Sunday, September 22, 2013

if you only had one day to live

I imagine the days where Phil Connors gets contemplative. Maybe it’s before he turns to depression. Maybe it’s after. And, a weird thought occurs to me—he can never fast. I mean, he can go without food for a day, sure. But, that’s it, a day. His digestive system will have food from the day before, so he probably won’t be all that hungry. I mean, yeah, when we’re used to eating regularly, we’ll get hungry after missing a meal. But, that’s not real hunger.

There’s an interesting bit in Siddhartha in which Kamaswami asks Siddhartha what he has learned that he can give. Siddhartha’s response: “I can think. I can wait. I can fast.”

Kamaswami asks, what good is fasting? He’s a businessman, a merchant who certainly doesn’t value the contemplative moments of life. Siddhartha explains:

It is of great value, sir. If a man has nothing to eat, fasting is the most intelligent thing he can do. If, for instance, Siddhartha had not learned how to fast, he would have had to seek some kind of work today, either with you, or elsewhere, for hunger would have driven him. But as it is, Siddhartha can wait calmly. He is not impatient, he is not in need, he can ward off hunger for a long time and laugh at it. Therefore, fasting is useful, sir.

I think this rings true for fasting from anything. If we can do without, then we can avoid hungering for… well, anything. Experience starvation and food might not hold the sway it once did. Go without companionship and maybe you can sustain loneliness… Or maybe that comparison doesn’t hold up. There’s a distinct difference between the physical urge, be it for food, be it for physical contact, a hug, be it for an adrenaline rush, be it for sex, and the more fundamental emotional urge of needing someone to be close to, not physically necessarily but just as intimately. Phil Connors jokes about how he’s (not) going to touch Rita when she falls asleep, but really, he’s not. He doesn’t need to. The simple fact of her presence is more important and more vital to him, especially then, than any baser urge. His sense of humor still just can’t leave it alone.

Lately, I’ve had this strange sense about this project. The audience is still relatively small; I can get away with just about anything. But, I don’t need to do anything crazy. I just need to do things that are honest. Things that are “more real” like small town people according to Phil, though maybe he’s just saying that at that point. So, I’ve wondered, just what is this? I mean, obviously, it’s an exploration of a particular film, and I’ve used that to explore bigger ideas, philosophical notions, ideas about our culture, ideas about gender…

(And, I still might do that piece about race.)

…and ideas about life in general. What does it mean? That sort of thing. Ultimately, I must admit—and I must readily suggest that it could work no other way—this project is also an exploration of my self. I generally keep details vague but I find ways to twist little details here and there to exorcise my demons, be they long-term or short-term. And, I even make entirely specific (but only understandable to those involved) references to my real life. And, I generalize. The Groundhog Day Project is not just about life but about my life. Like Phil Connors is Phil the groundhog, I am Phil Connors. Hell, so are you, whoever you are, reading this. That’s the point. I don’t mean to overexplain like I’m a Phil Connors voiceover, but sometimes—not all the time—it is necessary to be explicit.

And, personally, I think I’m beyond the “adolescent” phase of the time loop of my life. I don’t have the wherewithal or the audacity to grab the things I want abruptly and claim them and command them to make them mine. I’ve been hurt enough in my life, often by my own actions more than anyone elses, that I wish I had the infinite loop to get things right today, or tomorrow, or the next day. Or, better yet, yesterday, the day before, the other day. A year ago. Two years ago. Five. Ten. If you sit down and think about your life, you can see the specific turning points where one chapter flipped into the next. Day-to-day, it’s not so obvious. Things just go. And, like Gus so pointedly suggests, it’s all same-ol, same-ol, as the days keep going or repeat or whatever it is that they do… it doesn’t really matter most of the time, because except for when we’ve got something new on our plate, one day blurs into the next. If we’re lucky we get those moments that stick out, the details that will mark the passage of time in our memories.

If we’re lucky, we have good friends, good family, lovers and confidants that make it all go so much more smoothly.

If we’re not, we better take Nietzsche to heart and find a way to come to terms with the negative, with the boring, with the everyday madness the blunts our drive and dissolves our dreams. Because it’s all going to happen again, the next day, the next, the next, forever.

“What if there is no tomorrow,” Phil just asked the guy on the phone. What if there isn’t? Did you do what you wanted to do today? Or, were you putting it off? Did you mean to get to it?

Me? This summer, knowing I’d probably have a bit of free time, I meant to reedit a few of my novels, maybe get them set up as ebooks I could make available for purchase. I meant to write a new novel, wrote a chapter and got busy auditing a college course and lost the momentum. I had plans for things to build out of LEGO blocks over the summer; one was a Tarot deck of LEGO images. I never even completed the first one, and maybe that meant something. The first card I picked off the deck was Strength.

The usual image for that card—and the one on the deck I own—involves a woman and a lion. The woman clasps the lion’s jaw, maybe because she has the strength and she’s pulling it open, maybe because she’s only just finding the strength and she’s holding it open as it tries to bite. It’s not a dynamic image. She isn’t struggling with the lion, yet she dominates it. Common interpretations include perseverance, stability, discipline, serenity. But, I get stuck wondering—when I don’t even believe in this kind of thing—if it matters that it’s a lion specifically and I have a tendency to like leos. But, I don’t believe in the horoscope stuff either. I find it interesting, sure, but I don’t believe in it.

Nietzsche likely didn’t believe in eternal recurrence either, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a useful tool for examining one’s life and, more specifically, one’s experience of one’s life.

Objectively, I know there is no connection between my soon-to-be ex-wife being a leo and the first card I pull out of the tarot deck having a lion on it—hell, on a oh-my-god-how-silly-can-I-be level, if she’s the lion, then am I the woman? Not that I can’t find myself in a feminine representative…

The girl with the Phil sign just passed by on the screen, and she’s alone. Her friend was lost, and I could read meaning into that as well. This scene played at this time because I was thinking about how I’m alone and all that. Or, none of it means anything and I’m just making it up. We’re all just making it up.

Thing is, in truth, while I don’t believe in such things, I think it does mean something when I see the connection, or when others do. Call it projection or what have you, but while I think we seek out meaning because, ultimately, there isn’t any, we create that meaning by seeking it. And, once created, it matters.

Nancy Taylor went to high school in Pittsburgh. So did my wife once upon a time. Seriously. I could read into any of it. I could. I mean, I did an entire entry on the color blue. Trust me, if I’m in the mood for some meaning, some meaning will show itself.

And, I’m in the mood for some meaning.

But, first, if you’ve got a few minutes, watch this:

Such simple symbology, almost trite. But, the narrator sells the ending pretty well.

Those jelly beans—28,835 amounts to 79 years (not taking into account leap years, but those don’t really make that big a difference). You may live longer. You may die sooner. I may live longer. I may die sooner…

And, I warned you I was in the mood for meaning. Did he pick jelly beans because they were cheap and small? Or was it about that first bean—the first day? The bean shape is certainly evocative of maybe not an infant so much but an unborn child, a fetus, an embryo. That shape is us at our most simple. There’s infinite possibility in that bean; hell, what about the possibility inherent in an actual bean, or a seed?

Then, scrape away a year and then the first 15 just like that? As if those formative years weren’t the essence of what it is to be alive. As if those years didn’t matter… and logically, as if those years didn’t also include some of the stats that come after, or do we not sleep or eat or travel, watch TV or do chores, care for others or groom ourselves, like we aren’t part of the community in those years. I mean, maybe he adjusted the math, or maybe he just considered adults because we need the most “help” figuring out how to live. It’s the great irony of life that we spend so much of those formative years locked away in school, learning things, when that’s the point arguably that we know how to live. Our culture discounts it, but children know what it takes to be happy, to live in the moment. At least, on average.

We adults—we sometimes suck at it. Maybe we figure we’ve already got it figured out, maybe we’ve given up and are just riding the wave and hoping for the best. And, when we end up a million miles from where we started out in college, like Rita, we like to figure it’s for the best. And, maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. Day after day after day, maybe we’ll get lucky, and we will figure things out. As ZeFrank says in that video, while we may sleep away 8,477 days of our lives, “if we’re lucky, some of the time we’ll be sleeping next to someone we love.” If we’re truly lucky, we’ll be eating and drinking next to someone we love as well, or traveling with someone we love, or watching television with someone we love, or performing household chores with someone we love… you get the point. And, “hopefully” our work will involve “doing something satisfying.”

Come to think of it, will Phil Connors be a weatherman tomorrow? Or, will the new Phil Connors need a new vocation?

In the end, in that video, there are 2,740 jelly beans left, approximately 7 ½ years worth. “Time for laughing, swimming, making art, going on hikes, text messages, reading, checking Facebook, playing softball, maybe even teaching yourself how to play the guitar.” I don’t subscribe to any belief in it, obviously, but sometimes the Bible makes some good points in extraordinarily simple ways, like this, for example, from Ecclesiastes:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Nietzsche and Phil Connors would probably agree wholeheartedly with all that.

And, so do I.

Our time is limited. “What are you going to do with this time,” ZeFrank asks. “How much of it do you think you’ve already used up?” I would add, how much of it do you think you’ve wasted?

What if you knew you were dying? And, maybe someone reading this is. What should you change about your life? More importantly. Why haven’t you already changed it? Why are you not doing the most important things already? Why waste another moment when life is out there waiting for you to burn?

“How much time have you already spent worrying instead of doing something that you love?”

That’s the kind of thing you should not be waiting until the end of your life to ask. Ask it now. Answer it now. And, fix the problem. I wish every day for the fortitude to do so. For that strength.

Maybe that’s why I got stuck on that one card. Because I haven’t moved past it yet. I can’t.

Today was a pretty good day. Yesterday was better. I don’t know what tomorrow will be like.

You know why Groundhog Day is a comedy? Because life is a comedy. Siddhartha calls it a “strange and stupid thing, this repetition, this course of events in a fateful circle.”

You know what to do when life’s a comedy? Laugh. Enjoy it. Live and live some more.

When Phil asks Rita, “if you only had one day to live, what would you do with it,” her response is as cynical as his once would have been (or maybe still would have been at that point in the loop). “I don't know, Phil,” she says. “What are you dying of?”

He turns it practical—“I mean, the whole world is about to explode, what do you do?”—and she gets pragmatic—“I want to know where to put the camera”—then suspicious—“Are you looking for a date for the weekend?”

Maybe we shouldn’t be so pragmatic, so cynical, so suspicious. Maybe we shouldn’t overthink every move and we should just move already.

What if you just had one more day? What would want to do with it? Who would you want to spend the time with?

What are you going to do today?

And, why not something else? Something better. Something you really want to do.

Today’s reason to repeat a day forever: to have strength, to trust myself to make moves without overthinking them, to be better, to be happy.

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