Tagged existentialism

The Hard Days Are Most Instructive

It does seem like the cycles of life are unsteady, randomly faster and slower. The days are indeed long, and the years are, truly, short. One of the consequences of growing older is a sense of perspective. Looking back is a vast open field of texture and color. Looking forward is a shrinking window of potential.

A regular patron at my work place was on his way home this evening, when I happened to notice him collapse onto the sidewalk as he was being helped across the street. The shift lead on duty, expected to deal with emergencies of this kind went to see about helping him while I took care of the shop, though I’d have rushed along without hesitation. The man is someone I’ve know since coming to Portland. He’s quite old, rather frail, and I know his name and what he likes to eat and drink. I still don’t know if he made it. After the paramedics came, there was nothing else either of us could do.

These incidents remind us of life’s fragility. We will all die some day. If we’re lucky, it’ll be later rather than sooner, excepting some incapacitating or degenerative condition. The time we have, though, is all we have. Even granting reincarnation means a new cycle wipes the slate of memory—and along with it, experience, knowledge, and that hard-won sense of perspective.

It can sometimes seem art is not so important, given our tiny lives, burning through a spark of existence on a little blue marble swirling through the void. But it’s part of our attempts to make sense of the world, of death, of our search for meaning. It is, in the end, as important as everything else.

The Best Answer About Life and What Comes After From a Thoughtful Human Being

I spend considerable time every Mother’s Day missing mine. It is getting a little easier balancing that with remembering how lucky I was that she was so amazing.

But I couldn’t help sharing this small, profound moment from Keanu Reeves’s appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. It’s just a person who’s aware of our place in the universe and he tells the truth.

“What do you think happens when we die, Keanu Reeves?”

“… I know that the ones who love us will miss us.”

Creating Your Way Through Your Own Recurring Existential Crises for Fun and Profit (but Mostly Fun)

It started to become clear to me earlier in the week that I was due for a downturn in demeanor, questioning the very idea of being and wallowing just a bit in the absurdity of human endeavor. These things come and they go, but it can be annoying and occasionally incapacitating.

I try to remember Camus and embrace the dumb doom, but there’s a new thing gettign in the way of despair, and that’s this blog. At some point the posting became a habit, and I have to write another thing and usually make a picture to go with it, disconnected though they are. It’s strange, but also nice to have such a thing to fall back on in moments when it seems things aren’t worth doing, or that I don’t have any motivation.

It’s a good time to revisit the value of a daily habit, then. Because as I go to bed, and when I get up the next day, I’ll have done a small act of creation, and absurd as that is in the face of a vast and uncaring and impossibly old universe, it feels good to push the rock up the hill just a little bit.

Take a Moment, Just a Little One, and Realize Where You Are Is Totally Improbable

Your specific existence, at this time, in this place, on this world, is extraordinarily unlikely. It’s worth recognizing by sitting still, taking a slow, deep breath or two, and acknowledging to ourselves that we didn’t have to be here. It’s just a weird happenstance that the something that happened the day you were born turned out to be you.

What we do with our chance at life isn’t always in our control, nor is it always pleasant. It can be hard to do your practice, your thing.

But where there’s awareness of who and where you are, there’s another chance to make, to create—something to affirm that this particular instance of life is your own. It’s always better to take that chance. It enlivens us this mirroring our own existence by bringing something new into being.

Fighting Nihilism May Be a Neverending Battle With Yourself and the World

Nothing matters, everything is ultimately meaningless, all art is pointless effort.

So says a really powerful voice in my head that shows up with annoying frequency. I’m not going to tell you how to defeat that voice for good. I do not know.

But there’s a way out of any kind of defeatist spiral, and that is to understand that the opposite reaction is strangely as valid. It’s very human to observe and to create. It makes us who we are, in part. If it doesn’t matter whether or not we make art, we might as well keep making it because it speaks to our existential core.

It might be the case that the universe doesn’t care about our work. To be fair and frank, it almost certainly doesn’t, at all. But even if it doesn’t matter in an ultimate sense, it matters in the moment. It matters to us. And since we’re the ones who like it and are inspired by it, art has an arbitrary present value for both its creators and its experiencers.

Perhaps We Should Be Less Precious About Our Works

Ai Weiwei posted this video on his Instagram account this past week. It seems to show a man on his cell phone obliviously walking into Weiwei’s installation of porcelain sunflower seeds on a museum floor.


As with most of his posts, there is no comment from Ai about it. Reaction from fans and followers are almost universally horror struck. A few are cynical about it being staged. Is it faked? Maybe. I’m not sure it matters that much.

We spend a lot of time making things. We spend much less time thinking about their ephemerality. That should be part of how we consider the things of the world. Nothing is forever. If we embrace the impermanence of it all, I think we might be able to laugh at the absurdity of things like our bestowing some kind of sacred status on finished work.

This incident with the Weiwei piece, or even actively destructive things elsewhere, are some kind of connection with that existential absurdity. I feel like that’s a bigger statement than we can make on our own. Maybe we’d have more fun and make better things afterward by emphasizing the intangible meaning of this, rather than the perfection of craft or the object.

Only What We Can Do

What makes a difference between what matters and what doesn’t is caring. Seems like a small thing, perhaps. Caring that your work is worth doing, that you can make a difference in the world, and that existence has meaning lead you to be engaged in things that matter.

Subjectivity aside, as long as the work is done, the substance of it is a lesser consideration. It will be imbued with your own unique world view and passions. Does it matter? I’d say if you care, it does, and I’m not sure how you create anything for very long without doing so.

We have limited resources. Worthy causes abound. Just as we can only devote so much to helping those in need, we can only give so much to our creative work. We have to choose.

I’d say that it matters less what path or what form that work takes and more that we care about it. Keep caring.

This and That

No, not the Michael Penn song—although that still holds up, as does the album it’s from 1—but rather I’m thinking back on this flood of prescriptive, advices, maybe some platitudes? I’m not sure if this can go on forever. Maybe? If academia is to be taken at face value, perhaps there’s always something more to say about art and how it’s made.

I’m thinking ahead to 2018, what I want to accomplish, and, to my own chagrin, no small amount of fretting over what seems an ever-diminishing supply of time to do, well, anything.

I do find it interesting that you could always make this argument at any point in your life. It seems impossibly short when we look at it in the context of history.

I suppose the platitude here is to note that the time we have left is the time we have left. A tautology to mean it’s just as valid to consider there’s time enough to do some things, and that’s all anyone ever has. A pile slightly bigger for Stephen King doesn’t mean our own small pile is any more (or less!) pointless in the grand scheme of a vast universe.

We make sense of existence through our art, and thus meaning, and most of us find that more fulfilling and worthwhile than not making it.

If this all seems like the climax of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy original radio series—and its adapted scene in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe—with the eternally skeptical Ruler of the Universe, doubting not only his own existence but that of everyone else and their actions, I feel you. Optimism comes and goes, like pessimism, and motivation, and indolence.

We merely know it pleases us to make these things, and if it does, we should keep making our efforts. And do more tomorrow.