An Examined Life

In the recent resurgence of Stephen King adaptations, the famous author has actually been doing an interview here and there. I’ve long been a fan of King’s, and find it especially fascinating how good of a writer he is despite also being a household name across multiple American generations. Often talent and notoriety have an inverse relationship, at least so far as authors go.

I read an interview in Rolling Stone, and amongst many interesting tidbits was a line that took me by surprise. When asked how his father walking out when he was 2 years old shaped his life, King replied “I don’t know. I don’t live an examined life…”

I call bullshit. This is Stephen King, for cripes’ sake! He’s published 61 novels, and by the time I hit publish on this post he’ll probably have another one off to the editors. He’s worth roughly $400 million, and every dumbo who’s even heard of the concept of a book knows his name. Thanks to the countless film and TV adaptations of his works over the last five decades (!), even the dumbos who haven’t heard of a book probably know it, too.

More words have been committed to paper by and about Stephen King than probably anyone else living (I only feel comfortable saying that because it’s going to be really hard to prove me wrong). Point being, this guy is a born writer who doesn’t seem to be slowing down, and the simple act of writing involves a lot of examination. He even wrote a (great) book about writing, which is partly a memoir!

That phrase, “an examined life” is an interesting one. Google it and good ol’ Socrates will show up (his quote splashed across a monochromatic seascape). “The unexamined life is not worth living.” How very Thoreau of him!

Nowadays there are more and more articles about disconnecting, slowing down, and stopping the daily grind in favor of staring out a window or journaling. There are so many journals that it’s a bit insane; you’d think every one of us just journals our day away, and then goes home to journal about journaling. The trend is easy to explain: we all have supercomputers in our pockets and they’re making us crazy. They’re too good and too fast at formerly-difficult tasks, and they’ve made us think that everything should be that fast.

We’re too productive and too obsessed with being productive, and ever wanting to increase that productivity. Once the stress is too much, we go to a beach and watch some waves before coming right back to the packed daily schedule. Millennials, a mythical generation capable of toppling industry after industry in our search for self-meaning, don’t accept the status quo. These things are slow to change, though, and America has for too long been defined by the rat race. How do you break outside of those confines while still being a successful adult that contributes to society?

You examine your life. You bullet journal. You put thoughts to paper in the hope that, as the ink seeps into the fibers, some kind of clarity will peek through the clouds and impart upon you a deep wisdom.

It’s too easy to check out and waste away, thanks to ubiquitous streaming services and the endless scrolling of social media, and the slowing down and examining your life movement is an answer to that. Whether it gets us anywhere is anybody’s guess, but at least it can (temporarily) stop that feeling of uncontrollable buzzing between our ears.

As for Stephen King, who knows. The guy is clearly an automaton with more story ideas than any one human should be allowed. Despite his vast fortune, in that Rolling Stone interview he said he doesn’t really spend much money. He’s got two houses (one in Maine and one in Florida), but aside from that he has what he wants. He needs nothing else.

He’s just a man who loves to tell stories, and does it well. What more is there to examine beyond doing the thing that makes you happy?

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