Absurdism and Me

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So, here goes nothing. I haven’t been sleeping, which means early mornings reading the same pages slowly and repetitively. In the spirit of slow evolution, I’m compressing my reading into my own understanding of a miniscule portion of existentialist thought. I’m writing it because maybe it’ll give me a little perspective as sleeplessness leaves my inhibition inoperable during the day.  Without further ado, Abrsurdism from a crippled mind.

Our senses and our reason are the only way we experience this world. However, the universe is something that neither our senses nor our reason can ever fully explain. The distance between our questions and our definitive understanding of the universe is Camus’s notion of the Absurd. In the Absurd are the explanations and experiments we pose to bridge this gap—however all of them fall short of an answer.

Given our limited ability to interact with the world around us, the questions of purpose, meaning, and the finalities of life will go unanswered. Realizing this, we experience our existential crisis—questioning our existence and its place in this world. This leaves us with the choices to lose ourselves in the Absurd, finitely or infinitely,  and embracing our life of absurdity.

Puzzled by our existence, we can choose to become lost in the finite. We can enter our existential crisis, armed only with our mind, and dissect all the information we have on our life. In that dissection, we can find and assign value to the joys and heartbreaks from these desiccated experiences. They will be devoid of the complexities of context and subjectivity, but we can create a system that fools us into believing we have found meaning and purpose.

This most commonly looks like the person who toils through the experiences of their life and finds patterns at the moments they deem important—and they develop superstitions. They examine practices before good and bad events and from them design a code of conduct that create a system they can allow to supersede true decision and a confrontation with the world. The person then shrinks from the world, comforted by this finite vision of the universe. Camus would call this, a philosophical suicide–finding an ideology that allowed you to escape acknowledging the nonsensical world.

In the absurdity of our existence, we can choose to become lost in the infinite. We can succumb to the myriad of choices in a universe where anything is allowed. Faced with absolute freedom, we can freeze that moment of crisis, stretching it across our entire existence—never picking a direction.

This is the quintessential college graduate who rots in their parent’s basement, jobless and without aspiration, as they wax poetic about all the things they will accomplish—someday.

An existential crisis is a moment, not a state of being. It is meant to be something we come to and make our decision—knowing certainty is never going to be absolute. This is where Kierkegaard’s leap of faith comes in. In our crisis, where “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom” we weigh all the options and we make a choice, regaining our control over our existence, but freely and of our own volition.

However, our certainty is in our senses and our reason. Our own sense and reason. We can argue over the validity of senses, where they derive from, and what they detect. We can argue over our mind, abnormal psychology, and the way they may deceive. But, we can think and we can sense in one way or another—these are our certainties. With these we can accept the inability of the world to explain itself and accept what we enjoy. The sensory pleasure, the things that bring our mind peace, those unexplained joys become our solace in the face of Absurdity.

This all boils down to a thought for me: the purpose of life is to place yourself in the world where the product of your work feels like a reflection of how you see yourself.

 

Growl, Bark, Bite (Speak)

“There’s too many wolves in the forest!” The article screams for a cull in bold typeface. 

Gods forbid a forest act like a forest. Save us from a world where nature is more than a hobby. Protect us from a life unspayed, breeding more life triumphantly fighting for its own place.

Damn these lives with their own claws, their own teeth, and their own reasons to run in different packs.

“John, it’s pretty simple.” An assigned Alpha sighs at me, “You can’t rock the boat, right or wrong, if you want to go anywhere. At some point you have to just get along.”

Quiet. Roll onto your stomach. Pant and wag. Wolves are pretty, wolves sing, when they start being wolves they need to be culled.

“You don’t want to be culled do you?” They toss treats on the ground in front of me.

I bare my teeth too much. I try not to, but my nature slips out. Able or not, I’m unwilling (as unwilling as we all should be) not to bark when I see a threat. I’m unwilling not to run with the pack I was born with. I’m unwilling to let my forests be someone’s playground populated by puppies. In our woods, you earn your time.

In anyone’s woods, you respect the things that live there. You listen to the singing in the boughs and the breathing in the wind and figure out how to approach. That’s learning, that’s appreciating, that’s cooperating.

“There’s too many wolves in the forest!”

Then get the hell out.

The Argument (P.S. Camus)

Our voices dulled like passing trains and we stared at each other. 

At some point, screaming as loud and fast as possible depleted the dictionary. As the Oxford English flamed out, we burned the thesaurus too.  We sealed a fleeting truce by leaving the room disgusted with each other.

It was every argument I’ve ever had.

We sat across from tables each time, each partner, and beat each other like the words meant themselves. Like there wasn’t another reason, a better reason, we spat poison that had no other possible purpose than to seep and rot.

I was beating my soul necrotic and raging about why I was dying. It was a game I played with whoever was available for the sake of pretending that it would find a solution. 

A solution for the frustration of choosing the wrong career. A solution for the anger of being unfulfilled. A solution for the sadness of losing a friend. A solution, a beautifully poetic resolution, to my existence by arguing over books, meals, and work like it was life/death/humanity at stake and not some Sisyphean madness.

I quit pacing and went back to my office, pulled out a piece of paper, and started drawing.

He came back into the room and pointed at the picture I was sketching.

“What is that?”

“Sisyphus.” I kept drawing.

“Who?”

“A king who messed with a god and ended up pushing a boulder uphill for the rest of eternity. Felt appropriate.”

A pause and then a question.

“Are you calling me a god?”

I tossed the pencil on the desk.

“I’m calling us idiots.”

Coding the Writer

I was a hermit in another life. Probably in the life before that too. Left to my own devices, I would cover the windows to spend the day between books, ink, and paint. When the sun goes down, I’ll take my walks in peace and come back to my hut for a beer and another book.

It’s how I’m programmed. In the daytime, people seem to care (way too much) about how often I mow my lawn. They seem to care about how the bulbs in my flower bed now writhe and crawl over each other like drunkards at a frat party. They jump at the chance to stop a quiet walk to talk about nothing.

Nothing. Small talk. A smile does the same thing, a wave. Then you’re back to your own world.

But, you can’t write about a world you don’t take an effort to live in. I’ll give in to proper lawn maintenance before I become the window poet, writing the same twenty lines about the train, the hill, the bird I see as I sit at my desk.

I have to live to write.

I slide my feet forward in the white snow, driving my own path through the tops of trees. The baskets of the snowshoes are holding me on the leaden clouds as I look around me at pure pure silence.

“Wow.” my wife breathes next to me.

“This is perfect.”

Baby steps.

Note to Self (P.S. Kirkegaard)

An artist starves for their work. A writer never quits reading. A wise man travels often. A platitude is a platitude because we count it as common sense.

The most beautiful painting I’ve ever seen was painted by a nurse between shifts. The best stories woven by farmers leaning over the wheels of their tractors. The most poignant wisdom over a beer and burger in a bar in Washington.

A platitude is a platitude because we count it as common sense. Common sense is just a phrase for the things we want everyone to believe without thinking.

I spent years as an academic, penning masterpieces that nobody loved. The only things I haven’t burned since then were written as the stupid boy leaving the farm and the broken scholar coming home. Those things I wrote when I didn’t know better  are my apocrypha. I read and stare back over them wondering why my better self can’t make the same.

Ideas were scribbles, scratches, and grunts pried between bouts of energy. I fought with myself in the house I’d made, screaming in the kitchen by the cellar stairs. I watched that waiting descent with a sidelong glance, afraid to go into that basement until I was pushed.

A friend killed himself the other day and I was pushed down those stairs. In the dark cellar underneath I found my best pictures framed and my best words bound in leather. I found the exhiled farmer and the stupid scholar huddling together, smiling over a book I’d read with my dead friend.

Everything I’d ever planned was in the house above, pinned and labeled next to their blueprints. I looked up the stairs and then looked at my better selves lounging happily under the bare bulb illuminating the dungeon where I’d sent my best work.

“Turn out the light.”

;

I watched the television, all of thirteen years-old, as Jack Kavorkian walked into the courthouse.

“Send him to jail.” I dismissed.

My dad’s godfather took off his oxygen mask and looked at me.

“You don’t know what it feels like.”

I didn’t.

I never took hunting seriously until after college. I hiked, I tracked, I grew up in the woods, but I’d never harvested a deer. 

The first buck I killed, I shot while it was running from me. I found it in the meadow, laying on the ground panting. I took out my pistol.

I didn’t know what it felt like, to hurt like it did. I watched as I stopped it.

I walked back to camp and told our friend Jeff and my grandpa: “I shot a buck. I need help bringing it back.”

Jeff came with me and walked me through cleaning it, helped me carry it back to camp. We took a photo that I kept on my desk; with my graduation photo; with my wedding photo. A once in a lifetime event.

I heard him on my parent’s porch a few weeks later.

“When he came back to camp, you could tell he was excited. On his face though, you could see he felt bad for killing it. ”

I didn’t know what it felt like.

Mom and I stood in the kitchen trading stories.

“I needed to tell you…but I didn’t when it happened. Jeff died. I didn’t tell you because…well, because…”

What do you do when a moment changes; when a picture captures two points in time; when you make and lose a friend; when an accomplishment is a final memory?

When two choices split the same moment into a bittersweet scar you’d drink to stop thinking about, do you put the picture in your desk? I used my finger to wipe the dust off the frame.

I didn’t know what it felt like.

Black Coffee

When I left home and started school, I drank Coke and Chai tea. I wrote poetry and fiction to be the next Hemingway or Jack London. It was romance as only a teen from rural Oregon moving into the city could imagine it.

Sweet, processed, trademarked.

The school was too small, nothing there to inspire me. So, I picked a new school, a bigger school, and I drank mochas. I wrote and it was “new,” it was experimental, and it was “misunderstood” when it was rejected.

I was the next postmodern warrior, I was e.e. cummings with my artful disdain towards punctuation and syntax. I was still a romantic in my ripe twenties. Learning sex and alcohol and blasphemy and drugs and protest. I was an expert, damn it, and my every word oozed knowledge.

I earned my paper, I left school, and I drank water. I drank water when I didn’t boil it for noodles. I found a job that didn’t care what my degree said, there were no jobs that gave a damn what my degree said.

Poetry? Fiction? Put it on the coffee table, talk about it over a beer. Cry about it when you get too drunk, preferably after they’ve gone home.

I dated women who were looking for men while I couldn’t stand the thought of not being some prodigy. I was the next Charles Bukowski. I…I haven’t been writing lately, but I kept my notes on the desk. When the right idea hits, BAM! Everything will be right there.

It didn’t. It doesn’t. I moved home and found a profession. I made a life.

My wife comes into our office, dressed for town and holding her purse in one hand and my Rocket Raccoon coffee mug in the other.

“When you’re finished writing, I’m ready for the store.” She sets down the mug and leaves, shutting the door softly behind her.

I work and I drink black coffee. When I write I’m nobody, but I have something to say.