I’m currently reading “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams, and finally enjoying it as it is meant to be enjoyed. For some reason, I’d started this book twice before and didn’t manage to get through it. Why this was so is mysterious to me because a) I rarely have trouble getting through books and b) it is very readable and hilarious and I have no idea why I ever set it down before.
Now, the whole bit about the Ultimate Question – to anyone who hasn’t read the book, this is a mysterious question about Life, the Universe and Everything – is brilliant, because we never actually know what the question is, although we’re told that the answer is “forty-two.” Why do I think this is brilliant? Because I think that actually both the question and the answer are absolutely useless.
I’ve never really pondered “the meaning of life,” or I haven’t phrased it in that way at least. Sure, I wonder often enough about my own life and the lives of my friends and loved ones, but ultimately, I really don’t think that we each have a single, all-consuming purpose in life, nor do we need an all-encompassing meaning.
No, I believe that life is a series of stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and others, and the only meaning that really matters is that which we give it – one day, it might be the delicious taste of a square of bitter chocolate after a long shift at work, and another it might be the intensity of love that pours out of us as we watch a loved one die in the hospital.
Life is fluid, the Universe is unfathomable, and Everything is what we make of it.
Sometimes, it all comes down to absolute nothingness. There is no reason to actions, no reason for behavior, no reason for thoughts. Sometimes, it all comes down to nothing, at all, whatsoever.
Despair sets in as the weeks go by. Despair coupled with longing and yearning for something else, something different, something old and familiar rather than new.
Not all the time. No, some moments are full of their own fierce emotion, their own wonderful, eventful, meaningful something. Those are the moments for which all is worthy, all is important, all is enduring and good. Those are the moments when things make sense, passions burning brightly, thoughts whirling in an endless stream of new ideas, new names and faces, new imagined scenery.
But sometimes, when the limbs are suffused with a weariness beyond measure, when the thoughts are sluggish and illogical, when the very tips of the fingers don’t wish to respond to a thing in the world… then, it all comes down to nothing, and the vast void that fills the future is frightening.
In acting classes, there are always those extremely odd sessions where the teacher tells everyone to start speaking gibberish. I have to say that apart from being one of the sillier exercises a person can endure, it is also extremely interesting. I know that it might sound strange to say that a bunch of people standing around and making noises that are reminiscent of two-year olds’ babble is interesting, but it is.
Let me try to explain my point. People communicate by tone of voice and facial expression as well as by speech. For instance, a person can say the word “sure” and mean a few different things. They might mean “sure, yeah, right” in a sarcastic way, they might mean “sure” as in “okay,” or they might mean “sure” as in “oh, alright…” The only way we can distinguish between the possibilities is by the tone of voice and the expression used, as well as the body language the person uses while he or she is speaking.
The exercise of speaking gibberish is fascinating, because people can actually enact whole scens of love, friendship, anger or betrayal by not using any real words at all, but rather by using body language, facial expressions and tone of voice to make their meaning come across. It’s a terriffic exercise, and even though it’s hard to let yourself go and make pointless sounds for an hour, there’s a catharsis in being able to throw away all dignity whatsoever in such a performance.
Ever since I read a silly little-girl book that had an explanation about who Emily Dickinson was, I’ve liked her. I only read a few of her poems back then, but I loved the idea of her. Not only was her name beautiful, but she had a certain strange charm about her – a recluse, misunderstood, hated having people look at her, wrote all the time… She was an appealing mystery.
When I went on my college-trip, I had the great pleasure of taking a class at Occidental College in Los Angeles. The class I chose was a class about Emily Dickinson’s poetry. The poem we studied was this, number 202:
“Faith” is a fine invention
For Gentlemen who see!
But Microscopes are prudent
In an Emergency!
The amount of discussion and conversation that went into the quotation marks around the first word, faith, was astounding. We spent an hour, a whole hour, on the meanings that can be derived from that. Perhaps she meant faith as a concept, perhaps she meant to be ironic or sarcastic about the meaning of faith, perhaps she simply wanted to make sure it was clear she meant the word faith as its own thing. Emily Dickinson usually has underlined words in her poems, odd capitalisation in the middle of sentences, strange and mysterious punctuation – all these things are great for beginning discussions in class.
Ms. M gave me a complete set of Emily Dickinson’s poems as a gift after I raved about that class. Her poems are beautiful. I consider myself now a fan.
The meaning of life is to find the meaning of life, so when you’ve found the meaning of life, you don’t have a meaning to your life anymore.
The truth, as far as I’m concerned anyway, is that there is no meaning to life other than what we make of it. Life is something we’re in all the time, we cannot step outside of it and look at it objectively, finding in it some grand pattern that is the meaning of it.
The meaning of life is your first kiss, your first love, the way your mother looked at you in second grade when you were on stage, the way your brother helped push you on the swing, the way you feel in your best friend’s arms, your favorite coffee brand, your habits. The meaning of life is how you cried when your grandfather died, how you withstood the pain of your arm breaking, the way you toiled to get a good grade, a good job. The meaning of life is your dog barking when you come home, the trivial anger at someone shoving in front of you in line, the way you rant about the things that you’re passionate about and the way you save money every month to be able to pay rent. The meaning of life is LIVING it. What else could it be?