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Dennis Higgins, author, father

This installment of Finding Your Writer hits close to home for me. Dennis is an author of light, fizzing, and youthful novels concerning time travel and murder. Dennis is also my father.

His novels, boarding pastism surreal science fiction, are far less concerned, to my joy, in presenting a grand addition to human literature, as they are in indulging us with a revelation into the author himself. Reading him, the feel is unmistakable that Dennis writes in order to understand himself better, a long tradition of artists grappling with their craft. Dennis writes to find his voice, to wrestle out distinctions of a blurry past, and as a means to self discovery. Biased or not, I love him for that; I believe in him for that.

The day he announced to our family he was publishing a novel, we had questions. Could he write? Did he always have an interest in literature? I remember his joy of journaling long ago, but here it was, a stack of fresh and glossy novels laid open in brown boxes at the foot of his stairs. It felt like Christmas. I reach in to grab one. It was this exact moment, in my confusion and wonder, that I felt I knew the very least about my father, that I had a world yet to know, and the day my copy arrived in the mail I began by reading though the inscription into chapter one, into a whole new insight of him, of me, of us.

Amongst other similarly cerebral novels he has written, for his work in Steampunk Alice, Dennis’s take on Alice in Wonderland, a naive young Alice is whisked away to a mechanical, leather strapped, 1900’s industrial revolution styled, Steam Punk alternate universe, and must find her way back home. Campy, fun, thrilling and brilliant. What else can I say?

Now, will Dennis write the next great American novella? Not in the next few years I suspect, but this was never the point for him, for me, and for my family.

Dennis writes novels of exploration into the human condition simply by writing himself, his fears, his joys and interests into each book. And so I have gotten to know him, that is, the universe expanding in his head, his heart, more than I ever have been able, as neither kid nor adult, and that is the true point.

My father writes.

Writing to find ones self.

Because perhaps, in an unfinished world, creation is far less about the art we sculpt, and more about the men we become at the kiln.

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Lie To Me, Sweetly

Lying is the proof of our human experience. Art is the art of the perfect lie.

Tumblr makes for a perfect example. It's the definition of a safe space. We receive only the content we pursue. We can flag, ignore, delete the experiences we don't want to taste. To steal a line? Here, 'everything is beautiful and nothing hurts'...unless we want it to. The pain is good.

That's why Tumblr is an art site. Tumblr itself is art, a collage of our own making. A microcosm.

We can't bear the raw data of the lives we lead. From the most privileged to the battered and beaten-down, we all struggle with our experience. We are all in the worst pain we've ever felt. We are all subject to the worst days we'll ever know. We aren't programmed for perspective. We have very little depth perception, especially for the world off-screen. It's just  too much to take.

So we filter down. We add sepia tones. We share what we know. We write what we know. We see what we know, because those are the experiences that affirm us. The pain is good. The joy is even better. Art communicates in sharp contrasts and soft edges, because we can handle that.

And why is so much art about love? Just how much of love and what comes with it can we take?

Just how much of love do we really, really look at?

Art is the art of the perfect lie, and the way that we see love is no exception.

Prompt: An aesthete of an Anonymous asked me:

How does art show the human experience? How are art and love connected?

This piece can be as uplifting or depressing as you like. How comfortable are you with escape?

(c) 2013 Lawerence Hawkins. Seeking writing prompt, questions, feedback, and more.

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The Exhausted Optimist

Don't you see? You see, wanting is the death of having. And no, it's not a pretty death.

Don't be ridiculous. Nothing's pretty until somebody makes it up. If only with their eyes.

How many dreamers have you met in life? How many romantics have you come across? How many projects, plans, and perfect days have been just across the next horizon? How many wadded-up pricks of paper line your pockets? Be honest now. None isn't as sad as several. Let me explain.

What sane kind of creature makes their fingers bleed? Who writhes and swears and throws things with real value over something half-imagined and half-overheard? Who cries at songs, for what they say, but for the words in them that they have to just pretend to understand? Do you? I'm sorry.

I'm not sorry if you don't, though. There's dying ugly, and there's dodging life. Tomorrow, will you? Today, will you buy little notebooks and a few dozen more guitar picks? Yesterday, did you go to bed with a full belly and an empty page or two? Did you set goals? Were you reasonable? Well?

Wanting and not doing is so much easier than trying and failing. This is already known.

Wanting and losing is so much easier than failing again. Again. Again. This is no surprise.

So do. And do. And do until the day you die. You may not even once, not even once manage a damned thing. But you'll die with full pockets and fingers that feel good to the raspy touch.

Want will eat you alive. It has. It will. Too bad.

Bite back while you can.

Prompt: hourlywritingprompts:

Writing prompt of the hour: desire

He said to himself, projects on the afterburner. Because it's not the block, but the silence after...

(c) 2013 Lawerence Hawkins. Send me prompts, questions, feedback, or anything. I'll be here.

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The Tomorrow People - My Thoughts on the Future of Spec Fic

Radioactive by Imagine Dragons on Grooveshark

Superman has blood on his hands. There are no Western Isles and Frodo's eyes will never cool, not even down to a simmer. We saw the hero we needed and we cheered for the villain we really deserve. Even after we let him fall.

Ours is not a naive generation. That's why we're the perfect ones to save the world.


 

I grew up on science fiction and fantasy. I learned right and wrong from superheroes and Martin Luther King. I was sitting in my French class when the towers fell. The dust still hasn't settled. We have grown up, not through a Depression, but through a more insidious and unresisted poverty. I have magic in my grasp. I have all the information I could ever want, one little search box away. Still, I can't stand to look at it more than a few minutes a day. I'm unusual. Most just filter out hard truths.

Dates vary, but this is my millennial generation. This is the backstage to our stories.

We still have our heroes, from Harry Potter to Katniss Everdeen, to Sam and Dean to Sherlock. That said, they aren't the heroes of our parents and our grandparents. We have more in common with T.S. Eliot and Percy Shelley than we ever will with Siegel and Shuster. We don't believe in Superman, because most of us were never lucky enough to see him in our own lives. We were born jaded. Born in doubt. 

I believe that our speculative fiction - our science fiction, fantasy, mystery, any story built outside of everyday experience - is already changing. It belongs to us, handed down from our neglectful parents. Just like everything else we got, it's a goddamned mess. So now what? Our elders don't know how to use their iPhone. But we do.

Millennial fiction is disillusioned. We know we aren't in Kansas and never were. We adapt fast. We know that there's just a dirty old man behind that curtain and we're kind of pissed off about that. The protagonists of our generation are and will be snarky, flawed, and emotionally overburdened - just like us. We know that Obi-Wan is full of it. We know that Dumbledore's got skeletons and more inside his closet. The heroes of our stories aren't going to listen long to lies; we've heard them all.

Millennial fiction is diverse, and in more ways than one. We don't want straight, white (or maybe alien) heroes. We want queer aliens of color trying to hold down a part-time gig at Macy's. We want love stories that transcend categories, dropped into all the wrong settings. We want naughty sex and we want sweet love. We want our fears and feelings affirmed. We want, for the first time in many of our troubled lives, for our heroes to look like us. Most of all? We want to take our stories out of the hands of the fools who came before us. Gods, look at what they did to them...

Last and most important - the big take-away from all of this - is that millennial fiction is determined. We don't have the time or patience for more Bella Swans or Princess Peaches. We get it. Our stories will get it. Privilege will be made obvious. Ignorance will rear its ugly head as a central, if not the only true antagonist in our stories. We will humanize our villains, but we will beat them. We will act with open eyes and compassion, but we will do ugly things. We will make the hard choices.

Millennial fiction, no matter the genre, the magic, the future mechanics, will all be stories about hope, hurt, and the consequences. That's who we are. That's what we see. That's why we'll win. And believe me, we will. We will win. We will overcome.

Wonder Woman will be powerful, sexual, intelligent and will set her own terms on what strength really means. The Age of Men in the Middle Earth will be short, replaced by an Age of Open Hands after endless wars. The Joker will keep being cool.

Ours is not a naive generation. That's why we're the perfect ones to save the world. And we will.


 

Prompt: An erudite Anonymous asked me:

Write an essay on any topic you wish.

(c) 2013 Lawerence Hawkins. Always seeking writing prompts, feedback, or interesting interaction.

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In Dreamtime, Patrisha McLean's Flower Girls Blossom

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Back in 2006 when I first wrote about her work, portrait artist Patrisha McLean was tired of her Flower Girls series, ready to abandon the project for a new one.  At the time, I didn’t think her portraits could get any better, and she may have agreed.  But she persevered with the series, proving us both wrong.

Instead, McLean explored new territory, and the results are breathtaking.  Like the masterful artist she is, McLean has plumbed the depths of the Flower Girls concept, and in doing so explored the deepest parts of our collective psyche.  

Hers is a remarkable photographic journey that begins in photo realism (the language of journalism) and ends in Symbolism, the language of dreams. Symbolist painters, such as Gustave Moreau, Gustav Klimt, Odilon Redon, and Edvard Munch used mythological and dream imagery. Often, like McLean, they created a timeless atmosphere of utter stillness and silence.

Though she began her career as a journalist, McLean’s editorial photography revolves around The Maiden’s Voyage, the mythical coming-of-age of young women.  McLean’s portraits ask "Will the Flower Girl survive her passage to adulthood, with its impending ‘de-flowering?’"  Parents have worried about this since the dawn of mankind, so The Maiden’s Voyage is a common story.

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McLean’s 2008 portrait Lydia with Antique Mirror (above) sums up The Maiden’s Voyage (or perhaps The Heroine’s Journey) in one lovely stroke.  Lydia explores an unknown forest, surrounded by vegetation that seems about to consume her.  But unlike Clara with Rhododendrons (2006), Lydia doesn’t look to the viewer for help.  Reaching the center of the forest, Lydia has stumbled upon herself.  She’s traversed her own labyrinth, a one-way path to the center of her psyche.

In historical myths, a maiden was often seduced by a god in disguise (i.e. Leda and the Swan) at her coming-of-age.  In modern versions, the seduction is watered-down, and the maiden simply loses consciousness at her transition, as in Sleeping Beauty or The Wizard of Oz. The growing importance of the unconscious dream-state in McLean’s work becomes clear when it’s viewed in serial fashion:

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Above (Nora with Old Roses, 2006), an alert young girl is compared to roses.  The message is simple.  Nora is a rose. This is realism.

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In Riley With Old Roses, Dreaming (2006), McLean tentatively approaches Symbolism.  She depicts Riley’s dream, but we 
aren’t in the dream.  We must guess at the dream’s contents, represented by the multi-toned roses swirling around Riley’s head.

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In Becca with Summer Flowers (2008), McLean has taken the plunge.  She’s immersed in her subject’s dream, and so are we.  Becca has taken control, raising her arms and summoning flying flowers to do her bidding, as one might summon the elements.  This is Symbolism.  McLean’s portrait seems to take place in aboriginal dream time, an atmosphere of timelessness, utter stillness and silence.

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Although McLean’s work retains elements of her photo-journalism (who’d expect the gaunt Flower Girl above, with her world-weary stare and her choker of roses?), she now works largely in the realm of the Symbolic.

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Never shy about exploring the dark side, McLean has created a stunning dualistic illustration of the Sleeping Beauty myth.  A daytime Sleeping Beauty is paired with her haunting doppelganger, a vampirish nocturnal beauty. Together, these portraits make me wonder whether Sleeping Beauty will survive her journey to adulthood, awakening in the light as a woman. Or will she remain as adults would have her, forever a little girl, in stasis and in the dark?

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McLean’s most surprising new portrait may be Harper with Old Roses (2008).  There’s something unexpected in this image. With her sensuous face, claw-like nails, and explosion of roses, this is a rapturous Flower Girl who’s come of age, innocent no longer.

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I think Eliza with Peonies and Pearls best sums up McLean’s new work.  The Flower Girls are at the end of their dangerous journey, no longer lost in a forbidding forest.  Some look directly and knowingly at the viewer. 

While the leash of the world still tugs at them (every girl wears a choker or necklace) the young women are now masters of their universe.  Individuation is complete.  The Flower Girls have found themselves, become whole, and blossomed.

Patrisha McLean’s daughter entered college in 2008, and I think her maternal relief, as well as her pride in a job well done, are evident in the Flower Girls series.  There’s a touch of Botticelli’s Venus in the latest Flower Girl images, a sense of joy in presenting the world with a lovely, newly-formed young woman.  By chronicling The Maiden’s Voyage as her daughter grew, McLean has given voice to parents everywhere.

All photographs copyright 2011 by Patrisha McLean, reproduced with her permission. Image resolution has been lowered for online publication. To contact McLean or see more of her work, click here: PatrishaMcLean.com

Article copyright 2013 by Ann Marcaida.

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Exit Strategy

People with IBS or stress incontinence always have a plan. This much, I have in common with them. I can sympathize with the woman with the queasy stomach who only books her seat on the Amtrak train after researching the locations of available bathrooms and calculating ease of access based on aisle width and a number of other factors. Lady, I know how you feel. You go to the zoo with your kid, and you have to plot out all the bathrooms on the tour map. Mark the range of exhibits you can access that are within two minutes’ walking distance of a restroom. Skip the orangutans because they are too far away from this public convenience. Same thing everywhere you go. Research bathrooms ahead of time, mark them out on your map, figure out where you can go where you will always be safe, never more than two minutes from a toilet.

I’m the same way with train tracks. Any exit strategy, really, but trains are a good one because they’re everywhere in Longmont. The town is criss-crossed with train tracks, their whistles echoing behind the soundtrack of every casual interaction. Far-away whistles sound mournful; up-close they are insistent screeches.

Really, any exit strategy will do; it’s just the trains are usually the most conveniently-located. I never go any where without an exit strategy. Like the man with the swollen prostate pressing into his bladder or with bowels constantly complaining of diarrhea, I enter a building or situation and immediately list all of my possible choices for immediate suicide. Unlike my incontinent kin, I never need to act on the opportunity. It just needs to be there, my safety net, my just-in-case bathroom. If I’m near Third Street on Main, I know that I’m not more than a block away from the train tracks. I can go lie down whenever I want, and it will only be a few minutes before a train passes. If I’m stuck in traffic at Ken Pratt Boulevard and Boston Avenue, I can always swerve onto the track.

Some people would carry a gun, but I have more dignity than those who wear Depends to the baseball game. You can call me crazy, but I call it prepared.

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Why I'm Not a Fan of Block Descriptions

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“Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood.” ― George Orwell, 1984

When I came across this quote, it opened up a part of my mind that had previously been cloudy. Suddenly so many things made sense. About myself, and several of my past relationships. One in particular, specifically. I had never thought about this relationships from this perspective.

I was on love once. Or at least, I thought I was. I have more recently realized that what I was in was a shadow of what I thought should be. Truthfully it was never there. The guy I was with loved me, at least in theory. He could ramble on about stupid things I did, how pretty I was, my giggle, how I sneezed like a kitten, and other pointless things. He often resorted to this list whenever he got really upset at me for something and would go on and on about how much he loved me. Now I realize that what that was isn’t love. Also, let me clarify the things he used to get mad at me for; he would constantly check my facebook and read through all of my messages and would get really angry if even one of them was from a guy. Didn’t matter if it was just a friend. If it had a penis, I was obviously cheating. Then he would get quiet, say he wasn’t being controlling, he was just interested in my life and if he could trust me, then I would be fine with him reading my personal messages daily. If I ever told him I wasn’t comfortable with it, he would be like “What are you hiding? What do you have to tell me? Who are you seeing? Why don’t you love me anymore?” And then he would proceed to cry. I, being the loving girlfriend I should be because he loved me SO much, would let him as not to upset him. This all sounds so bad looking back on it… I have since been informed that this is, in fact, a form of abuse, even though I only went home a handful of times with bruises on my arm. Those, he called “An accident” and I just “Bruised too easily” and excused himself because “He didn’t shout at me, and he was just trying to be funny.” He WAS abused as a child, and as long as he wasn’t shitfaced drunk and beating with all his might it didn’t count to him I guess.

So many people in life are looking for people to love them. I don’t need that now. I had someone obsessively in love with me to the point where he controlled me, and I was so completely miserable I couldn’t stand myself. He made me feel like I was constantly doing something wrong, like I wasn’t worth anything if I didn’t do everything to please him. I am an understanding person, so I was constantly reasoning out all of his control and issues trying not to be judgmental, or be a ‘crazy’ nagging girlfriend. I gave up so much of who I was to have him love me. Because I thought that was the most important thing, to be loved by someone. I didn’t think about my own feelings, my own happiness. At the end of the day, he didn’t understand anything about me. He knew all of my physical characteristics and my large life goals, but not much about my personality. I realized this was mainly my fault for just doing what he wanted, but I did everything he wanted because he convinced me that everything…was my fault… so in the end I just feel exhausted by the whole thing.

What positivity I glean from this exhaustion is what NOT to do in future relationships. Romantic, or otherwise. (A similar thing happened to me in middle school with a girl I wanted to be best friends with for some reason.) I don’t need to find someone who loves me, I need to find someone who understands me. If I am understood on a certain level, then I can truly value the companionship of that person. If I just do whatever I have to in order to get a person to stay around because they “Love” me, then I will end up repeating the same cycle of unhappiness. I have had too much of that in my life, and it has been a long hard road to realizing that I don’t have to change who I am in order to please others. Now, people hate me for my self assurance. Self-conscious people DESPISE confident people.

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The Indescribable Fire

My life became consumed by this indescribable fire.

This fire to search for what it is that I need

To find that which can make me whole

I find days will pass but my pen or my laptop calls me back

And it says, "Write in me" or "Type on these keys and on this blank screen".

I laugh to myself and think, is this normal?

For my journals and my laptop to speak to me in this manner?

They are inanimate objects and it can't be normal.

But then a funny thing happens, I pick up a pen and I open my journal

or I'll flip open my laptop and my fingers begin to type with absolutely nothing making them do it.

It's like I'm doing what I'm meant to do or what I should do.

At that point my life is no longer a fire that is consuming me but more a fire that keeps my blood warm, my soul aflame and my life makes sense again. My life makes sense if only for those few minutes or that hour where I write.

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A few thoughts about waiting

The Romanian poet-philosopher Lucian Blaga, had a volume called “The great passage”, in which Philosophy meets poetry in very clever white verses. The idea was that life is a trip that we all take, and during this trip all sort of things are happening to us. Another critic-novelist, George Calinescu was saying in one of his articles that “life is a pendulum which swings between the two extremes, birth and death”. Proust looked at life from a different perspective, trying to find the little details which were lost, pushed away by big ones. He is spending a painstakingly amount of time trying to “study the time lost”.There is no wonder that today he does not have a big audience among the young generations living on steroids, and speed.

Right now though, I can't think on any other writer who defined the process of waiting, a process that every one of us is experiencing at one time or another, as eloquently as Samuel Becket in his play “Waiting for Godot”.

Although today, “Waiting for Godot”, is a classic people love, when it first opened in Paris in the forties, it flopped. The Parisian public, which is know of its tolerance for innovations in the art world, did not find the play acceptable, and the shows stopped only after five empty seats shows.

The play did not fail because it was bad, but its message encapsulated in a very tight code, not accessible to the fun-loving public of Paris.

The idea of the play is totally crazy for a cultivated person who grew up with classic art and savored even things like the Impressionism, although impressionism judged by the classic standards is another aberration.

The plot is illogical, it takes place on a side of the road. The characters my sound funny, but they are funny not because they are conducting a witty dialogue, the dialogue is not a real dialogue, judged by the classic standards. Actually the dialogue seems carried out by two lunatics just out of the asylum. If this is not bad enough, the four characters of the play are actually the same two who change personalities, one morphing into the other.

These two characters, or four personalities keep the audience on their toes for two hours and some, waiting on the side of the road for somebody who never shows up. Their concern is somebody they think will come one day, but they don't know how to recognize him, they don't even know if they really want him to show up in the end.

The mastery of the play consisted in the fact that it spends time analyzing, and defying the process of waiting.

Humans spend a lot of their lives waiting for something, however whatever they are waiting for is something very elusive, undefined which most of the time never arrives, or if it does, it is a disillusion because is not even remote to what they had in mind.

Beckett's wisdom though, was found by a class of people who would be the least expected to discover it, if judged by the conventional standards. They were the fringes of our society, they were rejects, sentenced to live in a different world behind bars, some of them with no hope, or very lengthy wait for ever returning among us. And when they returned, they almost all the time found themselves lost never being able to reintegrate in the society. They were time machine travelers brought back into modern time, suddenly, facing challenges never dreamed of before they went in.

The inmates at St Quentin penitentiary were any of the four personalities waiting for Godot to show up, on the side of the road.

I was fifty some when I really understood the play. I read it several times before, but I never really got too much out of it, although I am always looking for new forms of expression and avant-garde is one of my preferences.

I don't really know what triggered my desire to wait for Godot, but around seventeen years of age, I decided that I had enough of totalitarianism and I had to leave my birth country. Leaving turned into my Godot. I wanted to live in a free world, in which I could think freely and pursue my aspirations of dreaming and not being afraid I could talk in my sleep and get arrested for expressing my real thoughts. I wanted to go to school to study something that I really loved, and I wanted to be responsible for my successes or my failures, whatever my share was. I wanted to buy any book I want, not have others decided what was good for me.

After a few years of waiting, and all the miseries related to the waiting, when we received the exist visa I was so tired and I got so engrossed in the fight to defeat the system, that the news did not hit me at first. The mail ran into me in the street, while I was talking to a friend. He said: “I am sure you are waiting for this, and I did not want to let it in the mail box, but your wife did not answer the door”, handing me a post card. I was so into the conversation, that I thanked him, I glanced at the post card and put it in my pocket not really realizing what it was. I even forgot about it, until I made it home. When my wife and I read it, we could not even enjoy the moment. All we could do was break up in tears while holding each other.

Fast forward a few years, I was in school and waiting to graduate, to get a better job and to start some of the things I dreamed would happen in my new country.

Well, when I finally graduated, I was passed the early age when corporations are willing to hire people to turn them into “success weapons”, so in the end, I had to start my own business, hoping to reach my goals.

The problem was that no one stopped me from dreaming, however I got involved in making a living, and there was no time for dreaming.

Fast forward a few years, again. All of a sudden I found myself behind bars, where I had the time to think a lot about Beckett and his Godot. I did not stay away for a very long, or in very bad conditions. There were better than St. Quentin, but the bars at the windows, are bars at the windows.

Having conversations with some of the inmates, I realized that we were Vladimir and Estragon waiting for Godot on the side of the road. Ours though was sure to come, and we all knew it: the release day. However we did not know the impact of its arrival. Some of the inmates went through the same process before, so they were not as anxious about their release. They knew what it meant to get out, and some were even afraid of that time. At least in jail they had three meals a day, they could watch television, they could read and go trough the petty daily tasks. It was something sure with no variation.

Today, I am not waiting for anything. I am not anxious about Godot. I don't know even if I am hoping to see him one day. What could he bring me that I did not experienced already?

Vladimir and Estragon were two happy bums. They got used to waiting on the side of the road, and enjoying every moment of it. If Godot would come or not, was not important any longer, however it was a way of life, indifferent to the outcome. They were still waiting, but they were not really sure that Godot was their hope, they were waiting, because after all, at birth we wait for the time when we are going to die, whether we want it or not, whether we are thinking about it or not...