A Facebook friend was comparing herself to Sisyphus this morning, which got me thinking about the old stone-roller's dilemma. You know the myth: the arrogant king whom the gods punished by making him roll a huge stone to the top of a hill, only to have it slip away from him right at the crest and roll all the way back to the bottom every time. Anyone who's ever tried to write a book can identify. I've thought about old Sis a few times myself while pushing The Undressing of America toward completion.
But today something new occurred to me. What turns Sisyphus's task into torture? The disappointment and frustration of seeing the rock roll back down the hills, right? So his problem is the expectation that one of these times, maybe this time, he's actually going to get it to the top. But what if he changes his attitude? What if Sisyphus says to himself, "Okay. This is what I'm doing with my eternal life. This is who I am. I push a rock." Maybe then he could start to enjoy it. You know: fresh air, exercise, the feel of the rough stone against his palms, the smell of the loam as the boulder's weight breaks the soil beneath it, the regular break when the rock rolls back down, the pleasant walk to the bottom to start over again. And no worries about what he's going to do next. After all, it's not the destination that counts, right? It's the journey.
So starting tomorrow, I'm reinterpreting the Sisyphean challenge of writing my book. After all, as Olympian punishments go, this one's pretty sweet. I'm not a bodiless shade drifting through a lightless limbo. I'm not being tantalized by food that's snatched away. I get to wake up every morning and push my rock, and if I don't get all worked up over how it's all supposed to come out, what's not to like? If Sisyphus has learned any wisdom and humility in all those centuries in Tantalus, I'll bet he's pretty grateful to the gods for the assignment. Am I supposed to rage against the job they've given me? What's that but arrogance?