June 23, 2020: Grimace at the Absurd

It’s shortly after noon, and I’m part way done with eating a mandarin. My room is getting hot because the sun is finally out in Seattle. It won’t take long before I’m begging for fall and hoodie weather to return, but this sun is long overdue.

I feel ugly inside. This is one of those times where the ugly feeling isn’t directed at anything in particular. If I give the feeling a voice it becomes critical of me, or it says ugly feelings about those around me. This is more of a super-ego type of voice. It shows everything wrong with the world. But it is not without purpose. The best thing I can think of doing is digging up an old memory.
The memory is of a picture. I think the picture is gone, or it will be once my Facebook is permanently deleted in a matter of days.
The year is 2014. And it’s probably early May. I’m a sergeant in the army, and I’m on leave, visiting my hometown of El Paso after spending a year in South Korea. I am with a good friend and fellow soldier having a drink at a chicken-wings-and-drinks franchise that features attractive waitresses in tight shirts. I am wearing a ridiculous shirt: a black T-shirt that I bleach tie-dyed while visiting friends in California the previous week. Moreover, I had translucent yellow wayfarers clipped to my shirt that looked like the conceivably douchiest possible take on Hunter S. Thompson. The amount of cringe I feel makes the thought of seppuku seem a reasonable alternative to bearing the knowledge that I wore that outfit in pride. And the pain is really because it was more than an outfit. That outfit represented who I really was at the time.
The friend sitting beside me was and is successful in the traditional sense; he is now in law school at Georgetown University. In the picture, he is holding a gin and tonic while I have a beer. The look on his face is an irritated, albeit friendly, eye roll. He really liked me. We were good friends before I left Korea. And fortunately for me, he could see past whatever it was I was doing at the time.
At the time I didn’t understand the meaning of my face in that picture. I really didn’t understand who I was or what I felt. My life had become meaningless in the army, so I took to psychedelics—which explains the bleach tie-dyeing in California the week prior. What I was left with was a world that looked totally absurd. Nothing really made sense. Life in the military seemed nothing more than an arbitrary set of bureaucratic rules and ceremony that I had to tiptoe, limbo, and dance through.
My world had become covered in and then melted by, acid, stripping everything of its essence and structural integrity—both as a metaphor and literally in that I had taken LSD a week prior which was giving me a new (and dubious) perspective on life. I hadn’t yet read any of Camus’ work, but I knew at the time that what I was facing the absurd.

Since existence itself has no meaning, we must learn to bear an irresolvable emptiness. This paradoxical situation, then, between our impulse to ask ultimate questions and the impossibility of achieving any adequate answer, is what Camus calls the absurd. Camus’s philosophy of the absurd explores the consequences arising from this basic paradox. (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) Link

I was just beginning to learn to cope with the absurdity of life—the fact that there is no one true meaning to it all. I began by pursuing my conception of “the sublime”, which I found in esoteric works like Crowley, CG Jung, and by psychedelic tripping. I’m not really sure what “the sublime” is, but I was chasing it at the time. And when I felt like I was in the presence of the sublime, I had a knowing, shit-eating grin. I might have been chasing ghosts, but I could tell when I was getting closer to something. Perhaps I was searching for a lost paradise—the comforting garden of religious belief that I once held.
But my chase for the sublime lead to to a place where I confronted the absurd. And when I looked at the absurd, I grimaced. In that picture of me with my friend at the bar that I was previously describing, I was grimacing. I only realized this now, over six years later. That grimace portrayed the essence of my character, my persona, my guiding myth. My face was halfway between a wince and a smile, somewhere between laughter and disgust. I thought I looked cool, but now I see the pain in my own eyes, pain that I couldn’t feel at the time.
I’m a long way from the man I was then, thankfully. I have an idea of how things could have turned out much worse, so I’m thankful that I made it here from there, because that was a lot of ground to cover.
I wonder what face I am wearing now. —faces, I wonder what faces I am wearing now.
It’s shortly after 10pm now. I’m dealing with another bout of I-wish-I-was-rich-and/or-famous. It started when I picked up Camus earlier. I felt an all too familiar untruth: “I would be happy if I were someone else.” Unfortunately this is a logical impossibility. I would not be happy if I were someone else, because I cannot be someone else. But I still can’t help feeling envious of Camus’ wit and his success.
A quote comes to mind: “Now is the envy of all of the dead.” World of Tomorrow by Don Hertzfeldt
I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing at 10pm on a Tuesday. I guess the answer is, “Living, breathing, experiencing. Listening to my stomach and heart.” I could should have spent more time cleaning.
I feel like I am on the verge of seeing and appreciating the beauty of the everydayness of my life. Every grain of sand contains within it a universe—supposedly. But I’m stuck striving for more.
My fear?
Stasis and stagnation.

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