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Drowning in Meaning

As easy as it is to provide meaning, order, and control to your life, it’s hard to embrace the uncertainties and ambiguities that life may throw your way. Psychologically, humans are control freaks who constantly try to clear up and contend with contradictions and paradoxes. This comes from a strong desire to direct our own lives and put things in the rightful spaces or locations we have chosen for them — be it your feelings, or a novel which merely needs a bookshelf to be rested on. I fully believe in the art of decluttering and the positive effect it has on your mental state. That said, ambiguity in terms of having multiple answers to a question or simply not having an answer to why or how, is a valid state of existence. It’s not necessary to solve or fully dissect every problem like a mathematical equation or riddle. Some things just do not have a viable solution or fixed space for you to assign them.

Think of it this way. While there are some who do not remember their dreams, there are others who look for every possible explanation behind their teeth falling out or being chased down by a daunting unknown figure. Why can’t we just revel in the imaginative ability of our unconscious mind and stop connecting the intensity of our dreams with our conscious actions? Sometimes things do have very straightforward and blunt surface level explanations rather than some extremely profound prophecy we’d like it to be associated with. Just as a nation or state is a constructed entity, so are so many of the meanings we constantly attach to our experiences and daily situations. This preoccupation with attaching meaningful explanations and reasons to everything that we encounter has led to a crisis of overthinking and bitter anxiety at the slightest hint of not knowing what is to come. While watching an absurdist piece of theatre or reading a satire, an ambiguous narrative can be read and performed in multiple ways. Each person brings something different to their reading or performance of it, not abiding by the clear-cut ways of perception or understanding. This individual novelty overturns the tendency to associate the presence of ambiguity with a lack of purpose or pointlessness. In fact, ambiguity in a situation actually leaves the audience pregnant with purpose.

Everything does not have to be invested or infused with meaning. It can be as ambiguous as a smile — one that hides its true emotions behind its creases, one that is sometimes accompanied by a sly smirk or feelings of sheer distastefulness. While Oscar Wilde said “to define is to limit”, for most people, leaving things undefined and ambiguous is a struggle. For many, it’s easier to fit people into boxes, reframe or order narratives according to ourselves and provide our own self-made justifications. This denies the existence of a grey area or an in-between space where things simply happen with no rhyme or reason. Constantly denying the presence of this caustic pit of uncertainty by concocting supposedly meaningful explanations is, simply put, a form of deceit and mendaciousness to yourself and others. Although a lack of ambiguity in a situation may make you look good to others, it’s also an obsessive fabricator's trait. Attaching reason to an action or voicing an opinion is not always an explanatory tactic. It can be used by pretentious manipulators who use the acquired information to reframe or reconstruct a version of events — what ultimately becomes gossip or legend in our channel of conversation. This proves that humans just cannot sit still with their feelings, thoughts, viewpoints, or any kind of ambiguity for that matter. There has to be a tale to spin, or a biased version of a story to retell.

Ambiguity allows you to write your own outcomes and truly decide the interpretations you’d like to live by. And sometimes the lesser you know, the better it is. Rather than swimming only in familiar territories or knowing too much of what affects you adversely, it’s preferable to be oblivious and “live in the unknown.” As bold as it is to take risks, there’s a certain kind of ambiguity involved in not knowing the outcome of your actions. In my words, I would encourage you: be the novel with an open ending; be the blank space which doesn’t call to be filled; be the action without a valid reason, be the unexplainable coincidence. Don’t ask to be defined when you can spill into a cup and not fit into a box.

Illustration: Liza Vasilyeva

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