The Only Really Serious Philosophical Question

I’ve spent the last few blog entries writing about Shot Across the River Styx. I think that riff is coming to an end. But first this. The illustration for chapter nine, curtesy of Michael Swearingen, is placed above. A hole in the head. An infinite universe. A puddle of blood that looks almost like a portal. Suicide.

French philosopher Albert Camus suggested there is only one really serious philosophical question. Suicide.

To be or not to be. Hamlet. Should I keep going or not? I’m a teacher, and this question is similar to the one I ask students at the start of any class. Are you going to build with me? Are you going to create or destroy? That’s a big question. A question of suicide or life.

I’m no expert on suicide. Or on life. But I’ve lived through two suicides. A best friend and a stepfather. And I’ve made it 38 years. So I know a little about being alive. Or, I know what I can know. Human beings are terribly limited. These five senses leave us with an impression that only captures so much. I’ve got the feeling there’s much more going on.

Here’s one thing I’m fairly certain of. Suicide is bad. Don’t do it.


Suicide presupposes that we have the capability of erasing ourselves.

I’m no physicist, but I’m under the impression that energy cannot be destroyed. Matter either. Only transformed. So suicide doesn’t actually destroy anything. Just changes it.

I’m no theologian, but I’m under the impression that my consciousness is guided by a conscious. And I have the felt sense that it is wrong to end my consciousness because my consciousness seems to be up to something. Even when it is scary or painful or overwhelming. Who am I to get in the way of this complicated expression of life turning into more life?

I’m no self-help guru, unlike the fictional character in Shot Across the River Styx Magic “Fucking” Johnson who should never be confused with any real former basketball players, but I’m under the impression that we are better off moving forward with our consciousness into the next expression of life turning into more life instead of saying no to our existence by way of bullet, pill, opiod, vodka, a leap off of a building, or what have you. And that, my friend, was a long sentence. Hashtag English major.

Suicide presupposes we have a power that I don’t think we have. I don’t have the ability to create or destroy matter or energy. I am, however, able to attune myself to what is happening inside of and around me. The visible and the invisible forces. And I am able to make the choice to work with what I’ve got towards an unknowable future. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. But I keep going, keep transforming. That’s improvisation, baby. That’s life. Give me more of it.


Writing Shot Across the River Styx felt good, in part, because it’s a weird book. I gave myself permission to be strange. To write big sentences like the sentences above. And short sentences. Like this. And to wrestle with my impressions of my good friend Nick, of suicide, and of Camus’ really serious question. Playfully.

Did you know Camus died at 46? A car accident. That poor bugger.

A distant Facebook friend posted a note that they were diagnosed with cancer this week. This person is a famous scholar in my field. That’s our only connection. I’ve read their work. This person is in their late 40’s. Despite our virtual relationship, I felt for them all the same. Prayed for them all the same.

You will die. Me too. There’s no escaping it, to be sure. But suicide is a different sort of death. It’s a move that tries to make things stop. But things never stop. Even when they feel real bad or get real bad. There’s always a way forward. If I’m being real, that’s how I feel about death. I don’t see it as an end. Just a transformation of matter and energy. And learning how to accept the endless transformations that we go through here seems important. Especially if we imagine we are heading there. Where’s there? Buy my book. The italics will make sense. Maybe. Like I wrote, the book’s pretty weird.

Anyway, Shot Across the River Styx is a strange book about suicide. I didn’t want to write it. But two people I loved killed themselves. So I wrote about them.

I’m proud of my writing. Whether folks read it or not. Whether they like it or not. I’m making sense of things as I’m able with words. And that’s a productive act. A life act. I’m building. And I know that’s better than destroying. Check out Playing with Sharp Objects for my strange book about that really serious philosophical question.

My weepy memoir trilogy feels connected to big energies. These blogs too. The matter and energies are linked. The expressions of those matters and energies too. Words, words, words. Hamlet again. The long sentences that ramble on and on like this one, taking turns around commas and linking disparate ideas, they feel like living connections.

The short sentences too.

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