Sep 17, 2008

Lightning Rods

If writers and artists truly are the lightning rods for the culture, it might explain why so many of us are feeling so low. The anger and contempt flying around right now, as both sides of the election duke it out, is more venomous than any time I can recall in my adult life. David Foster Wallace's suicide on Friday weighs on a lot of us heavily right now. I'd never met him personally, but we'd traveled in some of the same orbits. I've heard he'd been depressed for a long time, but still, the timing of it makes me wonder if given the current circumstances that surround us all, it just became too much too bear. If outrage turned to deep despair, and was then unable to be synthesized into hope and action.

My suggestion to everyone at the moment is to avoid internet message boards at the end of online political articles, at all costs. You will see so much fury and hatred there, so much intolerance and desperation and ignorance. You will see the country split exactly in half, and you will see the vastness of the gulf between both sides. You will wonder what country you just woke up in, because certainly this can't be the one you were raised to be proud of and love, not this one where people regurgitate propaganda and spew hate at anonymous fellow citizens. It's like everyone's frustration and despair gets packed into tight little balls they're hurling at each other at 150 mph, forgetting what we have in common in favor of what drives us apart. You will see how the internet allows people the freedom, late at night when they're alone, to reveal their lowest selves without threat of retribution. It's amazing what comes out under those circumstances, how ugly and mean and little both sides can be. And maybe, like me, and like the writer Anne Lamott (see below; god bless that woman for putting it into words) you will be moved to try to make a difference these next six weeks by trying to counterbalance these evil impulses with arbitrary and indiscriminate kindness. For the past week, everywhere I go I try to smile at everyone I see. To remember to say, "Have a good day" to every checkout clerk. To smile and wave at every acquaintance I pass, even the ones I know support McCain. To say hello to strangers. To model warmth instead of distance. Is this a small thing or a large thing? I don't know. Some days it feels small and inconsequential, other days it feels there is no more important way to be living. If enough of us did it, it would be huge. That much I know.

Annie Lamott wrote an article for Salon a few days ago that my friend Leslie sent to me. It captured my feelings exactly when she wrote about having to walk out of church on Sunday because the pastor was not about "bearing up under desperate circumstances, when you feel like you're going crazy because something is being perpetrated against your country that is so obscene you can't believe it is happening."

It's a fabulous article. By an unparalleled writer. She even manages to provide some humor, which we can always use. Especially now. Here's the link:

No comments: