A Rant on Muffins, Existentialism and Kilimanjaro

by Johanna Holbrook, staff writer; illustration by Sarah Wool, editor

This wheely chair is quite comfortable. I have found, in my experience, that the majority of wheely chairs are. I am perched on this one, hunched over my notebook in intense concentration as my friend completes her archeology homework at the table across from me. She is going abroad next semester, expanding her life’s boundaries to include the African continent. I can almost see the last grains of sand cascading to the bottom half of her hourglass and . . .

Here we go, the concept of time envelops my moment. How ephemeral time is. This moment here, that we have now, is transient. In a single millisecond, it will no longer be this moment. The seconds are flying by, we are speeding towards the inevitable annihilation of ourselves, and we are the sand tumbling within the confines of an impalpable hollow cage that is our life’s limits . . .

So, if impending termination lurks ever nearer, why in the hell am I not going abroad next semester, when I could trade in Pike’s Peak for Kilimanjaro? Carpe diem, baby! A simultaneous elicitation of sadness and hope—hope, because time’s limits have awarded me the choice of action! Sadness, because disregarding the theoretical appeal, I will never take that spontaneous course of action. There’s homework, commitments, my bed—I can’t just get up and leave.


But then again, why the hell not? It’s my only chance at life, after all. Come to think of it, would I even be in college if I had a choice? What would I be doing otherwise? Probably traveling the world, saving baby animals and mastering Sub-Saharan dialects. But traveling entails money. And a career breeds cash. Which means: I’m not going anywhere.


Maybe I’ll go get a muffin at the coffee shop . . .


No, forget the muffin—that’s just a subconscious distraction from finishing my paper, which pertains to the Great Mother archetype in Jungian psychology. The ocean is often symbolic of the Great Mother archetype, which time-warps me back to this summer, in Sicily, where I would fall asleep with the waves still churning inside me, pushing, pulsating to a primordial maternal rhythm that could infiltrate my dreams with limpid, disembodied images. Primordial rhythms are inherent in everything really, utmost in the desire for a muffin . . .

Which, quite virtually, is the center of the world. A muffin is the center of the world. I am ranting about all these existential, philosophical life questions, when at the center of my personal universe lies—ta da!—a muffin. At the end of the day, it’s the desire for a satisfying bite to eat that drives our most basic behavior. I live for my stomach. God, I cannot believe that the intellectual productiveness concerning the outcome of this paper hinges on my stomach’s hedonistic personal fulfillment. Maslow was so completely right. Forget the pinnacle, I’m condemned to the base.

I want to forget about the muffin and strive towards self-actualization. I really, really do! Sometimes I wake up at night, an ineffable paroxysm within my chest, as if the life unlived within me is composing a mass insurrection. The red blood cells assert themselves in revolt. All right, calm down already—there’s time, plenty of time, you’re still a kid. There’s time to read Kant and Spinoza and Locke and to write a novella and master the French subjunctive tense and partake in a romantic encounter with a high school crush and dispose of the muffin crumbs from the bottom of an ink-stained bag before Christmas break . . .


God, but who am I kidding? There is not enough time; will there ever be? It’s that sensation you get when you step into an enormous old library, the ones with spiral staircases and high, vaulted ceilings that open up into a convex stained-glass spasm of intellectual fervor and you run your bare fingers over the history of thought bound in leather, worn down by inquisitive hands from ages past and it dawns upon you, wrought with the wild, panicked sensation of attempting in vain to grasp the last scintillating vestiges of an unsalvageable sunset, that there is not enough time to digest every work put forth by this infinite banquet. How can I die without reading Les Miserables in its original version front to cover?! Can I possibly in my right mind be okay with that??


Breathe. You’ll just have to go with your top picks. Besides, who wants to sit in a library and read for the rest of their life when there’s a whole world out there to see and feel and experience? If I sort of tilt my hand in the light, like this, the membranous skin between the thumb and pointer finger radiates with a strikingly mortal, pellucid glow. This is real, this is human. I exist. This is a miracle! I wonder if there is someone near Mt. Kilimanjaro who is similarly examining their own webbish epidermis, pondering the exact same thought. That thought is his and his is mine. Do shared thoughts fly up into the atmosphere, flocculate in consciousness on some separate, transcendental plane, and morph into a single entity? Does this thought live out an eternal existence, fed by the multitude of contributions it receives daily from so many Earthly contemplations of existence?


And what parts of my brain (and yours) are lighting up at this very moment in time, employed in the generation of imagination? Sometimes, if you feel very hard, you can sense your own thinking process taking place. It reverberates throughout your skull, filling it with a bright, inspired hum . . . again I feel the Mediterranean—pulsing, churning within the neural crevices that house memory. Semaphore, that word again, those three little dipterous syllables bobbing up through my hippocampal folds, an obnoxious jack-in-the-box of Greek origin.


I love the phrase “optic semaphore.” I just made it up. But in all honesty, wouldn’t it just be better to say “communication via eye contact” and make things a lot simpler for everyone? Why why why am I caught up in the florid, meticulous beauty of deceptive verbal devices? Just take OFF the makeup and go for the natural look, kid, or you will forever lose yourself to the proclivity of superfluous, inconsequential over-expenditure . . .

Oh, it’s almost 2:30 am.

This could explain a lot.

Coffee shop’s closed.


A Rant on Muffins (PDF)


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