This time of year--particularly--I find myself, now and again, reminded of the title of Andrew Solomon's 2001 book, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression. (Solomon traveled all over the place, reporting on how various cultures deal with depression, a demon that felled him from time to time.)
Here are a few of the heavy hands on my shoulders these days, hands that are attempting to shove me in the ground.
- Weather. Yes, I know, this has been a very mild winter--perhaps the mildest since I've been in Ohio (August 1956). Still ... right now, out my window, I see swirling winds, accumulating snow (which will no doubt require me to shovel and clear the car). The very thought of it adds a third heavy hand on my shoulders.
- Politics. Do we really have to have two-year (or more) presidential races? I'm sick of the bellowing, the accusations, the lies, the misrepresentations, the holier-than-thou, the persistent divisions in Congress that have--paraphrasing the immortal Al Gore--put the entire legislative process in a "lock box." Not to mention that vast waste of money that could be spent on so many more productive and humanitarian things.
- Technology. Things work--until they don't. And then I want a sledgehammer.
- Weight and Exercise. I've had a problem with weight since my (chronological) adulthood commenced. Up, down, up, down. Teeter-totter. Now, it's especially difficult since I'm on Lupron, a drug that has controlled my eager prostate cancer, but one side effect is a much more difficult time with weight. I'm pretty good right now (down more than 20 lbs since the summer), but it's just wearying, knowing that I must be careful about this for the rest of my life. Any fall off the wagon results not just in bruises but in weeks of ensuing self-denial.
- Health. I've been dealing with prostate cancer since late in 2004. Tests, surgery, radiation, tests, medications, worry, worry, worry. Yes, I'm able to do many things I love to do--but I can feel the circle tightening, the options disappearing. There are other health issues in my family that I'll not write about (it's not my place to do so), but they are a daily issue, as well--and not just for my loved ones who are struggling with them.
- Taxes. The past week I've been dealing with this--getting things ready for our accountant, answering his questions, finding documents, etc. It's a nightmare--an annual one that seems to grow ever more complicated.
- Our Ever-More Self-Indulgent Culture: Every older generation had been grumpy about the present one. I'm sad about the disappearance of reading. About the evanescence of public knowledge about significant writers. But I am not condemning the young. They didn't do this. We did. And I am certain that the days of a more-bookish culture are not returning. If I'd grown up in these times, I know I wouldn't be any different. The allure of the electronic media is just too powerful to resist for most people--including the younger Me.
- Public Schools. Are we really going to let them go? Really? Do we really think that for-profit is a better way to go (charters, etc.)? Public schools have, among other things, been the great engine of social progress--of hope for many. Sure, some are miserable; some kids have a tough time; some teachers suck; etc. We (under)fund our schools in the most disastrous way possible. We blame them for everything. We reduce their effect by all the emphasis on standardized testing. We often grant the greatest administrative power to people who know the least about teaching and learning. We do as little as possible to attract into the profession our best and brightest. Yes, there are some wonderful teachers in just about every school building in America--but we are not doing much to attract more of them, to keep those who are already there, laboring in a deepening darkness. Given the current situation, there is no way that I would consider entering the profession if I were again 21 years old.
- Disappearance of Newspapers and Magazines. This is not going to change--return--either. Fewer and fewer people read them, causing the disappearance of advertising revenue. On our street I see few driveways in the morning with a daily paper lying there, waiting to be taken inside. We still take three (Akron Beacon-Journal, Cleveland Plain Dealer, New York Times), but they seem to shrink every day. I miss the fat papers.
- Polarization. I've mentioned here before that my dad was a Republican; his best friend was a Democrat. They talked about their differences, laughed. Neither one considered the other evil, a fool, a traitor, etc. Sigh.
- Race. Writer Russell Banks called race/slavery "the great sin at our inception." In some (mostly superficial) ways, things are better than when I was a boy living in a segregated community (Enid, Okla.). But I'm afraid things are not really substantively better for many people. Too many of us whites are convinced we earned everything we have--are convinced that even if we lived in a ghetto with few job opportunities, attended an awful school, etc., we would never behave in ways we see on the news. We would still be who we are. Fat chance. We need to be more humble, to realize that many of us started the 100-yard Dash of Life on the 70-yard-line (or 80 or 90 or 95). We need to quit judging entire groups by the behavior of the most depraved members of that group. Don't we know that there are vile politicians, priests, teachers, lawyers, cops, physicians, etc?. But are we really ready to say that these folks are representative?
That's enough. I'm getting more depressed just writing these lines--and that manifestly was not the intent.
I think I'll go eat a box of cookies and read the newspaper.