Friday, June 1, 2012

Pictures of Existentialism

Checking my blog stats today, I found the following search term: pictures of existentialism.

I have no idea how that brought someone to my blog. While I certainly do question my existence on a daily basis, I'm not sure I've ever used that word on the blog. I decided to search for the term on Google images so I could see what exactly existentialism would look like in a picture.
I found this Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. In the third panel, Calvin voices the questions that have been going through my mind for months. Why are we here? Does anything we do matter in the so-called grand scheme of things? What if you think you are doing something important but then you realize you're not? What if you wasted a year of your life writing something only three people have read, and other people have said they'd read but haven't and now you secretly resent them? What if you just got rid of the damn thing? What if you can't get back to being the person you were before?

What's the point?

One of the jokes in my current act (what is life if not partially an act you put on for other people) is about burning my house down and running away to another country. I am desperate for some sort of change and that might do it.

I'm kidding, of course, but people certainly do burn down their lives. We see it all the time. Someone, confronted by midlife, desperately wants out of his life so he cheats on his wife and then leaves obvious clues everywhere, waiting to get caught. He sets his life on fire. A woman, realizing time is short, quits her corporate job and pursues a dream, while her retirement savings and benefits turn to ash.

There is something called a controlled burn that is used in forest management. You might see it along the interstate sometimes. It can also be used to prepare a field for planting, to remove whatever residue was there from past lives.

People try to perform controlled burns. They set fire to their current lives and plant new ideas of who they think they should be. I think what probably happens more often than not is that these people find themselves surrounded by new versions of the same old crops.

Sometimes I imagine burning up my virtual life instead. Shut down Facebook. Shut down the Twitter account. Close the blog. Ignore e-mails.

I still have a flip phone that does nothing more than make and receive calls and texts and take poor-quality photographs. Smart phones? I want no part of that world. When I leave my house, I am trying to get away from my virtual life. When I am having dinner with friends or watching a concert, I don't want to report it minute by minute on Twitter, documenting it and somehow rendering it completely meaningless all at once. Because by reporting on it you are detaching yourself from it.

I might have a form of historical nostalgia. Owen Wilson's character had this in Midnight in Paris. It's when you feel nostalgic, not for a time in your own life, but for a time in the past that you never actually experienced. Obviously, like Owen Wilson in the film, this is about a dissatisfaction with the present. You want to believe that had you only lived in a world before reality shows and Fifty Shades of Grey and tweets by Kanye West, you'd be happier and less stressed and more satisfied.

It's not true, of course. Life is life is life. Whatever time you live in, the past will seem simpler and easier. I feel homesick all the time and I realize what I am homesick for is my house on Steere Drive, my mother asking me to set the table for dinner, my brother playing outside with his friends. I am homesick for the year I was 12. For 1985. But it is only from this long distance down the calendar that 1985 seems rosier than this year, the year my own daughter is 12.

I don't know where I'm going with all this. I'm just drawing my picture of existentialism. I'm just reporting what I think and thus detaching myself from it.

There's a point in all this talk of existentialism and Kanye's rug woes and forest fires. I'm just not sure I can find it right now.

"We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves." - Dalai Lama


  1. Thank you for your posts! I totally understand the burning your life thing...literally and figuratively. About 10 yrs ago my brother-in-law's brother took his own life by setting himself on fire in the parking lot outside the restaurant where his wife was working. It's hard for anyone to talk about, but sometimes I can see it as also a symbolic act.
    The figurative fire I set came back around and burned my ass! Now I'm back to trying to grow at least a few new things but, yes, mostly I see the same stuff. Just trying to be grateful in between the primal screams.
    Would you really let me read your book?

    1. Of course I would. I'd love to hear what you think. But I'd have to warn you that I'd really want you to read it within six months or so. I let a couple of friends read it who never actually took the time to read it. It's been six months now. Sometimes I feel freaked out about it. Like maybe they read it and hated it or (can't decide if this is better or worse0 they just couldn't be bothered. I know life gets busy but I'm a sensitive writer! I need feedback or at least a follow-up email that says, "Your book doesn't suck, I'm just too busy/lazy/drunk to read it right now."
      I'm so sorry to hear that about your brother-in-law's brother. Stories like that make me realize I'm not the only one to witness something like that.
      Perhaps we should start a primal scream club. Weekly sessions of stress release.

  2. I read every night...Lately a lot of dystopian future with teenage girl heroine books...not just Hunger Games. That's my 6th in the last 2 months. I think I might be making up for lack of female heroes in my youth. I've read a couple that are as good or better than H.Gs. Right now it's one that's pretty dark but in the (dystopian) present :-) ... so, I can read it much quicker than 6 months...and then do some more screaming...and then be grateful for what I have :-)


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