By Jack Canfora
I get it. I totally get it. Whatever you’re feeling at this point in 2020. Anger? Sure. Fear? Totally? A seemingly intractable sense of existential despair you can’t quite name but nonetheless is the ambient soundtrack of your days? Depends on my level of meds at the time, but oh my God, yes, absolutely: 100%.
Please allow me to introduce myself; I’m a man of little wealth and questionable taste. It’ s an honor to be posting my first of what I hope will be many posts on “Pointless Overthinking.” The title of this site alone makes me feel heard and understood in a way I haven’t since probably late during my second trimester. I look forward to hearing from you all, and am grateful for the chance to share my occasional two cents.
I do not believe a sense of loneliness and despair is endemic to the human condition writ large, but I do believe that it is for many of us. I have struggled with depression virtually my entire life – before I knew there was a word for it, and well before I knew not everyone felt this way. At times – sometimes long stretches – it has dominated me; at other times I’ve been able to hit back hard enough to force into a strategic retreat.
To be fair: I think it’s helped me develop some of my better qualities: an appreciation for kindness, a striving for empathy (some days I do better than others), and whatever meager talents I may possess, I feel sure they’ve been whetted by my depression. Most critically, it dissuaded me in the late 80’s from making any serious attempt at break dancing, which I think turned out to be a blessing for us all.
But this post is not about me (which is odd because, as a writer, I tend to assume most things are), but rather an attempt to share with those of us who are both lifelong members of this club (our coat of arms is a person lying in bed, with a half eaten box of donuts lying on the adjacent pillow), and those who may be experiencing it for the first time, or at least more intensely, during this annus horribilis (believe me, for obvious reasons, I took great pains to make sure I had that spelled correctly.
No matter your politics, I think we can agree that there is something despair-inducing about seeing America, and indeed much of the world, so riven with seemingly intractable hostilities. Most of us have lazily on some level bought into the old bi-partisan saw that “What separates is smaller than what unites us.” The past few years have made it harder and harder to believe that. There are a million reasons why, and we’ve all heard them, and most of them aren’t new. Some have argued that we’ve been acceleratingly alienated form one another and ourselves since at least the Industrial Revolution.
I’ve long held to this belief in theory. But to see it take full bloom in the hothouse of media-induced chaos – both of the corporate and social varieties – has driven that alienation and corresponding rage and sadness with a despairing regularity. Perhaps, worst of all, we have no sense of when we will return to a sense of normalcy, whatever that word implies. As master pop-craftsman and de facto philosopher Tom Petty long ago instructed us, “The waiting is the hardest part.”
It does, however, raise an interesting question: what, and who, get to define “normalcy”? For many of us, “normalcy” has meant a persistent and exhausting struggle, marginalization, and fear. Whatever happens in the next year or so, I feel confident about this: the world will have shifted, at least slightly, in a new direction. Could that be a direction more tolerant of hate, vulnerability, and so-called “otherness” than ever before? That’s certainly possible. But I’m optimistic this ugliness, this despair we’re all embroiled in to one degree or another, is a tragic but necessary step to take towards improve. In one, very, very small way, I’m glad racism and prejudice have felt free to come out or their dark corners and into the open these last few years: we, especially privileged White guys such as myself, can no longer pretend in good faith that everything’s fine.
I’m also hopeful that, eventually, we’ll get a little closer to forming that “more perfect union” (the insufferably pompous writer in me despair’s of the Constitution’s phrasing of that: surely perfection is an absolute state, therefore one cannot become a more perfect union. But then I remind myself of the wise words many friends and family have counseled me with: shut up). America has always been an aspirational society, an idea. An idea, which it has never, not once, lived up to. But in general, we tend to move a bit closer to it, albeit, as these last years have shown, not in a straight line.
Winston Churchill once remarked (and I’m paraphrasing, and my God, Google is but a keystroke away), “America always does the right thing, after it has tried everything else.” While, like all pithy remarks, it’s reductive, I believe that’s true of humanity at large.
I don’t pretend to have the cure for ending despair. Hell, I can’t even figure out how to program my DVR. But I strongly suspect part of at least reducing this pain lies in looking for the good in people in moments like this: and, as usual, there is no shortage to behold. Heroism, kindness, and empathetic action abound. You don’t even have to look that hard for it. Try, to whatever extent you can, to be a part of that. The amazing thing about that is that it not only makes the world a little better, it will bring you some degree of relief, too.
I know we’ve all heard this stuff before. That last paragraph was a carnival of clichés. But clichés become so for a reason. There’s something irreducibly true about them. Find a community: family, friends, and like-minded souls. A sense of belonging, along with a sense of meaning and purpose, has always been a balm for me.
I think the good people out number the bad. I believe why the forces of hate and disenfranchisement have been screaming louder than ever: they can hear the evolutionary tock clicking, even if they don’t believe in evolution. Or even clocks.
That’s all for now. Stay calm and kind, even to yourself. Or at least try to. I promise to do the same.
Visit Jack’s blog at http://www.thewritingonthepaddedwall.com
Follow him on Twitter @jackcanfora