Sunday, February 14, 2010


I'm succumbing to it this week. I have had a dozen or so ideas for posts in the past couple of weeks, but now I don't feel like selecting the most pertinent aspects of them, and organizing them into coherent paragraphs. When you are a novelist there is no pressure to be mentally vigorous every time you sit down. If you cannot remember the ideas of form or content you had when you were out driving, or lack the concentration or energy to put them all down in one go, eventually you will sense what a passage is missing or what has not been properly worked through in it, and the thought as well as the will usually come back. Even the weekly blog post is more of an informal, momentary impression, a glimpse of a man's thought in something resembling its raw and natural form. This immediacy of expression of mental activity is not, needless to say, anything at which I excel.

That sense of presentness being the case with the blog form, it is not auspicious for this week's postings that I have been feeling especially emotionally empty and even indifferent. It is odd that this should be the case. I had a pleasant weekend, among other things getting a new mattress, replacing one that was 12 years old, though I wonder if the sudden upgrade in comfort did not unsettle my mind. I was not looking forward to going to work this week, though starting Friday I will be off for 10 days, which is the first full week I have had off since last July. The Olympics are kind of depressing, not, surprisingly, because I am not starring in them, but because the generation that has been in all consuming training since the age of nine, or lower, professionally coached, their families uprooted, their schooling tailored to fit the needs of their sports instruction, their international rivals and the circuit of their competition the friends and community most familiar to them, is now fully entrenched as the dominant type in the competitions. I find these people and their biographies more depressing than inspiring. Some version of this model seems to be gaining acceptance as necessary to have a chance at succeeding in any kind of desirable field in the contemporary world. I think it is still granted that it may not be optimal in the development of some idea of the whole person, but the whole person does not necessarily make the optimum use of his talents, if he has any good ones, that the specialist does, and the cultivation of specialized talents is the main concern of society's energies where the young are concerned now. Obviously part of this is my discomfort at never having done anything at a "serious" level myself, so that when people start talking in this language it seems forbidding to me. There is also the dread that my children will be cut off from everything in life they might be interested in too, because I do not know how to prepare them to do things in a serious manner. Oh, I think a lot of it is employed as a convenient means of control, both economic and cultural, protection of professional privileges and conceptions of self-importance and so on. I don't like the game, and I don't want to play it, but at the same time my personal bearing and achievements are not making an especially compelling case for my side. People crave what they perceive to be manifestations of the forces of dynamism and innovation. I appear to symbolize for them almost the polar opposite of these lusted after qualities.
As so often happens, one of the more astute insights into the current pessimistic mindset I have encountered came in a review of an art exhibit. The theme of the exhibit was futuristic visions of the turn of the twentieth century, and the observation was about our contemporary attitude toward the future compared with that of a hundred years ago. Whereas then thoughts of the future generated a good deal of excitement, the writer argued, today people tend to regard it as an endless continuation of our present problems, ever worsening. There is something in this, though I do tend to believe that the size of the global population has grown so large and consequently the pace of historical change has accelerated so much that the most serious problems will at least not drag on for years in a constant state of malaise and uncertainty. I do not have a good sense of what the solutions will be, or what form they will take--mine is, like too many of my contemporaries, not an innovative mind, the overall dearth of which nowadays is constantly thundered upon as a primary reason for long term pessimism. I persist in thinking some kind of sensible arrangements will eventually emerge out of the current disfunction with regard to debt, education and educational funding, male-female relations, health care, old age provisions, affordable housing, living wage employment. Right now we are at the unpleasant juncture where everyone knows the current arrangements can't really go on as they are as far as society as a whole is concerned, but they are not yet willing to give anything up themselves yet. Eventually one suspects people will either make some concessions to try to restore some measure of plausibility/equilibrium to the common good, or the turning of events will dictate change anyway.

Originally I had planned to go into more detail on various points brought up, but this is already the work of a week. Pitiful. Anyway, I repeat myself a lot, so I am sure the issues will come up again.

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