Lost causes


“There are chapters in every life which are seldom read, and certainly not aloud.” The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields

Each day I rise only to spend countless hours trying to reassure someone that there is a chapter in life waiting for him that is not all just monotony. He spills out his desperation at being bored, at having no life, at being “used up” and tired, and I try to ‘cheerlead’ him out of these doldrums. Trouble is, they are much more than doldrums, and he cannot see his life the way I see it. He cannot see life, as a concept, the way I see it. He and I both know the deception of this cheerleading: it is a lost cause to believe that life is anything more than monotony. I know and accept that this is mostly what life is – we wake, we eat, we go to work, we sleep, we pepper nice things in between. If we are lucky, we find a way of being that delivers contentment, and we can cultivate it. And amidst all of that, there may even be flashes of happiness.

But it’s mostly the monotonous grind, not the fun stuff, that makes up life. This man seems to believe that life should mostly be an endless carnival of the fun stuff (not to be confused with the funhouse, which is something quite different) and that he alone endures this life without constant stimulation and joy. There is no point telling him that this is how everyone’s life is; he viciously retorts, “I’m not fucking talking about anyone else. This is my life. And there’s nothing in it.” As though that nothingness is unique.

But no, in fact…

“Nothing happens while you live. The scenery changes, people come in and go out, that’s all. There are no beginnings. Days are tacked on to days without rhyme or reason, an interminable, monotonous addition.” Nausea, Jean-Paul Sartre

“Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness and dies by chance.” Nausea, Jean-Paul Sartre

To feel alive in that interminable in-between space, so often devoid of any inspiration, people flail, and look for ways – without even knowing it – to drag others into their misery, demanding from them the swaddling of misplaced comfort.

“People are always looking for consolation and accepting it too readily. They find clever ways to invert their humiliations, little tricks of self-deception, a form of artistry.” –The Republic of Love, Carol Shields

This man will deceive himself and others for the purpose of gaining attention – even negative attention is not being alone, which for him is the worst possible outcome.

“Solitude is the playfield of Satan. I cannot describe the depths of my loneliness and distress.” Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov

(One wonders how it is that someone who is so needy and so craves social attention and affection has fixed himself like a barnacle to one of the most antisocial people alive.) He needs above all else to be seen and heard… but even this will never be enough.

“Life is an endless recruiting of witnesses. It seems we need to be observed in our postures of extravagance or shame, we need attention paid to us. Our own memory is altogether too cherishing, which is the kindest thing I can say for it. Other accounts are required, other perspectives, but even so our most important ceremonies—birth, love, and death—are secured by whomever and whatever is available. What chance, what caprice!” –The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields

There are days, though, when he is perfectly fine. In fact, long stretches pass in which he conforms to something like a routine.

“And I’ve figured it out. Routine is liberating, It makes you feel in control. A paradox, isn’t it? You think your routines are controlling you, but in fact you’re using the routine to give you power.” –The Republic of Love, Carol Shields

Most people bristle at the idea of a routine but fail to realize that the routine and its structure is often all that keeps them in line, and in fact is one of the strictures that affords the occasional moments of happiness and staves off the occasional “emptiness creep” that sneaks in. When he starts to come undone, though, the first thing to go is the routine. And sometimes the universe seems to conspire against him, derailing him from his routine. Recently, he lost his mother, which is sad enough, but because she was at the center of many of his routines, he lost this anchor. Beyond that, the other parts of his routine, and indeed the foundation of his health and mental well-being, were interrupted by the recent winter blast. Every place he would normally go was closed due to weather, leaving him shut in his flat alone for too many days.

Sometimes maintaining a routine is all that will get you through. Yet, no one imagines that a collapsed routine will kill you.