Douglas Arvidson is a past winner of the WICE/Paris Transcontinental International Short Story competition. His short fiction has been published in Paris, Prague, and in literary magazines in the United States and he was recently invited to be a staff writer for the Prague Revue, a cutting-edge, online literary journal ( The novels in his fantasy series, The Eye of the Eye of Stallion, include The Face in Amber, The Mirrors of Castaway Time, and A Drop of Wizard's Blood. His new novel, Brothers of the Fire Star, was selected as a finalist in the ForeWord Reviews 2012 Book of the Year national awards and as a finalist in three categories in the 2013 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards: Action Adventure Fiction, Historical Fiction, and Young Adult Fiction. It has become part of the pantheon of Pacific literature and is now included in school literature programs. Brothers of the Fire Star is an adventure story set in the Pacific during World War II and concerns two boys of different races and cultures who escape the island of Guam in a small sailboat when the Japanese army invades. They must then struggle to survive as they master the secrets of the ancient Pacific navigators. Appropriate for young adults as well as adult readers, Brothers of the Fire Star is available on Barnes & Noble, ( and Visit the author's website:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Existentialism and the Daily Struggle for Mindfullness: Right Brain, Left Brain, a Tragic Writer's Brain

Discovery in my backyard: A pine needle fell from on high and managed to go through a hole that an insect had made in this leaf.

The world/universe/time/space continuum is filled, chuck full of the improbable--miracles, if you will. But I won't. A closer look, a thoughtful examination, will reveal that improbable events are, given enough time, certainties--absolutely. The royal flush, the existence of life, the pine needle dropping perfectly through a hole in a leaf--all are going to happen, eventually--no intervention or Grand Plan necessary. So, you hawkers of the miraculous, be careful as you sell your snake -oil nostrums to the gullibles on their travels. You are accountable to yourselves.

Take David Foster Wallace for example. I've really just discovered this brilliant, infinitely jesting, tragic, philosopher-writer. It's a very fine thing to discover such improbable people because they have much to teach us. Wallace was bonafide brilliant. The real thing. He graduated from Amherst summa cum laude, received a McArthur Foundation genius award, wrote stuff that no one else had ever thought of, and so changed the world--at least a little bit. And that's what geniuses do. It's part of the genius package. You gotta change the world. He thought and wrote and taught and loved and celebrated and then he hanged himself. He was forty six.

My take on David Foster Wallace goes like this: His whole deal, all that long-shot, creative-cognitive hyper-power, was attempting to do one thing: Boil things down to some small, hard, indivisible kernel that we could get a grip on and so live better, happier lives. Here's a quote:

The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.... The only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't.... The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness.

Pity us in our daily struggle to maintain that illusive state of mindfulness. If you are very lucky and discover what mindfulness is all about and how wonderful it is, you are many steps ahead of the most of humanity. If you can employ mindfulness in your daily life, and if it makes you happy and relieves much of the mad burden of being alive, you are light years ahead of most people.

I think the bottom line for Wallace, as he battled the hellish demon of the depression that finally killed him, was that mindfulness helped him and he figured it could help all of us. He was trying to understand what mindfulness really was and how to get a handle on it; how to keep it right there, up front in your mind, so that you didn't have to stop what you were doing and take the time to get a grip on it every time you needed it.

Existentialism proposes that we are all responsible for giving our own lives meaning as we navigate the anguish and accumulating miseries of existence. And we should not forget the joyous stuff in life, too, I suppose. That pesky joy stuff. We have to fit that in somewhere and you get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to choose, in other words, to be happy or unhappy. It's up to you. So, practice mindfulness by moving slowly, breathing deeply, and smiling ("Look, there he goes again, moving slowly, breathing deeply, and--worst of all--smiling. He must be a serial killer).

In the end, though, none of that cognitive therapy could fix the biological imbalance that set David Foster Wallace off on his tortured path to self destruction. But it was his search for a cure for his own existential terror that gave us such a wonderful gift--an improbable gift that, nonetheless, was bound to happen--and, like the pine needle and the leaf, had to happen--eventually.

No comments:

Post a Comment