In my art (and writing and life in general) I try to represent the randomness and absurdity of existence. (I usually fail at this, but trying is still fun.) Sometimes my attempts are humorous, often they are ugly, and sometimes—out of sheer chance—something NEAT happens. Absurdly NEAT-O!
I’m in my mid-40s now. I’ve lost some people. I’ve seen great human beings, funny and imaginative and warm (and sometimes a bit evil, but I don’t judge) who have lived lives, deeply affected those they were close to, but made no impact on society AT LARGE in any recognizable way—-and then they are GONE. Not superstars, never rich, not great philanthropists, not famous artists or writers or poets, just PEOPLE who came and went. They struggled and laughed. Some died way too early, some lived long enough to see most of their friends go before them. And I’d love to believe that they didn’t just DISAPPEAR. That SOMEHOW those great personalities are still out there in the universe, somewhere…
But I don’t see much evidence that the PERSON, the thoughts and desires and scars and smart-ass remarks and weird quirks that make up the INDIVIDUAL—I don’t see any convincing evidence that THESE THINGS survive the death of the body and brain. (I’m sorry, all you true believers, but the evidence is not compelling…)
However, the fact that life is finite doesn’t mean it can’t be LIVED while we are here and have a chance to live it.
Have you ever wondered whether or not someone LIVED A GOOD LIFE? Have you ever wondered if you are WASTING your time? Now ask yourself this: HOW DOES A CAT KNOW IF IT’S LIVED A GOOD LIFE? Is the life of one deer BETTER than the life of any other deer? What is a fulfilling OCTOPUS existence? Have the blades of grass in the front yard prepared for the REAPER as well as the grasses in the back yard have?
One could argue (pretty easily) that HUMANS have the intellectual capacity to CONSIDER these concepts (WHICH HUMANS MADE UP), whereas other creatures, like octopi and deer and cats and blades of grass, do not have the BRAIN CAPACITY. Whales and dolphins have some big brains, do THEY wonder if they’re wasting their potential?
My mom was killed in a car wreck when I was 14 years old.
She took my brother, one of his friends, and one of our aunts to go strawberry picking on the last day of school my freshman year of high school, and she never came home. Apparently, on the drive to the strawberry field, a man, coming off a double shift and traveling the opposite direction from my mom’s car, fell asleep at the wheel of his vehicle, drifted across the center line of the road, and collided with my mom, head on. She died instantly. My brother and aunt where hospitalized for several months and suffered through numerous surgeries to put them back together, but they survived. (The friend was, somehow, basically uninjured in the crash.) The driver of the other car, who hadn’t been drinking, wasn’t playing on a cell phone, who was just working hard to get enough money for his family to live a good life, broke his wrist in the collision. I don’t blame this guy AT ALL for what happened. It was a million to one shot that he happened to float over the center line just as my mom’s car was passing.
Random. If mom had left five minutes earlier, or later—two minutes even—she wouldn’t have been anywhere near where this hard-working man’s trajectory intersected with her line of travel. My life would have gone in a completely different direction. Her life would have KEPT GOING, for a while anyway.
I’m not trying to be maudlin, this was just one of the moments in my life that sent me in search of some HARD MEANING. Why? How? What’s the point of this? What MADE this happen? Nothing. Physics. Two fast moving, relatively heavy bodies ran into each other, and the soft parts in the middle got broken. No plan. Couldn’t have predicted this would happen. It just DID.
Now, I’ve learned to keep moving. (“Just keep swimming,” the little fish sings.) Bad things happen (often to good people, but also to bad people.) You live with it, or you don’t. I found ways to overcome that tragedy. I found ways to overcome many OTHER tragedies. I read a lot. I WRITE a lot, which helps me THINK THINGS THROUGH. I tried to remember how quickly things can change while I was raising my OWN kids. And I tried to have fun—with my wife, with my kids, with my family and friends—and to live a life that all the other blade of grass, and deer, and octopi (though probably not the cats) would be able to look back on and have a laugh.
HAVE FUN—even when it’s not appropriate.
Some folks have shown us the way: the Dadaists, the Situationists, the punks (early “punk” before it become a specific sound or fashion), Fluxus, the Absurdist playwrights and poets, and the many artists who just GO FOR IT (like Ray Johnson, Basquiat, Joan Miro, Roger Corman, Lloyd Kaufman, Ian Dury, Richard Brautigan…), these are the types of folks who really inspire me. They made shit. Not everyone liked what they made (even I don’t like EVERYTHING), but the point isn’t the individual artifact. Not everyone has the skill, drive, passion, temperament, education, or physical ability to be Michelangelo. FEW PEOPLE ARE PERFECT…
But CHOOSING to create anything in the face of a random, nonsensical, absurd universe, THAT is enough. Money, fame, a place in history—probably all worthwhile pursuits, if those are the goals you have—but if what you want is just to LIVE and have a good time, make some connections, forge a few lasting memories, THEN CREATIVE WORKS ARE A GREAT METHOD for achieving THESE goals. The MAKING part is fun, the satisfaction of FINISHING something (even something short or small or silly or awful—so bad it’s good, maybe?) is also pleasant, and the memories that can come from sharing the created work with others, maybe seeing them laugh or smile, maybe seeing them want to make something of their own… That’s WHERE IT’S AT…
The STRAIGHT CROWD will tell you that there are fighter jets overhead. To keep your balloon on a tether or you’ll drift into RESTRICTED AIRSPACE! And I say, fuck it… Wherever the wind blows…
—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Grand Hoohaa of The P.E.W.)