At this time in my life, I am constantly thinking about what will come next. Do I apply for internships for next year? Jobs? What are my friends doing? Do they have “better,” more furnished plans? Are they better prepared? What if I end up on the streets with nothing to pay for food or warmth and no one wants to hire me? Or rather, what if I don’t get to do what I love? Breathe. “Nothing is certain,” I hear myself say. I hear my father say. I hear those who care about me say. Nothing is certain. And yet in this world in which something terrible could happen at any second: a loved one could get hit by a car, a lover could change his/her mind, an expecting couple could miscarry, a parent could be fired, an innocent citizen could get executed in jail, we go on.
Upon reading Kalman’s The Principles of Uncertainty, I was goofily—or perhaps rightfully—uncertain about what to make of the piece. Maybe as a result of my currently constant musings and fears, or maybe because Kalman compiled it this way, I began to understand the piece in tandem with my current place in my own narrative. Kalman tells us: “The realization that we are all (you, me) going to die and the attending disbelief—isn’t that the central premise of everything?” (46). And perhaps it is. Nothing but death is certain, and yet we keep living.
The title originally struck me as ambitious. By definition, uncertainty cannot quite be defined. Yet, as I read, these “principles” somehow made sense to me. One technique Kalman uses is that in which she takes that which appears to be minutia and bestows significance upon it. She writes, “After all, she had to wash and iron that crazy collar. But then she died. Poor Kepler. Poor Kepler’s wife. Poor everybody. I will go for a walk and calm down” (22). We may note that this comment is humorous. I laughed. The randomness of the collar, and the jump from poor Kepler and his wife (who died) to poor everybody, are abrupt and cause laughter. This may be a case of incongruity, because of the potentially unjustified leap, but it may harbor truth in its representation of the human mind. This truthful leap is not only comedic, but also may embody the relief/release theory. Those of us who can relate to such leaps might find relief in understanding that we are not alone.
Another point in the book at which I felt the chronicle of uncertainty was successful was when Kalman wrote: “I photograph my sister and think she looks so beautiful in her pink hat. What will happen to her? What will happen to us all?” (81). Here, Kalman once again jumps from noticing something about someone to wondering about her, thereby presenting the uncertainties. We should also note that she very quickly moves from addressing the particular to the universal, as in the aforementioned example. Uncertainty is the dictum of existence, and such an existence can be understood by narrowing and widening the lens and exploring how each can inform the other.
Her subtle observations throughout daily life reminded me of a program I heard about recently. Run by Amtrak, the grant allows for writers to take up a round-trip “residency” on an Amtrak long-distance train in order to fuel creativity and a sense of adventure, allowing writers to work on their projects (http://blog.amtrak.com/2014/03/amtrak-residency-for-writers/). This is something that I feel would suit Kalman, but only if she planned to observe and muse on her fellow passengers the way she muses in this book. Yet I realize I bring up the discussion from a few weeks ago on Eat, Pray, Love, regarding the credibility, authenticity and potentially forced nature of writing that comes out of a stipend like Gilbert’s. However, the Amtrak project appears to be less problematic, as these writers are merely given time, space, housing, and food to work on their own pieces and thoughts as opposed to being commissioned for a certain “type” of product.
Throughout this post, I have noticed myself using phrases and terms such as, “perhaps,” and “maybe,” as well as, “seems,” or “appears.” Indeed, this may be a reflection of Kalman’s influence, for directly after reading, I am more aware of the uncertainty of life and its contents. Uncertainty can be incredibly scary, as people generally do not like what they do not understand. Yet Kalman invites us to have a sense of humor about this uncertainty, and to bask in it while simultaneously acknowledging that it scares us. Perhaps I can bring this into my almost-graduate life and remind myself to delight in not knowing. Only death is certain, but the ways in which we cope with or celebrate our day-to-day uncertainties serve as a lens for others to understand us, as well us for us to muse on each other and bask in what we do while waiting to die. This sounds incredibly existential--very Waiting for Godot--but perhaps this waiting for death need not be negative.