Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Short, dark (k)night of the soul

PANAMA CITY — I had an existential crisis Tuesday evening. Somehow, it was appropriate that the Silver Surfer — herald of Galactus, conflicted bearer of the Power Cosmic — hovered in a corner, keeping a passive chromium eye on the proceedings.

For those without access to Wikipedia, an “existential crisis” is defined as “a stage of development at which an individual questions the very foundations of his or her life: whether his or her life has any meaning, purpose or value.”

The good news (at least for me): I still reach stages of development.

Such crises can be the result of a sense of isolation; a sudden awareness of one’s mortality; coming to believe one’s life has no objective, purpose of greater meaning; realization of one’s freedom of choice and the consequences of one’s actions; or an experience that causes one to seek meaning.

They can be brought on by a significant event in life: the death of a loved one or birth of a child, a change in marital/relationship status, drug use, empty nest syndrome or reaching a milestone age.

For the Surfer, the crisis hit when he recognized the value of human life, the consequences of his actions, and came to the realization that his own life was meaningless without others. That’s when he turned a corner and became a hero, a knight of the spaceways.

For me, it struck as I stood in the Surfer’s shadow in a comic book shop, surrounded by a couple of dozen shoppers and several hundred bagged and boarded volumes of illustrated stories that were priced 50-percent off for a limited time. It struck as I sorted through boxes and browsed racks and book shelves and watched the others gathering personal treasures by the handfuls and stacks.

In their midst, I alone was empty handed. What was wrong with me?

I had entered a comic book shop under the best possible of circumstances — I had a store credit created by selling a bunch of comics here earlier this year — and could locate nothing I wanted to own.

I know: Madness, right?

As a writer, I recognize that sublimation is my tool of choice when encountering existential despair. I tend to refocus my energy away from the negative, distance myself, examine the moment and use the energy to create something else.

But I also rely on distraction to “prevent the mind from turning in on itself,” as the definition goes. Distraction in the form of easy entertainment.

Comic books, for instance.

Thus the dilemma: My method of distraction from existential angst had led me into a fresh crisis. How could I continue? It was a closed space-time loop, a tale of a snake eating its tail, a moebius comic strip. You get the gist. Only something drastic could break me loose —

— Ooh, free buttons?

The moment passed. Inertia overcome by the freebies table. The short, dark night of the soul lifted.

Peace.

(This is my "Undercurrents" column for Thursday's News Herald. See more photos here.)
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