These Numbing Times
Newsletter 07: February
Hello Dear Readers,
How are you? Isn’t that a loaded question? It’s probably a loaded question on the best of days. But the last x number of years (I’ll let you fill in for x based on your personal experience) it’s felt more loaded than ever. I’ve been struggling with the question myself.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. I like to solve things. If someone is hurting, I want them to feel better. If something doesn’t make sense, I want to try to figure out a better way to do it. If someone thinks differently than I do, my gut reaction is to try to explain my side so that they at least clearly understand where I’m coming from, even if they never agree with me. I want to believe in the power of words, even when I know that words can fail utterly. Even when I know that sometimes people just don’t want to hear what I think or believe or feel. If there’s been one great narrative arc to my life so far, it’s probably been about me trying to learn that I do not need to solve everything, and—most galling—I cannot solve everything.
Freedom and Fear
These are the two words that have loomed large for me for a while. I’ve been trying to write this for a very long time. My brain likes to make connections. It’s the way I process the world. And, let me tell you, my brain has felt scrambled. Too much input. Too many sides. Too many things to assess. What is paranoia and what is precaution? When is fear your ally, and when is it a chain around your ankle? When is freedom an ideal to strive for, and when is it an illusion? When is it a weapon for hate and ignorance?
When everything seems to come barreling down on you at once, it’s hard not to go numb. That’s one of the things I struggle with. An odd side effect of our digital, connected age is that I believe we, as human beings, are given way more to think about and consider than we are, evolutionarily, ready for.
Numbness or Unjustified Righteousness
This gives us a couple of obvious options:
Shut down and become numb to everything
Make massive assumptions without all the necessary input and start making up your mind about things that you’re ignorant about.
Now, of course, one hopes there is some middle of the road here. Some optimum zone where we can stay connected to the world and its events, but not get overwhelmed by them. We can react intelligently to what is coming at us, without being paralyzed by analyzing everything. If anyone has any good tips about that, let me know. I’m still trying to navigate it all.
A Little of Column A. Wait. No. All of Column B. Wait. No, How About…
If I’m perfectly honest, I don’t feel—even after all my thinking and wondering and processing—any closer to a definitive answer on how to live in these numbing times. But I do know that neither of those easy, obvious options above work in any long-term capacity.
I’ve tried to be numb before, and the thing about trying to be numb is that it would be fantastic if you could be selective about it. If you could choose to just feel numb about, say, world events, then that could work. But it doesn’t seem to ever work out that way, in my experience. The numbness spreads to every aspect of your life. And, eventually, you’re just sleepwalking through existence and living your life by rote.
I’ve also barreled forward, assured of my rightness. I’ve assumed I had the answers. I’ve assumed I knew better than others. I’ve broken off friendships in that rage, when pushed hard enough. I’ve given up on people because of their beliefs. I actually think this can, at times, be healthy. There are people in your life that don’t deserve you. They’re not your friend. They may even be related by blood, but they don’t care about you unless you are the narrow little version of yourself they want you to be. I think it’s more than okay to route them out. But, there’s a danger in believing in yourself too much. There’s danger in that righteous fury. Sometimes there can be collateral damage. And, sometimes, you’ve made assumptions about other people that are false. You’ve cut them off for fear of being cut off.
So… What Now?
Hopefully this hasn’t been too depressing so far. Because while I don’t profess to have any answers, I do have some things that I’ve learned over the years. I don’t always practice them, but I have written them here so that I might come back to them when my brain is scrambled. And, I hope, you’ll find some use for them too.
If you don’t have all the info about something, it’s perfectly fine if you don’t say anything about it. I think there’s sometimes social pressure (often through social media) to say something about everything. Even for those of us who have barely anyone paying attention to our Twitter feed. This pressure is not all in your head. There are people who seem to think that if you haven’t explicitly come out against someone or something then you might just be for it. Screw those people. Screw them mightily and forget them. It doesn’t mean you care less. It does’t mean you’re not affected. But sometimes the best, most caring and positive thing, is to say nothing at all. This sometimes kills me. Words are my weapons. Words are my friends. Words are the way I process the world. But I am trying to do it more and more.
Journal privately more, and make public proclamations less. If, like me, you like to process the world through words and really need to get something down and out of your head, instead of popping onto Twitter and announcing it to the world, get back to keeping a private journal. It can be on paper, or on the web somewhere. It doesn’t have to be beautifully written. But I honestly think if people journaled more and shared less on social media we’d make some real progress. Also, find a small group of trusted friends you can talk to about these things. That is critical.
Draw your lines in the sand. But realize they might be washed out with the tide. You should have boundaries. This includes personal boundaries, as well as ideological ones. However, as you get more information, or as the world changes around you, prepare to shift those boundaries. Prepare to erase the lines, and draw new ones.
Be kind to your past self. If you change your mind about something, or if you learn a new piece of information and have a better perspective on something—forgive your past self. Past you might have said something stupid, done something hurtful or destructive. If you are sincere in your new perspective, and you’ve made amends as seemed necessary, then that’s all you can do. That will not be enough for everyone. You might not be forgiven by everyone. There are bad actors who try to hide behind false redemption, so it makes people wary. But it should be enough for you to forgive yourself. Also, try to be as forgiving to others about their past follies. It’s only fair, right?
You deserve joy. The world is a perilous place. It has always been, and will always be. In the past, we made our worlds small. Our world was our village. Our world was our home. Now, the world is much larger and we’re more connected than ever. There is a never-ending parade of joy and sorrow passing by our window. And, because of algorithms and human nature, the sorrow is usually what gets emphasized. Allow yourself, on occasion, to make your world small. Live your life appreciating the things that make you happy, the people that make you happy. This isn’t selfishness. This is appreciation, because you know how fragile joy and beauty are.
There you go. That’s it. It’s hardly comprehensive. I probably could have made a list of ten things. But I think that’s enough for now. Just those five things are plenty for myself to work on, if nothing else.
Things I’ve Greatly Enjoyed
Hello, yes, there are things I have enjoyed, and I want to celebrate them (see point 5 above). I haven’t watched a lot of movies lately. And I’ve been reading more comics than books. Video games (I finished Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and L.A. Noire, both of which I enjoyed very much) have also been taking a lot of my time. But below are the best of the best:
The Looking Glass War
I’ve been meaning to read some le Carre for ages. I’ve seen films based on his books (The Tailor of Panama and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and he is, of course, one of the legendary writers when it comes to spy novels. I love the spy genre in general. I got into it thanks to Bond, but quickly discovered there are all sorts of flavors of spy novels. I thought it was high time I explored one of the greats. The Looking Glass War is, in some ways, a slightly bizarre novel in that the great majority of it is set-up. But I mean that in the absolute best way. I was puzzled about where it was all going, especially when my concept of who the protagonist of the story actually is kept on shifting. But it’s all genius stuff leading up to an ending that is positively haunting.
Vault Comics has made a name for themselves creating comic books and graphic novels that are consistently high quality. I’ve enjoyed many of their titles, although I tend to “trade wait” (aka wait for a full story or arc to be released) before I read them. I just find my brain is better at absorbing stories in large chunks like this. The Autumnal did not disappoint. For anyone who had read my book (In the Dark of the Grove) you would find some of the general themes mirrored here. Quaint small towns with secrets. Local legends. It’s all here. The art is gorgeous with some very well done storytelling. The emotive coloring, in particular, really makes the pages sing.
What a wonderful and weird movie. Split into three sections, and using stop-motion, it creates a haunting and strange universe that reminded me, at times, of Jan Svankmeyer’s Alice. Stop-motion is an art form that doesn’t get a lot of mainstream attention outside of Laika Studios or Aardman Animation. But it’s a form that is so unique in it aesthetic, even though the actual look can vary greatly from film to film. There’s just something about the physicality of it that touches different parts of my brain than CGI or traditional animation. The unique qualities are used to wonderful effect, presenting characters and situations that can be cute, scary, and quirky—sometimes all at the same time. Not all of the stories are equally as successful, but they were all enjoyable enough that I’d recommend giving this a look.
Until Next Time
Thanks for everyone who’s hung on with me during this journey. You’ll notice that I’ve changed the format up a little. I thought titling all the newsletters as “Newsletter” was boring. So now that’ll be the subhead. Hopefully that’ll give you a little more insight into what it actually contains.
Lots of fun stuff in the works. Everything seems to take longer, and I’ve purposefully paused a few projects just to give myself a little space. But be on the look out for more fiction from me.