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David and Grillades | 2017 | Four to Six


There is nothing worth more than this day.  

-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The Neuroses of Accidental Lives

Let this matter

I had been listening to podcasts, culminating in a session of repeated TED Talks so I would not feel guilty blindly deleting them. I have a tendency to download them with good intentions and then listen instead to conversations about monsters and embarrassing personal stories.

The man who created Story Corps said that the stories show that people are, on balance, good.

My MP3 player is nearly dead, so I dart into the corner to charge it, then ask Amber whether she thinks people are actually good because it seems like a good point of discussion.

I find the words thick in my throat. I am surprised, since I considered this a more philosophical than immediate question. I start crying and do not stop for half an hour, maybe forty-five minutes, while I try to explain myself, having not realized until I started that I might need to.

I don't think people are inherently good or bad. I don't think we are anything beyond accidental.

She points out that subjective terms like "good" and "bad" are a human construction. But we are a cosmic accident. There is no nobility or grace in our existence. We are a curious assemblage of amino acids and luck, one whose grip on this planet is waning. The universe does not care one way or other that life exists, because the universe isn't capable of caring. Life did not spark here out of some moral imperative.

The last time I saw my therapist, I confessed that I had been using the eventuality of the sun going nova as a reason to be "cheerfully nihilistic," in that nothing I did mattered in the slightest, so I might as well enjoy myself in my limited time. If I write a world-changing book, if I am a miser, if I become enormously fat, if I spend my life trying to plumb the Marianas Trench, none of it matters. I will die, humanity will die, the Earth will die. We are not clever or united enough to get off this planet, to infest the stars. Even if I did, the ultimate fate of the universe is not conducive to existence, first for life, then for all matter. We mill about our coffin, soon enough (in an astronomical sense) to be pushed in the crematorium. Since I mean nothing, since we mean nothing, I might as well pretend I'm happy because my misery is equally meaningless and joy is the delusion that will keep me from self-destruction.

My nihilism is less satisfying tonight, because I want to mean something and find it impossible. Amber points out that I mean something to her. I want to matter to her, but this is lovers affirming the importance of the other to a world composed of two. A few hundred years from now, no one will know I existed (aside from, possibly, all the companies who use my quotes to sell their programs and consumer goods).

Is this a mid-life crisis? I am about at the right age for it, give or take a decade. Instead of, as Amber put it, getting a "penis car," I am trying to scrape out a meaning to existence, as so many have before, and am coming up empty. I see what others have decided, mostly Jesus, propagation, and abdication of thinking further of the cold, cooked Brussel sprouts before me because there might be ice cream sundaes later and isn't that what really matters? None of it is true for me. I am here, not quite at the end of the world, but aware that it will come and everything will be eradicated. I don't anticipate my species lasting to the extinction of this sun, let alone the heat death of the universe. One way or other, it all ends and there is no exit I see.

We are born, curiously. We live for a time. We die. Then, sometime later, everything else follows suit.

There is a theory that we are effectively alone in the universe, not because there are no close neighbors but because their civilizations committed suicide before we rose or will not appear until we have died off. Either way, the timing was off and the technology that would allow communication, let alone visits, was never created.

I am clear to Amber that I am not depressed in saying any of this, just overwhelmingly sad. I know how depression feels. It mutes me, drawing me into myself, shutting me away beneath bedsheets. It is all aching darkness. This is different, because I want to talk, I just cannot stop crying while I do it.

I've yet to meet the Devil's Advocate who can convince me there is a way to last. I have science's compass in hand and it points toward oblivion.

I am not good because I am not actually anything. I try to behave by a moral code, try not to hurt others - and I detest those who behave otherwise - but none of this makes me good because there is no universal good. There is only what largely hairless great apes that somehow evolved on a speck of dust in an arm of the Milky Way have decided is goodness. Our perception is relevant no further than our minds.

I behave in a way that I deem virtuous because I so badly do not want to be hurt. I am all raw nerve and the wrong word or movement can ping around inside of me. I treat others how I wish to be treated, which I would argue is enlightened self-interest because I want someone to contradict me. I was someone to look at me, at my actions, and tell me I am good. That I did good (not well, good).

I do these things even though I conclude, on balance, it is pointless. Those I help or hurt will die all the same, followed after by the whole of the species, then planet, then solar system, galaxy, and finally universe. No matter how I feel I have decreased the sadness of the world, it doesn't last a breath.

I do these things because they are pointless and they let me pretend that they aren't, that what I do today will echo into the void after the heat death of the universe, knowing it cannot and even the void will cease to be one distant day.

There doesn't need to be a universe. Nothing mandates existence. Scientists at CERN announced that the universe should not exist. In the Big Bang, the same amount of matter and antimatter should have been created with the same force, instantly obliterating. But, for reasons we do not presently understand, that didn't happen. There was a slight, inexplicable imbalance toward matter, toward something, so everything could begin. For no discernable reason, like life aeons later, intelligence thereafter, existence came into being.

Then there is Ingrid Michaelson covering REM's Nightswimming. Then there is transcendent beauty, the sort of thing artists struggle their lives to create because we need to be the conduit of beauty. We cannot create beauty, only provide vessels in which beauty can better inhabit. The universe is vast and incapable of caring, particularly not about the neuroses of accidental lives, but then there is Ingrid Michaelson singing. There is Lolita. There is love in its splendid forms. I need this to mean something. I can be completely pointless and my every contribution forgotten, but beauty has to matter.

Love, beauty, are not distraction from the abyss. They imply the abyss can't win. We will die, specifically and collectively, but maybe not all the beauty that was given imperfect form through us.

I want to believe it all matters somehow. That there is something finer, indestructible. I want to believe the deck is not wholly stacked against not just us, but against existence. In the massive creation of everything, let enough of something remain to counteract the vast nothingness. Let something can survive so a good man can another day.

Soon in Xenology: Apocalypse. Imbalance. Meaning. More Susan and David.

last watched: The Good Place
reading: A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares
listening: They Might be Giants

David and Grillades | 2017 | Four to Six

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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