doom eager

More from Martha Graham:

There is a wonderful Icelandic term: “doom eager.” You are doom eager for destiny no matter what it costs you. The ordeal of isolation, the ordeal of loneliness, the ordeal of doubt, the ordeal of vulnerability which it takes to compose in any medium, is hard to face…[the] artist is doom eager, but never chooses his fate. He is chosen, and anointed, and caught.

Maybe we still have democracy in a few weeks, maybe we don’t. Maybe we still have coral reefs in a few years, maybe we don’t. What’d you expect? Nothing lasts forever. Billions of minuscule barnacles clinging to a ball of rock hurtling through space at 67,000 miles an hour…it’s amazing we’ve made it this far. Even more extraordinary, a relative handful of barnacles make beautiful things for all the other barnacles to enjoy along the ride. Even with a trillion stars and a trillion trillion planets, I still wouldn’t be surprised if we had the only artists in the universe.

Just as a work of art is defined by its frame, we, individually and collectively, are framed in time with a beginning and an end. The Icelanders have always understood that. In sharp contrast to the Olympian deities reigning over the sun-drenched Mycenaean Greeks far to the south, the Norse gods knew their immortality had its limit: Ragnarok. The frozen, volcanic landscape of Midgard was beautiful not in spite but because of this awareness of an end.

To be doom eager is to recognize you’ve been inescapably called to your work, accept its heavy toll, and commit to paying that toll in full. To pay wholeheartedly, leaving nothing in reserve. Reserve for what—playing Tetris? Achieving Inbox Zero? If you’re going to walk barefoot on hot coals, you don’t rush. You take each step deliberately.

When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking. —Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure

To be doom eager is to resign yourself to making your work in the limited time you have available because you know that in doing so you are spending that rare currency precisely as it was intended.

Is “doom eager” truly an Icelandic term as Graham states? I doubt it. She probably got it from Ibsen, who most likely coined the term himself. But boy, it’s right, isn’t it?

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