“Nothing is funnier than unhappiness” – Samuel Beckett, Endgame
It is winter, and I’ve been thinking a lot about Samuel Beckett.
When I’m frustrated, I often crave a cigarette even though I don’t smoke. I romanticize the idea of standing and doing something banal—but not doing nothing—and no one would bother me or wonder why I am alone for a moment of solitude. I only think about doing this when I’m feeling absent from Happy, a personified emotion who, like a real person, comes and goes without my own will.
My mother told me on the phone recently to enjoy my body as it is now (my figure, my health, my non-arthritic phalanges) because it is sure to deteriorate as time goes on.
In Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot, Vladimir and Estragon are waiting for a being named Godot for unknown reasons. They talk and wait and wait and talk and encounter a few other people along the way and that is all that happens.
One morning, a dreary February day, I woke up feeling less like myself and blue from uncertainties that I knew didn’t even really matter when I went to give my daisy plant on the windowsill a drink. I had purchased this plant from a drugstore for two dollars. Half of the flower drooped over, its stalk brown and wilted, whereas the day before it had been green and thriving. I was more upset about the metaphorical implications than about the half-death.
I wondered about what my mother meant: how are we supposed to enjoy our bodies? Smokers, I imagine, smoke to enjoy their bodies. Or their bodies feel joy from smoking, a kind of buzz. “Smoking kills” is a warning plastered on cigarette cartons these days because they ruin lungs. But if our bodies deteriorate with time anyway, why not smoke? Why not give in to vices? A few weeks after imaging that moment of smoking to claim solitude, I drunkenly took a drag of my friend’s cigarette. I couldn’t stop coughing. It tasted like stale bread.
I first read Waiting for Godot when I was sixteen and I’ve been thinking about it ever since, how to make sense of it. In absurd dialogue, Vladimir and Estragon dance around the questions of why and what they’re waiting for, but they get distracted talking about other topics like a willow tree, a man who passes them, and suicide.
I grow sad when people misuse words even though I’m often guilty of this myself. I think I become sad because I try so hard on a regular basis to not embarrass myself or not to be embarrassing. Misusage of words is embarrassing. “Notorious,” for example, is a word that is frequently misused. A malapropism for famous. But notorious is notoriety for something bad. It is not celebratory. One, I imagine, would not strive to be a notorious person.
Sometimes I wonder if I should have been left-handed, even though I write with my right hand, throw with my right hand, high five with my right hand, and shake hands with my right hand. But I use a fork and knife the wrong way when cutting food, knife in the left and fork in the right. When I listen to music, I air-guitar to melodies and once I noticed I was holding my imaginary instrument backwards. I think about how much I love music, but how I can’t play any instruments. I imagine myself born left-handed (if such traits are genetic), a skilled musician. Someone who could do in places where I can’t. “Left-handed” in Latin means “sinister.”
This isn’t poetry only because I say so. This is Beckett’s poetry: Waiting not too slow regretting not too long the absence. Labeled words with many interpretations.
I learned in high school once that Samuel Beckett wrote in French, his second language, even though he was from Ireland. He did this to distance himself from the text. Likewise, I think of how so many familiar things are overlooked. I have paintings nailed to the walls decorating my apartment and I ignore them daily because they are fixed in the same spot. In fact, Frank Lloyd Wright deliberately avoided this by changing around his own furnishings. If his wife went to the market, she would come back to a completely different looking home. If I changed around my apartment weekly, it would look fresh, like Beckett’s writing in French tongue. L’impression d’exister? The impression of existing. My mother named me Sophie because it is a French name. She wanted a child tethered to French things she romanticized, like the city of lights and crusty baguettes and overemphasized vowels, so when she said my name she would think of this faraway place instead of suburban Illinois. My name, a familiarity, acts as a distancing mechanism.
It makes me uncomfortable how uncomfortable bodies look. I once spent a week staring at knees; they look like knots from old tree trunks. Sitting down, knees appear like they are an intrusion of the leg even though they are a connection. Standing up, they look disfigured. Sometimes I can see faces in knees. Maybe this is what my mother meant? Enjoy my body before these pieces become even more gnarled. The characters in Beckett’s works feel like they float out of time yet seem tethered by their bodies and their setting. Fixed and unable to change easily.
ASMR, autonomous sensory meridian response, is a prickly tingle reaction on the body that often starts at the head and moves towards the lower back. It is not sexual, but it is often triggered by music or speech. I have noticed this sensation when people whisper in my ear, but I never had a term for it until recently and I am charmed knowing that people have posted videos of themselves on YouTube whispering in order to stir an ASMR response. Having a term for a sensation means that it is not a singular experience, but rather, one with which others can empathize.
While Vladimir and Estragon are not provided with physical descriptions, they are portrayed as tramps in live productions of the play. I wonder what Beckett would think of that, his characters, his creations, wearing poor men’s clothes. The writer’s past response on desire: It was long since I had longed for anything and the effect on me was horrible.
I’ve witnessed friends confuse skinny with pretty. When looking for an attractive person at a bar to talk to, my friends go for on-the-surface attraction and I find that I am made blue by the idea that attraction is malleable, incalculable, and shallow.
I bite my nails when I’m bored or anxious so my nails look longer when I’m not bored and not anxious and that’s when I feel the most present in life. When they are short and stubby, I want to smoke a cigarette, but never do. Except for that one time.
I want you to know that so much of this is about the body. Revulsion. Absurdity. Depression. The mind in a state of distress. I wonder how you think, or if you think this way, like me, or Beckett, of things that do not make sense.
Pozzo is a stranger who pulls Lucky by a rope the entire play and barks orders at Lucky constantly. Lucky (who is not quite a slave yet not fully a man) is my favorite character because of his five-minute monologue of nonsense. “Given the existence as uttered forth in the public works of Puncher and Wattmann of a personal God quaquaquaqua with white beard quaquaquaqua outside time without extension who from the heights of divine apathia divine athambia divine aphasia loves us dearly with some exceptions for reasons unknown.” I remember reading this in high school delighted by how confused I was by it and trying to figure out if it was meant as comic relief, as a maudlin aside, or both. He speaks in full sentences but does not stop to think about what he is saying. His thoughts stream out of him freely, fiercely, but all too soon, he and Pozzo are gone.
I wonder why we can’t really control tear ducts. Make sure you enjoy your own body. I think it’s odd when people get upset about celebrities dying. I understand the importance of certain celebrities, but I don’t understand why people cry when more often than not they’ve never meet this person (famous or notorious) in real life. Sometimes, people don’t cry at funerals for their own fathers or mothers.
Samuel Beckett seemed to find the pleasure in confusion. I am trying this. Trying to let go of meaning and bask in things that don’t make sense. So much of the world doesn’t.
I don’t smoke but keep matches in my purse. I like pulling them out to help smokers when they lack a lighter, or using them for light rather than my cell phone. When I was a child, I loved stroking matches alongside the box and watching the genesis of fire. I would light a match and immediately put it under running sink water to listen, satisfactorily, to the spark sizzle out. Once I got in trouble when my parents came home and found the house smelled like smoke.
Pozzo to Estragon in Act One: The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep somewhere else another stops. Beckett, were you happy or sad to write this?
More often than not, people feel sad when it rains or when it is not sunny outside. We describe the weather with human verbs like how the wind sighs or the clouds cry. It’s called the pathetic fallacy for a reason, just like the comfort I find in a cup of coffee is much too immense and important for what it actually is. It’s just a cup of coffee, but it feels good to feel comfort in it.
The body casts away thirty thousand skin cells per hour. It’s strange how massive or negligible number differences can be. Like how the difference between 1,077 and 1,070 is small, while a seven-year-old and a fourteen-year-old may have nothing in common, even though both examples involve a seven-digit difference. Thirty thousand is a number that’s only a fraction of the largest ant colony in the world, which consists of three hundred and six million ants. I know these facts from Google, which means I don’t really know these facts for certain. I’m being told these facts by the internet’s algorithm. When there is a high number of something, losses seem less severe. It’s like how if you lose one percent of that ant population, it really isn’t that much: a small 3,060,000 of the three hundred and six million. On the other hand, think of this in terms of genocide.
Samuel Beckett, internet searches, uncomfortable/comforting cigarettes, things that make me sad like bodies and the weather—this is what I’m drawn to talking about and what makes me equally uncomfortable.
In Act Two: Yes, in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come. I wonder if they are still waiting. I find myself waiting for a more satisfying conclusion to this play, a sense of financial security, a perfect man, a world without violence, more unique things to wait for.
I’m upset that one of my favorite author’s work isn’t as good now because he’s happy. He has a partner and two dogs. He used to live with a foster parent and deal with his father’s drunken episodes. He wrote about that. He hasn’t written about his dogs. It’s unsettling to me that I am grateful for his unhappiness because that is when I am most enraptured by his prose.
SAD: seasonal affective disorder. Take extra vitamin D in February. Daylight savings time feels like a burden because it is dark earlier, but I know we have this situated in seasonal time because it is better to wake up to sunlight than in darkness. I find it so odd that the sun, which is ninety-two million miles away, can so easily affect my mood.
Samuel Beckett was once stabbed in the chest in Paris. His attacker was a pimp named Prudent. In court, Beckett asked Prudent why he stabbed him and Prudent responded, Je ne sais pas. Beckett dropped the charges. He found Prudent charming.
When people talk about blinking, I blink more, notice my own blinking more intently, like contagious yawns. I am reminded of misophonia, which is not really a condition, but rather a term for hating human sounds like snoring or even breathing. Sometimes I am only aware of these things when I really pay attention. Sometimes I think it’s better to not pay attention, to not be repulsed by chewing and shitting and breathing and sweat dripping and biting. All too often, the body contradicts itself. It appears fragile and strong. It breaks and withstands. It excretes and needs tending to. We are all so particular with our own bodies.
The parts here that aren’t about the body are still about the body, but only if the mind is considered part of the body, like some kind of intangible anatomy.
Samuel Beckett and James Joyce used to be friends and writing partners. Beckett helped conduct research for Finnegans Wake. Joyce’s daughter Lucia was in love with Beckett and he didn’t love her back and that’s why friendships stop sometimes. These things are as sturdy as they are delicate.
The recurring trap that is alcohol and lukewarm laundry. The default of talking about the weather. (I am so sick of talking about the weather; it is the one thing we all have in common). Beckett once said, Life is habit. Or rather life is a succession of habits.
Godot is listed as a character in the play, but he never enters in scene. That’s how a lot of things in my mind work. I think about things that never happen, like slapping someone in the face who made me angry or fainting in the middle of the street to see how strangers would react. These moments don’t exist, but they do exist because I make them up. Fantasies becoming memories and remembering when I imagined a memory.
Google asks me, “Did you mean: Who is Lucky in Waiting for Godot? What is Godot? When was Godot? How do you say Godot?”
All of the characters wear hats in the movie version of Waiting for Godot. So many people wear hats to try to be “hat people.”
How fragile the space looks between the foot and the ankle. Like a little ice cream scooper made two dents on either side above the heel. It’s a wonder how we maintain balance. It’s not a wonder that we often don’t.
Spoiler alert: Godot is a metaphor for God. Probably. This is simply the theater of the absurd.
Beckett met his wife, Suzanne, after his sensational stabbing drew more attention to him around the city of Paris. How odd that they met because of a senseless attack.
The choice of someone choosing to wear a hat and not choosing to wear a hat seems significant if you think about it enough. Exhausted topics.
Found in an article about Samuel Beckett: “After his dad died in 1933, Beckett experienced night terrors, stomach pain, and depression. He became a patient of Wilfred Bion, a British psychoanalyst, for two years. During this time, he attended a Carl Jung lecture where Jung discussed a girl who had never really been born, an idea with which Beckett identified. He reportedly told close friends that he felt the same way, and much of his work explores themes of alienation, existentialism, and emptiness.”
Do you ever see someone so beautiful they make you shake? Do you ever get attention from someone you find repulsive? Unreciprocated eye of the beholder.
“The question of who likes what is so unmanageable,” I heard a man behind the gelato stand say. He sounds like Beckett. Or maybe I’m just making this up.
Vladimir calls Estragon “Gogo.” I always think of “estrogen” when I read that name, but really it is the word for “tarragon” in French. Are we supposed to think of this as endearing, or as ridiculous as the play as a whole is?
I once had a roommate I didn’t like very much who went out of town for a month and left behind a plant in our apartment. The plant happened to be sitting next to a bottle of Jameson. I poured whisky on the plant knowing that she had left without tending to it and it was going to die anyway. And it did. The next day she texted me asking if I could water it for her.
Exercise to try later: sit in a room and do nothing. Can this ever really be done? Beckett once said, Nothing is more real than nothing.
When Beckett died, his nephew acquired all rights for the play performances. The capital he runs is known for being strict on how the plays are performed. For example, woman have been denied access to playing the roles of Vladimir and Estragon. Is this legacy?
In one of the first reviews of the play in 1955: “The play bored some people acutely. Others found it a witty and poetic conundrum.” It was August.
Vivian Mercier’s summary of the play: “where nothing happens… twice.”
Yes, let’s go. I want Vladimir and Estragon to move. Beckett’s instructions: They do not move.
It’s really the boy’s fault in the play. For the waiting. In the beginning, Vlad and Gogo wait by a tree and a boy says he’s a messenger for Godot and Godot won’t be coming that day, but tomorrow. They wait.
Beckett’s wish for his headstone: Any color, so long as it’s gray.
Buying a new car and realizing the next day it’s already aging technology is like watching your family and friends’ good and bad habits exacerbate over time is like watching two seemingly pathetic characters stuck in the same place when they could be so much more, do so much more, is like witnessing real life.
Rumpus original art by Carl Dimitri.