--John McDermott, "Feeling as Insight"
|I resemble this person.|
Beyond these moments of difference between 1973 and today, what interests me about this small paragraph is the distinction McDermott draws between the more easily recognized but more remote problems of political life and more subtle and intimate problems in our personal environments that may go unseen but affect us just as deeply.
These are anxious times, indeed, and our anxieties are pitched at a national, even global level. There's the job market and foreign wars and rising gas prices. There's a presidential horse race that seems intent on dredging up every issue that has divided us over the last umpteen years just to see if it's possible to make every single American the enemy of every single other American. It's true that "poverty, prejudice, and violence take their daily toll," and I imagine that even if you are--like me--somewhat insulated from that toll, the ongoing fucked-upness of life bothers you and nags at you. Each of these issues affects us in some way, but it is hard to grasp exactly how and to what extent these huge and overwhelming problems are related to the smaller problems I have as a person just trying to, well, live.
What is a human being is supposed to do in the face of all this? Most of the time I content myself with the idea that I'm doing enough in life if I've got something to eat and something to do and I'm putting something away for a future day. But there come moments--like this one, I guess--when I start to wonder: is that story what keeps you drifting through life? Isn't there some deeper rhythm that I'm supposed to be grasping now? Have I grown indifferent to possible differences in my own way of living? Should the horizons of my life be shifted? Is there something more to life than eating and crapping and showing up for work and putting money away in retirement accounts? And if so, what the hell is it and how would I know it if I saw it?
There is something in the rhythm of life today--its highly charged, rapidly accelerating, frenetic attention span--that feels simply manic. It's as if we are trying to squeeze every ounce of energy out of our bodies and minds. We get on the internet, and it carries our minds from site to site to site, without ever offering the possibility of arrival at any single place. And so, we glance off of the issues of the day, ever onward: the economy, global warming, presidential politics, Greek debt, Whitney Houston, Jeremy Lin... tweeting and twittering and reading and processing and chattering and arguing without every really touching ground. Is it because if we touch ground, the persistent and kinda horrible questions of the preceding paragraph might rise up and grab us by the throat and demand an answer?
|We used to worry that we would be annihilated by someone pushing the button.|
Now we annihilate ourselves, slowly, quietly, and much less dramatically through the clicking of a mouse.
Um, maybe. I'll just kinda let that question speak for itself. At any rate, over time, after relentless clicking and moving from site to site, from meme to meme we find ourselves drifting through life without any intimate connection to it. Like the internet, we become everywhere and nowhere, distracted. The media becomes the message: click, click, click, reload. This sort of life is not bland because it is filled with infinite variety and infinite perspective, but the purity of that variety and the pace at which it comes strips it of intimacy. In the same way that a cup of coffee can cure your awareness of your boredom by amplifying your awareness of other things, this sort of life mutes the awareness of life by filling life with awareness of its infinite dimensions.
Perhaps, like all manias that do not end in insanity, this distraction is a transitional stage, a sort of wild release of energy that has been stored up for too long. It's as if we are daring life to come back to us, to make itself known. We want to see if it can still shock us and slap us. Maybe if we get shook down, something better, realer, calmer, more centered will coming down the pike. Let's hope.
Until then, we have to recreate intimacy with life in conscious practices of care. We have to fake it until we make it.
We runners know one of these practices. Our runs have beginnings, middles, and ends. We begin sorta tight and awkward. In the middle we are loose and flowing. By the end, we are tired and headed for home. It's a simple and aesthetically pleasing unity. The rhythms of the run are intimate. We feel them directly in our organs, through our bones. These rhythms gather our attention and hold it during that time, which is what allows us to notice the experience of running as complete and unified.
I can't help but be bothered, though, by one problem. Isn't the relief from distraction that the run offers us simply another distraction? Running offers aesthetic unity, but is the only consequence of that unity the ability to bear a few more hours of the distracted maelstrom of contemporary life?
What do the things I do as a runner have to do with the rest of my life? This is the sort of question that makes me want to browse my favorites, click reload, or, if I have time and energy, head on down the road for another, yes another, run.