The Long, Dark Teatime of the Soul

“There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.

There is another which states that this has already happened.”—Douglas Adams, preface to The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

About once or twice a year, especially when I feel the world is too much with me, I turn to an unconventional source of solace, the 1986 Wings Books edition of Douglas Adams’ THE ULTIMATE HICHHIKER’S GUIDE [to the galaxy]. Absurd, mostly unfathomable causality reigns throughout the Guide’s five complete novels, which began as a concept for a science-fiction comedy radio series. Everything happens here within a self-aware meta-reality, ultimately surreal and populated by an alternation of the unexpected with the humdrum. None of it makes much sense.

The meaning of life, the universe and everything is the number ’42,” as calculated by a super ultimate computer. Adams aims to tell us any search for meaning is a joke. As he put it succinctly in the third book, Life, the Universe and Everything, we are living now in ‘the long, dark teatime of the soul.” Like the Guide’s protagonist, Arthur Dent, we are waiting for the worst and unimaginable to end, but it drags on and on, from one improbable moment to the next, including momentary instances of redemption. In a way, Adams’ work is an allegory, mirroring the elusive nature of the quest for meaning in human life, for some anchored by faith, or for others untethered in chaos.

In the second book, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Arthur finds himself, along with Ford Prefect, a restaurant critic for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe (imagine an intergalactic Lonely Planet guidebook), at the heart of a strange spaceship resembling an Italian bistro in London’s East End. Presiding over its controls is a Moses-like fellow named Slartibartfast. Arthur calls the whole place a joke.

“I know what it looks like,” said Slartibartfast…Arthur had a sudden, vague flash of what it might mean, but he refused to believe it. The Universe could not possibly work like that, he thought, cannot possibly. That, he thought to himself, would be absurd as, as absurd as…he terminated that line of thinking. Most of the absurd things he could think of had already happened.” (pp.343-344)

Ninety-five per cent of my worries concern circumstances that never materialize. Whatever is devastating, upsetting, miserable, nauseating, or just plain absurd, happens in that five percent that I can’t or won’t imagine.  My 95% is like Arthur Dent’s towel; he carries it everywhere as insurance against the 5%.

Nevertheless, from the moment Dent encounters Ford Prefect until the end of book five, Arthur’s life is quite muddled. He should not have survived through book five, but he does, without comprehending why or how anything happened until an intuitive moment at the end.

While living in this dark teatime of the soul—and glad to be here regardless of its meanness and absurdity—I have long searched for meaning, even if some think it a joke— whether “it” is the search or the meaning. Whatever happened to Arthur during the five narratives, he did find value in the company of those with whom he developed some sort of connection. That value gave meaning to his existence.  I, too, find a great part of life’s value in relationships.

My writing is a means of connecting in an essential way with others and creating a bond. My fictions explore and transcribe human behavior in the guise of the fantastical creatures populating them, and my essays, reviews, and musings ponder contemporary life.  All my work, whether in prose or pencil, comprises a search for meaning and transcendence from the dark teatime of the soul.



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