Existence Precedes Essence


Our Daily Correspondent

Uh …

I lost an idea last night. It was late, and I was tired, and I had some kind of insight that seemed interesting—but, with hubris worthy of a Greek tragedy, I told myself I’d remember in the morning. Of course, I didn’t. All I remembered was the lightbulb moment, which, with each passing hour, became more dazzling, more revelatory, more important in my memory. Within a few hours of my forgetting it, this had become the best idea I’d ever had. 

I tried to retrace my steps. I looked at everything I’d read before bed: a book on the existentialists, a volume of the Betsy-Tacy series, an aging New Yorker piece. None prompted any recollection, so I returned to the crossword I’d been working, the frankly insulting Pandora station I’d been listening to, and the series of YouTube videos my husband and I had watched before bed: a Neil Diamond concert film and the 2002 UK novelty hit “The Cheeky Song (Touch My Bum).” Both of these masterworks had prompted deep online research, of course, s0 I vanished again into those rabbit holes, too. 

Still nothing. Perhaps I’m just getting older. Normally I welcome any sign of aging: with a gray hair or a slight diminution of flexibility comes the sense that precocity, or the expectation of energetic achievement, is slipping ever farther out of reach. A great relief. But somehow one still imagines oneself inside a slightly older body, and I am coming to see that that, too, is the arrogance of youth.

Or maybe it’s the sleeping pills.

There’s that wonderful part in The Shop Around the Corner where Jimmy Stewart’s character talks about the glories of uncertainty. “Did you ever get a bonus?” he asks his colleague. “The boss hands you the envelope. You wonder how much is in it, and you don’t want to open it. As long as the envelope’s closed, you’re a millionaire.”

A lost suitcase; a careless housekeeper; a mind that did something special, one time, that would have changed everything. But I was too busy thinking what “Touch My Bum” might have sounded like, as covered by Neil Diamond. (Strangely perfect.) 

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.