Tag Archives | existentialism

Did I Miss Anything?

Desks in classroom

Nothing. When you are not present how could something significant occur?


Question frequently asked by 
students after missing a class

by Tom Wayman
The Astonishing Weight of the Dead.
Vancouver: Polestar, 1994.

Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours

Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 per cent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I’m about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 per cent

Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose

Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
a shaft of light descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and
the hereafter
This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring this good news to all people
on earth

Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?

Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human existence
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been
gathered

but it was one place

And you weren’t here

Alltop never skips the funny class. You may also want to check out the author’s thoughts on the poem. Via Mandy Grzyb

La dolce vita

Dinosaur in shopping cart

It wasn’t always so easy. There used to be an anger in him. An emptiness that nothing could fill … nothing material anyway.

He fell through time and space, and into a kind of dream. And it seemed as though an age passed him by, the stars streaming through the sky as though he watched them in time lapse photography. A billion billion tiny wisps of light that reminded him of Carl Sagan’s wonder at the universe.

And when it all stopped, when the spinning ended, he was filled.

Though the cart was still empty.

Alltop has no idea what the fuck just happened there. Photo by mugley on Flickr.

Why’s Wally?

why's wally

“I looked up at the mass of signs and stars in the night sky and laid myself open for the first time to the benign indifference of the world.”

― Albert Camus, The Stranger

The shirt lay on his bed. It mocked him. It compelled him to wear it, but he didn’t want to. He hated the shirt.

That and the stupid hat.

What if he didn’t put them on? That was always an option, surely? He had some other clothes, didn’t he? He went to his closet and was mildly horrified to see that it was stuffed with striped shirts, red and white bobble hats, and an assortment of jeans. How had his life come to this? He made his way to the back of the closet, and could find nothing but red and white stripes. Red and white. The jeans were all blue, the same style. Not even brand name.

Wally looked out at the bedroom, morning sunshine angling in through the venetian blinds.

The light reminded him of Algeria, dry as the pages of a book. Wally had just finished reading The Stranger and it haunted him. He’d been to Algeria, of course. He’d been everywhere.

Wally had met Camus, too, during his time-travelling days. In fact, Wally had met the French writer while Camus was authoring his other famous book, The Myth of Sisyphus.

He remembered the conversation they’d had over cheap wine in a crowded Parisian bistro: “For me, chér Charlie, the only serious philosophical question is this: is life worth living? The world is irrational, and yet … yet, we yearn for happiness and the rational. Why? It is absurd. There is no sense to it. This is the heart of my thinking, Charlie. The absurd is born of our human need for reason and the unreasonable silence of the world.”

“But don’t you feel as though you are being watched?” he’d asked, not bothering to correct Camus about his name. It didn’t matter where he went, everyone seemed to use the local version of Wally. In America he was “Waldo”, in German “Walter”, in France “Charlie”. Better not to make waves, to blend in. His instinct was to hide in plain sight, so he rolled with it, always.

“Watched?”

“Yes. Don’t you feel like you are constantly being watched?”

“God?” Camus had said, a look of amusement on his face.

“God? What? No. People. That people are looking for you?”

“You mean the Nazis?”

“They could be Nazis, but not just the Nazis. I don’t know,” Wally had said “They are looking for me, though, I’m not making that up. It’s like they’re searching for me.”

Camus had thought about that for a moment, and smiled warmly. He had grasped Wally’s right bicep, squeezing it like an old friend: “Madness has a kind of freedom in it, though you are in a prison, nonetheless. It is another duality.”

And then the crowd had started to thin, and it was time for Wally to go. When he was not absolutely alone, he couldn’t be comfortable unless there was a crowd. He only felt safe surrounded by hundreds, or thousands. It was probably why he never worked things out with Wilma. Or her identical twin, Wenda, for that matter. Wally blushed as he remembered the three of them together, that one night. But three, as it turned out, wasn’t a big enough crowd for it to work.

Was Camus right? Was it possible there was nobody watching him? If that was so, then there would be a kind of freedom he’d never felt. He wouldn’t have to be so circumspect. He wouldn’t have to spend all his time trying to blend in with the crowd. That could get challenging, he’d found, especially in more exotic locales, times, realities… Wally wondered what Camus would have made of his stint in a dimension known as Clown Town. The place had been nightmarish. Apocalyptic. Everyone was a clown, and everything was shaped like a clown. Camus would probably have enjoyed the delicious absurdity of the place and time. It was one of the worst scenes Wally had ever found himself in, but if he had been wearing something other than his stripped shirt and bobble hat, those clowns would have ended up juggling with his skull. He knew it.

So the shirt had saved him on occasion, but it was, as Camus hinted, a prison. Like Meursault, the main character in The Stranger, Wally faced the rest of his life behind bars. Though unlike Meursault, his life could be very long.

Wally realized that he was still standing in his closet, naked except for his underwear and socks. Red and white striped boxers and knee-highs, of course. His dresser was filled with them.

He walked to the window, and opened the blinds. Outside he could see his yard. It was spring again, though he couldn’t really tell you how long it had been spring. The trees were in bloom, and bright blue forget-me-nots dotted the lush green grass. He could see Woof’s tail wagging strongly enough to shake his whole backend, his front obscured by a bush. The dog had probably found a rabbit or some other creature, helpless, trying to hide.

Wally looked at the shirt and all his other clothes on the bed. When he put them on, and picked up the walking stick, he would be whisked away, as he always was. He looked out at the yard, dappled in the May sunshine, and realized that he’d never been in it. He’d never felt the grass between his toes.

He took off his socks. Slipped out of his boxers, and tried to open the window. It was frozen shut. He grabbed his walking stick and smashed the panes of glass. He climbed through, cutting himself in the process. Red stripes of blood wound down his pasty white legs, but Wally didn’t care.

The grass felt wonderful.

The End

Enjoy this? There’s more like it in my longer works.


Alltop was always more of a Tintin reader. Originally published by the Jersey Devil Press, Jan. 2014.