DeFlip Side #86: The Meaning of Life

(NOTE: The Howard I speak about in this episode is Howard Margolin, the host of Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction, the radio show DeFlip Side is proud to call home.)


Welcome everyone. I’m Christopher DeFilippis and this is DeFlip Side.

Well, I took my own advice from last month’s DeFlip Side and went to see actor Robert Lloyd Parry’s dramatic reading of the ghost stories of M.R. James. I even managed to drag Howard along, and while I can’t speak for him, it was one of the most engaging and creative fiction readings I’ve ever attended.

This wasn’t some British prune at a lectern blathering antiquated prose; it was antiquated prose imbued with new life, with Parry, sitting in a mock English study, illuminated by a few candles and telling the stories from memory, as if the words had stepped from the pages and taken human form. Just listen:

That was Robert Lloyd Parry’s animated interpretation of M.R. James’s story “Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook,” capturing the tone precisely as I’d heard it in my head when I first discovered and devoured James’s work. That Parry can commit these lengthy stories to memory is admirable; that he can retell them with such craft and vibrancy is incredible. And that only a handful of people came to see him do so is unforgivable.

Howard and I were part of an audience of about a dozen in a theater that holds thirty. When we considered the ton of prep work that Parry obviously had to go through to create these unique shows, Howard hit it right on the head when he called it a thankless task. We spoke to Parry after the show, and he was curious to know how we’d heard about it, since it was, in his words, less than a smashing success.

Here’s an extraordinarily talented man doing unique and compelling work, yet he’ll probably never get the proportionate acclaim. Yet Keanu Reeves is a superstar. It makes everything seem so damn arbitrary and frivolous. What makes a pursuit meaningful, and how should you measure success?

I don’t mean to turn this into a very special episode of DeFlip Side by getting all heavy and philosophical, but lately I find these questions weighing on me constantly, in small part because of a recent death in the family, but mainly due to my job. Believe me when I tell you, there is no pursuit more trivial and fleeting than television news.

Is the hate crime you heard about this week really any different from the one you heard about last month, or a few years ago? Is the latest political sound bite distinguishable from the ones that have come before? It’s the same meaningless stories going round and round and round, without any examination or resolution. Questioning the value of my profession has started to weigh on me. I’ve become prone to sudden panicky bursts that tell me to stop wasting my life and find meaningful work—to do something that will make a lasting impression.

So where do I go seeking solace? In the two pursuits perhaps even more fleeting than TV news: radio and Science Fiction. At least TV has pictures. I sit down and work for hours hacking out ideas for DeFlip Side that will be broadcast once and then disappear forever into the ether. And though the segments may live on on the Internet, the hit count on my myspace page tells me it is a very lonely existence. When I’m not deluding myself that people will care what I have to say, I’m deluding myself that they will care about what I write, diligently creating and explaining fantastic fictional realities that will never exist, when I’m at a loss to explain the actual world around me.

All these musings about the meaning of life may seem deep, but they’re probably a sign of some looming midlife crisis, since I’ve always believed that there is no meaning of life. It’s all a random accident. And though people may achieve great things and work for a better world, there really is no such thing as success or failure in a cosmic sense. The planet will keep on spinning no matter what we do. The universe will continue expanding with or without us. When seen in that light, anything that anyone has ever done, is doing or will ever do is ultimately meaningless.

I sometimes have to remind myself to embrace this reality. It takes the pressure off and fills me with a sort of nihilistic optimism. If, in the end, all pursuits are ultimately meaningless, then all that’s left you is to chase the things you enjoy. This philosophy has made me hyper-aware of and thankful for all the good things in my life, especially when I’m feeling rudderless and down.

Hell, when you get right down to it, I’ve scored a coup against the entire damn universe just by living and breathing at all, much less complaining about what it all means on the radio. So be mindful of your little joys and relish them. In the end, they’re all you have.