Angst

Angst

A Story by Philip Muls
"

My fight against my demons.

"

Christmas Day 2012.  I find myself swimming in the Caribbean Sea, an hour before dusk. I am wondering what will happen if it gets completely dark. I am pretty far out and nobody knows where I am.

Where I am is on Curacao, for a 30-day rehab at the Jellinek Retreat, a serious attempt at sobriety. This is typical of me, this coming to an exotic place to get sober. Believing that the tropical sun can take the pain away, looking for the path of least resistance. Paying a lot of money so the extra guilt will propel me forward. I am 276  hours sober now. But I am the only one counting. My fight, my demons. 

The water is surprisingly warm, causing sensory confusion in my brain which is absurdly visualizing a white Christmas.

While I am putting an ever wider distance between myself and the beach, it occurs to me that it is completely up to me whether I continue swimming to open sea or not. Nobody will tell me to turn around and swim back to shore. It makes me weary to think of this complete freedom to either live or die. I feel utterly alone and groundless, literally as well as metaphorically. Am I really unobserved? Is there nobody to stop me? I did not create myself, yet I am stuck with me. If I am part of the universe, why does it not care? I shiver despite the warmness of the water.

For some reason, I see Edvard Munch’s The Scream in my mind, the iconic painting of the hopeless figure grasping its cheeks in dread along a Norwegian fiord. I am guessing this pops up now because on the plane over, I read in the Wall Street Journal  that the painting has just been sold for 100M$ at Sotheby’s in London. While swimming, I get an image of a 15-year old me, looking at that painting for the very first time in art class, being explained by the teacher that it depicts existential fear. I remember her using the German word Angst to describe the emotion of the character in the picture. The younger me listening, fascinated both with that word and the art. I remember that evening looking up the word Angst and wondering what ‘intense inner turmoil’ meant really. 

I know my own mind, nothing is ever a coincidence. Angst perfectly describes the loneliness and frailty I feel here in the ocean. I feel more self-conscious than I want to be. I picture myself in a Google Maps kind of way, a small red dot in a vast blue body of water. A very mortal creature in a brutal cosmos.  

Not a new feeling. Since I was a boy, I have always been more aware of the absurdity of it all, like I was missing a basic map of the land. Surely there must be a point to all this? And that point cannot be me swimming on and then drowning? All my life, I have been waiting for an outside power to give me purpose. I have been roaming around, circling in a holding pattern above my life, looking down and observing myself. Counting down for real life to begin.  

Like a shipwrecked person, I am looking for something to hold on to. My mind’s eye sees a raft. If I have not come imprinted with the right Operating System, I can build one myself. I can create an essence out of my own existence. I realize that how I solve my inborn desire for meaning directly affects the quality of my life. I suddenly feel I am back in control. I will aim high, I will aim for the meaning of my life.

I feel a sudden exhilaration with this new insight, a surge of power from a center that was hidden and off-limits until this very moment. 

I decide to swim back to shore. It does not end here, not today. 



© 2016 Philip Muls



Author's Note

Philip Muls
A new version v2 has been uploaded. Thanks for the feedback to you all!

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Featured Review

A well-written and entertaining story.
"Like a shipwrecked person, I am looking for something to hold on to. My mind’s eye sees a raft. If I have not come imprinted with the right Operating System, I can build one myself."
I like the logic of the above lines. Made me wish to read more. Thank you for sharing the excellent short story.
Coyote

Posted 2 Years Ago


2 of 2 people found this review constructive.




Reviews

I believe that the account of the feeling 'angst' that you have provided cannot be any better. It is accurate and to the point.

Posted 7 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Philip Muls,
Your story brings to mind that the ability to make decisions so innate to humanity is our downfall or resurrection. The ocean, so immense seems like the heaving voices of lostness in a life and the ending of "Angst" the beginning of healing; "No death; No, not today. Your story was just right in length and message. You have a voice to give to the "angst" of this world. I pray you continue and discover Christ as your Savior....................On the journey too.....................Kathy

Posted 7 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

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Cyd

I like that “The Scream” is actually just called “Scream” by Munch himself, it’s a better name for the piece. Oh never mind.

I bet a lot of people can relate to this, I know I can. You got it across very well and using the painting works nicely.

Perhaps it’s me and my interest in screenplays but I would hint a little more to a sunset, it’s dusk in the beginning but if you can get a sunset in there without being too obvious, well, you would basically be standing in “The Scream” and that would be pretty cool.


Posted 11 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Philip Muls

11 Months Ago

Thank you Cyd for relevant feedback.
Paul

6 Months Ago

I liked the piece, I am drawn to succinct writing with flashes of introspection or poetry. I am not .. read more
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dan
Philip, Such a wonderfully gripping blend of adventure and philosophy you have crafted in this piece. Tying in Edvard Munch's iconic painting to highlight your angst was an artful touch. Your piece made me feel as if I too was swimming too, too far...the shore a memory, the sea a flat pane of blue glass. You haven't lost your touch, sir. Very nicely done! take care...dan

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

First off, thanks for visiting my page and allowing me the opportunity to read your work.

I really, really related to and praise this piece. The writing is impeccable, grabs the reader, and is blunt in style and intellect. My favorite and most relatable line has to be, "A very mortal creature in a brutal cosmos." That seems to be the perfect dictionary-definition of a human being on Earth.

Do you write for any on-line/print publications outside of the cafe? This is awesome work and I'll be back to review others.

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

fantastic! i really enjoy reading your stories, these narratives of angst and existential fear. your writings are like a less symbolic Kafka, and i love kafka, haha. i can 'feel' your characters feelings and i can 'think' your characters thoughts too, so its great writing!

the only suggestion for this that i have is to maybe change out christmas day with just a random day because christmas is a significant day for many people and the mood of the story seems to be that life is life is life is life, ad infinitum, and christmas seems like it makes this particular day of the narrator something more meaningful, which i don't perceive in the rest of the story. other than that one date i think this story is great!! i'll definitely read more.

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

A not uncommon dilemma portrayed uncommonly well.
No mission from God? Take a shot; choose a meaningful (to you) path.
Impressive work, Philip!

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Philip Muls

1 Year Ago

Thank you Frank, glad you stopped by
I think that your story touches on aspects of our search for purpose and meaning that many will identify with. I do! It's a coincidence that I also have a story that I have started and plotted that starts with a man swimming alone on the ocean but with a different ending! I did think that there was a contradiction between 'waiting for an outside power to give me purpose' and 'create an essence out of my own existence' but hell, if I was out in the sea I might be a bit confused! Apart from the reference to rehab you haven't expanded on what the demons are.
Well done for an excellent piece of writing.
Alan


Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Such thought, and all of it happening in the one place where if you aren't careful, it will take your life whether you want to or not. Interesting write, made me think.

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Philip Muls

1 Year Ago

Indeed risky to experiment with existential doubts far out in the ocean. Thanks for commenting.
very real ty for sharing :)

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


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Added on September 12, 2015
Last Updated on February 15, 2016
Tags: fear of death, rehab, angst, meaning

Author

Philip Muls
Philip Muls

Grimbergen, Belgium



About
Living in Europe, but travelling frequently in US and Asia. I love to combine what I experience during travel with observations and thoughts about the human condition. more..

Writing

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