Welcome to the very first issue of The Intentional Hulk. I hope you enjoy reading it as much I’ve enjoyed planning it.
Before I get into my reflections on meaning, I’d like to tell you a story about how I got into Substack.
I wrote my first blog somewhere around 1996. That was before it was normal to update one’s own website several times a week, so I didn’t. I became a regular blogger around 2001, but I was shy, so I stayed anonymous and changed platforms often to maintain as much mystery as possible.
My blogs were mostly diary entries and there was no particular focus. I didn’t think I could limit myself to one subject, other than myself, without making myself miserable.
I had such intense stage-fright for so long that by the time I finally got brave enough to put myself out in the blogosphere (after 20 years of trying), blogging was pretty much dead.
A few months ago, I saw Samantha Irby refer to her hilarious “who was on judge mathis yesterday” Substack during an interview, so I got the idea that I’d write a Gilmore Girls Substack just to entertain myself. I planned to write about the various plot holes and psychoanalyze the characters; something I could do endlessly.
As I imagined myself building an audience, it occurred to me that I could take my Substack more seriously. Shortly after that, I figured out how I could unify my writing, and The Intentional Hulk was born.
So, welcome. Thank you for signing up. Now, let’s talk about meaning.
The top book on every list of “books about meaning” is Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.
I’ve not read Man's Search for Meaning, and I don’t intend to. I started it a few years ago, found it way too depressing, and put it down. I’m not a faint-hearted reader, either. I read about 50 books per year, and a good number of those books challenge me.
I’m just not convinced that learning about meaning means that I have to read about the holocaust. Meaning feels like something that’s more ancient and instinctual than that. I crave it the same way I crave food and water. I’d suffer without meaning even if I had everything else I needed in life.
So, what is it?
From what I’ve gleaned about Frankl’s work, he says it’s about purpose. It’s the “why” of your life—the loved one you’re honoring or the greater good you’re serving.
I’ve heard some people say that a higher power assigns meaning to their lives. I’ve heard other people say that it’s up to us to decide the meaning of our lives. As Friedrich Nietzsche put it, “God is dead... And we have killed him,” which was a direct reference to the modern tendency to take meaning out of the hands of God and to put it in our own.
I’ve always been somewhere in between, I don’t see myself as a puppet of destiny, but I do expect fate to step in occasionally to lend a hand.
Regarding the part that’s in my hands, though, despite Frankl’s assertion, I don’t reduce all of the meaning in my life to purpose. I derive meaning out of things that are completely independent of my existence, like relationships, books, art, music, etc.
For now, all I can determine is that meaning is a feeling or a state of consciousness.
It’s a sense you get when you’re engaging with something that takes you outside of your ego for just a moment. It allows you to say, “Yes, this is it. I accept all the suffering of being a human being, so I can do this.”
In other words, it’s a moment in which I recognize the exchange between myself and the universe, and I’m satisfied with it. I don’t feel cheated.
What actions or beliefs are meaningful to you? Is all your meaning derived from one purpose or is there more to it?
When you suffer, do your previous meaningful experiences help you suffer less?
Let me know.
Here are quotes from Victor Frankl in Man's Search for Meaning (it's a great book!):
We can discover the meaning in life in 3 different ways: 1) by creating a work or doing a deed; 2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and 3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.
The first, the way of achievement or accomplishment, is quite obvious. …. The second way of finding a meaning in life is by experiencing something—such as goodness, truth and beauty—by experiencing nature and culture, or, last but not least, by experiencing another human being in his very uniqueness—by loving him.
We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. When we are no longer able to change a situation—just think of incurable disease such as inoperable cancer—we are challenged to change ourselves.
There are situations in which one is cut off from the opportunity to do one’s work or to enjoy one’s life; but what can never be ruled out is the unavoidability of suffering. In accepting this challenge to suffer bravely, life has a meaning up to the last moment, and it retains this meaning literally to the end. In other words, life’s meaning is an unconditional one, for it even includes the potential meaning of unavoidable suffering.
It’s so funny that Samantha Irby was who brought you to Substack, because it was the same for me. I set up an account, but haven’t done anything with it yet. I’m still doing the bulk of my writing for MiddleWisconsin.org, but will be reassessing my role with MW later this year. I am slowly getting back into working on my book. I didn’t want to work on the dark chapters during the pandemic out of concern for my own mental health. I decided to start working on those more when the weather gets warmer, so I can more easily escape outdoors if it gets to be too much.
Love the title you chose! Look forward to reading more from you. We should definitely talk Gilmore Girls sometime too ;)