May 7, 2015

"You can take only one thought with you to the grave, and invariably it is a thought that bugs you..."

"... something that must be thought all the way through to the end before you find your peace. The thought I took was of a man I loved saying, 'You are a joke, and your life is a joke.' It cleaved to my head and my muscles and my bones, until I was nothing but those words. When my life collapsed inward—which is what death is, life collapsing deep into itself—that phrase remained outside the collapsing; it became a thing separate from me. And, because it was separate from me, I could take it with me—it was the only thing I had."

From an excellent New Yorker story by Sheila Heti titled "My Life Is a Joke."


Etienne said...

If a man she loved said that to her, I shudder to think what a man she hated might have said.

I know what my last thought is going to be. I'm almost positive, as I lie gasping for breath, as my organs shuts down, that I will have to pee real bad.

I've never pee'd in my bed before, and I think it would be uncomfortable afterwards.

After I jumped into my foxhole once, and got ready for the attack, the only thought I couldn't extinguish, was that I had to pee real bad, and one just doesn't pee in a foxhole with other men.

It would be uncomfortable if my epitaph became "Pepé was squared away, but he couldn't hold his pee."

That would bug me.

traditionalguy said...

Like many people she has a stronghold in her mind that is ruining her ability to think rationally in a certain area. That's called stubbornness. It is a symptom of idolatry.

Captain Ahab called it his White Whale and tracked it down to kill it.

m stone said...

I'm curious what her idol would be tradguy. I see nothing but self-absorption, a maudlin vision of life from a really warped perspective.

Etienne said...

OK, after reading that story, I was left with the thought of, how I really don't understand endless love.

When I say "you are a joke, and your life is a joke," it's only one mans opinion, at this particular time. Tomorrow may be different. Other men may feel different, I'm not the one that matters.

It's not something that should cause you to jump in front of a Buick. That's all I'm saying, you dumb bitch.

(sorry, I couldn't resist the last sentence. was that wrong?)

Sebastian said...

Paragraph one tests the suspension of disbelief:

"My high-school boyfriend wanted to marry me, because he thought the most important thing to have in life was a witness."

Paragraph two raises an epistemological conundrum:

"I visited them one time . . . He has thirty reliable witnesses."

As far as I got reading this excellent short story.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

How do I stop this fucking treadmill!?!

-David Goldberg

fivewheels said...

(Makes wanking motion with hand.)

David said...

It's a short story, not an autobiography.

cold pizza said...

I'm always reminded of Socrates' last words: "I drank WHAT!? -CP

chuck said...

The parable of the supernova. As the core of the star collapses into a black hole, the outer layers are ejected into space. So let it be told, so let it be read.

grimson said...

There is a Japanese movie from late last century entitled "After Life." It concerns a group of the recently deceased who must choose the one memory to take with them to eternity. It was much more satisfying than this short story.

Freeman Hunt said...

I almost drowned in a wave pool at a water park once. The idea of drowning in a wave pool at a water park was ghastly enough to make me fight like hell.

I liked this piece enough that I will have to buy one of this woman's books. But which one?

Lewis Wetzel said...

Dante Alighieri wrote that only one thing remained of ourselves after death: the choices we made while alive.
It isn't about what you feel. It's about what you do.

hoyden said...

Interesting perspective. I can relate to it somewhat. Whatever life is, it is worth showing up every day regardless of what else is happening or our individual circumstances.

I like to believe the relationship between life and death is similar to the relationship between being awake and sleeping. Our life is like a dream and when we die we wake up and we are back to our true existence.

There's plenty to learn and accomplish during the dream; life's temporal nature does not diminish the ultimate value. We can learn in our sleeping dreams and we can learn in our spiritual dreams.

I believe what we take with us upon awaking are the spiritual lessons we have learned in this lifetime/dream.

Ann Althouse said...

"There is a Japanese movie from late last century entitled "After Life." It concerns a group of the recently deceased who must choose the one memory to take with them to eternity. It was much more satisfying than this short story."

I've seen that. An interesting comparison. In that movie, you get eternal life and you have the choice of which one thing to preserve.

In the story I linked to, you are stuck with one thing and it's probably something that bugs you. You have to work through the meaning of it in order to complete the process of extinction. No choice and no eternal life. But closure.

Ryan said...

In the end "your life is a joke" wasn't really an insult, but a statement of fact.

That's how she worked through it, to show it was true.

She is the chicken who crossed the road to get to the other side. The other side being death.

"See everyone, it's true, and I'm ok with it."

Then she goes back to being dead, with that one thing no longer bothering her.

Etienne said...

I didn't get it. The process of extinction shouldn't begin with an insult, or even what bugs you.

Without some inner strength, you are just goo. The goal should be to form a backbone in your first 8 years of life.

Ann Althouse said...


I'm glad you liked it!

I'm seeing people recommending "How Should A Person Be."

mikee said...

I'm sticking with the final sentence of Agee's "Knoxville - Summer 1915."

Sleep, soft smiling, draws me unto her: and those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and well-beloved in that home: but will not, oh, will not, not now, not ever; but will not ever tell me who I am.