stone face

The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus is one of those books, my favorite kind, that has worked on my consciousness for years after reading it. When revisiting certain passages, it strikes me that I had been thinking along these lines to the point that now the words sing to me more than ever.

The gist of the book’s message is to live the most (not the best) by focusing attention on the experience of existence while acknowledging the absurdity of our condition (that we yearn for meaning in a random existence, so we “color the void” with our images).

“It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me.  A face that toils so close to stones is already stone itself! I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end.  That hour like a breathing-space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness. At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate.  He is stronger than his rock.” Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus (p. 121)

When I’m feeling the tragic fate of existence, it is this private victory that I keep in mind.

The Trap of Time

Once there was a knight who found a labyrinth. As soon as he entered it, though, he exited it in an instant. He wondered what he could have missed because he had been told that this labyrinth was impossible to escape.

He turned around and went back in through the exit and turned corner after corner to find the entrance that he could not so easily find. Some corridors looked long but then felt short. And as soon as the walls seemed to be unfolding toward the entrance that had become the exit, they folded back in on him and made him feel like he was trapped in the smallest of cages.

In one cul-de-sac, he saw a child playing and unconcerned with being in the labyrinth at all. In another dead end, he saw an old knight who was skin and bones and was, like the child, unconcerned about the situation he found himself in. He wondered what cruel hand could have made such a trap.

Sometimes the ground felt soft and the walls seemed to wobble, but then he’d turn on his heels and the ground turned hard and the walls impregnable. He tried to follow a breeze but it would change direction. And the shadows were no help since they changed to fit his view. When he tried to mark a wall or the floor, they appeared where he was sure he had never been before.

The knight wished he had never thought of coming here. He should’ve listened when they told him it was impossible to leave. But exactly that notion of impossibility made it impossible for him to resist. So there he was, where he had always been. But he hadn’t thought enough about it, until he did, and went in through the exit to find the entrance only to get lost in time’s design instead.

Wait…

On one of my regular walks, a sense of waiting overcame me. Earlier I had been thinking about how a photograph is really a suspension of a present moment. So I went for my normal walk through the neighborhood and took snapshots with my cell phone of whatever ordinary stuff seemed to involve my attention. Somehow interlinked in the desire for a walk was this feeling of waiting reflected in the ordinary things around me. And by the end of the walk, I felt as if a walk is very much about moving through a world waiting all around. Even I, though moving, was waiting to walk to the cafe and then waiting to get back home. Waiting for ordinary signs of waiting to stick out at me. And even though other people were engaged in activities, I saw them more like moving bodies waiting for something else to happen.

Wait Eucalyptus tree.

Wait wide open space.

Wait debris on steps.

Wait empty chair in the shade.

Wait balloon on grass near a dandelion.

Wait seed pods to drop.

Wait long shadows.

Wait horse tethered to a tree.

Wait coffee.

Wait pigeons perch.

Wait red truck at red light.

Wait shadow of stop light.

Wait paint on brick wall.

Wait gentrification.

Wait bagel with gentrification.

Wait wall for next rebellious poster.

Wait empty store.

Wait sticker on a bench on a tattoo parlor.

Wait windows clean.

Wait gold.

Wait unload truck.

Wait street cross.

Wait hair cut.

Wait old Pontiac locked up behind a fence.

Wait mail outside motel.

The Kingdom Plucked

Once a knight was out plucking flowers for his queen’s crown when he looked more deeply than usual into one.  Inside the flower, the knight, much to his surprise, saw a kingdom the mirror image of his own. He could see the castle and the grounds upon which he stood. 

More flabbergasting than that, he saw an ant-sized human exactly where he stood, and it moved exactly as he did. He realized it must be his miniature self looking into a minute flower. Then, the knight felt like someone else was looking at him. He could feel a strong gaze on his nape. He turned around but saw nobody.

However, when he dared to look up, he saw a giant eye filling the entire sky as it looked back down on him. The earth shook. And the castle came crumbling down. And the gardens folded back into the earth.

He looked back at the flower in his hand and saw that he had accidentally crushed it when he had seen his own enormous eye staring down at him from the firmament.  He cried out and lamented what he had done.

He had plucked his kingdom for no great purpose.