From the Notebook of R.B. Ripley: Wherein I Learn Fractals Cure Existential Angst
My inability to sense an oncoming existential crisis must, on whatever scale is used to measure such things, pioneer a new boundaries of quantification. Surely, I rival the poor sap who answered the door, found an inexplicably giant, wooden horse and without batting an eye, jumped up and down, clapped his hands together and squealed, “Oh, what fun!”
Yes, I’m well aware this qualifies me for the job of Village Idiot.
Not just because I don’t see these existential crises coming, but also because when in the midst of one, my powers of denial expand to Epic Status. Not only do I open the door, I grab the rope and drag that giant wooden horse inside.
If I were a character in a movie (which I guess it could be argued that I am, though that’s an entirely different existential conversation) this well-developed inability to sense and ignore an existential crisis would be my flaw, that personal attribute which keeps me from being the best version of myself.
In a well-penned script, I would, once and for all, come face to face with this flaw on page 56 and then after retreating from the world for twelve or so pages during which I’d do some serious soul-searching (to a soundtrack from a hip, current pop band), I’d subsequently be re-inspired by an unexpected revelation, I’d launch a bold and daring third-act plan to solve the problem while simultaneously stopping an outbreak of the bubonic plague on a locked-down Manhattan island, get the handsome guy, and live the rest of my days in bliss watching each existential crises approach from the horizon and effortlessly solving them.
Sadly, my life is not a movie. It’s a hot mess, with extra butter and cheese sauce. To wit:
Existential Crisis: Age 9. Realize I like boys.
Solution: Date women until the age of 28.
Existential Crisis: Want to end my music career.
Solution: Get a master’s degree… in MUSIC.
Existential Crisis: Near death experience.
Solution: Change nothing.
That’s me. Village Idiot Emeritus.
Most recently, I found myself faced with an unexpected opportunity at my “day job.” For most people, the prospect of more interesting work, more responsibility, and a little more money is taken in stride: Some consideration, some discussion, perhaps a list of pros and cons, and make a decision.
Nearly three insufferably long weeks with a digestive system that became more irritable than a faltering Mid-East dictator; 144 consecutive, near sleepless hours; and hives on my body in places that have never seen sunlight.
Upon learning of the day job opportunity, I plunged into a rabbit hole that made Alice’s LSD-inspired adventure seem like a chaste, Victorian picnic. Surely this decision would dictate THE REST OF MY EXISTENCE!
But then… a breakthrough! Of logic and reason and decidedly not the mystical kind (Existential crisis: Age 14. Atheism). While cleaning up my home office, I stumbled across notes from a graduate school lecture (the second and successful go-round at higher, higher education) about the fractal, which as everyone knows is a geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is a reduced-size copy of the whole.
Here’s what became instantaneously crystal clear: Somewhere along the way, I’d learned that ALL problems are all REALLY DAMNED BIG.
Realistically, while all decisions have the same “shape” (an unanswered question; unknown conclusion; an unclear future state) not all decisions are the same size. Whoa. (If you’re sitting there thinking, “Wow, this is something my ten year-old child understands,” then imagine my surprise.)
With this newfound perspective of the fractal, what quickly evolved was an innate understanding that the decision I faced about the day job, while with merit, was simply one of many that together made up the tapestry of my life – the decision to commit to my hubby; the decision to buy a house; the decision to adopt dogs, to live in Los Angeles, to write, to take Saturday naps. These weren’t arbitrary occurrences nor were they mysterious acts of a higher power (see earlier crisis resulting in atheism) – they were my decisions.
This new perspective left me no alternative but to (finally!) incorporate into my personal matrix that I am, in every way, shape, and form, responsible for my own happiness. Not my honey, my family, my dogs, my government or even you, dear reader. Me. What I do, say, feel, and achieve is up to me.
Existential crisis: <Insert decision here>
Solution: Death awaits us all. Enjoy it while you’re here.