Ray Bradbury, you genius you.
That’s right, approximately eight years too late I’m finally reading “Farenheit 451.” I say this is belated because I wrote my high school thesis on dystopias, and I was looking at religion in dystopia so I used “1984,” “Brave New World,” “We” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” instead of anything about burning books.
Anyway, I’m about halfway through the book and find myself blinking in surprise and recognition every few pages. Beatty’s monologue about happiness versus the discomfort of running into people who disagree with you, the growing necessity of what he doesn’t call political correctness but what we would instantly recognize as such, and the rise of constant stimulation in the lives of these people who drive drive drive smash things turn up the televisions listen to earbuds at night look at pictures never really talk about anything–
Man, does it seem uncomfortably familiar.
I distract myself all the time. I consume voraciously. I’m all over Facebook and Twitter, I’m reading stories on Jezebel and Gawker and the NYT, I’ve got four TV shows I’m currently watching, there’s my Netflix for background noise–a bad horror film works best–I read books while I walk and I listen to podcasts and music all day while I work and run and keep pushing to fill up every moment “productively.”
And I know–I know!–how valuable it is to go for a walk without a book or my music, how much I need silence every so often and how rewarding it can be to just enjoy the weather, walk, notice things, smile at people. To take some time for the ever-spiraling train of thought in my head to breathe itself into the crannies of my brain, allow it the space to develop and relax so it doesn’t keep drumming its figurative nails across the tabletop of my mind. Yet still, when I try to give myself that space, when I sit without my laptop in hand there’s a clench in the throat and a tightening of the jaw as if I’m missing something or falling behind the crowd, like I’m somehow in breach of a contract I didn’t know I’d signed.
Every so often, when I allow myself to, I think about how we anesthetize ourselves. I’m a sometimes-tightly-wound highly analytical person and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t aware of how I self-medicate to just slow things down. We all do it. We get beers together after work or go for runs (one of the better strategies) or turn on something mindless to watch or dive into a video game when we don’t want to face what we have to do and what we have to be (in many cases, adults).
I wonder what would happen if I stopped drinking for a month–you laugh, I’m serious–and instead I carried a notebook and I wrote down what was prompting me each time that I wanted a glass of wine. If I just sweated out the stress and laughed away the teasing when everyone else is buying beer and sipped water during the drinking game. Would that be me living my life more fully than I do now? Do I take the coward’s way out of being human every weekend when I grab something at the bar?
I’m not judging our generation. I’m not equipped to judge us. There are stressors in our environment that we didn’t sign up for, economic and social and personal. Maybe it’s okay that we try to escape every so often, like letting the pressure valve go off on a kettle of steam. Maybe I’d be more prone to boil over or explode if I forced myself to just live my life without the distractions and the occasional inebriation. Maybe it’s enough to just be aware of what we’re doing, of the ways we’re coping, and to conscientiously take the time every so often to stop and think about what it means to live and how we’re going about it. I don’t know. Is engaging with entertainment bad if the themes in that TV show get me thinking or if this novel from 1953 has me in this deep of a philosophical tailspin?
Or this: I know that I had a lovely time at my birthday party, but wouldn’t I rather remember all of it? Wouldn’t it be nice if what had us laughing at the pool table was not how bad my hand-eye coordination was after however many drinks but rather some observation that resonated with all of us? How disconcerting is it that I could be in a state where I wouldn’t remember hours of my day but no one outside me could tell that anything was “off” more than that I was tipsy to silliness?
Magniloquent! Sorry, that’s what I’m being right now AND that’s the word I tried to use to describe the sibling of a friend when I was talking to my parents two weeks ago and they insisted that I was trying to say something that wasn’t a word. It’s definitely a word.
Thanks for bearing with me through this right now. I’m in an interesting, strange moment right now between hectic entertaining and organizing and the shadow of an ending project, that “what do I do next?” question, and I’m not done with what I need to be doing for the one thing (our musical) but close enough to the end that I’m trying to wrap my head around what my life is going to be like in a month.
Words, words, words. I promise on Thursday you get a proper story with a proper punchline.
See you then.