The rain radar above Delft has coloured red. There’s a strong wind blowing from all directions. And there I go. Steering my way through the ponds. Probably carrying too many non-waterproof bags. Wearing only one glove, as I’ve already lost the other. Of course, biking through the rain isn’t exactly my hobby. Yet, I wouldn’t want to miss those rides. My body and brain have come to treasure the cold, frown-faced moments in life. That’s new, and still surprises me.
For there was a time I couldn’t stand the daily hassle of life. I wanted to make the most of daytime. Biking through the rain didn’t exactly add to that. A day stuffed with studying, being creative and talk with friends -so to say ‘meaningful moments’- would. However, the reality check was that my quest for quality time brought me the opposite of what I was hunting for. Not only did I despise wasting time with getting soaking wet and dry again. But then I also spoiled the moments where the magic should happen by feelings of pressure, shortcoming and disappointment.
How I changed from an experience-hunter to a person who appreciates unpleasant bike rides, I don’t exactly know. But this summer, I witnessed a theatre performance that staged what they mean to me with uncanny preciseness. ‘The Underground’, it was called, a crazy circus by interdisciplinary ensemble NITE from Groningen. Based on a short novel by Dostojevski, the play follows the memoires of a man who tries his very best to live. Up to society’s expectations, but also to his own norms and values.
Time and time again he fails to satisfy either or both of them. He never succeeds to find fulfilment in his job, doesn’t fit in with his colleagues and, of course, all his supposed friends leave him behind at a party. He’s literally the clown who eventually always finds himself with a cake smashed in his face. Eventually all the layers of dough and cream force him to conclude that a human “may try to move heaven and earth but he’ll never be a different human than this. That this is it. Nothing more. And less isn’t even possible.”
Too dark, down and cynical? Not in this show. The ensemble serves the topic with vibrance, extravagancy and humour. It is an ode towards the frailty inherent to the project of life. We all try to find our path, play our part, live up to something. But it seems inevitable that some cake will somehow smash us in the face.
“We might need a little lesson in suffering”, director Guy Weizman observed in an interview. Thereby he explicitly excluded severe physical or clinical mental obstacles, such as depression. But rather those bitter realities we all recognise. In which your best friend always gets the best jobs or your well-deserved vacation doesn’t turn out the way you expected.
A little pain is unpleasant, yet immanent to life. “We really aren’t perfect and we’ll never be the best version of ourselves”, Weizman said. If we can admit that, we could become much better at living through discomfort. And perhaps, like a clown, even go for a genuine laugh along the way.
And that’s why I refuse to take the bus when I’m again facing a bleak, stormy autumn shower, packed with heavy groceries and a bag with equipment for sports. ‘The Underground’ made me realise that these miserable moments could be part of those lessons in suffering.
What they teach me? That it’s possible to embrace the many discomforts in life. Not by digging for the tasty cherry in every thrown cake. No ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. But just by trying to feel through the malaise, yet trust that no matter how big the raindrops, your mind and body will carry you anyway. This is it. Nothing more, less isn’t even possible. And that’s fine.
Nienke Floor – Program Maker
On blue Monday, January 16th, we host a Philosophical Cafe (in Dutch) on ‘being unhappy’. In Theater de Veste, our thoughts will go to the flipside of our Quest for Happiness. Why is it important to attend to the blue sides of life more? Sign up for the waitlist here or look out for the recording at our website.