Handling the tricky stuff

Handling the tricky stuff

Sunday, July 24, 2016

We're All Not In It Together: Fantasy Trout Fishing in Delusional America -- 12

12: Positivity in the time of hysteria

Oh, I could hide 'neath the wings
Of the bluebird as she sings
The six o'clock alarm would never ring

Cheer up, sleepy Jean
Oh, what can it mean
To a daydream believer
And a homecoming queen?

-- The Monkees

My dog Otis, playing with his best friend, Misty May. Otis has friends.

Several months ago, I was out walking Otis, my golden retriever, and I met one of my dog walking friends. Actually these days most of my friends are dog walking friends. This is not because I’m a lovely guy who loves dogs and people, but because of my dog Otis, who everyone likes because he enthusiastically likes everyone. How can you not like a happy, happy dog with a positive, go out and greet the world disposition? Only if you have an aversion to muddy paws and slobber, which most people tolerate much easer than nasty human critical thinking. So, like the loser kid in grade school (I guess I was one once), I’ve learned to hang out with the popular kid that everyone likes because, inevitably, some of that “like” rubs off on me. 

Without Otis, probably not so much.

The conversation that I had with this friend illustrates why. He asked me what I thought about Trump – Trump had just said/done something outrageous – advocated killing the wives and children of enemies, asked his followers to beat up a protester, said that we should go ahead and use nuclear weapons… something that, I’m sure, now pales in comparison to many of the other insane/irresponsible/scary things he has said to curry favor with his goon-like multitude of followers, ignorant citizens who seem to have drunk a lot of toxic waste and devolved into something that resembles the Belzebub Fan Club… Anyway,  he asked me about Trump because he knows that I have political opinions and am the excitable type, and he thought it would be good entertainment to set me off.

And set me off, of course, it did. I went on about how I was horrified by Trump, but more than that I was infinitely more upset by the fact that his off-the-charts public behavior not only wasn’t hurting him, but seemed to be a big selling point to a huge chunk of the American public. Who are these people? And what the heck has happened to this country? I think I was probably close to wailing… and if I wasn’t, I think I should have been.

Having nicely drawn me out, he promptly tried to calm me down… or shut me down,  I should say, with a kind of cool, confident, sunny rationality that I’m sure he has learned to use on frothing idiots like me. “Oh, I’m sure that any minute he will say something that does him in and he’ll just fade away and be forgotten,” he said. (This was, of course, before Trump had won the nomination.)

But, but, but, but… that’s not what’s happening! I objected, again noting that his followers seemed to love his insanity, the insaner the better, because they like him “telling it like it is” (especially when he’s actually saying total falsehoods).  All the signs, I pointed out, were that this was going to get worse, not go away… what if he won the nomination?? What could happen to the country if an irresponsible madman was in reach of the presidency?

“I just prefer to look at things more positively,” he said sanely, to end the conversation. And it did, because there was nothing that didn’t involve some naughty words that I could, at that moment, say in reply.  The implication that I was just being way too negative did shut me up, because being overly negative is something no reasonable person would assume was good. I had no rational way to continue the argument, but, in fact, it was about the least effective thing he could have said to resolve the issue because I’ve been fuming and musing about it ever since. I don’t think “looking at things positively” is necessarily a superior way to approach the problems of the world, no, no, no I don’t.

A little personal history/disclosure here.

 Throughout most of my adult life, people have regularly told me that I dwell too much on the bad stuff, on things that are worrying rather than on things that are hopeful an promising and that I am unnecessarily depressing. I’m pretty sure that most readers of these essays feel this way, because I even do myself sometimes. I guess I acknowledge the truth of my negativity because I know my thinking is drawn to problems, discontents and WTF/FUBAR/SMH malfunctions of rational order like a moth to a searchlight.  The bumper sticker “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention” was written for my car. 

Still, I’ve had occasion to bridle when people decide to reprimand me for looking at things darkly. Once, a coworker in the university advancement business who was trying to force me to task me with some ridiculous, unworkable request (say, get national media attention for a minor gift from a needy local donor) responded to my professional opinion that she was asking for the impossible,  “Oh, Jim, you’re always so negative!” From her perspective, I guess I was just being difficult, since she always thought that whatever she demanded should magically happen. Because that was how she wanted reality to work, it just had to. Other people should just “make it so.” No naysayers or compromisin’ on the road to her horizon. She was a princess, and princesses always get what they want, right? Me, my middle finger often began to itch fiercely in her presence.

I think this is often the way people who are “positive-thinking” and hopeful are – they want everyone to have their dreams and their hopes and they object to anyone who lives outside their fantasy and who points out that reality says “nay.” They firmly believe that the great force of their own will can order the world. Positivity can be narcissism’s best friend.

So I say watch out for people whose “positive view on life” means that they expect you to positively get in line.  Call me a bomb-throwing revolutionary against such Republican positivity. I really tend to doubt that Trump is going to “make America great again,” just by saying that it should be and the sheer, yuge force of his will.

But there’s also a larger philosophical/cultural/religious aspect to my negative outlook. I know that, to some extent, my negative worldview is an inherited belief, a kind of cultural tradition. My older brother once told me a story about a “philosophic” disagreement he had with one of his ex-partners. She complained to him that he always insisted on seeing the dark side of every situation, and that bothered her because it made everything more difficult and depressing, with him always thinking about what could go wrong. “Life is much happier,” she told him, “if you just believe that everything will come out right.” 

My brother acknowledged that it was generally easier to go on that way, but he argued that there was a virtue to pessimism: “When you worry about the bad things that can happen, you are emotionally and mentally prepared to deal with problems when they occur. “

I’m telling this reported story to show you that my negativity isn’t just me -- it’s a kind of family philosophy. Other families have grand and noble traditions, but mine has an aged and cultivated negative outlook. I have heard from other in-laws felt like our family was always depressed, and some have blamed it on our father, who, someone said, “always insisted on overthinking things.” Frankly, I don’t remember my father as being depressive or even much of a worrier – but he was a college professor and a critical thinker. (He was kind of a man’s man, and believed in living with a certain amount of bold dignity and courage. He didn’t appreciate children who cried and complained.) If you are not much of a thinker, I can see why this is both annoying and “depressing.” It’s hard to think, and it prevents a certain amount of simple enjoyment of things from occurring – thinking too much ruins the experience of blissful ignorance.

But beyond my family history, this is actually a familiar cultural debate in America, from the snarky cynicism of Mark Twain to the “sunny optimism” of Ronald Reagan and the triumphalist wing of the Republican party. The most familiar trope in the argument is the “glass half-full, glass half-empty” dichotomy, which most commonly is used to condemn “half-empty” people who see things that could be seen as normal (or even “pretty great,” if you want to be positive and “overlook the negative”) as being “awful.” With it comes a kind of religious belief that if you just believe that things will turn out well, the force of your positive will (notice how the belief in a friendly, “personal savior” God jives with the narcissistic positivism I talked about earlier) will make everything right. Debbie Downers who don’t have a sunny, positive attitude are naturally bound to fail, this credo says.  

While there is a standard religious trope that this comes from, it’s deeply embedded in American popular culture and pop-psychology, as one can see in the best selling books “The Power of Positive Thinking” and “The Secret,” which both argue mystically that you can make the world turn out right by willing it so.  This “productive positivism” is a philosophy most enthusiastically embraced by people who somehow happen to have already succeeded, of course.  People who follow this philosophy and then don’t succeed… well, they either become bitter failures or they become people who don’t care because are grateful for whatever they are left with. Positivists who have been successful tend to see those who don’t succeed as “losers” who have failed because of some inner flaw, such as a insufficient positive effort or lack of “a can-do attitude.” It’s much the same thing as the way a more religious people used to think that bad things happened to people because of their lack of faith or inner sinful failings.

I guess I’m inclined to believe that there is a lot of Pollyanna or nitwit in people who think that their rose-colored glasses view of the world will get them through life. As someone who has been trained as a humanist to try to understand the world, I think, in fact, that this attitude is dangerously cavalier.  But I also must admit that there are some undeniable positive features to it. People who believe in the power of a positive attitude are self-confident (they lack self-doubt), bold (not timid or fearful),  assertive and risk-taking (not uncertain and risk-adverse) and generally poised (not tentative, overly careful and awkward). When what they are doing happens to be on the correct/successful path, they seem accomplished and brilliant.  Positivity is a life force.

But a blunt one.  As a negativist (such as myself) would note,  so much of this really depends on actually being right, and just believing that you are doesn’t really make that so. Positive confidence is over-confidence when you are doing the wrong thing, and the positive assertion of positiveness in those circumstances is what we call “arrogance.” It’s the natural attitude of winners, and to non-winners (and the people who love them) it can seem pretty ugly. Um,  like the way the Republican party’s arrogance about its own “rightness” now is beginning to seem.

But to turn this issue over yet again, it’s really not just about winners and losers and a choice of being with one camp or the other – there’s an obvious continuum of attitudes here.  On one extreme end, you have people who are so traumatized and crippled by anxiety, by the fear that something catastrophic might happen that they can hardly do anything but tremble, cry and complain. On the other end, you have people who are insanely so self-confident of the rightness of their own path and of making a positive outcome happen for themselves that they are dangerously narcissistic, or even, perhaps sociopathic.  (Does this seem to you like anybody you have observed recently?) They are charging bulls and you had best get out of their way. (One old alpha male boss of mine loved the phrase “you are either part of the steamroller or you are part of the road.”)  Most “functioning” people are probably somewhere in the middle, with enough positive energy to get out of bed in the morning and energetically take on the day’s tasks with some hope of success, but also enough fear of some of the serious things that might go wrong as to be appropriately cautious… about the right things.

Caution… about the right things.  Therein lies the rub, right? What are the right things to be afraid of? Bad drivers? Back-stabbing bosses? Thieving neighbors? Ebola and Zika? The national debt? A domineering government? Bad schools? Violent police or husbands or boy friends? Other people’s dangerous sexual proclivities? North Korea? Iran? Israel? Russia? In one light or other, these are all dangerous to someone, and ignoring any of these (according to a person who is wary of the particular issue) is to indulge in delusion. But you can’t be afraid of everything (without spending life trembling in your closet), so you have to pick the things you are going to be deluded about, and the things you are going to be concerned about.

If you have read any other pieces in this series of essays, you know that among my central concerns are delusion, narcissism, and the relationship between these two. And yes, in case you missed it, I am labeling positivism as a kind of delusion, albeit a helpful or necessary one sometimes. It’s the delusion that the various threats and problems and difficulties of life are not going to affect you, so charge on ahead. And as I’ve also just said, extreme positivism leads to a kind of dangerous narcissism. If you don’t see anything as actually bad unless it is clearly and absolutely bad for you… well, we don’t want to play any games together that involve trust – and possible lying or cheating involving large sums of money, loaded guns or vials of poison, all of which could, uh,  help you achieve your positive goals. You get the fortune, others die horribly, but it’s all good in the end, right? Narcissists, as we see in business and in politics tend to come out on top because they are able to take shortcuts in the twisting racetrack of life.

One might argue that we have a candidate for president now who is just like that. He’s going to make everything great, just great. How?  Trust him. Oh, um, okay…

But, as we know from the Republican primary,  a lot of people recognize the attitude here and approve. Modern life, with its unspeakable complexity and constant stress and conflict encourages narcissism. The seemingly best way in a complex shifting landscape is to shorten your focus to what you truly know – yourself – and “go with your gut”  or … “tell it like it is.”  Shakespeare offers this immortal advice, which modern society is much taken with: “To thy own self be true”… The thing is, though, that most people miss the fact that the Bard puts this spiritual slogan in the mouth of the foolish, deluded, pompous Polonius, who is lost completely in the shifting illusory landscape of “Hamlet” and who is finally killed by the prince, in the confusion of the political palace mess. But Polonius is always a positive guy, and this kind of positive self-help thinking seemed to work for him… until it didn’t. Today, he could be The Donald’s campaign manager – you know, the one Trump just summarily fired because the shelf-life of his pro-Trump positivity had run out.

So we’ve come back to the dog-walking argument about Trump. I have several friends who are appalled and disgusted by the current election campaign to the point of wanting to turn it all off and walk away – they frequently refer to it as #worstelectionever. What has been going on is disturbing, and I get where they are coming from. They are, of course,  turned off by Trump and his appeals to racism, fear and hatred, his outright lying, his exhortations to violence, torture and uncivilized behavior… but they are also lately (and increasingly) turned off by Clinton as well and her negative campaign focus. Why can’t she just say nice things about her positive plans for the future…  while her opponent keeps just asserting over and over again that she is “crooked Hillary,” not offering evidence but citing delusionary conspiracy theories and then lying fantastically about his own effort and everything else. Don’t be so negative, Hillary! Nobody likes a nattering nabob of negativity!

So, friends, here we are again, turning away from all things bad, even when they are, perhaps, actually evil… and condemning those who protest and point us at them. As the old saying goes, “if you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.”

So, I’m a negativist and sometimes -- particularly at this peculiar moment in time -- I think it is important to point out that things are going wrong, particularly when the are going so horribly, horribly wrong. If it feels unpleasant to you, that’s because it is. Sometimes you just have to accentuate the negative and eliminate the positive.

Now back to your regular programming.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

We're All Not In It Together: Fantasy Trout Fishing in Delusional America -- 11

11: Apocalypse

Following Orlando.

“Jo, get up,” pleaded Cox’s assistant, Fazila Aswat, as the politician lay dying. “No, my pain is too much,” Cox replied, her last words.

-- from a New York Times column by Roger Cohen about the assassination of MP Jo Cox and the possibility of the Brexit vote passing

It’s the first day of summer, a beautiful blue, refreshing Carolina day with warm but pleasant temperatures, following an unusually hot late spring. The first tomatoes and peppers are in in the garden, the daylilies and phlox and beebalm and blackeyed susans are in full bloom, as the fragrant oriental lilies, with their huge flowers, begin to open. It’s the green promise of life we get given every year, whether we deserve it or not.

… So, life is good. Then why o why am I feeling so morose and grumpy? It’s a bit like I’m seeing the world through heavily tinted glasses and I feel tired, not refreshed. My symptoms are the classic signs of depression, I know, but I also know I’m generally not prone to depression and nothing particularly horrible is happening in my personal life to bring it on.

I could blame all this on current events, I guess. It’s a week after the horrible massacre in Orlando, and just past the anniversary of the equally senseless killings in Charleston… each committed by an unhappy and disturbed and murderously angry guy… each citing some vague, wacko political excuse, but clearly each just another lost and confused and dangerous young man. The lost-confused-angry-dangerous young man is a species we now see are all over the landscape out there, like volcanic geysers, waiting to blow. 

The killings bring with them a kind of deadening feeling of futility, as public reaction inevitably gravitates to common hot-button anger topics – ISIS! Islamic extremism! Homophobia! Racism! Mental illness! Godlessness! – and, for the umpteenth time to calls for laws to prevent disturbed people from getting weapons of mass destruction… and, simultaneously, for angry opposing arguments by heavy-weaponry-obsessed gun fanatics, who, it seems, will lose all will to live unless they can stock their homes like military armories. Locked in place in this irrational policy battle, we all know nothing will change.

Then there’s the currently presidential campaign, which a severely disillusioned friend of mine keeps referring to as “the worst election ever.” I’m a democrat and don’t think that Hillary is so bad, but I acknowledge that many, many people out there dislike her with an intensity that makes the word “loathing” seem mild. I’m not completely sure why this is – a bad memory of the Bill Clinton years, perhaps, when things got creepy and selfish in this country, or a subliminal reaction to seeing a strong, ambitious woman, or simply disgust with the political class, which she definitely belongs to… for me, the foaming-at-the mouth angry reaction of people to her is even more disturbing than some of these dark echoes in the candidate. And then there is Trump.

Trump, of course, is a disturbing topic and an essay in himself, but let me say briefly that he is a shock to my sensibility, as he is to the sensibilities of so many others, in that he seems to be a complete violation of what we might call "our American ideals” -- the bedrock rules of our country’s established political culture and of public decency and discourse. While people on the right might believe, as Barry Goldwater once said, “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice” (meaning that a certain amount of totalitarian behavior is allowable in pursuing conservative ideological principles), this guy is ugly, mean, childish, a foul-mouthed bully, an open racist, an open xenophobe, an inciter of mob violence… all in the service of nothing more than his own monstrous ego, a near satanic triumph of public narcissism that offends huge chunks of people from both sides of the political spectrum. Comparisons have been drawn to Hitler, history’s quintessential mad, monstrous leader, and, while that is perhaps still an offensive overstatement, the clear parallels are there. It hardly seems possible to imagine that someone like this could be the nominee of one of the major political parties in this country – he’s so surreal that it feels like a bad dream.

But what I (and almost everyone I know) really am disturbed by most is the fact that approximately a fifth of the country are people who are so ignorant or ugly themselves that they like this thug, and that fully a third of the country are so politically callous that they might be willing to vote for him if he just mumbles the right political doctrine. These people are all around me -- neighbors, even friends -- and the thought that they are okay with social evil and political tyranny is, well, deeply depressing.

But, in the end, I guess I’m forced to conclude that Trump and other political nightmares roaming the countryside are themselves just symptoms (rather than causes) of an overwhelming cultural ennui, as the French would call it (it’s perhaps close to what the existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre called “la nausee” – nausea, a kind of existential panic), that everyone seems to be feeling. Gloom, unease and discontent seem to be in the water.

Okay, we're blue. But why? And so what?

A diversion into fantasy.

As I said, it’s summer, sweet summer, and I, like many other people I know, take the time to indulge in fun, light, entertaining “beach reading.” My particular summer genre is science fiction-fantasy-horror and there are always a couple of the “usual suspects” blockbusters out there for me to read. This year, I got the new Joe Hill ( a horror/fantasy writer who happens to be Stephen King’s son) novel “The Fireman” and Justin Cronin’s “The City of Mirrors,” the last in his vampire-novel “Passage” trilogy. I finished the first and was about a fifth through the second, when suddenly I realized that the novels were very similar – they are both apocalyptic global plague novels. I guess I have a fondness for this kind of stuff, but the more I started thinking about it, the more I realized that a huge chunk of sci-fy/fantasy literature these days are apocalyptic (or post-apocalyptic) novels. Zombie apocalypse – need I say anything more? It seems that when our imaginations turn to the future, that’s what it sees, not flying cars and miraculous brave new worlds. And in adolescent lit it’s the same thing – there is a whole new genre, in fact, of what is called “dystopian fiction” (“The Hunger Games,” “The Fifth Wave,” even -- in some ways -- the “Twilight” novels), in which plucky teens rebel against the monstrous new order that they have been born into.

So this is the fantasy that we indulge in – the world is falling apart and we are all, more or less, horribly screwed! Everything ends, badly and irrevocably -- what larks! Why so glum, America? We can't say it's Trump, or even modern dysfunctional politics, because this trend in our imaginative life well preceded all of that. "The Road," "The Stand," "Mad Max," "Waterworld" (okay, now I'm getting too dark… sorry)… bleak visions that proceed The Donald and government shutdowns.

Since I’ve been struggling to understand my own odd malaise, I’ve been considering larger answers. Yes, I’m equating a negative view of life with a negative imagination and negative future outlook and basically saying it’s somehow the same thing as feeling depressed. I know these are all apples and oranges and bananas and that I’m oversimplifying, but I also know that on a fundamental level, it's all the same when things are going rotten: it’s black fruit of the poisoned tree.

With that in mind, one of the first things I began to consider when I tried to find the root of my feelings was something basic and banal – my own physical condition. I’m approaching (if I haven’t already reached) senior citizen status and old people have what society used to call (for a reason) “complaints.” Since turning 60 a year ago, I’ve been afflicted by a number – hands and feet that ache with arthritis (or so the doctor thinks), pronounced stiffness in the joints and lack of flexibility, some memory loss (no, I’m not worried about Alzheimer’s – this is pretty typical for someone my age), some noticeable loss of strength, some sleep problems, including early morning wakefulness and mid-day sleepiness, etc., etc. Yes, I do exercise daily and try to eat right – though I’m overweight – but, contrary to the modern health myths, you can’t get older without feeling older. We are all mortal, and the body ages, some bodies faster than others. I guess I’m both a realist and a pessimist on this (more on pessimism later), but I’ve accepted my own physical decline, and I’m here to tell you that acceptance may feel honest, but it still sucks and does very little to make you feel better. When you reach the age where things hurt pretty constantly, you are constantly reminded that (1) they didn’t use to hurt that way and (2) there is no turning back. That, my friends, is depressing. This is why old people are commonly characterized as grumpy and cranky (guilty on all counts!).

So that’s part of what is making me see the world as wrecked/bad/falling apart/coming to the end, but what about everyone else? Well, I’m a Baby Boomer, and it bears remembering that my generation, by virtue of its size, has always had an unfortunately outsize influence on our culture… and we are all feeling pretty old (I’m actually one of the younger boomers). This is why you have to sit through all those Viagra/Cialis, constipation, irritable bowel, cancer therapy (etc., etc.) drug commercials on TV – we boomers are legion, and all we are thinking about are all our physical complaints, and wishing that there was a magic pill to cure them. It doesn’t help that my generation was once dubbed “the young generation” (“Hey, hey, we’re the Monkees!”). Somehow, many of us got conned into thinking it would always be that way. Bummer, man, bummer.

Neil Young, also old.
Keith Richards

So the aging of things, specifically the aging of our personal things is a large-scale negative influence that is shading our whole society. And it’s not just our bodies. It’s hardly a revelation to say that our country, both in terms of its economic health and in terms of power and global authority, is aging too. As has been said by many, we’re at the tail end of our empire, our century of glory, our Pax Americana and that is upsetting for the whole country, since we have all only known nothing but the glories of empire. Our national mythology is full of “America the Beautiful” with waves of golden grain and fruitful plains, with alabaster cities gleaming, with truth and brotherhood from sea to shining sea, and mainly with fairly non-stop growth, prosperity and expansion. As we all learned in school, this was fueled first by the open and seemingly endless frontier, “left” to us by Native Americans vanquished by disease and gun (and, yes, made affordable and profitable by slavery and cheap immigrant labor). Once that began to close, we had world war, which left us largely untouched and also militarily triumphant – in many ways, we owned the world and got to keep expanding into it.

But all things must end, and global development (which still enriches us) and globalism (which enriches only a few of us) has now brought us to the stage where the fat, easy days of empire and dominance are ending. Trump may claim that he is going to “make America great again,” but even his most gullible followers know that this isn’t really going to be so (though they like his attitude). The age of lucky, arrogant, selfish, bullying "great" is, inevitably, passing.

It’s worth noting that the passing of empires is rarely happy news for anyone. The passing of the Roman Empire led to centuries of feudal darkness, disease and violence. The slow passing of the Islamic Empire led to the colonization of it’s lands and the lasting humiliation of its peoples and contributed to the chaos that began the first world war. The collapse of the colonial empires (particularly the British Empire) led directly to the horror of the world wars and the fear of the Cold War that followed. When empires die, the world has to shift and re-arrange, and that that transition is rarely smooth and peaceful. It's the recurring historical point that Yeats talks about in "The Second Coming" where "the falcon cannot hear the falconer" and "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world/The blood-dimmed tide is loosed." This is all dark, hysterical-sounding doom talk, of course, the stuff of poetry, not of everyday life, but it’s also something we all fear is true.

It’s really just change, of course, and change is and always has been a constant feature of reality. But it’s also change in just one direction – aging – and we all know what that leads to. No wonder, I guess, that I am depressed, that the country is depressed, that everything is going haywire and falling apart. It’s not like this feeling is sudden or new either, because we have been building up to it. To go back to thinking about all those dystopian novels our young people are reading, it bears reminding that they are not altogether new. In my youth we already had “1984” and “Brave New World” and “The Time Machine” and then “Lord of the Flies” and “A Clockwork Orange” (“hello darkness, my old friend!”). While we still thought dreamily about “explor(ing) new worlds and new civilizations” and “boldly go(ing) where no man has gone before,” we were also beginning to sense that it might not go so well, and there was a slowly creeping feeling of gloom.

So, summer. All sing cuckoo!

One of my favorite songs from the young, folky, early hippy era of my youth (which, yes, was full of flower children and peaceful protest, but was also in the constant shadow of The Bomb) was a song by Richard Farina (a local favorite in my hometown), “Children of Darkness”:

Now is the time for your loving, dear
And the time for your company
Now when the light of reason fails
And fires burn on the sea
Now in this age of confusion
I have need for your company

For I am a wild and a lonely child
And the son of an angry man
And now with the high wars raging
I would offer you my hand
For we are the children of darkness
And the prey of a foul command

It's once I was free to go roaming in
The wind of the springtime mind
And once the clouds I sailed upon
Were sweet as lilac wine
Then why have the breezes of summer, dear
Been laced with a grim design?

The song and the feeling have always haunted me. So, this takes me back to where I began, wondering “why have the breezes of summer… been laced with a grim design?” Farina, like the rest of the generation of my youth, was of course staring into the black maw of Vietnam and, as we all know (and Neil Young sings) this dreadful, nihilistic war “did slowly go by.”

So, I fervently hope, this too shall pass. But first we have to get by Trump -- our own “Apocalypse Now.” Good luck, my fellow Children of Darkness… And snap out of your self pity -- there are still wars to fight.