Endings allow for light-hearted cynicism and self-reflection
The end of anything is perhaps as inevitable as the beginning of another—everything, at some point or another, comes to an end. Be it natural or forced, ends are one of the most inevitable things we can always count on. They’re either a savior from monotony, a respite from misery or a source of grief for something long gone and that we once held dear. Endings are as much a real part of our world and who we are as perhaps the world itself. And so, as we enter the last month, preparing ourselves for the end of 2015, we’re all left asking ourselves questions that obviously concern no one but us: What does this end mean for us?
We’ll first regret the chances we didn’t take, the moments we let slip by and the things we did poorly. We’ll then long for all of those so much we ache from it. We might reminisce a little, get teary eyed and attempt to find a silver lining. Some grand answer within the cobwebs of time passed that’ll give us perspective, while what we really want is some peace. And finally, we’ll find some lost semblance of rigor within us that’ll inspire us to make the most ill-fated of decisions: We’ll make resolutions for the new year.
If I had one wish for the world, it would be that we lived and made choices for today, instead of the days to come, the years to come, the time to come or someday. “Someday” is a lie we tell ourselves to convince us of our own immortality, one that doesn’t exist. All it does is lull our unmotivated selves into a false sense of change that we convince ourselves will happen, while we do nothing to make it happen. The self-help ridiculousness that we constantly hear about “seizing the day” that we joke about, is suddenly not very amusing when we realize life has passed us by while we were busy sneering at it. The joke is on us then, and we’re the sad punch line too.
If you have known or loved Charles Bukowski for even one lost moment, then it is enough of a concrete reason to peruse John Fante’s “Ask the Dust.” Hailed as Bukowski’s God, Fante pens the tale of a man who spent so much time spinning and weaving the fantasies in his head that all his waking moments slipped past him, utterly and forever wasted. It is a story of each and every single one of us who fails to meet the impossible expectations and standards we ourselves set. Arturo Bandini, the protagonist, is caught perpetually in the struggle between comparing his greatest achievements and gravest failures. He isn’t cognizant enough to see that all he had to do to live the life he wanted was to simply leave the crevices of his mind and the self torture we inflict in there and live it. Reality sometimes is far kinder than the hell we orchestrate inside of us.
We hide out from life sometimes because of the possibility and immensity of suffering it presents. By constantly enveloping ourselves in bubble wrap, we’re convinced that we’ll somehow manage to skirt around pain; perhaps we will, but we’ll also avoid living too. Viktor E. Frankl’s “Man's Search for Meaning,” does well to rid us of that notion by showing us that we cannot avoid the onslaught of suffering in our daily lives, but we can choose to find meaning in it instead. Frankl simply reminds us of the psychological freedom we possess to determine who we are, how we perceive the world and what we allow to shape us. He may be churning out a lot of the same messages we hear from anyone determined to save the world, but if he can survive the Holocaust and still manage to find meaning in the world and life, then I imagine to some extent, we can too.
There are those of us who are too far gone sometimes, who have lost their way irrevocably. Words and a desire for change alone does not suffice when you always seem to be teetering on the brink of madness. Bukowski is one such crazed mind that always seems to resonate. In “Tales of Ordinary Madness” he makes you want to quit your job and run away from home and perhaps that is exactly what some of us need. Great fiction can inspire in us a rage and fire that was lying in wait for far too long. Bukowski, with his loathing of people and disdain of everything the world becomes around us, does just that. In this selection of short, albeit extremely angry tales, he slaps you into remembering the rebel, the cynic and the mocking asshole inside of you.
“This birth thing. And this death thing. Each one had it's turn. We entered alone and we left alone. And most of us lived lonely and frightened and incomplete lives. An incomparable sadness descended up on me. Seeing all that life that must die. Seeing all that life that would first turn to hate, to dementia, to neuroses, to stupidity, to fear, to murder, to nothing—nothing in life and nothing in death.” Bukowski shocks, offends and wounds us so masterfully that something inside still howls and stands up, bleeding, to prove him otherwise. He attacks us where he knows it’ll hurt, and he does so with the smug knowledge that most of us will have buried the slight by tomorrow. I bet he smiles on the inside when some of us still remember to fight, to live and to make choices today, not tomorrow, not next year and not someday, but today.Subscribe to The Daily Cardinal Newsletter