lost forever.

While I’m not big on mythologies, there is still that concern that at whatever point no one remembers my name, finds it printed in some genealogy, or attached to a photographic print hanging on someone’s wall, the value of my existence disappears. This creates an existential problem. If, at some point in the future, my existence no longer matters, does my existence matter now? Why go to all the effort of creating anything if, say 200 years in the future, absolutely no one has any clue, not even a hint, that the works created or the people involved in creating them ever lived? If there’s no longevity, why bother?

There is a term for what I may be experiencing here. I’m not inclined to believe any online diagnosis, but I find this, on some level, to be interesting. Consider:

Athazagoraphobia is a rarely discussed phobia. It means the fear of forgetting or the fear of being forgotten or ignored. Thus, Athazagoraphobia is of two types or has dual components: it might be seen in dementia patients in their early stages (or patients suffering from other medical conditions where memory loss occurs) where they fear forgetting their own identity and other things.  Alternatively, it may be seen in spouses or caregivers of Alzheimer’s/dementia patients where the individuals believe their loved ones will forget them eventually, (or that they would be forgotten after the loved one has passed). It may even be triggered in the childhood where one has been left alone or been ignored for long periods of time. [source]

That all sounds legitimate until one gets down toward the bottom of the same page and reads:

Gingko Biloba, Ginseng, omega-3 fatty acid supplements, etc are some proven medicines that can arrest memory loss and improve general cognitive brain function.
Patients must also focus on eating a diet rich in walnuts, salmon, fruits and vegetables as well as exercising regularly to keep depression at bay and delay age-related memory loss. 

Uhm, in a word, no. While I don’t want to completely discount natural remedies, when I see yet another ailment claiming to be cured by Gingko Biloba and Ginseng it is difficult to not chalk it up as untested and unproven because there have been no definitive peer-reviewed studies on Ginseng and Gingko Biloba that satisfactorily prove they help anything. They don’t hurt, per se, but they don’t cure.

Still, there’s some comfort in knowing that there’s a word. I won’t remember it, but I’ll have this article to refer back to as long as I continue to pay the hosting fees on a regular basis. The Internet is another thing that may not be as permanent as we like to think it is. Take out the power grid and the whole thing is useless. More likely, replace it with better technology and it becomes useless and, over time, forgotten as do humans.

At least with Mr. Dellschau’s drawings, his legacy seems secure in the hands of a capable and interested curator. Well, it did for a while. It seems the person who wrote the book about Dellschau and was in possession of the notebooks ran short on cash and started selling them off one page at a time. 

That’s the way things happen in the art world, though, isn’t it? No matter how well one is known, no matter how valuable their work, once a piece of art is sold the artist is no longer in control. There is nothing to stop priceless works from being bought up and stored, unseen, in someone’s garage. As long as there are still plenty of works in the public realm the artist’s memory remains alive, but should a collector corner the market on a given artist’s work, they can doom their legacy by keeping the works hidden.

No matter what we do, no matter what steps we take, there are no guarantees. Odds are overwhelming that, sooner or later, we are forgotten and our attempts at creating a legacy for ourselves become irrelevant. 

Some would claim that this inevitable irrelevance is sufficient argument for living solely in the moment: You Only Live Once (YOLO). If what we do ultimately doesn’t matter then why not do what makes us happy at this very moment, even if it means going into debt? 

My difficulty with that concept is that while the long-term view of life may be less than positive, the short-term view is that our lives are generally too long to be careless. If all we had was the immediate, there would be no reason to be concerned about cancer or war or even propagation of the species. Only when we have an eye toward legacy, toward what comes after us, do we consider the manner in which we treat the environment or bettering society in any way. Only when we look beyond ourselves do we find a reason to care about how we treat others, coming to the defense of the helpless, the integrity of our leaders, or our interpretation of a tradition. 

Sigh. So much for writing a short article. What began as a frustration point has developed into this whole treatise that aimlessly looks for a way to justify caring about my work. I sit here now, 5,000 words and two days later wondering if there is any point in creating anything at all. 

For the moment, my consolation is that even if I am not eternally remembered, perhaps, through means and methods out of my control, my work might positively influence someone else who does become that person who joins the list of names recognized through the ages for their contribution to the world. My sons are still young enough to do something surprising. Perhaps three generations from now, someone might see one of my prints and find the spark of inspiration is born in them.

I will accept that intermediate thought, and perhaps a shot of scotch, as sufficient comfort to allow me to sleep. The ghost of legacy will return, though, and continue to haunt until a sufficient answer is found. Someone call Mr. Dickens. I hear he has experience with this sort of thing.

You may read that New Yorker piece now. I’m going to make you scroll back to the top of the page for the link, though.

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