Is ambition a drug?
(No. 82) An aging Donatella loves blond. I face the void. How to tell someone you like them. By Stephen P. Williams
An ambitious flower filling the void. Photo by Thomas Oxford on Unsplash
I’m thinking about what ambition means as we age. At 64, I am still an ambitious person, working on several big projects that have no guarantee of making money or even being seen by others. Two surround a road trip I took through the American pandemic in the summer and fall of 2020. Another is a digital art and literature project called Westward Ho, that retells the European conquest of the west in 99 stories. These projects are aside from the things I do to make money — primarily ghost writing books for people who don’t have the time or skills to tell their own stories.
I have a clear goal with these ghost writing assignments: doing a good job and making money I use to support myself day to day, and put away for my eventual retirement. But where are my creative ambitions leading me?
Into a void, a vast emptiness. I imagine you are familiar with this place. It is the place where all our illusions about ourselves disappear. Where we realize how unimportant our lives have been. Looking into this void, many of us discover a haunting meaninglessness. This void is where many of us first learn spirituality, or the idea that we are all part of a larger universe. We learn that if there has to be a void, at least we can be part of it.
I say void because there is no guarantee that the memoir about my pandemic journeys, and my family, which I finished writing months ago, will ever be be meaningful to anyone but me. (I post excerpts of it on an Instagram feed called Everlands_). And there’s no indication so far that very many people will ponder the artworks I’ve collaborated on with Westward Ho, though I see the project as a stepping stone to future crypto art creations.
Yet, still, both of these projects have the potential to be experienced by others. And I guess that’s where ambition is different than every other motivation, from hunger to loneliness. Ambition is usually associated with a desire to be seen, and to be honored for what you’ve done. Most people wouldn’t consider that a basic need, like water and air. But I’m coming to see that I do.
Even in my seventh decade I am consumed by a desire to share my creative work with the world.
I also want to buy a plot of land in Northern New Mexico and plant trees and watch them grow and share them with my children. This would be another form of being recognized, of leaving something important in the world. But since I’m 64, I know that chances are I wouldn’t live to see those trees get huge.
So are they worth planting? Of course, most of us would say, they are worth planting because future generations will enjoy and benefit from them. And just the fact of adding life to the planet is a good thing. But in truth, I probably won’t buy land and plant beautiful trees. Because the thought of committing myself to something that I won’t see truly realized makes me fear that void I mentioned in the second paragraph, above.
And this void is at the heart of aging. This void is what we all come to realize we must honor and respect as we age. Good luck trying to avoid it (how can we void a void?) At one time or another, most of us try to fill it with the wrong things, such as too much food and drugs and sex and objects, and we end up feeling miserable.
I’m wondering if ambition fits this list. Is my ambitious nature just another way to avoid dealing with the reality of the void? In case anyone is wondering, the questions don’t stop as we get older. At least that’s my experience.
How about you?
Note: I began writing this at 4 am, in the cold darkness of NYC. Out my window, an older unhoused man rocked back and forth on someone’s stoop, trying to keep warm. The void is particularly empty at that hour. Now that I’ve finished writing, the sun has turned the dawn sky an exquisite shade of pale blue. The tree across the street is in spring bloom. I’m feeling energized. The void is now filled with my love of the world, the colors, the sounds, the wind through the new flowers of the city.
Stephen's People is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a paid subscriber.
“When Donatella says blond, you go blond.”
“I don’t even know what my natural color is. Natural? What is natural? What is that? I do not believe in totally natural for women. For me, natural has something to do with vegetables.”— Fashion mogul Donatella Versace, who will turn 67 next month, quoted in Italian Living Magazine.
From The Department of Solicited Advice
Dating Advice for Older Types
At 5:05 AM on April 5, a reader I’ll call N contacted our dating columnist with this question:
Dear Old Guy,
When I’m interested in someone, how do I show them? What might be a good question, or something to say? I’d like to be interesting. Also, what am I doing up at this hour?
Dear N. First, thank you for being the first reader to ask for dating advice. I hope to receive many more advice questions. Your’s is a tough one to answer. Of course I’m tempted to be funny, and offer you some classic lines like: “Are you a light switch because when I see you, then everything in my life just gets brighter.”
While this may seem corny, it might actually work. I would certainly respond well to this, even though I would know it’s a “line.” But humor isn’t the only option. Perhaps the best move is to be totally sincere and up front. You could say, “Hey, you look interesting,” if you’re just meeting the person for the first time. I think this sort of directness gets more attractive the older we get. It also gets to the heart of the matter: you like someone, you want them to know that, and you want to know if they are also attracted to you.
Who has time to waste pussyfooting around? You might end up disappointed, but would that be worse than not expressing yourself?
As to what you are doing awake at 5:00 am? That is God’s hour, when the deepest, scariest thoughts dissolve in the rising sun. I hope you enjoy it.
Paying subscribers can read the following items, below:
How to make the best of the worst.
What it’s like to be a gay kid in a straight world.
The meaning of shame.
These overalls won’t quit.