A few weeks ago Billy posted his first Saturday Morning thoughts. A must read, in which he ponders why anyone likes going to loud bars where you can’t hear thoughts let alone other people talking. While I share his sentiment about loud bars, I would like to provide an answer to his question, life is hard.
It is easy to be hard on ourselves for failures and screw-ups, when we should be giving ourselves more credit for participating in life. We face many challenges in life, finding a career that doesn’t suck every ounce of joy out of us, making enough money to cover our basic needs, balancing work and social life, starting and maintaining relationships with people we love, etc.
Beyond all these everyday challenges lies the deeper, philosophical challenges of life. Why are we here? Does any of this matter? Is this all an illusion? These challenges can become overwhelming if we spend too much time thinking about them. An important key to life is accepting that no matter how smart we are or how hard we ponder, there is no answering any of them. But what if we can’t accept this? Or it is all just too overwhelming? This is where distractions that provide sensory overload become important.
We all need something to distract us from the pit of despair that lies buried within all of us. The pit that makes us think that we’re all alone and that life is meaningless. We don’t want to think about it, but as long as these difficult, philosophical questions linger, it will persist.
Everyone finds solace in different distractions. Some of us become workaholics. Dedicating all time and effort into our profession. It is easy to find meaning when we are working. Life has a purpose, I need to get x, y, and z completed today, so I’ll focus entirely on that and not leave a moment for a stray thought. These people are focused with laser like precision. Everything is simplified when life is centered around work.
This approach can be used on other aspects in our life. People can dedicate themselves to family or friends. They deflect all purpose and meaning on to others, which helps them avoid thinking about the purpose of their own lives. The goal is to help them accomplish something, be their support and aid them in achieving their goals. When we tie our purpose to others, questions about the meaning of existence tend to disappear and are replaced with how can I help this person.
Or cell phones can provide a great distraction, right Louis C.K.?
There is a reason why we hold celebrities and athletes in a higher regard than doctors and lawyers. They provide great distractions from our lives. Fans, or fanatics, are called that for a reason. They dedicate themselves to supporting their favorite teams and/or celebrities. They stop viewing them as human, but rather symbols of hope that there is a greater purpose to life. This is why we become so disappointed when athletes or celebrities let us down by cheating, using drugs, or proving their humanity. We hold them to a higher standard because the distraction they provide to us is important to handling the challenges of life.
Some people find solace in more destructive distractions, drugs and alcohol. Addiction is back in the news with the tragic end to Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s life. Based off his brilliant, dark, sad, and twisted performances, I imagine no one understood the pit of despair that lies within us better than Hoffman. Early in his life he chose to fight it with drugs, the easiest, but most devastating way to handle the pit.
However, he was able to turn things around and channel this despair into a two decade acting career filled with incredible performance after incredible performance. He found a positive way to handle his demons and for a long time it worked for him. Unfortunately, his ability to tap into this dark vein eventually overwhelmed him. I do not like speculation, but I imagine that part of the reason he relapsed was he couldn’t handle thinking about the deep, philosophical questions that plague humanity. He was constantly exploring all this darkness in his performances and simply releasing it in a character was not enough anymore.
It carried over to his daily life and he needed something more powerful to keep him distracted. Unfortunately for a mind this rich and thoughtful, simply rooting for his Yankees and Knicks was not enough. Instead, he went back to an old habit, something that quelled the demons in the past, heroin.
His tragic death makes me think of my favorite quote from The Great Gatsby: “She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. ‘All right,’ I said, ‘I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool – that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.'” Leave it to F. Scott Fitzgerald to have the character with the simplest mind to deliver the most profound quote. It is profound in its honesty. Life is easier as a fool. What do they say about ignorance and bliss?
I’d take a guess that if someone gave Hoffman the choice of coming back as himself or a simple-minded, anonymous blue collar worker, he’d take the simple-minded man every time. He may have left behind a beautiful anthology of work for the world to watch, but as Woody Allen eloquently says, “I’d rather live on, in my apartment.” Woody is the first man I’d repeat the same quote two days in a row. He is also the last man I’d invite to my daughter’s birthday party.
This would be a good moment for a Danny Tanner Full House lesson to take away from all of this, but sadly I do not have one. The only thing we can take away is that life is difficult and we all need distractions in order to get through it. We need to understand this and strive to fill our lives with positive distractions. There is nothing wrong with having a few drinks or going to a loud bar to dance and just empty our brain of all thought. But we cannot become dependent on these to get through each day.
Find non-destructive distractions. A hobby to fill free time, like wood work or bird watching. Perhaps a new workout routine and diet with a set goal of weight to lose. A TV show to binge watch and get caught up in a fictional world. There are so many options, but whatever it is just be aware of its purpose because otherwise there is a higher possibility it becomes a crippling addiction rather than a healthy distraction.