Little Thoughts

4 Categories

In yet another installment of “Josiah Thinks The Unbearable Lightness of Being Was/Is Pure Genius,”

“We all need someone to look at us. We can be divided into four categories according to the kind of look we wish to live under.

The first category longs for the look of an infinite number of anonymous eyes, in other words, for the look of the public…The second category is made up of people who have a vital need to be looked at by many known eyes…Then there is the third category, the category of who need to be constantly before the eyes of the person they love…And finally there is the fourth category, the rarest, the category of people who live in the imaginary eyes of those who are not present.” pp. 269-270

I’m in the fourth category. Case in point: continuing to play Let’s Grow Old Together.


My Life is a Collection of Short Stories

I am reading two books right now. Miranda July’s No one belongs here more than you and Tom Robbins’ Skinny Legs and All.

No one… is a collection of short stories.  Each one peers into the life of the character for 10 pages at most, capturing an interaction they’ve experienced with another person, often an inappropriate or fantastical one.  I take a break after reading each one.  Consuming several in a row feels disingenuous, like I’ve chewed up and spit out their life in my quest for the next one.  But it’s nice.  Real nice.  Each story delivers something real, pure, honest about our interactions with each other.  There is no fat.  After reading ten stories, I’ve understood the motivations, joys, fears (albeit a tiny fraction of them) of ten protagonists.

Contrast this with Skinny Legs… in which I’ve only begun to understand (albeit very well) the life of one or two main characters.  I work for my understanding.  And what if I want immediate gratification? If I have ten minutes to spend with Ellen Cherry, the protagonist of Skinny Legs and All, I may come in at a boring part of the book.  Where is the joy in that?  I believe that at the end of it all, I will, however, know her very well.

These are competing interests.  I must emphasize competing, as opposed to just differing.  It is not simply that one can have a taste for short stories some of the time and novels at others.  I have, on a couple of occasions, wanted to continue reading the novel, but settled for the short story in the interests of time.  Miranda July is actively taking my attention away from Tom Robbins.

Let’s drop the shoddy metaphor.  I decided today that you can think of people in two different categories: those whose lives are novels, and those whose lives are a collection of short stories.  My friend Nicole said that other day that, since moving to Seattle, she has felt like she is on some sort of life hiatus, like a permanent vacation.  I feel similarly, though I had never thought of it in those terms before.  Our lives, I would claim, are like a collection of short stories at this stage.  Vacations are temporary escapes.  One day you’re water-skiing on Lake Wahanawaka, and the next, you’re downing shots of tequila with Chevy Chase at La Casa Igualidad.  This is allowed on vacation.  You don’t go to work every day.  You don’t have the same morning routine.  Each day is a story, without much relevance to your long term life.

I know that this is a temporary state, as vacations are understood to be.  I wonder about returning to work.  I wonder when I will need to.  I wonder if it is good to be in this state of permanent temporality. I wonder when mine will be over. I wonder if I should cut it short, or appreciate it.

Appreciating each day as new and fresh always seemed to be a privilege to me, but what if you want to make a bigger, more meaningful, more extensive point?

Relevant Excerpts from “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”

“The idea of eternal return is a mysterious one, and Nietzsche has often perplexed other philosophers with it: to think that everything recurs as we once experienced it, and that the recurrence itself recurs ad infinitum!

“Putting it negatively, the myth of eternal return states that a life which disappears once and for all, which does not return, is like a shadow, without weight, dead in advance, and whether it was horrible, beautiful, or sublime, its horror, sublimity, and beauty mean nothing. […]

“If every second of our lives recurs an infinite number of times, we are nailed to eternity as Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross. It is a terrifying prospect. In the world of eternal return the weight of unbearable responsibility lies heavy on every move we make. […]

“The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to earth, the more real and truthful they become. […]

“Conversely, the absolute absence of a burden causes man to be lighter than air.. and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant.

“What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”

I watch myself make the same choices and mistakes, learn the same lessons, and act as if I failed to grasp them in an eternally significant way, as if I’d not learned the same lessons hundreds of times before, over and over.  Should I take what I value and act as if it is eternally important? Half the time I say yes, and act rightly, half the time, I say no, and act out, relearn the same lesson, selfishly.

This contrast, between eternal meaning and the idea of life as fleeting, to be lived in the moment, of  gravity vs. solipsism has not yet been settled upon in my mind.  I feel like one must either decide that everything is eternally meaningful and act under that weight with consistency, or decide that everything is meaningless and accept the frightening absence of solidity to be truly satisfied with ones actions.

You can’t decide you want something badly enough to fight for it, just to, in a moment of inexplicable lightness, turn against everything you’ve fought for, because “What does it all mean anyway?”  You also can’t throw your dreams out because “What does it all mean anyway?” only to long for a life lived meaningfully at the end of it all.

You’ve got to choose and act accordingly, consistently, if you want to end up satisfied with the life you’ve lived.  This is not a time for balance, but for a firm and absolute decision.