I am a rock, I am an island.
And a rock feels no pain. And an island never cries.
I’ve walked past it many times. It’s a large, impressive old home which I can imagine was a centerpiece of the town in the days before modern suburban subdivisions, strip malls and “mixed-use” developments arrived on the scene.
At some point, it might have been an estate, housing someone of great importance (at least locally), with the owner controlling property around it as far as the eye could see; property that has since been sold and divided into quarter-acre (or smaller) lots with basic homes dotting it; the nearest convenience store and fast-food joint a mere two blocks away.
In recent years, the house (at least the exterior, I’ve never been inside) has gone through a period of updating, including extensive stonework, landscaping, an expanded driveway, etc. I know this because I walk past it now and again, and without giving it too much thought, I’ve noticed the improvements, or at least, the carousel of excavation and construction equipment I’ve seen in action (during the week) or inert (on the weekends) over the past few years.
Yesterday, as I passed this home on foot, something caught my eye. It was a stone, but not just any stone. This thing was huge; if I had to guess, four feet tall and eight feet in diameter. It was black, with streaks of grey and white running through it, like pinstripes that marked its age and the “life” it has endured to date. And when the sun caught it just right, tiny flecks glimmered and shot the light out in all directions, like miniature prisms.
It was, to some including the homeowner I'm sure, a work of art and possibly a statement of some sort.
At first, I thought, “Wow, that’s a cool rock.” Then, almost immediately, I thought, “I wonder what a rock like that costs.” A few steps later, and now with thoughts coming and going like commuters passing through a turnstile to catch the morning subway, I thought, “Isn’t it odd that something as simple and common as a rock or a stone can be valued and used in so many ways?”
I would never go out of my way to shop for, select, purchase or install a four-by-eight foot rock in my yard as decoration. It’s not my style. And, while I didn’t take the time to find out what a rock like that costs (including delivery and installation), for me that wouldn’t be a wise purchase anyway. Plus, it would look completely out of place in our yard.
On the other hand, if a large rock already existed in our yard when we purchased the house, a basic tan or grey model with no prism-like qualities or interesting lines running through it, I probably wouldn’t spend the time or money to remove. I’d simply let it be, mowing around it in the summer and shoveling snow over it in the winter. After all, it’s a rock, and as such, it probably wouldn’t be bothering anyone or anything on any given day (hypothetically speaking).
These kinds of rocks are common. In fact, several homes in our neighborhood have them, and I’m thinking their presence is due to homeowners with the exact same attitude as mine about them: not necessarily their preferred landscaping choice, but “Eh, it’s not worth the effort to get rid of it.”
As I walked, leaving the large, stately property (replete with its large, stately rock) in my proverbial dust, I continued to think about rocks, what they mean and how they’re valued based on their size, utility, “artful” qualities and symbolism.
Farmers (or more likely, their kids or hired hands, if that’s what they’re still called) spend lots of time remediating stones from their fields to prepare for the planting season. To them, these stones and rocks are a nuisance, only good for disrupting their work or worse, damaging their equipment. As a result, they pay to have rocks taken away.
Homeowners, including the aforementioned “estate owner,” use those same rocks to build (or have built for them) fieldstone walls and facades on their properties, at no small expense.
On a smaller level (and now I’m talking about the size of the object, not the project), we use stones for gravel to shore up driveways and paths, and we purchase rocks in bags to use around our homes for landscaping and decoration.
On a symbolic level, we value some stones as gems, symbols of our love, appreciation and commitment to one another, and in some cases, to flaunt our wealth much like Bad, Bad Leroy Brown:
And he like to wave his diamond rings under everybody's nose …
And these stones, among the smallest of all, are often much more expensive than that large stone I saw on my walk; a stone which I suspect cost that homeowner thousands of dollars.
Thing is, the rocks don’t care. Whether they’re gems, gravel, fieldstone or huge, polished, pin-striped, speckled boulders marking the entrance to a house where folks apparently have enough cash to spend their disposable income on just that thing, the rocks are just … rocks. Again, they don’t care.
A few moments later, as thoughts of stones and rocks, farmers’ fields and Bad, Bad Leroy Brown began to fade, I started thinking about myself. (Don’t judge, when I’m walking, I can think about whatever or whomever I want if I’m not bothering anyone.)
Specifically, I was thinking about this, what you’re reading right now: my writing.
I’m a writer, and that’s what I’ve been for (ahem) years. It’s how I make my living, and I enjoy it. In this field, I get to help other tell their stories. I learn about new things, and I have a level of freedom that those working in an office, a factory or on a job site don’t have.
On the other hand, I fancy myself an author. Make no mistake, I am an author as well as a writer (I see them as two separate parts of me), having written three books to date (not bragging, just reporting the facts) with a fourth in gestation.
However, I say I “fancy myself” an author because I don’t make a living as one. Would I like to? The honest answer is yes, but like those large rocks that just happen to be in someone’s yard rather than sought out for their shiny, pin-striped appeal, I’d like to think I don’t care.
I’d like to think that as an author, I’m just a rock waiting for someone to pick me up and throw me or use me for gravel or decoration as part of their literary or entertainment landscaping.
I want to believe that the very act of authorship – whether it’s this essay or an entire book – is enough for me, and that it doesn’t matter if people want to read or better yet, purchase what I create, to share it with their friends and family, or to cherish it as one of their favorites.
I want to believe that, because I do believe the best work – that which we create of and for ourselves – comes when there’s nothing at stake: no audience to please, no pressure to pay bills with one’s art, no expectation from anyone or anything except that which comes from the creator of said work.
I also want to believe it because if I do, I won’t come off as an arrogant ass; someone who flaunts his wealth and notoriety, craving attention like Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.
What I’m saying is, I want to be an author, but I also want to be a rock. And that’s where things start to get difficult because a rock needs nothing; no friends, no fans, no way to support itself, no validation. What’s more, a rock has no predators, and while it has its critics – everyone from farmers to gemologists – it simply doesn’t care. But it does have value … to someone … somewhere.
It just needs to be found by someone … somewhere.
And that’s what separates the author, or the artist, or the sculptor (I could go on) from the rock. A rock may or may not be found, appreciated and valued, and that’s OK. But what if an author (or an artist, or a sculptor) isn’t found or appreciated? Is that OK?
For me, I want to think it is, but I’m not sure.
© 2022 David R. Haznaw