Life can feel both purposeless and full of meaning in the same breath. On the one hand, we drudge on through our scheduled days, checking off an exponentially-growing to-do list that never seems to shrink. On the other hand, we search for happiness, both in the little things that brighten our day and in our long-term goals as we attempt to ignore the daily grind of tediosity before it traps us in its vanilla stranglehold. And all the while, we continue digging through the sand like a kid in a sandbox, hoping to find something, anything, to entertain us further.

To tackle life’s meaning is no easy task, but Maine-based rapper Milo does just that with grace and confounding intelligence.

On his song “galahad in goosedown (fiat iustitia, et pereat mundus),” Milo confronts the fact that many of his fans claim to get a sense of hope from his music despite much of it communicating his solipsistic beliefs of life being a rather meaningless and solitarily experience. Milo raps, “They yelling, ‘Bro, you inspire me’ / Like I ain’t the n**** who said ‘Oh well’ to life’s entirety (oh well).”

While he’s glad he was able to give others purpose through his art, Milo remains baffled as to how his downtrodden -albeit incredibly complex- thoughts do so. He then confides, “If life were a dream of euphoria / we would not have schizophrenia or paranoia,” repeating the phrase several times before the song comes to a close. In that moment, Milo comes to a firm understanding in his philosophically-attuned spoken word that within humanity exists appalling, inevitable pains such as diseases and mental illness, believing, therefore, that life achieving any amount of perfection is an impossibility.

Although it may sound depressing, his acceptance is one that leads to happiness; if we were forever bound to an endless euphoria, we would have no knowledge of pain. Consequently, we would be tortured by the monotony of static happiness, thus evolving into a static sadness. Milo accepts sadness in order to let the happiness enter as well.

David Eagleman’s collection of short stories, “Sum,” battles many of the same confusions that Milo struggles with in his music. In the second story, “Egalitaire,” Eagleman describes a God who sets out to create a new heaven that includes everybody, regardless of their earthly wrongdoings. This God decides that it’s just too hard to draw the line between good and bad, so instead chooses complete equality in hopes of complete happiness. While this sounds like a recipe for a blissful utopian afterlife, the results turn out to be quite the opposite.

“The conservatives have no penniless to disparage; the liberals have no downtrodden to promote,” Eagleman writes. In other words, everybody becomes miserable; with a scarcity of dissimilarity comes nothing to believe in, thus the hopeful God with good
intentions seems to have created a monster. Eagleman then comes to a halting
conclusion: “So God sits on the edge of Her bed and weeps at night, because the
only thing everybody can agree upon is that they’re all in Hell.” What began as a quest for complete perfection becomes irreversibly engulfed in complete dissatisfaction.

While Eagleman dabbles in existentialism and the afterlife, poet Charles Bukowski preferred to deal with the harsh realities of day-to-day living. The late Los Angeles-based writer dedicated much of his work to therapeutic confessions that juggled apathy, hopelessness and loneliness in an attempt to sort through the difficulties that plagued much of his broken younger life.

In his poem, “The Secret,” Bukowski explains his belief that flawless people don’t actually exist, saying, “don’t worry, nobody has the / beautiful lady, not really, and / nobody has the strange and / hidden power, nobody is / exceptional or wonderful or / magic, they only seem to be.”

At first glance, the beginning of the poem reads like an extremely bitter ridicule from someone who lived most of his adult life check-to-check. That being said, Bukowski soon delves into the ethos of his statement: “the world is packed with / billions of people whose lives / and deaths are useless … there are no strong men, there / are no beautiful
women. / at least, you can die knowing / this / and you will have / the only possible / victory.”

Feelings of listlessness translate into something more as Bukowski discovers that each person contains their own personal insecurities, flaws and faults; at the same time, he understands that the notion that all of our lives are equally meaningless – that each person must strive to attain their own happiness without comparing it to others – supplies a sense of contentment. It seems loaded with dismal undertones – and maybe it is – but understanding that what you see on the surface is not the whole truth and that we all live and die in the same manner is necessary for attempting to understand our own fragile mortality.

Moments of intense happiness would be nothing without moments of intense
sadness; saying “oh well to life’s entirety” would be off-putting if not for those who can find happiness in the message. Strong men and beautiful women containing no flaws would make the average person’s life seem vapid. It’s this delicate balance, this unpredictable see-saw, that fuels the smiling sandbox child in all of us. As we kick around in the gritty sand, digging for an answer like it’s a lost toy, maybe we should look up and realize that there was never really any toy at all.

But then again, maybe the digging is the exact thing that we’ve been enjoying all along.

Oh, well.