by James Wallace Harris, Monday, May 18, 2020
To paraphrase Rodney King, “Why can’t we all be normal?”
Usually, I’m a very laid back guy, but a slow restlessness is building up in me. It could be the weeks of confinement, but I doubt it. I’m retired and seldom went out before the pandemic. The U.S. is closing in on 100,000 deaths from Covid-19 and millions want to get out again. That makes me nervous, but I’m not sure if it explains my uneasy sense of restlessness. What makes me more nervous is millions of people want to believe the pandemic won’t get them. That might be part of it. Some people want to deny the coronavirus like they deny climate change, but I’ve been living with deniers for decades, so that might not be it either.
They interviewed a scientist on 60 Minutes yesterday and he said people need to recognize the certainty of physics, chemistry, and biology. Reality doesn’t give a damn about what we believe. It’s foolish to believe in mind over matter. And that makes me restless when I realize the inevitability of the objective reality. I’ve always wanted to believe I could outwit determinism.
I might also be feeling restless now because I need prostate surgery for my BPH. I’m scheduled to see a urologist and expect to have some kind of surgical procedure done. Peeing all the time isn’t normal, so maybe I’ll find peace if they can fix me. I’m hoping it’s like my two heart procedures. I had a heart arrhythmia for years and they went in and zapped something inside my heart and I was normal again. Anxiety was deferred. Another time, I was having chest pains and breathing problems, and they went in a stuck in a stent, and I was normal again, bringing another kind of peace. I know the urologist will rotor-rooter my you-know-what, and hopefully, I’ll be normal again. I also know until I’m physically normal again, I’ll worry about the possible complications and side-effects, and that’s a source of the restlessness too.
However, I don’t think my current restlessness is completely anxiety over having surgery. I wish politics could return to some kind of normalcy. I’m tired of having a crazy incompetent megalomaniacal crook being a rampaging bull in the White House. I want some dull-ass politico that just works at bi-partisan politics, statesmanship, foreign affairs, and leadership the heals the nation. It sure would ease my nerves if I didn’t feel our capital was Clowntown.
It also makes me nervous when protestors bring their guns into capitol buildings. Protesting is an honest outlet in a democracy. And I accept that people have the right to own guns, I just don’t want to see them. Seeing them at protest rallies makes me nervous. How do you tell a second amendment rights protester from a mass shooter? They all look like crazy angry white guys with guns. Don’t get me wrong, I like guns. But I don’t like seeing them out in public unless they are being carried by a person in uniform — either the police or military. It makes me nervous seeing guys with guns on their belt at concerts and other social gatherings. I don’t think they will protect us from bad guys, and seeing their guns make me think of beserk killers. At least armed women keep their guns hidden in their purses. Part of the problem with the protesters with assault rifles is they look like people cosplaying their favorite action heroes, but that’s unnerving because it also looks like they’re grown men playing acting with real guns. I’m all for people owning guns, but I only want to see civilians with guns in their homes, at the shooting range, or out hunting. Otherwise, I’ll think they’re a crazed shooter of school children or concert goers.
Another thing that’s gnawing at my sense of normalcy if the economic meltdown. The United States has a tremendous economic engine, but it’s taking a massive hit right now. It’s unsettling to think of how many tens of millions don’t have jobs, that millions of companies might go under, and that a whole generation is being delayed from starting their chosen careers. This is a time we should all stay calm and find a way to work together, but instead, everyone is arguing. Without wise leaders in times of crisis, incompetent leaders create the feeling we’ve all shipped out on the Titanic. We need a Lincoln, Roosevelt, or Churchill, not the Great Tweeter.
Living through a world-wide crisis in the middle of a polarizing political conflict is the wrong time to make decisions based on party affiliation. Taking sides because of single-issue positions is insane right now. We need to create comprehensive solutions that work holistically for every citizen. Politics based on greed and self-interest is going to undermine everything. It’s time to remember old adages like “United we stand, divided we fall.”
I want the pandemic to go away so life can go back to normal. But physics, chemistry, and biology will not allow that. Reality has thrown us a curve that demands we think differently, far outside any box we’ve ever known. Instead, we’re being drowned in insane conspiracy theories.
My friend Connell said he thought the internet would bring enlightenment by spreading knowledge faster and wider. Instead, the net spreads chaos and ignorance. Maybe the world would feel less crazy if I unplugged? The trouble is technology offers us the ability to form a hive mind, one with seven billion concurrent parallel processors, but instead of being seven billion times wiser, collectively we’re acting like the biggest single asshole with the worse case of Dunning-Kruger ever.
If would make me less restless if the country was run by leaders who were experts in their fields rather than yahoos who just think they are. We need to set job requirements for our politicians, ones that show they have the experience needed to do the exact tasks of their titles.
I have no idea how we find our way back to normal. That old curse, “May you live in interesting times” is one vicious curse. I wish we all had duller lives at the moment.
There is one last thing I’m considering. I’m wondering if I’m getting restless from getting older. I’ve never really worried about aging before. But then I never felt getting old before. I have felt my body failing before. Having my heart flake out is very educational about dying. And chronic pain is also instructive. But what’s more insidious, is diminishing vitality. I logically knew getting old meant slowing down and I accepted that cognitively. But I didn’t know what it felt like. I didn’t know what having a slow leak in my mental drive feels like. I think that’s making me restless. It’s not depressing me — yet, but it is nagging me in an interesting way. I realize I don’t have the psychic energy to do the things I want, which tells me to conserve my psychic energy. In other words, it’s time to seriously Marie Kondo my desires and ambitions, and that also creates a sense of restlessness.
That explains another reason why I want to get back to normal. I don’t want to waste my dwindling supply of motivating energy worrying about the pandemic or politics or crazy guys with guns. Writing this essay reveals that I need to let such things go, but I’m not sure I can. And letting things go also creates a sense of restlessness. It’s hard to come up with the right combination of attitudes to preserve my dwindling psychic drive.
3 thoughts on “Restless in an Age of Anxiety”
Great thoughts JWH. I too, have sensed a tension, an uneasiness seemingly permeating my community. We’re a mixed bunch, but generally liberal, nominally Christian, stoutly middle class and woke. I’m a senior-71- with a mortgage and a son heading to college and my businesses closed because of this pandemic. Concerned about many many things. I worry that the new normal will become the unbearable. If we reopen too soon I fear the explosion of C-19 beyond control and we’d very hard-pressed to get things shut down a second time around. I worry there would be open revolt. But if we delay too long to open, millions of people in situations similar to mine will be in big trouble. Millions are already in big trouble. Change will happen.
I wish well in your upcoming medical procedures. Despite all the politicization of it, we have an excellent medical system in our country, it is sad, however, that so many people who need it, don’t have full access to it.
As another old retired guy I have to say I can understand were you are coming from. My wife and I are comfortable and while we miss eating out combined with a bit of gallery viewing or shopping being stuck at home is not really that big a deal. We have ample space, dogs to walk every day and no one we know is sick. We will not be going to London to see a show my wife really wanted to see, but looking around the majority of people are experiencing a lot worse then the mild disappointment this will cause us. We also will not spend most of with summer at the cabin. But the hardest thing for us coming out of the virus is how to manage visits with older friends and relatives. This problem is unlikely to end anytime soon regardless of what the various governments say.
But I am also experiencing the restlessness and anxiety you mentioned. I think much of this was pre-pandemic, but it is not helping. Possibly because there are now fewer distractions. Now in my early 60’s I have been lucky enough to experience a world, where at least from my perspective things improved. Medicine made great strides, society seemed to becoming more tolerant and people were beginning to appreciate the problems we had created in the environment. Now every day we seem to be sliding back. Racism, and a misplaced nationalism have combined with Neoliberalism and plain selfishness to erode the social contract pretty much worldwide. The 1% encourage and exploit this and people worldwide often seem to vote when they vote at all, against their own best interests and that of society as a whole. I remind myself that my parents lived through the depression and World War Two and ended up with a good life. Given the challenges facing the youth of today however I am not optimistic. I do wonder, as you seem too, how much of this is the times, the media, the current crop of politicians or a part of aging itself with all its challenges and reductions. I am going to try avoiding spending so much time reading the news, a real challenge and spending more time with my books and the garden.
All the best
Normal only appilies to laundry. Even the we’re not sure.