“The real question is not whether life exists after death. The real question is whether you are alive before death.” Osho
Ernest Becker, the quintessential optimist and sometimes life of the party had a thing about worms. It’s possible that he was also an avid fisherman or gardener, although there was no mention of that in his biography.
One of my favorite of his worm quotes is from a book he wrote that won the Pulitzer Prize back in 1974:
“What does it mean to be a self-conscious animal? The idea is ludicrous, if it is not monstrous. It means to know that one is food for worms. This is the terror: to have emerged from nothing, to have a name, consciousness of self, deep inner feelings, an excruciating inner yearning for life and self-expression and with all this yet to die. It seems like a hoax, which is why one type of cultural man rebels openly against the idea of God. What kind of deity would create such a complex and fancy worm food?”
Reflecting on this has got me through many hours at the lake when the trout weren’t biting. But I think David Gerrold said the same thing in a better way: “Life is hard. Then you die. Then they throw dirt in your face. Then the worms eat you. Be grateful it happens in that order.”
Food for thought.
“In this short Life that only lasts an hour
How much – how little – is within our power”
So I’m out early this morning taking pictures and I pull up to this horse that seems to be deep in thought. I talk to him to try to get him to face the camera but he ignores me, so I took one of him thinking about whatever it is he’s thinking about.
Then he turns to me and says: “You,” he said, “are a terribly real thing in a terribly false world, and that, I believe, is why you are in so much pain.”
How did he know?
I was standing by the water thinking of nothing in particular when a guy pulls up and asks me if I saw a white duck. I said no, why? And he said: I’m looking for him. At that point I knew it would be just another ordinary day in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
The rest of the morning was spent in a fog, literally, only now my thoughts went from thinking of nothing to thinking of nothingness. I waited over an hour for the sun to come out and took a few photos of nothing.
I was about to leave with nothing when I thought of something Jean-Paul Sartre wrote in Being and Nothingness: “It is therefore senseless to think of complaining since nothing foreign has decided what we feel, what we live, or what we are.”
Note to self: don’t buy that book and think of complaining that it’s too hard to understand. My uncle warned me about that almost forty years ago.
“Mother used to say that however miserable one is, there’s always something to be thankful for.
And each morning, when the sky brightened and light began to flood my cell, I agreed with her.” Albert Camus
Willoughby? Maybe its wishful thinking nestled in a hidden part of a man’s mind, or maybe it’s the last stop in the vast design of things.
Or perhaps, for a man like Mr. Gart Williams, who climbed on a world that went by too fast, it’s a place around the bend where he could jump off. Willoughby? Whatever it is, it comes with sunlight and serenity, and is a part of The Twilight Zone.
“A kind of joy came upon him, as if borne in on a summer breeze. He dimly recalled that he had been thinking of failure-as if it mattered. It seemed to him now that such thoughts were mean, unworthy of what his life had been.
There was a softness around him, and a languor crept upon his limbs. A sense of his own identity came upon him with a sudden force, and he felt the power of it. He was himself, and he knew what he had been.”
John Williams, Stoner
Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre has been called the bible of existentialism. It’s a long, difficult book to read, and depending on who you ask, it’s either a work of pure genius, complete nonsense or both.
It might be worthwhile to look at some other things that Jean-Paul Sartre wrote in order to understand existentialism and his perspective in general.
For example, he said: “All I really want to do is go to the book store, drink coffee and read.” Back in his day book stores didn’t even have Wi-Fi, so you know he was serious.
Another thing that’s crucial to understanding the man and his philosophy is this: “I do not think therefore I am a mustache.” Well, obviously.
And possibly the most important thing he ever said is: “Three o’clock is always too late or too early for anything you want to do.”
This is especially true of most outdoor photography unless you plan to shoot wide open, convert to black and white, and call it something obscure like being and nothingness.
Sometimes people want to know your story, it could be a partner, a friend or an employer. Growing up in New York, I learned at an early age that the best answer to this is usually: whatareya writing a book?
But sometimes that may not be in your best interest. As anyone who goes into therapy discovers, questions are asked about your story not to find out who you are, but to find out who you think you are. This is a good time to be as honest as possible since you’re paying them, but spilling your guts to a complete stranger is not easy.
The thing is, our stories are fragments of memory and imagination, they are only as real as the ones in the book on our nightstand, and still we sometimes hesitate to tell them. Depending on who’s asking, we may skip over some parts and even leave whole chapters out completely.
In Notes from Underground, Fyodor Dostoevsky writes a rambling memoir of a bitter, isolated man, which is depressing and at times funny, sublime and yet ridiculous. He writes:
“Every man has some reminiscences which he would not tell to everyone, but only to his friends. He has others which he would not reveal even to his friends, but only to himself, and that in secret.
But finally there are still others which a man is even afraid to tell himself, and every decent man has a considerable number of such things stored away. That is, one can even say that the more decent he is, the greater the number of such things in his mind.”
OK, that is a bit depressing, how about this one by Ken Kesey: “To hell with facts! We need stories!” Let’s go with that.