In 2004, the priest who presided over the high-school graduation of my son, Quinn, said this, acknowledging the myriad difficulties of the age in which the accidents of our births find us in existence: “We are blessed with challenges.”

My first reaction was something along the lines of, “Whoa! Sounds like the padre’s gone off his meds.” Even after giving what he’d said considerable thought, it took me a while to catch his drift. But I finally made sense of it by posing a question to myself: Would you rather be challenged or bored? After that, everything fell into place … and stayed there.

I understood why I don’t sleep well — or believe I don’t. I understood why I need to be occupied, almost all the time, with something, anything, preferably something creative. I understood why I find it absurd, bordering on insulting, when someone asks me, “Why don’t you relax?” And I came to peace with the reality that I’m only at peace when I’m constructively engaged.

Then another shard of light glinted from the haystack of contemporary communication recently, a haystack that obscures with its sheer, incalculable volume. I was fortunate enough to spot it nevertheless — an article with the temerity to observe human nature, tell the truth about it, and celebrate it without trying to change it:

There is a particular vitality in anxiety, a sort of nervy power that one can’t say is fun, exactly, but is nonetheless slightly addictive. It can be productive, in a crashing way. It gives us a feeling of motion, of momentum, of wheels turning. One gets used to it, maybe seeks it out. One inhabits it, sets up camp.

Nervy power. Motion. Momentum. Wheels turning. There it is, in all its creative glory.

The physiological signs of that vital anxiety — of the creative rush — are unmistakable. I feel butterflies in my stomach, the telltale tingle that makes it impossible to do or to concentrate on anything else. My heart rate accelerates, perhaps because of adrenaline, palpable and energizing. Then comes the crystal-clear realization that anything and everything I was otherwise supposed to be doing should be dropped in deference to the tireless pursuit of the Muse, regardless of day or time.

As Bob Dylan observed, “He not busy being born is busy dying.” One state precludes the other: being born (creating) or dying (stagnating). No judgment. Only observation. For those not called to create, there may be joy in stagnation, in the lack of vital anxiety. But for the rest of us, in the absence of that anxiety, there’s only the sense that we’re missing something.

I don’t know if folks like me are right. I don’t know if we’ve found the secret to life well-lived or if we’d claim uninterruptedly blissful contentment. But I do know we’re fulfilled, even if we are a little stressed sometimes.

We wouldn’t have it any other way.

*With apologies to Archie Bell & The Drells.

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