To be online at all is to witness human pain. Maybe I’m seeing it through the tunnel vision of my selective social media hugbox, but I can also log onto any major hub of Internet activity and read the same stories played out repeatedly. It’s easy to get online and yell, anonymously or not, and people do so often, so I don’t think I’m wrong when I call the Greater Internets a miasma of illness and terror.
Maybe I’m getting older and increasingly cynical. Maybe it’s The Times, and I’m not referring to a newspaper.
Then again, they are always a-changin’. It’s easy for me to say, “Something seems different now,” because I’m alive right now. I have all the hindsight, none of the foresight, and just enough narcissism to think, “Here I am. This shit is real, yo.” From climate change to political change, it’s all too simple to be Chicken Little when I can imagine any historical catastrophe (or even sub-catastrophic incidents major and minor) and think “Yes, this is it. This is the End of Civilization.” I won’t make that mistake with the present.
I don’t want to give advice. While it usually comes from a good place it’s often misguided and condescending. It’s too easy to go, “Cheer up, pal!” and dust off my hands as I walk away considering it a job well done. All I’ve done is fire a spitball into the inferno of another person’s life.
Sometimes even extending a hand is fraught with danger. How much pulling am I willing to do? When the water gets too high and the other person, that cherished friend (or, as is more common online, that distant acquaintance) is suddenly a brick around my neck, am I willing to cut them loose to save myself or do we drown together? I’ve tried both with varying results. I obviously cannot tell you what to do because I don’t know your circumstances. You often won’t either, sometimes until it’s too late.
It’s easy to get into a mode where I want to keep my head down and forge on. “Cowboy up,” as Mom would say. I have my moments, like everyone else, but I find it best in those times to consider that I belong to my wonderful wife and my two, soon to be three, amazing children. I am their servant, their steward, and their soldier if need be.
As I read this back to myself I realize I must sound like a selfish, self-actualized piece of crap. Believe me, I am usually somewhere halfway up the face of Mt. Maslow spiritually reenacting some 127 Hours shit. These are my coping mechanisms. This is where I have to visualize myself even when I am not okay.
I see you crying and drowning and dying and I want to give you something, anything, but I don’t know what to give you that a shrink or a social worker or the suicide hotline couldn’t. I’m not so certain I’m the guy who should even be doing this thing. I have no Nirvāṇa, no Valhalla for you. I know that I know nothing. I’m pretty certain we’re just moody bags of meat. Germ sacks, swamp apes, squishy computers. You can Creation Science that shit up if it makes you more comfortable and you know what? That’s okay. It’s okay to do that if you like (you certainly don’t need my permission) because this world has too little hope in it. I won’t attempt to rob yours with my metaphysical opinions. (Just try to leave other folks alone with your wizardry, okay?)
I could steal from Alan Moore and rant about the miracle of being alive, the universe vast and unimaginable, the fact that everything before you lived and successfully procreated in a long line stretching back to when life wasn’t life and you are here, right now, reading this, on a rock spinning fast out in the dark. It’s poetic mumbo jumbo bullshit and a hell of a thing to blow up someone’s asshole when they’re in the depths of despair, but it’s also something. Take it from me, I’m not only the Poetic Mumbo Jumbo Club President, I’m also a client.
I could tell you it gets better, but it may not. It may not ever. You may die horribly, tomorrow, or in fifty years. You may not know what hit you or you may beg for mercy, but you will not live forever. The anxiety of considering this might keep you from leaving the house every day and then I could even tell you you’re missing the life you have worrying about the life you will lose. While it’s true, it’s not very fucking helpful. It’s not a magic key to end panic, that’s for goddamned sure. Just look at me. I’m living proof.
Maybe you’ll get all the things you ever wanted and you’ll realize that it still turns to ash in your mouth. Maybe that’s the moment you’ll realize that you can’t run away from you. Well, you can, but there won’t be a you anymore to run away from.
Introspection is a sonofabitch because it’s gooey and unmeasurable and often wrong, but by golly navel-gazing is the American pastime right after Baseball and racism so it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. It fills my every waking hour unless I dull it out with smartphone radiation or the smiling faces of my loved ones.
I don’t even want to tell you what works for me because that would be like blindly handing you a key off my ring and telling you to give it a shot on that old rusty padlocked shed out back. “Here’s some WD-40. Give it the old college barista try.”
It implies, even, that one can self-code software around possible hardware failures and holy shit, insert a thesis right here. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Discuss it amongst yourselves.
I can’t leave you hanging, though. If you’ve had the pleasure of putting a baby to bed, you might be familiar with the fact that nothing works all the time, and most things that do work stop working eventually. There’s that lock and key metaphor creeping in again, but you’re dealing with a changing system. The brain is encrypting itself against you all damned time, Neo. What is a distraction today may be worth keeping on the short list of things to try next time, but if it doesn’t, don’t take that as the death knell leading up to the doom spiral of failure. Shove it aside and move down the list of codes. I’m not going to tell you to fucking get creative. This ain’t Pinterest. As with getting a teething infant to slip back into unconsciousness without breaking any laws, or hacking the Gibson before the shit hits the fan, these things are done at the height of distress and dismay.
If it helps to blame society, do it. I do it all the time. Google Fu “income as compared to productivity levels”, or “the buying power of modern workers” compared to people 20, 30, or 50 years ago. We are fucked hard and MTV did tell you, each and every one of you, that you were going to be a rock star. Public school told you and Little League told you and now, as all abusers do, they’re going to throw that shit in your face and literally fuck you to death while they tell you to like it and that furthermore, you’re not even going to get to live the bare minimum sitcom level nuclear family life depicted on Married… with Children, as if that nightmare were a thing to aspire to. Today might be your darkest day, but you can’t let them win like this. There’s an old Klingon proverb I consider often, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” Hold that in your hot little hand and squeeze the fuck out of it until it’s time.
The preceding paragraph was written in the style of Little Bobby Talbot circa 2013 or so. I’m pulling out all the stops here.
As always, I have fallen back to the rhetorical device of claiming I don’t give advice and then giving advice anyway, which is how I always roll because the Great and Powerful Oz still works even if the curtain is open, Dorothy.
Still, I want you to know how much hot air this is. I cannot give you a job. I probably can’t give you any money. I can give you bullshit but I definitely cannot give you hope because most of the time I don’t even have that. I absolutely do not have any answers, because there aren’t any and I will fight you if you say different.
What I can give you is a distraction, for a few minutes anyway, and maybe that is enough. I know it doesn’t have a Zen Pencils to go along with it, or a shitty Oatmeal cartoon (although I could definitely crank one out with some anecdotes about hard running and cats and hating myself if it’s required), but whatever seems so urgent this second can wait until tomorrow.
Sometimes it’s not even that, though. It’s the general malaise, the dysthymia, and there’s the fucking trek across a thousand miles of desert. That’s where the shitty Oatmeal cartoon would come in handy, and all I can say is, “I’m out here too.” Maybe to you guys it’s Fury Road and “…hope is a mistake” but to me it will always be Gulag, that plane in the sand, and, “Ain’t we a pair, Raggedy Man.”
Tomorrow-morrow Land is out there, folks. It may not look like you thought it would, but I’ve seen it many times. It’s a little different each time, and sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever see it again, but it’s out there.
Yeah, that’s some “sun will come out tomorrow” bullshit. I can’t get anything past you. I can tell you to squeeze into a little red dress and sing your heart out but that doesn’t make it Broadway.
You can make do with local theater today, though. You can make do standing on your couch and singing to the cats. How do you get on top of the futon? Practice, practice, practice.
You did it, baby. You’re a rock star.