Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Infinite Regress

The last day or two I have been nearly as unhappy as I have ever been. It's in the way of unhappiness that one of my preoccupations has been establishing exactly how unhappy, and since when. Since the miserable days of teaching that ill-fated Chaucer course at Bridgeport University? Not quite that unhappy: that was the only time in my life I've been so unhappy that I didn't want to eat. But anyway. Long years ago.

And I am unhappy on account of nothing: nothing is wrong. I have suffered no loss. Everything jogs along as before.

Minor setbacks in most of my current projects. Some binge-eating on a small scale: which is to say, a day or two of eating as I used to eat every single day of my life. A minor pause in my reading. A little back trouble, entailing a setback in my exercise. The pain is trifling: I've had canker sores that occasioned more distress. The pestilential neighbors had a party and played loud, bad music that was just their usual hysterical shouting and profanity, mildly tweaked into an insistent rhythm. All these things are lightly discouraging. Not so discouraging that one should find oneself saying aloud, "I wish I were dead. Why am I not dead yet?"

Of particular silliness is the irony that timor mortis conturbat me: If I so want to be dead, then of all things intimations of mortality ought to be the most welcome. But of course emotions have their own life, and logical consistency is not what they aim at. What do they aim at?

Well, they are saying you must change your life

Gah. I'm tired of changing my life. I'm tired of running perpetual experiments on myself and trying to get myself to do things that will supposedly result in happiness. The whole project is misconceived. 

What, then? I can imagine no response but to embark on another program of self-improvement, training myself not to try to improve myself. At least the infinity of that regress is so obvious that even I can't miss it.


Yesterday, for the first time in over a year, the daily Covid new-case count reported by the Oregon health department dipped below one hundred. It was a fluky number, of course; Monday's numbers are often artificially low. But it was nice to see. A harbinger. 

I have been so focused on the fact that I have had an easy pandemic -- it would probably be hard to find another American on whom it's had so little impact -- that maybe I've underestimated its cumulative effect on my mood and imagination. I handle being alone just fine, and anyway, I was homebound with the most congenial person imaginable. I'm under no economic threat. I had no professional ambitions to be dashed. And extraordinarily, none of my family or close friends fell ill: and now they are all vaccinated. The risk is receding daily, even with the delta variant. So -- an easy pandemic. And now, they say, happy days are here again. But for me the sense of constriction has not lessened. The ambiguities multiply. 

I used to love being among strangers. Hence the restaurant breakfasts for most of my life. Just a sense of the abundance and variety of human life. I loved to study the faces going by. I had given up the restaurant breakfasts before the pandemic: but now, I didn't even have the bus or the train. And even the faces I saw were either masked or offensively unmasked. Something withered. My association of strangers with abundance and possibility evaporated. They were just more people: more stupid, obstinate people, incapable of critical thought or collaborative action: chattering primates hell-bent on their own destruction. The fewer of them the better. Godspeed, delta variant.


I treasure, above all, a sense of spaciousness. Wilderness. Of all the calamities of the past five years, none has distressed me so much as the wildfires. Not even fresh air to breathe: not even a national park to escape to. Everything has been ruined. There is nowhere to go. 


Thus von Tal, who is given to extravagant Germanic gloom. But surely Dale is somewhere here as well? He can't quite have vanished. The cool morning air is not tainted with wood smoke. Birds are in fact tuning up, as dawn gets underway. The sky may have been served its writ, but it's still there. And you well know that its death was guaranteed, from the beginning. Emptiness is a wind that blows no matter what the weather.

Wrong from the start, said the infamous Ezra Pound, that most American of Americans. Is it that we haven't stepped far enough back, or that we've stepped back too far? I'm not sure. 


Jessamyn said...

Hugs / <3 for the existential pain, which, like back pain, does not always allow us to ignore it, as it is the central column.

Tim Pfau said...

Agreed. We are creatures of habit and just spent a year developing the habits of isolation, while at the same time carrying on illusions of connection. The illusions break down not because of what we think, but because we lack the practice, the sensory confirmation of our intellectual desires.
Take a six pack next door at the next party. Find, or fail to find, a connection with live strangers. Don't imagine that they are assholes. Experience that they are assholes.
You'll feel better in no time at all.

am said...

Good questions. I have no answers. But this song that always does something indefinable for me when I need it came to mind because it has good questions and no answers either (-:

Marly said...

It's a strange time when many things are coming to an end. And that casts a shadow of unease. But a new spring will come.

Thanks for popping by, Mr. Moody Mole! I was glad to see you and immediately wondered why I had not traveled here in so long...

Hugs to you, and a big imaginary bouquet of flamboyant yet fragile flowers--blue poppies and ivory bleeding hearts and Wollerton Old Hall roses with maidenhair ferns.