Credit: Leslie Moreno

Denial

by Dave Leon

     We’re all gonna die.  That is the problem with our collective disability in the face of our own reckless and ill behavior, even with the full and evident knowledge that we are dooming ourselves and our descendants.  We are going to die and we all have our ways of dealing with this, denial and magical thinking offering the easiest solutions. Hence, global catastrophe. We will get to that. For the moment, I was in the bath reading the epilogue to the life of an art critic I have read weekly for a dozen years and never really liked very much.  It’s interesting to reflect on my view of his opinions of things based on the new knowledge of his self-imposed crazy dependent and often ill spent life prior to his entry into the hallowed halls of New Yorker criticism. All that, but the sense of him as an entitled white man never gets undermined by his story of himself and his imminent, predictable death from lung cancer after having smoked consistently since 16.  He is just mad like the rest of us, striving, limited, boundlessly running into the boundaries the world imposes on us, like sleep, violence, poverty. 

     Denial of death underlies untrammeled global warming.  Collectively we act like we do individually to our own bad behavior, eating too many French fries, smoking beyond the age of innocence and rebellion. We know we are dooming ourselves, but it just tastes so good and is so immediately satisfying. 

     Depression has been rearing its sleeping head recently.  It is whispering the creeping, familiar refrain it has always had, “There is no point, you don’t actually care about anything, everyone is just fooling themselves.”  I want to stop doing what I do but what else would I do? Other experiences sound better only in comparison to the real and the current. I have always gotten depressed the most when things are going well, to the point where depression feels like an indication that things are pretty damn good.  Stability, safety, positive predictable growth and development? I feel entitled in saying that I respond to this as if it’s an early death. Striving feels better than achieving. But striving sucks, its painful, it takes too long, it depends on internal drives in the face of doubt and actual setbacks.  I have had to privilege to be pushing continuously for close to three years now, since making the decision to turn Painted Brain into a nonprofit. I am spent!

     There is a story by Robert Heinlein, I think, about a method of space travel in which a spacecraft moving across the galaxy spends the first half of its multiyear journey constantly speeding up, constantly accelerating, pressing down on the ship’s inhabitants at two to three times earth’s gravity.  Then is spends the second half slowing down, having essentially the same impact on the inhabitants, the same level of pressure coming from the opposite direction. The scientists who programmed this mission calculated how much of this pressure the human body could sustain for the duration, but did not think about the impact of this pressure on the human minds contained within these surviving human bodies.  I might very well be getting this all wrong, but the implications of this is what sticks in my mind.

     In my long but still early career as a social worker, I have worked through periods of grief, periods of burnout and periods of depression.  This has not been out of a sense of hubris, or denial, but by necessity. The world does not wait for me and I have not had the resources to stop working in the face of such challenges.  Also, I have been truly blessed by the gods of these three mood afflictions that they have not ever fully impaired my ability to function. It is embarrassing to want a stay-cation when literally billions of people have no access to such a luxury as safe housing.  I think that with our recent, huge success, and my obverse reactions to such, I have been a bit snowed by the triumvirate. Reading like Peter Schjeldahl, gilded art critic uncritically occupying what must be one of the most sought-after posts in the critical landscape, facing his own death, has been radically uplifting this morning.  Him quoting Samuel Johnson, “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” Words to live by.

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