A call with no answer

The experience of being called gives a sense of purpose and direction to things we might do. The call to serve as a Druid, the call to activism, to writing and other forms of creativity. A sense of having been called to act implies meaning, a whiff of destiny perhaps, an impression of being wanted. And if it works, things flow towards you, opportunities to act and speak. Callings such as these result in people like Philip Carr-Gomm, J K Rowling, Caroline Lucas… callings give you Einstein, and Ghandi. On the darker side, calling can also give you serial killers, tyrants, lunatics.

But mostly not.

Callings are not always answered. They don’t always mean that doors will open, or that what you do will bear fruit any time you can see it. Van Gough spent his life poor, obscure and struggling. Only after death was he taken seriously, and the fame that has since validated his work, was never available to him. While it’s possible to go through life clinging to a belief that at some point, what you do will prove worth it, the longer you go on banging your head against a wall and making little difference, the harder it is to justify.

Just exactly how much does a person have to do to answer a calling? How much success? How much usefulness? How much service? There are no tidy answers to this. When is it fairer to say that the call to serve is really a call of ego, a call to be important? Surely, if we believe in our calling our vision, we should be willing to do the work no matter how unvalued, how ridiculed, how financially compromised it leaves us… surely that’s what a real calling means.

But how do you tell, if the thing driving you is truly a calling, truly purposeful, or if it’s just the desire to be loved and famous? How do you tell if the dream is any good, if most of the feedback you get suggests it has little or no value to anyone? The history of cutting edge creative people is a history full of depression, despair, and too many suicides. The roll call of brilliant people, modern and historical, who did not survive their thirties, is almost unbearable to reflect on. Mozart died young and in poverty, so did Robbie Burns. Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain… too many names. Too many callings that could not be survived, too many people who were truly valued only after they were gone.

How do you tell if a dream is worth giving your life to? When do you say ‘enough’? When does it stop being brave and visionary and start being irresponsible, self indulgent, deluded… And if it is not possible to be great or significant, is it worth showing up, day after day, to be small, modest, a little bit useful sometimes, liked by a few people?

I simply do not know, but this is the rock I break against every few months, pouring hours into work that does not pay, conscious that my most useful economic contribution to my family is as housewife, kidding myself each time that the next project will be the one that really takes off. The next project will be the one where I finally manage to do to something I think holds up. When do dreams become insanity?

I recall a recent interview with Leonard Cohen in which he said it was this or wash dishes, he couldn’t do anything else. But that’s ok because he’s Leonard Cohen and he’s never going to need to find something else to do. But for every Leonard Cohen out there, how many of us are there? The hundreds, thousands of never made the grade, never turned that calling into an answer, those of us who put the best we have into the world, and find that we would indeed be more useful washing dishes. With hindsight, fame and success validates the years of struggle, for some, but for many there is never anything to justify to the world the time we spent on the things we made. The scorn and ridicule this attracts is both reliable and unfunny. I talked about the struggles of the creative life before, and got a comment to the effect that I have a hobby, not a job, and how dare I imagine I was better than someone who earned a living doing mundane things. I’ll probably carry that one with me as long as I live. The assumption of arrogance in my desire to live by doing the thing I do best. A call with no answer.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

6 responses to “A call with no answer

  • Lyneya

    I really appreciate your post. I found it at the perfect time.

  • Éilis Niamh

    Here are some thoughts Nimue, based on my own experience and beliefs. So please if this doesn’t resonate with you, don’t bother with it. We don’t have to agree.

    “Just exactly how much does a person have to do to answer a calling?” Nothing. Do nothing. Be still and listen. Surrender to what is, and the spark of light within you will point the way toward your journey at every step, like a compass in the dark. The silent cry is heard not over the din of doing but in the stillness of being.

    “But how do you tell, if the thing driving you is truly a calling, truly purposeful, or if it’s just the desire to be loved and famous?” Are you willing to see you exactly for who you are? Then you will know your motives honestly. Does an opportunity feel like freedom or confinement, forced or peaceful? If it brings your soul, rather than just your ego, freedom and peace, do it!

    When do you say ‘enough’? When what you are doing is no longer safe, when it’s no longer in alignment with your deepest needs, or when (because it was really borne out of your ego’s conceptions of things) your actions start to seriously hurt yourself and others. No one gets called to be a serial killer, Nimue. But it is a path to choose. All choices are possible, that doesn’t make all possibilities callings.

    “The roll call of brilliant people, modern and historical, who did not survive their thirties, is almost unbearable to reflect on.” I completely agree. It saddens me and I have no answer.

    “for many there is never anything to justify to the world the time we spent on the things we made.” That’s right. But who cares? Seriously! Is it our job to justify ourselves to the world? What a waste of time! I’d say knock that off immediately and live your truth. Because really, who are you living for? All those random people out there with their capricious thoughts and small judgments and petty jealousies and journeys of their own, or do you answer to yourself and live as the author of your own life? Would you let the whims of others write your novels? Of course not! So why can’t you love yourself enough to live your own journey, not apologize for it, value yourself higher than what others think? What is the true measure of your name? Would you dare to find out, because I can tell you it’s not what others think.

    “how dare I imagine I was better than someone who earned a living doing mundane things” Nimue, I am so sorry. People can be incredibly cruel. Holding onto this is only going to hurt you more. Set boundaries with that person. If you really don’t know them much, cut them out of your life. You don’t need that crap. Then have compassion for yourself. You know, I see dead people, spirits from the other side. My friend and mentor from when I was in second grade said to me, after I tentatively tried coming out to her on this, “You have such a vivid imagination, it’s just like when you played with dolls as a child.” This was not just a dismissal of my spiritual journey and relationships with these spirits but also an insult. It incredibly hurt me, and it’s taking me a while to let it go. So if it takes you a while to let this person’s comment go, you’re not alone, and be kind to yourself. Remind yourself that you deserve love and respect and are the essence of light at the heart of being, and pull out the falsehoods. They might leave scars, and it might be painful to pull them out of you, but you will no longer have open wounds that can fester and kill off the truth in you. Healing will be possible. And you aren’t alone.

    • Nimue Brown

      Thank you for your words, and your insights, there’s a lot of good sense there, and if I take me out of the equation, it all seems very reasonable. I just don’t know how to get there from here, and there’s no way forward that isn’t going to require a bit of a firewalk, but perhaps, somewhere on the far side of doing that, there will be something better. I can at least try.

  • lornasmithers

    This is a very thought provoking post. Generally the only calling stories we are success ones. So what about the people who responded to their calling, tried their hearts out and failed? What about those who turned it down?

    A book my a local author called John Winstanley (yes, he is a descendant of Gerald Winstanley!) called ‘Unsigned Unscene’ http://www.amazon.co.uk/Unsigned-Unscene-John-Winstanley/dp/1782221921 covers the stories of all the bands who never got big. I think this is just as valuable as the success stories.

    In my experience, even if you respond to a calling, no all the doors don’t open. Success does not come riding in. Nor any other proof. Then you start wondering if this is come kind of ‘test’. Hoping some magic is going on behind the scenes. Yes, I know the ‘breaking rock’… Thanks for sharing this. There’s some small comfort in knowing I’m not alone in pondering these questions.

    • Nimue Brown

      that’s a brilliant notion for a book. We have such narrow story telling, I can’t help but think if we told more stories that offer more diversity of experience, not just the big wins and tales of it all falling together, it would be a good deal more useful for the vast majority of us.

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