Jacques Derrida and the Meaning of Life

I just watched another one of the “School of Life” channel’s videos on philosophy on YouTube. This one was on Jacques Derrida. Their philosophy videos have been tremendously helpful as I continue struggling to figure out the whole “meaning of life” mess. I haven’t figured out what the meaning of life is obviously. I’m betting that damned near no one has, which was one of the things that I liked about the Derrida video. He talked about a state of mind known as “aporia” in Greek which describes puzzlement and confusion and having come to an impasse that makes drawing a definitive conclusion rather difficult. Good old Jacques considered this a mature state of mind. One would think that confusion and puzzlement would be how a beginning student feels, but to him it was the state that experts reach because of the complexity of the world and the many ways in which seeming opposites interact and rely on each other. 

This makes me recall my time studying Zen many years ago. The Zen masters said the goal was to achieve “beginner’s mind”. I wonder if aporia is the sort of thing that the Zen masters were talking about. 

The longer I try to figure out the meaning of life, the more that the simple answers seem insufficient. There are so many people out there that claim to know why we exist, what we’re supposed to be doing with our lives, why the universe was created, and all the answers to the big questions. But as soon as I start digging into their answers and solutions, they start to fall apart. There’s a little bit of truth to some of them, but there’s also a lot of nonsense involved. And then you go look at someone who has an opposing opinion that you don’t like and don’t want to agree with, and you find a little bit of truth in it amongst the nonsense. The “School of Life” said this is what Derrida called “deconstruction,” when you tear apart an idea and examine it to find where it fails and where it works by comparing it to its counterpart in the world of theories. 

It made me feel much better about having so much trouble figuring out the meaning of my life and of all life. It’s good to know that you don’t know a whole hell of a lot. Takes me down a few notches from my old attitude of being an arrogant prick. (Not that I can’t still be an arrogant prick from time to time.)

There was one tiny detail in the video that made me literally guffaw as I sat here in the back of the house in front of the TV. The number “42” popped up in the middle of an animation while they were talking about the meaning of life and the animated characters struggled to shove it off the screen. I got a huge kick out of the inside joke. 

For those of us who have read Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” trilogy, we know that “42” is the answer to “Life, the Universe, and Everything.” And the joke is that even though they know the answer, they don’t know the question. I suppose the question might be, “What was Jackie Robinson’s uniform number?”. Just kidding. But I’ve found that stupid joke funny for so long, that I actually had “42” engraved into the temple of my latest pair of glasses. So, to see it pop up in a YouTube video about a French philosopher tonight made me exceptionally thrilled. 

In conclusion, my search for the meaning of life goes on, and in the meantime, I’m less distressed about my aporia.

Memories

Memories. Where the hell did they all go? Most people remember the momentous events of their life, but mine are gone. I was talking to my friend Julie earlier. She was my girlfriend back in the ‘80s. We were even engaged for a little while. I was telling her that I can’t remember proposing to her, and that I can’t remember how or why we broke up. She remembers. She even apologized to me for being a bitch. I’m glad I don’t remember then I guess.

I don’t remember my wedding to Michelle. I don’t remember the weddings of my children. I don’t remember their births. What the fuck do I remember? I do just fine at trivia night. I can remember facts. I just can’t remember the events of my own life. I do remember the day Michelle died. That one’s seared in there pretty good. But I don’t remember Dad’s death. I remember the date because it was Valentine’s Day. I know I was in the hospital room when he died, but I don’t remember what hospital it was. I don’t remember who else was in the room. I don’t remember the moment he stopped breathing. 

I’ve got temporal lobe epilepsy. I’ve had it since January 2016 when I had my first grand mal seizure, which I also do not remember. I suppose that’s the reason that so many of the events of my life are inaccessible. I wonder if they are still there in my brain somewhere like a file on a hard drive where the catalog entry has been removed but the data itself hasn’t been overwritten. 

I smoked a lot of pot over the last few years. I know it affects short-term memory even though it’s also supposed to help epileptics. So, I decided to give up pot for good a few months ago in the vain hope that my brain would start working better. My life has started working better, and I’m saving a lot of money, but the brain… still borked. 

I took a lot of really cool vacations with Tracy when we were together. We went to some great concerts. I know this because I’ve got tons of pictures in Google Photos as proof. For awhile, I told myself that I’d gotten to see U2 in Dallas, but it turns out that I had stayed at the hotel while Tracy and Eliza went to the show because we only had the two tickets. I was just along for the ride. I found that out by reading an old journal entry. 

We went to Costa Rica one spring, Riviera Maya near Cancun in Mexico another spring, Orlando in yet another spring. I don’t remember a thing about any of these vacations. 

I do remember standing out in the front yard at the old house and staring at the constellation Orion in the winter. I remember taking our old English Setter Ollie out for walks in the woods. But I don’t remember taking him to the vet to be put down when he got old. 

I’ve got posters on my office wall for Casablanca, Gone With The Wind, and It’s a Beautiful Life, because they used to be my favorite movies of all time, but I don’t remember the plots much. I finally just remembered George Bailey’s name moments ago after trying to recall it last night as the poster caught my eye. 

Am I even the same Trent Douthat that I used to be if I don’t remember my own life? Who am I now? Same body, same name. Just minus the memories. Without the memories, am I even still friends with half of the people I know on Facebook? I don’t remember most of the times that we spent together. Am I still allowed to call them my friends if I can barely remember them?

I want my god-damned memories back. Fuck you, epilepsy! What did I do to deserve this?

Circling the Block

I walked around the block several times today. To get the most steps, I walk around the outside edge of the block, which necessarily involves crossing the street several more times than just walking along the inside edge of the block. 

I start the Samsung Fitness app on my smart watch and head out the back door into the 70-degree sunshine and head down the driveway on the side of the house to the front sidewalk. For a city under quarantine, there always seems to be someone out everytime I go. Once it was a lady with her big fluffy white collie. Another time it was a couple of chubby 20-something girls out for a workout together, alternating walking and jogging down the street, with their ponytails flopping as they went. Then there were the parents out for a walk with their elementary-age children who were on their scooters and bikes.

I cross the street in front of my house and walk straight toward the neighbor’s front door, and take a sudden right turn at the sidewalk. I worry that she sees me coming towards her house and that I’m freaking her out. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll find a better place to cross the street so she doesn’t think that the scruffy old man from across the street is coming to get her.

From there I walk south toward Harry Truman’s house. Cecil’s big old mutt barks a greeting at me as I go by. Poor Cecil’s front yard looks as forlorn as my back yard. Tufts of wild garlic coming up in patches here and there, but mostly a thin expanse of dead brown grass that reminds me too much of the hair on the top of my head. 

At the corner of Truman Road, the house right across the street from Harry’s is having some remodeling done. The carpenter just leaves his van parked along the curb with the doors open as he shuttles back and forth for tools. I give him a wave every time I go by, but I keep my distance. I don’t want us passing the ‘rona around. 

I make another right turn and step across the broken beer bottle in the middle of the street as I head west down Truman. The quality of the sidewalk decreases markedly. No one has a house facing the street here. It’s just a couple of side yards and a driveway between Delaware and Union. Rollaway dumpster sitting there waiting for the trash man to come. 

I cross the street over the broken curbs at Union and Truman and hang my third right turn. Lots of houses facing the street here, but all the fancy brass plaques embedded in the sidewalk with their historical facts are gone. Hell, the sidewalk itself is mostly gone. It’s not even concrete. Just a patchwork of bricks that is overgrown with weeds in a lot of places. The pedestrians are gone too. I guess they prefer to violate the quarantine on Delaware Street. 

Honestly, I expected a lot more garbage laying around, but there’s only a couple of empty soda bottles and a couple of chunks of broken mirror. 

The houses get nicer again as I get closer to the Waldo Avenue end of the block. Maybe I can thank the Restoration Branch church folks for that since they used to own the school a half-block farther west on Waldo. 

Union jogs ever so slightly west at Waldo, and I’m tempted to cross the intersection diagonally northeast instead of making the ever so slight angle for a regular north crossing. Right turn #4 and I’m heading down Waldo back to Delaware. The houses get real nice here. The real-estate clan, the McClains live in 2 of the houses at the next intersection, and they are fully remodeled and gorgeous pieces of Victorian architecture. Makes me a tad jealous and creates a feeling of inferiority because I haven’t done anything since the new roof and paint job on my joint 2 years ago. 

Right turn #5, and I head three houses down Delaware crossing Farmer at the T-intersection it makes. And then I take right turn #6 and head back up my driveway and back to my back porch, where the dogs greet me like I’ve been gone a lot longer than 9 minutes. 

I hit the “finish workout” button on my watch and go inside. Time to plop my ass back down in front of my laptop and get back to work.