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Archive for the ‘Everyday Existentialism’ Category

Positing on positivity! Get it? You’ll laugh later.

By Heather Loney

[Read part one of this article here]

Thinking positively, for a surly naysayer like myself, can be exhausting. In fact, just writing that sentence — having to explain it — feels like a tepid wave of lethargy washing over me. Fortunately for this article, my parents just dropped off a novelty can of “Canadian Beaver Buzz,” and before you think my parents are inappropriate and pervy (gutter-minds, all of you!), realize that CBB is Canada’s rebuttal to the Red Bull epidemic.

With that in mind, allow me to recount. Part one of this topic — how to be remembered after your death — featured some useful, albeit negative, ideas for achieving this feat. Part two vows to be positive! Nothing like a little sunshine in your day, right? The Beav is kicking in, so here we go! Positivity! For the next three paragraphs!

Positive tactic number one: emblazon yourself in pop culture history by being just famous enough to wind up on a witty t-shirt or coffee mug. My first exposure to Sartre wasn’t in OAC Philosophy or first year university. It was on a t-shirt that my dad used to wear that read: “I’m not here. You’re not here. Don’t leave a message. There is no beep — Jean Paul Sartre’s Answering Machine.” And I thought, “Wow, I don’t know who that is, or what that means. But all of the adults around me seem to be chuckling smugly at this shirt right now; I like this Sartre character” — and a future philosophy major was born.

Similarly, this summer I was at a cottage, and while making the morning coffee found an old mug that read “I’m saving myself for Tom Selleck.” I had to pause. I mean, it had never really occurred to me to think of Mr. Selleck in this way, but seeing such a blunt expression of desire for him, suddenly I had the urge to forget about the whole “old enough to be my grandfather” thing, dust off my copy of Mr. Baseball, and seriously rethink my original stance on this aging beefcake. Way to go T.S.!

Positive tactic number two: sorry, what? Apologies. I was just thinking about something else. Let’s just say, get on a mug. Get on a mug by being really handsome, and growing a formidable mustache, and making funny, awesome movies about playing baseball in Japan. Yeah, then I’ll remember you.

Some people achieve everlasting stupidity, others have everlasting stupidity thrust upon them!

By Heather Loney

Many people grapple with the theory that there is no afterlife, that human life is finite, and that you don’t live on after you kick it. One thing they struggle with is creating a sense of immortality for themselves. Lots of folks go the good old ‘offspring/mantelpiece’ route: have kids, raise them to have their own kids, and then take a photo of yourself to be placed on the mantelpieces of succeeding generations, so young children can ask, “Who is that?” Our life fulfillment is reached when someone responds “Oh, that is great grandma Heather. She lived x number of years, worked as a _____, and died alone.” My opinion of this option? Boooorrrr-ing. Oooh, how creative we are with our procreation. Why not try doing something that we haven’t been biologically designed to do? Jeez.

In the name of ingenuity, here are some less-traditional options for achieving immortality in a finite world. You could try the “no one will ever forget this” route. In other words, before you die, do something really, really stupid. Case in point: I have a second uncle who died nearly 20 years ago, but my family still talks about him at family reunions. His memory is continually evoked in parental warnings: “Remember uncle Frank’s cat and the toaster? Do you want that to be you? No. You don’t. So quit it.”

You would think it would be better for everyone to just do something so great that no one will ever forget it, but I find that stupidity sticks on the brain longer. I’m related to someone really important, like Banting or Best. For the life of me, I can’t remember which one, or how I’m related, or exactly why they were so great. But I remember Uncle Frank. And his cat, for that matter.

It all depends how you want to be remembered. If you’re hoping for “positive remembrance,” then try to avoid carrying anything around with you that you don’t want people to know about or that could be construed as negative postmortem.

I make a point of never carrying cigarettes in my purse. Picture it: I’m toting around some cigarettes, and bam, I get hit by a car. When my parents arrive at the scene, the police officer in charge gives them my belongings. They mournfully look though my things and to their shock see a pack of cigarettes. Now for the rest of their lives, I will be the daughter who smoked. And lied. And lied about smoking.1 This is not a good scenario.

So, there are a few options. First, I could fashion a hidden pocket on the inside of my purse that discreetly hides a single cigarette. But that would wreck the lining, so it’s not a good option. Second, I could just quit smoking. Or! I could attach a note to every pack of cigarettes that says, “so-and-so’s cigarettes.” And when I die, and my parents are going through my belongings, they’ll see the note and think, “Wow! What a good daughter, always carrying things around for her friends.” But then at the funeral they may run into so-and-so, tearfully hand him the pack and say, “Here, so-and-so, Heather would have wanted you to have these back.” And so-and-so, not being as quick on his feet as I would have preferred replies, “But I don’t smoke!” and a collective gasp is heard throughout the funeral home. This is not a good option either because I would again be the daughter who smoked. And lied. And elaborately lied about smoking. So, you see my point; just stop carrying around cigarettes in your purse. If your afterlife exists only in the minds of the people still living, it’s best not to piss them off.

1 Dear Mum [sic] and Dad. I don’t actually smoke. This was just an example I was giving for people who do smoke. Don’t worry!

Everyday Existentialism: Cowards, Cruisers, and Coffee Shops

Posted by lifestyle On June - 27 - 2008

By Heather Loney

During a particularly grueling soccer match last night, my coach was giving our team a half-time inspirational talk, mainly reiterating that we needed to put physical pressure on our much larger opponents, that we needed to be strong and not cower away from them. This talk of course made me think of what every soccer player thinks about during a half-time inspirational talk -- French Existentialism.

The first tenant of Existentialism is that existence precedes essence -- you exist first, and then are thrust into a world where your choices determine your course in life, your personality, and your “essence”. Sartre explains that a person is not essentially a coward, for example. There is no larger power creating humans, where one is to be a hero, the other a coward, and so on. Rather, a human becomes a ‘coward’ by making cowardly choices.

This got me thinking: does this mean that I’m not a surly pessimist essentially? That I can choose to be something else? Well then, my first choice towards becoming a little less surly is to buy a bitching ladies cruiser bicycle.

It is a thing of beauty. It’s from the ’70s, and not like “’70s style new bike”, but actually made in the 1970s. It’s bright blue, avec basket and bugle horn. It transports me back to an age where adventure and freedom were as close as the sidewalk, and the crotch-bruising caused by the bike seat was a sacrifice you were willing to make. If you are ever feeling a little sour, trust me, this is the bike for you. When riding it I feel free (which I am), young (which I used to be) and most importantly, French (which I could have been, had I been born in France). And the anguish that comes with being a human responsible for life as we know it suddenly doesn’t seem so weighty.

As I cycle past people in their cars, coming home from work, loosening their ties, sighing as the traffic slows their arrival home yet again, I wonder how long I will continue to live this freely, avoiding the distracting routines of career – marriage – family. How long can I ignore the disapproving glances of people in cafés on hurried lunch breaks, as I causally sit and write and sip coffee? How long can I get away with telling inquirers that I just graduated from university (approaching 3 years now…)? As I speed past a smiling kid on his 18-speeder, I yell out in joyful defiance, “ONE. MORE. YEAR!” As I ride into the sunset, fist-pumping the air, I realize that it’s the best choice I’ve made in months.

Everyday Existentialism: Nothingness and The Magic Bullet

Posted by lifestyle On May - 27 - 2008

By Heather Loney

If there is one thing I know, it is this: time is a tickin’.  That every episode of Seinfeld watched equals thirty minutes closer to the end, la fin, the Big Nothing.  So, with this thought in mind, I did a little research in order to maximize my time while I still have it.

And where better to look for practical solutions in ingenuity and efficiency than late-night cable television?  Remarkably, I did not have to search long, because promptly on channel 6 at 4:02am appeared my savior —The Magic Bullet.  According to this eye-opening program, I have been wasting my life like a sap by chopping tomatoes and onions with a knife!  When I could have been preparing tasty snacks for all my friends in only 15 seconds!  Delicious iced beverages in 20 seconds!  A Thanksgiving roast in only 30 seconds!  Huzzah!  By the end of the program, I vowed to never again make anything that takes longer than 30 seconds to prepare, heat, and serve.  Anything more, and I’d be a sucker.

What golden little nuggets of knowledge (“knowledge nuggets” I like to call them) can be found on late-night television.  If I’m processing this knowledge nugget correctly, the key to happiness seems to be to do everything super, super fast.  Why stop to smell the roses when you could whiz by them in a super sweet SUV, snacking on some tasty guacamole that you made on the passenger seat in only 15 seconds with your handy Magic Bullet?

I leave the living room, and scan my kitchen counter: toaster — lame.  Totally lame.  It only has one function, ‘make boring toast’, and it takes almost a full minute to do it.  Rice cooker — you know what?  Screw you, rice cooker; all you ever do is make me rice, and I have to wait 50 minutes for it.

I think I’m finally starting to understand Sartre’s theory of negative existence.  The void created by the lack of Magic Bullet on my counter is tangible; unbeknownst to the outside eye, its negative existence (and my inadequacy as a hostess) is all I can think about. I must act fast.  Only 18 minutes remain until my savior, M.B., is taken off the air, and out of my life forever…or at least until tomorrow at 4:02am.

Everyday Existentialism: Things to do before I die

Posted by lifestyle On May - 13 - 2008

Heather Loney applies an everyday sensibility to existential crises

By Heather Loney

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions — promises you make to yourself under the widely accepted pretense that it is perfectly forgivable to either break those promises as soon as January has expired, or dismiss them altogether before your hangover has subsided.  I am, however, a fan of lists.  Making lists — specifically to-do lists — each item in order of importance, with a little penned box next to it that urges you to place that checkmark, and sigh triumphantly over your latest accomplishment (buy dish soap — check — and order has been restored).  With so many choices in the day, the week, a lifetime, I often wonder how it is possible that people without lists manage to dress themselves and pay their phone bill in the same day.

Oh, the Existential Crisis; being thrust into a finite world full of choices to be made, where the consequences of those choices rests heavily on your shoulders alone.  Besides that, we live in a world overloaded with information, most of it unimportant and selfishly demanding our attention.

Sartre had the right idea: choose, act, and take responsibility for the consequences.  But did Sartre have to worry about cell phone bills or which type of high-speed internet to subscribe to?  No.  He didn’t.  He had Parisian coffee shops and quiet.  So, while Sartre urged us to be responsible and face the anguish of the human condition, I urge us to be responsible — and make to-do lists.  And thus, in the spirit of the Existential Crisis, and in the shadow of a culture forcing its information upon me, I have begun.  Today’s list: Things to do before I die.

#1: Make a list of people that should be called when I die, because otherwise they may never find out.

Sometimes I wonder if that wasn’t the original idea behind Facebook; worried people wanting to keep tabs on which of their friends are still alive.  How did people used to find out about these things?  I would probably only find out about the death of the friends who have moved away or grown up, by randomly surfing their Myspace page.  And what about all those people I know that aren’t on Facebook?  If they died, I would have no idea; no status bar flashing “Stephen is…dead.”  As for me, I don’t even have a website.  It’s a lot to think about.  Therefore, I’ll make a list of contacts with a note saying, “Here are some peeps you should call when I kick it. Thanks!”

#1(b): Make a website. 

Everyone else has one; it could be fun!  “Thursday May 8th: didn’t die today.  Check back tomorrow.  Thanks for surfing!”

 #2: Find out what happens to personal bank accounts after you die.

Just because my life is finite doesn’t mean the Royal Bank of Canada’s life is.  Someone else would probably have to close all of my accounts.  Shit, that would be an annoying job.  Would my mom think to do that?  Note to self: remind Mom about all my different bank accounts, because I know those bastards would continue billing me for service charges months after I died.

This seems to be a good start to the day.  I feel as if I’m getting somewhere.  Achievement!  What satisfaction can be found penning tiny checkmarks on lined paper in a world of computers and electronic relationships.

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