January 4, 2016 | by Bryne Yancey

At some point, there’s a moment when the haziness of my own vision and the cloudiness of the bar lights perfectly intersect and it’s difficult to tell where one begins and the other ends.

It’s dark. Faces lose their definition in the dark. They become the vague face of any stranger I could walk by on the street. I make eye contact with them, they make eye contact with me, we maybe exchange a hello, and then continue walking, never to see each other again. We have hundreds of thousands of interactions just like this throughout our lives. People with life stories we’ll never know, hardships we’ll never experience firsthand, aspirations we’ll never encourage. The difference is, when we’re out on that street, they can see my face and I can see theirs. We draw quick, ephemeral conclusions on strangers based on everything we see or hear or smell out on that street. We write their entire backstories in our heads. It happens in a split second. Maybe someone is walking extraordinarily fast, or too slow, or with a difficult gait. Maybe they’re talking to themselves, spitting what sounds like nonsense to you but makes perfect sense to them. Maybe their clothes are tattered and dirty, their hair is matted together. Maybe they’re yelling at someone else on the street or on the phone. Maybe we’re walking too fast, or being too loud, or not as aware of our surroundings as we should be. We see each other, and it’s brief, forgettable and yet, full of snap judgments. Self-preservation is the strongest human instinct after all. But it’s harder to judge people if you can’t see their faces, so I’ll sit at this bar, where there’s so little light, so few stimuli that I feel like I’m underwater in a trench, alone.

I don’t know what it says about me or about how my brain functions that I can’t stop thinking about something I read scrawled on the wall of that bar’s dingy bathroom stall. We’ve been in enough of these stalls to know that the graffiti they often house is, like those strangers on the street, not prone to a second look. It could be something extremely hateful or insensitive, or maybe an inside joke to which we aren’t privy. It could be gibberish. Drunk bored people scrawl nothingness on bathroom stalls but sometimes a seemingly throwaway message takes on more of a meaning. Maybe I was searching for something and found it there of all places. All I know is that months later, it still gives me pause.

“None of this matters. Have a good time”

It’s an eight-word story that could be interpreted in several different ways. “None of this matters,” “this” being life in general, I suppose. There’s a certain nihilism to it that deep down, I find oddly relieving. I exert so much of my energy trying to convince myself and others that “this” does matter, but death is still imminent, not at the forefront of my head, but hovering around the back of it like a specter. I don’t think about death very much, but I know it’s coming, maybe not right away, though it could. Knowing that, one might suggest we live our lives to the fullest and continue exerting energy toward positive things and people we love. It’s inspirational and well-intentioned, if occasionally a bit hollow. Does “this” matter?

But there’s also a part of it brimming with optimism. “Have a good time” seems self-explanatory enough, if a little cavalier in nature. But then I go back to the first sentence and wonder, does none of this really matter and are we just worrying ourselves to death for no good reason? Are we having a good time—or should we be having a better time—because none of this, life, the things we care about and discuss and write about, really matter? And if so, are we alright with it not mattering?

I’m no philosopher and neither is the drunk guy who scribbled that message on that bathroom stall. But what are we doing here? What do we want to get out of this? It’s unhealthy to live inside a bubble, but is that why we spend so much time and energy thinking, analyzing and disseminating every single thing that makes us upset or offends our sensibilities? Some of the happiest people I’ve ever met rarely, if ever, use the Internet. At a certain point, are we making ourselves miserable with our own worldliness? Is our happiness ingrained into our screens and our constantly refreshing timelines? Does our existence hinge on any one thing, or does it just not matter? Perhaps we’re focusing on the wrong things but it’s impossible to know what the right things are for very long. There’s too much information, too much of it poorly and hastily communicated, some of it outright lie, and as a result, we tend to be one-sided and stubborn in what we choose to believe. I know I do.

Then I start to think of New Year’s resolutions and how many of us use the flipping of the calendar as a milemarker in our lives where, on one side of it we used to do that and now, on the other side of it, we do this instead. It’s a quantifiable, if random benchmark for reflection, introspection and ultimately, self-improvement. But we don’t just make resolutions on January 1. We make them every day of our lives, and they’re often just as fleeting as New Year’s resolutions. We resolve to care more about ourselves and others, certain things and people and causes and injustices, but then they often fade from a scream to a whisper, that is, until the next thing comes along. We hop from thing to thing and person to person, looking for something to cling to that’ll never there for long. It can make someone feel pretty damn insignificant. But insignificance seems quieter, at least.

Maybe we should just have a good time, as if that weren’t easier said than done. It’s time to get back to work.