Discussing everyday existentialism: a few theories



I remember in high school AP English class, stumbling upon existentialist literature–Sartre and Camus, to be exact–and being utterly stunned.  Existentialism is the idea that the human being, is not defined by the world around him, rather, the world around him is defined by the individual.  “Existence before essence” is a key idea, meaning that your purpose is not pre-determined, and your nature should not be how others see it, but rather how you see it.  The process of freeing yourself from others’ influence is actually called “the existential angst,” and that state of freedom, like the buddhist state of enlightenment, is a life-long quest.

Sometimes, removing yourself from context in that way borders on the absurd. What if everyone says you murdered someone? You know you did not. But everyone says you did.  That’s Camus. What if you woke up one day to find you were a cockroach? You still know you’re you. But everyone else thinks you’re a cockroach.  That’s Kafka. Genius.

When I was a kid, I kept diaries, which were mostly childish babble and doodles, until about 14 or 15 years old, when the writing suddenly becomes coherent and shit suddenly becomes real.  At one point I say to myself, “people just walk in and out of your life, fuck you up or teach you something, and then disappear. Life takes them away, or they do it on their own accord. And you have no control over it. You’re just left to deal with fixing what they fucked up.”

I said that? How did I come up with that at such a tender age?  I mean, it’s true, but how did I know that?

Of course, I don’t think I crystallized that little nugget of knowledge all that well, because over the next few decades, I was still consistently surprised when people would disappear out of my life, but it’s still impressive that I came up with the idea, if I do say so myself.  Fortunately, what I did develop is this healthy sense of apathy towards things I cannot help.  Eh.  They’ll come back if they need me.  Then we’ll see.

Nowadays, I have this vision of people spinning around their orbits in a vacuum. Every once in a while, your orbit crosses someone else’s orbit, and you spin together. Then you come apart, and spin alone again.  Goes right along with what I wrote about people fucking you up and leaving your life… Does your orbit get dented when someone else’s momentarily comes in contact with it?

The more interesting question, though, is this: does their orbit get dented?  And how? How will you ever know that if they’re gone?  How will you prevent bad dents, and repeat good dents, so to say, if you don’t know the effect you had on others?

Plus, can you alter what effects you have on others, really?  Is that really under your control, to make this dent or that dent?  Contrary to what existentialists may believe, it is in the eye of the beholder.  And unfortunately, I care what people think, and especially if they like me.  I am far far far from being free of seeing myself through the eyes of others.  I am a canine person, you see.  Allow me to explain: I have this theory that there are dog people and cat people.  Cat people do what they think is best and don’t give it a second thought; they walk on their own, as the fable goes. Dog people are constantly seeking others’ approval.  When they don’t feel they get it, they experience major anxiety.  Usually, it takes serious training to control it, and the problem tends to recur, because, let’s face it, no one ever really changes their true nature.

Speaking of anxiety, let’s talk about not getting what you want. I’m talking about within any arena, be it business or personal.  I get so anxious thinking that I might not get what I want, that more often than not, I will pick an option I am sure of being able to “get” because I know that otherwise, the angst is just not worth it.  The major exception was medical school.  Other decisions have never been longshots, have been extensions of what I already know and natural conclusions, and lucky for me, so far, they’ve been good choices.  The few times things have not worked out or have gone out of my control – god help my little heart.  Unfortunately, usually, I’m also unable to do the right thing and simply look beyond the present, and/or remove myself from the situation.  If the situation removes itself from me, eventually I come to consider it a very lucky circumstance, even if I don’t see it that way at the moment.

But anxiety is a different type of angst.  Back to existentialism.  Are we aware of the dents we leave on other people’s orbits?  Someone told me once that I seem like a woman who knows herself, and that made me chuckle, because yes, I go around thinking that I know myself but then someone will bust out with some comment about me, and will leave me astonished that they see me that way.  “You’re the happiest person I know!” comes to mind, which is something someone said to me in high school, in the very English class where I discovered Camus and Sartre, right around the time when my soul was in its darkest place.  Goes to show.  You really DON’T know what dents you make on others.  And, honestly, working on controlling it?  Sounds like a fruitless task.

The true state of enlightenment, then, becomes when you know you make marks on others, but you have the power to accept that you do. Now that I’ve developed that apathy about people leaving me I mentioned, the power to accept my blazing trail is next.

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