A Self-Indulgent Essay on the Meaning of Life, or Lack Thereof by Jim Thompson

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It took me over four decades of life to find a job that I both enjoy and suits me: that of being an author. When I was a young man, I didn’t have money for higher education. I had too much pride to be one of the teeming under-employed masses. You know the cliché: flips burgers or some equivalent, lives in his/her parent’s basement, smokes dope and plays video games.

I was unsuitable, by nature of personality, for what one might term civilized employment. The nine to five grind in some lower managerial field. Typically, a constant smile and inane repetition of the word “yes,” the kissing of ass of superiors with the IQs of newts is required. I have a problem with two words: “Fuck you.” I took one of those jobs when I was in my twenties, but try as I might, I just couldn’t kiss ass. I did my best to get fired, but apparently I was good at it anyway, and kept getting raises and promotions, so I stuck with it for a year. Then finally, out it came after my half-wit boss raised her voice to me. I called her into her own office and said, “Don’t ever speak to me like that again. Fuck you.” And that was that. God, was I relieved.

So, I spent the following next couple decades in jobs that required a combination of brains and brawn, usually with a high danger element. I made a decent living, didn’t have to kiss the asses of dipshits, and seldom had to put up with any kind of insulting stupidity. But by the tender age of thirty-seven, I had too many broken bones and wrecked joints, made a sea-change in life and studied at the university. I completed a seven year program in five and earned a Master’s.

I truly enjoyed the university. I think older students, having done other, more mundane things, can appreciate more than most youths. The atmosphere. Engaging in often philosophical conversation. Absorbing hundreds of texts by authors who were mostly, in one way or another, grappling with the nature of existence. I had been an amateur writer for nearly a decade by then and had developed some skills. I made contacts, and before long, started taking in work as an editor. Usually academic work by Finns writing in English. I opened my own business and made a paltry living. And somewhere in that time, I came to realize that I had spent my life trying to live it on my own terms and at the same time discover what it meant.

Writing is an articulation of our thoughts. I’ve noticed that most people seldom or never articulate their thoughts on the world, their place in it, what life means, what gives it value. Most people just stumble aimlessly through life and take what it throws at them. I began studying at the university ten years ago. I’ve been writing nearly every day for eighteen years. I estimate that in my life I’ve read five thousand books, give or take.

I’ve written six novels, published five of them (refused to publish the other). I’ve co-written an educational book, contributed to other books, edited a couple dozen of them. In the past year, I estimate that I’ve written better than half a million words. And those are just what got published in various places, not the dreck and dross that I trashed. All this dedicated to the single task of trying, by way of articulation, to define the world, its meaning, and my place in it. AND I STILL DON’T KNOW ANYTHING. In fact, I’ve lost ground. I used to at least have a set of beliefs that shifted in small but regular increments as I gained experience. They’ve by and large eroded as I’ve gotten older. I don’t think I’ve even gained any ground in knowledge or even self-knowledge.

For a time, I held what was my most comforting belief. That we live in a universe with no meaning, spin endlessly around a doomed sun, that we exist without purpose, for no reason at all. That belief makes passing from this earth without leaving a trace palatable, as one day the sun will supernova, all man’s greatest achievements will be reduced to the atoms from which they were constructed, and thus, nothing we do means a damn thing.

But that was tempered for me by the realization that we can’t pass through this world without causing pain in others. Pain has meaning—just ask anyone suffering it, basically all of us—and the attempt to simply avoid causing it must have some value. Belief in God brings no solace, as nearly everyone is working their asses off in an attempt to anthropomorphize God, to make the being’s sentience and belief structures equal to our own. I have a great deal of difficulty in believing that we could have any knowledge of the psychological profile (if such a being has a psyche as we envision it), or any knowledge at all of a supreme being. Lurian Kabbalah has it’s attraction in this regard, but still comes up short for me.

Maybe the world is changing at such a rapid pace that I just can’t get a grip on it. Maybe every time I almost know something, that something changes and slips through my fingers like water. Or maybe I’ve been asking the wrong question—What do I know? Only to have transformed myself into a font of useless information—when I should have been asking: Why am I incapable of knowledge?

I’m forty-seven. If I’m still around in another forty-seven years (I really hope not, I don’t think I can’t stand to live that long all over again), I’ll let you know if I’ve made any progress in these matters.

James Thompson

Helsinki, Finland

March 27, 2012

James Thompson is an established author in Finland. His novel, Snow Angels, the first in the Inspector Vaara series, was released in the U.S. by Putnam and marked his entrance into the international crime fiction scene. Booklist named it one of the ten best debut crime novels of 2010, and it was nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, and Strand Critics awards. His second Vaara novel, Lucifer’s Tears, released in March, 2011, earned starred reviews from all quarters, and was named one the best novels of the year by Kirkus. The third in the series, Helsinki White, was released on March 15.


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