I recently finished reading Virginia Woolf’s diaries (collected as A Writer’s Diary). It did more than just solidify Woolf’s permanent position on my “forever favorites” shelf, but perhaps there will be time to elaborate on that further another day.
The death of genius haunts me. I think of the wonderfully, terrifyingly talented souls who have left us recently (from Prince to Alan Rickman to Muhammad Ali) and fall down the rabbit hole, following that train of thought backwards in time to think about all of the greatness and wonder that has left this world, from Shakespeare to Woolf to Tennessee Williams. We’ve been graced with their lasting gifts, creations of art, cinema, music, thought. Still, I can’t help but feel that the best of the world and all it has to offer is not ahead of us, but behind.
Yes, this is a cynical thought from someone who typically tends toward the optimistic. But this feeling comes stronger and stronger as the days go by. We still have brilliance among us, of course. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Bob Dylan, Stephen Hawking, and I suppose countless others, including my personal favorite genius who goes unnamed (because I’m selfish and possessive). I still don’t know what my generation will leave for the future, though, and why it is so difficult for genius to survive, thrive, shine, be acknowledged. Maybe that’s the way it has always been and maybe other people in other generations have sat and wondered the same thing, lamented the same concern.
I can’t shake it, though. To me, lately, the world seems to be growing colder, angrier, drearier as the days go by. We’re a disturbingly promising species, and yet we’re destroying ourselves and our planet. Why? As I said to Jane Goodall: Ego, I think. Our own “I am” and “I want” and “I need” comes before anything else. This could be a byproduct of being American in the Trump era; I do hope it is very different in other countries, but is it? What is human nature? Throw the dice and you’ll probably get an equal number saying “to strive for individual greatness” and “to make the world better for all.”
And which camp do I fall into? Is it possible to have it both ways?
Talk about anxiety. Self-consciousness. Fear of, what, being inconsequential? I sit here and think about genius, about my generation and my place in it, and I wonder: just what the hell am I supposed to be doing? Is it enough to, perhaps, make a small difference in one or two small lives every now and then? What do I – what can I – leave behind when I’m gone?