Knowledge Darts Vol. 23: Forty-Two: The Meaning Of Life, The Universe & Everything
A writer reflects on his choices and his legacy
When I was a kid, I encountered a book titled The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, which I read here and there but it just never resonated with me like other Sci Fi novels and short stories I’d read at the time. There’s a joke in the book where a supercomputer named Deep Thought is asked for the answer to “life, the Universe and everything” in that order. Deep Thought responds that it has an answer but it’ll need to think about it for seven and a half million years. Seven and a half million years later, the descendants of those who originally asked the question return to Deep Thought for its answer. He tells them that they’re not going to like it before answering with “Forty-two.” Upon hearing the answer, the descendants of the original inquirers voiced their displeasure. Deep Thought countered with “I checked it very thoroughly and that quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.”
Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy was first published in North America back in October 1980 and I was only nine when I first attempted to read it. I just didn’t get much of the comedy even though I was already familiar with quick, biting, sardonic humor from watching British comedies on PBS. The action (or utter lack of it) bored me to tears. I didn’t really relate to any of the characters or the scenarios presented in it so I ultimately never delved much into the series. However, as I got older that “Forty-two” sequence stuck out in my head for years before I’d even realized it was a “thing” amongst the Sci Fi/nerd/geek fandom.
As time passed the whole thing only became bigger, and there was a radio show, TV series and a 2005 feature film adaptation based on the book. I’ve been thinking about this section a lot lately since I recently turned 42 and I’ve begun to really ponder my place in life, The Universe and everything my damn self.
Many of my peers, contemporaries and writers I came up reading, were either married, parents, homeowners, or had jobs in academia. Some were editors, screenwriters, published authors or experts who made television appearances and did panel discussions by the time they were 42. Myself, on the other hand? I haven’t done many of those things and quite honestly I haven’t tried really hard to make them happen. Writers rely on having their work published in multiple publications and I just don’t pitch because I take every time an outlet turns down a piece I wrote as a personal offense. Also, I don’t really care for doing many of the other things cats in my age range have transitioned to. Problem is, given my advanced age and my unwillingness to play the game, I have to figure out what I’m going to do before I ultimately get squeezed out of this space for good.
I’m not putting forth any real effort towards doing any on-camera work since everyone’s currently pivoting to video rather than focusing on long-form content. I haven’t tried to really get my podcast going like I should. I haven’t pressed the issue to try to get published or secure an adjunct professorship as of yet and I’m not willing to leave Boston, so that automatically eliminates any possible job opportunities in New York City or Los Angeles.
If I’m open to being a music supervisor in film and television or consulting on a documentary or a TV show/movie then I should really do things that put me in position to be chosen for one of those jobs. Or I should get off my ass and get my own project off the ground, seeing as this space cares less and less about all the things I happen to specialize in. The writing’s been on the wall for years but I keep getting stays of execution. Sooner or later my luck will finally run out.
I recently had an idea for a string of pieces I had proposed for the Summer (which is now over) referred to as “legacy content”. My heart sank at reading this characterization of what I feel were necessary pieces honoring the importance of crucial and influential albums to the Rap music continuum. It hit me that I don’t see what I do as “content.” I never have.
In my mind, I’m doing a service by putting something into its proper historical context. Everything I write is personal, not business—even though I get paid to do so. I’ve deleted this very piece I’m writing four times already because I wasn’t feeling it. I agonize over every sentence I type. I need to feel an emotional connection to the subject matter of each of these 23 articles I’ve written.
That’s a problem.
At the end of the day, I’m work-for-hire and this is a job. Writers don’t often have the luxury of only writing about what they want and not being slaves to deadlines. Shit, I’m gonna write about what I want to regardless. I wrote 2500 words about the lasting influence of the Summer Of 1987 knowing damn well no one else would want to run it and I could write similar pieces every week. This is the worst time imaginable to be a 42-year-old expert in multiple fields and stuck in your ways. It feels really No Country For Old Men in this field presently.
Turning 42 made me realize I’m now closer to death than anything else. I’ve seen many of my peers and contemporaries die in their 40s in recent years, which makes me think about my legacy and hyper-conscious about my voice and impact. I constantly think about how I’ll be remembered or what holes or voids of information I’ve already filled in the past versus what’s still left to cover. If I haven’t written a long-form piece about it, I’ve probably broken it down on Instagram or Twitter because fewer people seem willing to read and it’s a pain in the ass to find someone willing to pay you to write about it if they can’t ensure it’ll bring in a certain amount of site visits and page views. I’m so in my head when I write these Knowledge Darts that I don’t even think about site traffic or numbers, merely about whether I’m expressing myself as honestly as humanly possible in a way that might resonate with readers.
In conclusion, I’ve decided that the most important thing for me as a writer is not to be a careerist and concern myself with upward mobility even though at this stage in my life I should be far more successful than I currently am. Fact of the matter is that I prefer to have the freedom to do whatever I want and write about whatever I feel like as opposed to feeling obligated to cover a subject I don’t care about because it’s “hot” at the moment. I can’t succumb to societal pressures and gauge what I’m doing at this age on what others did at my age because we are not the same and do not possess the same motivations or impetus. If I had a wife, kids or a mortgage I more than likely would’ve played the game and I’d have a high-profile job by now. Since I don’t, I can continue to define my success on my own terms and on whatever timetable I find acceptable.
I have to be proud of myself and my output first and foremost. As long as I can personally stand behind every single article or piece I’ve written without feeling like I comprised my integrity or sold my soul in the process? I’ve figured out the answer to everything—and the question—at 42. I totally understand my role and place in the Universe and I truly feel like what I do is my life’s calling. I guess Deep Thought was right after all.