It’s been a rough few weeks. That goes without saying. It’s been a rough few weeks for a lot of us. It’s been hard for me to find the will to write about anything. It’s been hard for me to get my mind off of the election and I just didn’t want to write about that. I wanted to write about Plato or Dostoyevsky—or anything else for that matter, really—anything but the reality gripping me by the guts. I tried to, you know. I really did. But it was shit, it’s all just shit, everything. Why talk about any of that stuff anymore? Look at what’s going on right now. Am I to just pretend that didn’t happen? Of course I can’t.
The day after the election happened to us, I took the subway into downtown Los Angeles and went for a walk. I kept an eye out for all the faces around me. I was a bit taken aback by the people who seemed to be oblivious that this terrible thing had happened at all, that things in the world would be fundamentally changed forever for the worse. I wondered if they even bothered to vote, or maybe these were just those kinds of people who are able to keep their emotions locked deep inside while putting a smile on their faces and go about their business, or maybe they were just dead inside. I don’t know. But most of the people I saw were sullen and stone-faced. I walked by them, silently connecting. We walked together there at rock-bottom. We were tight and I knew them and they knew me, familiar strangers here at a real low point. Here at rock-bottom.
I made my way around town and let my thoughts run wild as I gawked awkwardly at the people around me. “Was it you?” I thought to myself as I peered into the face of a man in his early 40s, double chin with Oakley sunglasses perched atop his sweaty, pink head. Or was it that guy in the nice suit walking somewhere in a hurry? Or was it that lady with all those kids coming out of Walgreens? “Do they think it’s me?” I wondered as faces stared back at me, a clean-cut, all-American looking white boy, “Do they think I did it?” The cars rushed by, the people walked on and life went on as it always did, but for how long?
I could sit here and postulate for paragraphs and paragraphs about why I think we got to this point. I could go on about why I think he’s a terrible person and why he’ll be a terrible president, but we’ve all been hit with a deluge of articles and think pieces about all of that and still we have no answers, so I won’t bother. I’ve been left staring at the world in utter astonishment, mouth agape, eyes bulging out of their sockets for weeks now. Every morning I wake up feels like being hit by a truck. Then I was hit with a machine gun fire of personal and professional disappointments within days of the election, just to rub some salt in. So I threw my hands up in the sky. I gave up. I became well-acquainted with the floor, the couch, the bed. I fucked around on Facebook, putting bitchy status updates into the ether about this embarrassment about to become leader of the United States, my country, the country I was once sworn to protect.I felt bad for everyone I knew still in the service. He was their commander-in-chief now. Outrage after outrage followed and I sank deeper and deeper.
I drank, I ate junk food and I didn’t write. I stayed in bed on my days off and even my workouts—the last bastion of sanity I have in this world—suffered. I stared off into space a lot. I wasn’t angry, I wasn’t numb, I was just exhausted and depressed. I’d had it. I found myself getting into war documentaries—the BBC’s The Great War, The World at War, The Spanish Civil War, The Death of Yugoslavia, Ken Burns’ Civil War—I’d seen them all before and now I was back for more. These are massive productions, they take hours to watch and I devoured them at all hours of the night and into the day. I get into war for the same reasons that I get into disease pandemics. They’re reminders that things here on this planet have been worse, that life is fragile, and the world is volatile. They’re reminders that things will probably get worse soon enough, but people have lived through it. War and chaos is woven deep within our DNA and must constantly be kept at bay. But it always wins out eventually.
I couldn’t help but be left with the feeling that we all happen to be living in a relatively peaceful and stable time in history and that it’s only a matter of time until it all falls apart. It has to fall apart. It can’t go on forever. I think that’s what we may be seeing now. I hope I’m wrong, but we may be bearing witness to a kind of great unraveling of stable government and a descent into chaos. It’s something that seems so unfathomable to us because it’s so far removed from our reality. The dissolution of society and government is something that seems relegated to history and other countries with names we can’t pronounce or locate on a map. It could never happen here, right? We’ve been so conditioned to think positively and stay on the bright side at all times that we become delusional and woefully oblivious to the reality surrounding us. I’m guilty of it. But we may be doing so at our peril. We could use a collective dose of pessimism. Maybe it’s time to sober up.
After my mourning period, I’ve been able to slowly get myself back up on my feet again. This is only the beginning, so relapse seems likely, considering this simpleton has the ability to kill us all with a tweet. As pretentious and typical as this sounds, the thing that’s been saving me have been books and music. I found a few old thesis papers on Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov online along with a few study guides and lectures on his work. I got lost in it. It’s an escape that no psychedelic drug I ever took allowed me to go on. It’s a great window to look out of and I can feel myself becoming more intelligent and thoughtful the more I study it. In addition to Dostoyevsky, I’ve been spending time with Ulysses S. Grant’s memoirs again. I’ve read the thing before in-depth when I was doing research for a show I was writing and performing about him. I love to read his accounts of battle—some of the worst, bloodiest, and most miserable the world has ever seen—and know that these kind of terrors are real, they exist. Real people fought in them. They were funny, mean, cunning, had bright futures, their kids had piano lessons, they had pictures hanging on the walls of their living rooms. Then one day, they were sitting in a military uniform having coffee and talking with some guy they just met there that morning when a shell came firing through camp and blew them into pieces. Blood and guts, arms and legs everywhere. Stoicism in the face of that mess is the best way through, maybe the only way. I don’t know.
I read journalist, Richard Engel’s excellent memoir about covering twenty years of chaos in the Middle East, And Then All Hell Broke Loose. I read parts of the Koran and the Gospel of Mathew from the New Testament. Continuing on with my war fascination, I read Barbara Tuchman’s WWI masterpiece, The Guns of August and as well as some of Abraham Lincoln’s letters. I killed time with some of Flannery O’Connor short stories and a bit of Carson McCullers thrown in. I managed to get my hands on some of the Man Booker Prize finalist books for the year, so I’ll be plowing through them soon. I still have to finish fully digesting everything Dostoyevsky’s been throwing at me as well. These have given me solace, peace, strength and understanding.
Every day I had free these past few weeks were spent with my head under the covers, devouring word and soaking in music. Mozart, Bach, Sibelius, Telemann, Fasch, Mendelssohn and Haydn have been streaming constantly out of my speakers. There’s nothing that touches me as deeply as a Bach violin concerto performed by a world-class violinist like Hillary Hahn or Richard Tognetti. When the Double Violin Concerto in D minor comes on, the world melts away and the gears behind everything are visible to me. I want to live in that world forever. There is a comfort and wisdom in the music. These are the masters that have come before. They show us that while the world is filled with an embarrassing willful ignorance and unfathomable cruelty and violence, there is also a deep wisdom, intelligence, kindness and sensitivity that flows through humanity. It’s always at war with itself, there has always been a push and pull between the two and we can’t have one without the other. They need each other to survive. This is comfort. This is solace. Independent intellectual pursuits and self-betterment are damn near an act of rebellion now. When the world goes crazy, we go sane.
The first few days back at the gym were hard. Some of the workouts were fine, but they had no fire in them. I had to drink a pot of coffee just to get through. But eventually, I’ve been able to come around. I did a week of heavy lifts. Deadlifts, squats, military press, bench press—the old standbys. They saw me through those horrible mornings. Gun Club, Soundgarden, X, UK Subs, Thin Lizzy blaring in the headphones as I pushed my body harder and harder, just to get myself out of my mind, to help myself out, to grow. This is how I know I am a true friend to myself and that in this life, I truly have loved and cared for myself. As the weeks progressed, I moved on to swinging kettle bells and ropes around along with more functional fitness out at the park as the sun came up and caffeine pumped rapidly through my blood. Moments of nostalgia and reflection occurred between sets. No time to think about that now, on to the next set. Working out is good for stuff like that. Fight the depression. Kill the blues, on to the next set.
These past few weeks have been hard. Don’t let anyone tell you to get over it. Don’t let anyone tell you to stop being a “sore loser.” This isn’t your favorite sports team losing, no matter how much they may try to treat it as such. This is the fate of the world. A simpleton called Donald J. Trump, a man who rode into the presidency on the backs of an ignorant populace, now has access to nuclear weapons and is enthusiastic about acquiring more. If that doesn’t bother you, you are a fool. These are dark times. Work on your body. Work on your mind. Help and encourage others to do the same. Promote intelligence and thoughtfulness. Let this be a lesson, a hard one. I can only hope we make it through this. I can only hope I’m wrong.