Friday, 15 February 2008

Northern Illinois University and the prescient blogger.

Whoa. That's weird. After writing in my last post about why people do these kinds of destructive actions, I came into the staff room after a class and my coworker told me about the gunman in Northern Illinois.

I still hold to everything I said in my previous post, but it's sure freaky having a shooting happen the day after writing about it. Maybe I should write about stuff like my sister winning the lottery instead.

I'm reposting this clip from fight club. Just like yesterday, it's still graphically bloody, but the monologue in here (matched with the imagery, for that matter) just about perfectly describes what I imagine would have to be going through the mind of someone when they decide to actually pick up a gun and start destroying things.

"I felt like putting a bullet between the eyes of every Panda that wouldn't screw to save its species. I wanted to open the dump valves on oil tankers and smother all the French beaches I'd never see. I wanted to breathe smoke."

Somehow, each of these people have convinced themselves that the entire world deserves to be as unhappy as they are. Why or how they reach that state of solipsism is different for each one (and yes, I recognize that depression and mental illness can warp a person's world-view -- but they're not off the hook that easily. Each person has choices to make, too, and some chronically depressed people get help instead of torching national monuments or killing strangers), but their own agenda (sometimes spite, sometimes something more ideological) has become more important, in their minds, than any human life, any treasure, and certainly any law.

Now, I'm gonna throw some JD Salinger at you, because when I struggle with getting down, old Jerome David always picks me up. Thanks for that, Jerry!

You see, I've been struggling with/coming to grips with cynicism lately. I'm spending more time reading the newspaper and following news on English Expat in Korea -type websites, and I've been dismayed by both the cumulative drag of constantly reading about tragedies in the paper, and the amount of cynicism and negativity that sometimes gets packaged along with the news in the comment boards (and some of the writers) in the Korea Expat Blogosphere.

It's hard to stay up to date with the news and such, without getting dragged down by bad news. Add to that the fact I firmly believe that our characters are determined by the things we choose to look at and the way we choose to look at them -- my mom used to say, "Garbage in, garbage out," and the dilemma comes into a little more focus: how do I keep a positive attitude while still being aware of what goes on in the world, and doing my part?

And then, just when I think I'm finding a balanced way to view the world, that is realistic but also positive, that is both honest and edifying, something shitty happens.

(Northern Illinois University. Condolences to all involved. Peace Be Upon You and God, or Richard Dawkins, Be With You all.)
Maybe it's apples and oranges to compare a national monument's destruction with the loss of four lives, but the fact remains that both of those guys chose the best way they could think of to raise a middle finger to the entire world they knew.

In one of my favourite passages of Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield complains about graffiti in his childhood school:
“That's the whole trouble. You can't ever find a place that's nice and peaceful, because there isn't any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you're not looking, somebody'll sneak up and write "Fuck you" right under your nose.”

And that's just the thing about life sometimes, isn't it? All that shit we can't control, that jumps out at us from behind the door, and derails our gravy train.

And you know, in the same way it's easier to watch TV than to read a book, it's easier to get caught in the cycle of negative thought, than to claw back up into the positive stuff. In a text message, I wrote to a friend that "Hate is just a way to postpone grief" -- all that hate, and then the grief, NEEDS to be sorted out, as much for my benefit as for anyone else's, but it's easier to shift blame and resent someone than to look in the mirror, deal with how I feel, grieve, and then (eventually) grow and move on. It's easier to decide I have a right to be miserable, and from there, to decide that the entire phony world deserves to be miserable with me. That negative energy feeds itself like feedback in a microphone, and can get blown all out of proportion, and from there, all bets are off on how I might react.

It takes work to pull out of the whirlpool. But if you can. . . (back to J.D. Salinger, at last)

Holden Caulfield's teacher, Mr. Antolini informs us that,
“Among other things, you'll find that you're not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behaviour. You're by no means alone on that score, you'll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You'll learn from them—if you want to. Just as some day, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It's a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn't education. It's history. It's poetry.”

. . . but it takes work to get into the positive cycle, the good reciprocal arrangement, instead of lapsing into the negative reciprocal arrangement, where my bad attitude makes other people miserable around me, and then I soak up that misery and radiate it back out again wherever I go.

So I'm trying not to get too down today. I'm trying to remember all the wonderful things that make my life joyful, and to focus on those things (without blinding myself to reality). Hopefully, I'll get back to the last fifteen pages of Franny and Zooey again (I'd quote it, but you really just need to read the whole book for it to make any sense anyway) "There isn't anyone out there who isn't Seymour's Fat Lady" see? Pretty opaque, huh? -- if you read it, you know.

And maybe, if I stay in the positive cycle, I can even get to my favourite Salinger quote of all: "I am a kind of paranoiac in reverse. I suspect people of plotting to make me happy." (the fat lady is Jesus, don't you know?)

Anyway, it's been a bad week. . . by my lady found me some dairy free chocolate for Valentine's Day that was really really great, and I'm reading Lord of the Rings, which is such a flippin' awesome book, and today was payday, and my best friend is back from traveling in Europe, so things aren't all bad.

Pray for those folks in Illinois, though. And read Franny and Zooey, if you don't get the "fat lady" stuff, and want to.


bradj said...

Check out my latest post. Similar struggle, different angle. In the process of writing that I've come up with this thought (still working it out!):

The first step toward hope is to hurt.

Here's why I think that's important. Cynicism is pretty much as close to not feeling as we can get. Until you empathise with something, until it gets under your skin and breaks your heart, you will never understand it. (And in truth, perhaps not even then.) I can't feel deeply about everything I see. I can't take the constant emotional carpet-bombing that is news media. In fact, I've walked away from all traditional news media channels. Now I use blogs and websites (and the odd magazine) to navigate what I want to know about, and what reinforces what my worldview is, and the direction I want to move it.

I haven't heard about this particular situation, and that's okay with me. Until it affects me, or someone close, I can't care as much about it. I can't comprehend it. And I can't comprehend the way an hour of bad news is supposed to be balanced by one final, happy puppy-dog story. This is the deep, grievous irresponsibility of news media. (I've made several posts on that theme.)

I think cynicism and hope are designed to do a sweaty tango together. Ultimately human institutions, human innovations and humans will let us down, and cynicism prevents us from misplacing too much of our trust in those things. And that alerts us, or alerts me I should say, to the reason why I need to hope for something bigger and better than just 'human'.

melissa said...

YES! I liken this human reality that the negative, cynical, and hateful is easier than the positive, hopeful, and happy to entropy. Everything deteriorates if left alone.
I KNOW it's tough to claw one's way out of the deepest of pits, but I also know, one can.
More awareness, support, and resources for mental illness would help, but I don't think we'll ever get to the point where monument destroyers and student killers are eradicated. I guess because it is SO HARD and SO MUCH WORK and not accessible to everyone, given their knowledge, self awareness, or coping mechanisms, to claw out of the pit.

I read this a.m. in the Globe an article re: the Illinois shooter. No one had ANY idea where it came from (at the time of the article). Anyone interviewed was astounded.
Hm. Funny how we all think we're incapable of certain things, and that people who act like us and look like us must be also incapable of these certain things. In fact, we all have the potential for vast evil in us. And vast good. The good takes more work to get to. And garners less international attention.