The reason to write

A tale of one existential crisis that was resolved

One day I was googling the meaning of life. I sat jobless at my parents home, with my fancy degree and a side project. I had free time to do anything. I had no idea where to go.

Should I aspire to be rich and wealthy? Or to wisdom and a research career? Or enjoying the moment? Or drop it altogether and become a knight-errant as I wanted as a child?

I worked towards one goal in the morning, changed mind at noon, switching it again, hating myself in the evening. I couldn’t stick to one thing — I didn’t see a reason for any of it. What’s worth doing if I still die in the end? What use in self-development if my brilliant person will rot in the ground? What sense in helping someone if all of them will die? How can one enjoy the moment, if the very memory of it will turn to ashes?

So I was googling the meaning of life.

First I found some generic exercises: remember what you liked as a child, list your strengths and values, picture your dream life — useless. My dream life would be anything that has a purpose.

Then I’ve read “Man’s search for meaning” by Victor Frankl. He showed life purpose as a practical tool: those who have it were much more likely to survive WWII concentration camps, like himself. He explained what was wrong with me, but the answer wasn’t here. I even came to envy the victims of war. “Survive till tomorrow” or “Find the lost child” were such neat life goals — what should I do without any of this pressure? Dangling in my existential crisis, I almost hoped for bad things to happen.

I decided to drop “me” for a second and find some explanation of who we are, as humans, in general. I listed down the explanations that I’ve encountered hoping that one will click:

  • troubled marriage of a body and a soul
  • biological machine
  • a character in a strange game
  • a piece of a supernatural being that tries to get itself together
  • combination of random environmental factors accumulated through evolution
  • emanation of divine love
  • social animal
  • a gem that needs to be discovered
  • a draft that needs to be built
  • creature able to choose its destiny
  • creature determined by the environment

Some of them were more reasonable than others, but still couldn’t get me going.

And then I remembered an image, that stuck in my head for years.

As a teen, I’ve read Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy. At one point of the story, he showed us what The World of Dead looks like. It was a foggy underground filled with ghosts: no hell and no heaven, just an infinite storage of desperate souls. One couldn’t get out of here, regardless of what rules they followed and who they worshiped in life. The Harpies were the guardians, flying above.

Harpies in the Forest of Suicides, Gustav Doré, 1616

Harpies were powerful jailers, they could smell a lie and immediately punish for it. But heroes soon discover what do they desperately long for — the truth. They were hungry for everything about the world above: stories, feelings, memories. So heroes make a bargain: Harpies open the passage to the real world and set everyone free. In exchange, Harpies become the guardians of the passage and can demand a fee — a true story of someone’s life. One who has nothing to say should stay, those who truly lived can be free.

That’s it — this is the life purpose I decided to stick to. I live to tell harpies a story about how it was to be here. How it was to be me, this precise mix of physical assets, experience, circumstances, and legacy. Values, goals, career perspectives, relationships — all of it can change. I choose to live through all the changes with open eyes, learn to be concise and tell the truth.

That’s why I write.

Stories from another hemisphere, written under a stripper pen name and in a second language. Because God forbid we make things easier for us.

Stories from another hemisphere, written under a stripper pen name and in a second language. Because God forbid we make things easier for us.