Performative Existentialism

About this time every year I get to Beckett in the curriculum. And about this time every year, after pulling up all the questions, I trudge home and allow myself to be 19 again. I allow myself to pull back and enter into it all from another perspective, with the same kind of vulnerability I had the first time I gave up what I thought I knew.

It broke me then.

Then, Grandpa said there’s no God in the university’s philosophy. But there are so many gods.

Sometimes skimming the surface provides new leaps of thought. It’s what the amateur brings to the table: I tell students to be mindful that they are entering a discussion that has been taking place for a long time, but there is that private space where it’s fine not to enter the discussion at all – it is fine to sit with the present moment and the question present without without seeking a verification – or a corrective. Without seeking an answer.

That’s the hard part.

Someone – so many someones – have had thought these thoughts before,
written eloquently – or impressively – about them.
That fact makes them no less significant.
For me now.

I have a hard time sitting in front of a puzzle without trying to solve it. Don’t we all mindlessly reach down to fit the shapes together? At the doctor’s office, I’ve seen 60 year-old men slide the wooden pieces of a children’s puzzle into place.

If I can solve the puzzle, I can pin down a truth. I can have expectations. I can expect other people to behave accordingly. Puzzle-solving as an act of prayer.

There’s nothing new here. I know that.

In school we line up after recess. We sit in assigned seats. We face each other in a pleasing circle, and sometimes we hold hands. We make adjustments. Palms facing forward or backward out of habit, are silently negotiated. We are laser-cut pieces that can flip and turn: even in our rigidness we can fit so neatly into one another’s hands.

But sometimes there is a painful beauty in risking it all, trusting ourselves to improvise: upright and unbalanced, throwing our arms around one another in praise of Chaos.


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