Sunday, March 21, 2021

Down the Hatch

Like a lot of people, I've been doing some soul searching lately. 2020 was tough. On the world stage was the pandemic, and on a much smaller stage was my father going through end-stage dementia. That the two would intersect so neatly – Dad's paranoid delusions taking hold just as the country locked down in March – really tells you something about the universe's sense of humor. But nothing reassuring.

Everybody knows what 2020 was like, and a lot of people lost a lot more than I did. It's strange to write about, or talk about, because it all feels like a given. What could anyone have to say that everybody else doesn't already know?

But like Christian Bauman says, it fades, man, it fades.

I didn't expect to read anything about the pandemic that would jarringly remind me how last year felt, because I didn't see how I could have forgotten. But then I read this article in Fast Company and I got that eerie feeling, you know the one. Like you're remembering a dream you had just before it happens in real life. Deja reve.

It was this, of all things, that really slugged me:

"You look like garbage. You may have let yourself go long enough. You buy a video game designed for exercise. You wake up every day and do competitive aerobics on a TV inside your apartment in the city you now live in. You feel like a pet hamster, a lab rat. You feel like Demond on Lost, stuck in the hatch, pushing a button over and over again to keep the world outside from being destroyed. You may have watched too much TV."


Desmond and Locke in an underground bunker from the ABC drama "Lost"
"But the good news is I've started a blog."

Desmond. Yep, I remember that phone call in April last year, asking somebody if they remembered Desmond. I'd just finished setting up a space in the basement to exercise, and another space in the basement to work. Our home had become our hatch, and suddenly every square foot was under scrutiny. What part of our lives could move in to this hundred square feet? What part of the outside world could we pull under our roof?

But now, a year on, these accommodations are a part of everyday life. Of course I work out in the basement. Of course I come down here to write. Why would it be any different?

Well, because at some point you have to come back up. Desmond has to leave the hatch. And I've been reminded this week – as I finished reading the Tao Te Ching and set it with Man's Search for Meaning, On the Shortness of Life, Writing in the Dark, and other books a little too on-the-nose for this moment that I've turned to nonetheless – I've been reminded this week of what Sheila Heti said in her essay Why Go Out? 

I'm going to spoil the ending now. I'm sorry about that, but her conclusion dovetails so perfectly with something Derek Lin said in his annotations of the Tao Te Ching, which is that philosophy doesn't matter unless we take it back with us into the world. Just something to keep in mind as we begin this next phase of reemergence, as we move from one kind of anxiety into another:

“I'm always super-aware of how whenever I got out into the world, or whenever I get involved in a relationship, my idea of who I think I am utterly collides with the reality of who I actually am. And I continue to go out even though who I am always comes up short. I always prove myself to be less generous, less charming, less considerate, not as bold or energetic or intelligent or courageous as I imagined in my solitude. And I'm always being insulted, or snubbed, or disappointed.

And yet, in some way, maybe this is better. Each of us could suffer the pangs of withdrawal from other people and gain the serenity of the non-smoker. We could be demi-gods in our little castles, all alone, but perhaps, deep down, none of us really wants that. Maybe the only cure for self-confidence and courage is humility. Maybe we go out in order to fall short, because we want to learn how to be good at being people, and moreover, because we want to be people.”

People Watching

On Wednesday, I went out to meet up with a friend and do some writing. We met at the Athenaeum, a historic building in Indianapolis designed...