The other week, I watched the 1980 Paris funeral of Jean-Paul Sartre on Youtube, wherein the streets were so densely lined with people receiving the procession, that I almost expected Princess Diana to make a rehearsal appearance in her poufy wedding gown. This, having triggered some whiff of significance in my life, caused me to go rifling through my basement to unearth a copy of Nausea, written by the French philosopher, that I apparently knew I’d been borrowing for 20 years. I remember after my best friend switched to a different high school in downtown Toronto, it was all I could do to keep our arms and psyches linked, by faithfully consuming every book she announced she was finished with.
“Existentialism” was a strange bat fluttering erratically around the echo-y cavern of literature that kids like me found ourselves tentatively walking into. What creature was this, and why did literati keep talking about it in abstractions or some secret (pornographic?) language that wet lay-ears weren’t allowed to understand or something? I remember I tried. Despite getting in there with Camus, Kafka, and the Cure lyrics (deconstructing-like-the-only-way-like-a-teen-can), I just couldn’t understand how anyone could characterize life as such a bland, profoundly tiresome process, rife with chores and minutiae, tenuous and ultimately disappointing. That, if anything, was nauseating. Maybe that’s the point. How could being a published and celebrated author or artist suck? It doesn’t. Life was good. Boys were cute. Snacks were yummy. Things were interesting. The future was big and bright. The subtext of these salespeople’s success convinced me.
Fast-forward to 20 summers later. I found that Douglas Coupland’s Barbie-sized Life After God fit nicely into my handbag. So, I walked around town reading it, having just undergone some major life transitions dealing with Love lost, a nuclear fallout (in Japan) and the growing deep, hollow drumbeat of atheism in the zeitgeist, myself. In the story, a man who had made a baby by accident with his wife went from “carefree penury to striving middle-class participation” and in the process, managed to have his love fall apart. He realized that he had the median ability and intelligence to hack it in life, but there would be nothing that would be special, if not for this Love, he writes to his child. And it wasn’t ever going to come back to him. He was just going to have to deal. What about turning to God? What’s that? We’ve only ever had TV.
At the same time I was reading this, I had set up an online dating profile. Sometimes, single fathers would message me, disclosing, like responsible packaging, in the very first exchange, that they had a little person on the weekends, or two teenagers that were, respectively, their heart and soul, or they had a seven-year-old as their regular dinner date. And I’ve written such funny things! And my pictures were so pretty…but (they needed to know up front): did I mind?
Having majored in Data Management, I understand a roughly 60% chance of divorce. As well, having actively avoided pregnancy for all of my adult life and marveling at the prescience of Margaret Sanger’s for-fuck’s-sake-speeches about Planned Parenthood almost 100 years ago, I truly get how life-changing kids, not even counting the sometimes-failed relationships that spawn them, can be. Thus, I have protected myself (er, perhaps a little too-well now), from the meaty hands of the Business of Life and its ensuing chokehold on cosmic possibilities and personal freedom. [Yes, it’s drivel like this that is behind Why the Catholics Are Winning. [Shut up.]]
So, did I slink away all-cyber-stranger-like, pretending I didn’t read the sincere queries of these people who had been ensnared in life’s twin rope courses of the mundane vs. existential? No, I addressed them all, even though I had checked off the “I mind” box concerning whether or not a dude has kids. I wrote that I understood what they were doing was balls-hard, that I admired them and that in all-probability, coffee wasn’t going to turn into an emotional ransom situation anyway, so, uh, relax lol. I ended up meeting up with one who wrote like he was sharpening knives, and looked like a famous dead rapper (=hot). Though, he serenaded me with hackneyed 90s spoken word. I found out his divorce wasn’t final and he let me know that he needed to find himself first. Then, I dated another one who looked like if Orlando Bloom were actually handsome and slightly Jewish, and punctuated his sentences like a 60-year-old lawyer (=hot). He serenaded me with a patchy spot recital of William Blake’s Tiger poem. Then I found out he was barely out of a difficult relationship and he admitted that he probably needed to find himself first.
Both guys talked about how having a kid in a dead relationship ends up being something like blacking out for years. The grown child is evidence of life having gone on. The love you have for him/her is proof you’re alive. But one day you wake up and you don’t remember who you are.
Sartre and Beauvoir and their many lovers snarled that to be monogamous was to be dictated by some unnatural bourgeoisie expectation. Instead, one needs to catch the wave of inherent personal freedom, dude. I always wondered about those two (or ten?)—and about my own perceptions of needing to lock in My One True Love.
It does seem more plausible that we are poly-amourous for the sake of proliferation. But then, the subsequent emotional, health and financial instability paradoxically disenables us from safely engaging in said proliferation! [Yes, meanwhile, the Catholics…] [And meanwhile gonorrhea is now drug resistant! [*sigh* not secular logic too??]]
Princess Diana in her poufy gown would have to wait one more year for the famous philandering philosopher to decompose before she was able to kiss her prince, on the eve of her fairy tale ending. Her first and last smile as princess. And I will soon be the age she was when she died, speeding down a Paris tunnel in her little black dress, with her millionaire boyfriend, running away from people who wanted to scrutinize her life, down to the minutia.
She made the play for the ultimate bourgeois life as a teenager. Then, she threw it all in the establishment’s face. She was crushed by the lack of personal freedom, but died fighting to save it. She was a graphic symbol of the insufferable excess and narcissism of the middle-class-ass West. But she was also a premiere humanitarian and mother. Millions lined the streets to receive the procession of her funeral.
Hmm…being one person is exhausting, after all! Barf.
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From Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre, pp. 6-7:
“[Anny] never says no. I follow her into one of the big rooms on the second floor she rents by the hour or by the day. I do not pay her: our need is mutual…we hardly speak. What good is it?…
…For the first time, I am disturbed at being alone. I would like to tell someone what is happening to me before it’s too late and before I start frightening little boys. I wish Anny were here.”
From The Cure’s “Killing an Arab”:
I can turn and walk away or I can fire the gun
Staring at the sky, staring at the sun
Whichever I choose it amounts to the same
From Princess Diana:
“I think the biggest disease the world suffers from in this day and age is the disease of people feeling unloved.”