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Thursday, June 14, 2018

"You Are All A LOST Generation" / When "the Pursuit of Happiness All Seems a Bore"

RIP to all those who have died from suicide. This is for you.

After World War 1, Gertrude Stein told a bunch of writers, to include Earnest Hemingway, that they were all a "lost" generation. The war had done them in. They were now trying to find meaning in France. They did this with a lot of alcohol, deep conversations, and a completely new way of expressing their ideas through various art mediums. 

As for, Gertrude Stein, she was trying to find meaning in these men. Alice B. Toklas was trying to find meaning in Stein, but she didn't know how to express this, so Stein wrote a book about how cool she was from Alice's perspective. In the end, they both felt like hanger-ons (Stein with the talent, Toklas with the wives). 

Some people will say that the book was a literary achievement. I rank it with painful works like Melville's "Bartleby the Scribner" and Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan. After reading the latter, I asked my English teacher, who told me to read it, what it was about, and he was as clueless as I was. Simply put, I think it was a bad drug fantasy that made less sense than William Burroughs' Naked Lunch. The latter was at least a walk through the dangers of heroin, though in a very sleazy crime, sexually-violent kind of way, which is cool when we're young (I read it last at about 25). This couldn't be said for Brautigan . Fortunately, I resold both of those books. 

Then, there's Catcher in the Rye, which I would have loved at 16, I wanted to feed Holden Caulfield to the sharks when I read it at 30. If I read it now, I'd be the old guy telling him off for being so full of his self righteousness. To this day, it's the only book I taught that I couldn't finish, which says something since I also taught Nicholas Sparks' A Walk to Remember to atone for teaching 1984 to the girls in my 10th grade class who hated it (I will admit to liking some of his movies).

I just can't put Stein with great characters of the time like Joe Christmas in Light in August or Daisy and Gatsby in Fitzgerald's work of the same name. William Carlos Williams gave us Spring and All as the writing manifesto accompaniment to the riot ballet that was Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. TS Eliot provided The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock ("in the room the women come and go talking of Michaelangelo"), and Pound put his own touch on The River Merchant's Wife ("I desired my dust to be mingled with yours"). 

But Stein gave us 2 things:

1) A woman who sat back and watched. Perhaps the hidden sexuality is the trick here, but even then, Toklas is empty. It's not like little girls want to be her or we would be celebrating it now like I did with other female lives. It's not like she's breathing open sexuality like Anais Nin did. If I'm missing something, please tell me.

2) The name of the literary group and the quote about "The Lost Generation."

From this post WW1 generation we got a lot of sadness and pain. When he wasn't talking about bull-fighting, tying flies for trout fishing, drinking wine, or crying over how Lady Brett loved  but couldn't love Jake Barnes (his "problem" turned her into a woman who couldn't date him, but still confided her dalliances to him), Hemingway wrote short stories like "A Clean Well-Lighted Place:"

Turning off the electric light he continued the conversation with himself. It was the light of course but it is necessary that the place be clean and pleasant. You do not want music. Certainly you do not want music. Nor can you stand before a bar with dignity although that is all that is provided for these hours. What did he fear? It was not a fear or dread. It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was a nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order. Some lived in it and never felt it but he knew it all was nada y pues nada y nada y pues nada. Our nada who art in nada, nada be thy name thy kingdom nada thy will be nada in nada as it is in nada. Give us this nada our daily nada and nada us our nada as we nada our nadas and nada us not into nada but deliver us from nada; pues nada. Hail nothing full of nothing, nothing is with thee. He smiled and stood before a bar with a shining steam pressure coffee machine. 

Nothing like a little nihilistic meaningless in the evening, eh?

Thinking back on how that group transcended and eventually became the generation before mine, it makes me wonder how revolutionary it was for the Rolling Stones to talk about "happy" pills in "Mother's Little Helper." Even today, with regard to the existential dilemma of how "the pursuit of happiness all seems a bore," this song just runs counter to the idea of free living and joyful obtaining. Nevertheless, for every couple at Sandals (like my wife and me), there's someone crying about needing to get back to reality and his "routine."

Really. We encountered one of these people.

Talk about First World Problems!

I come from the generation that grew to love Kurt Cobain. Kurt, who took Hemingway's nihilism and found a social / political rebellion with it as he exploded onto the scene, is said to be the last rock star, and in some ways, that's probably true. For people my age, he made us feel our problems needed expressed (and they should be), but other than the cathartic release, he never provided the answer. Instead, he married Courtney Love, and well.... he died by his own hand (by the way, I am fortunate enough to have seen Nirvana in 1991 before "Smells like Teen Spirit." They were that good).

So it goes.

Now, in the years since then, a time that our angst and ennui has been expressed in a myriad of musical and literary ways, so many of us are part of a "DEAD" generation. We lack interests. We struggle to find meaning. We consume instead of create. We see no end game. We're just alive, eating, breathing, bathrooming, sleeping, and drifting through this world (this is all generations - not just the younger ones). While this isn't all of us, it's all too many people. It's like we've moved beyond even the ability to even be an absurdist hero in this life. Instead, we drown in our own inability to talk about our interests / things you should know about us (I was surprised how many people had nothing to say about either of those things on night 1 of a class). We're not even riding shotgun. We might as well be lying in the trunk.

As for talking about our interests, if we can't do that, then what can we do on a much more intense scale?

I take this problem for people my age and younger back to the era of Kurt Cobain since it's my era (I'm sure I could take it back to ancient Greece). We were all searching for something. Those were some good times, and I'm happy to be a part of Generation X and the "Grunge" era. It was amazing to live in England during that time. It made me who I was and some of what I am.

However, in wanting the dead body in his house not to be Cobain's body, people like me missed the point. Here was a man who was struggling with serious drugs, who was surrounded by a world that was crashing all around him. Instead of trying to help people like him, who were filled with problems, we just mocked Courtney Love for her entire existence and her public response. Only Eddie Vedder put things into perspective while expressing being ground up in the public eye / fame machine with his "Messiah" quote. 

Seeing as Katy Perry is now a "joke" to so many, we've learned nothing.

As for my generation, it defined my place in culture, music, literature, and day to day life, but as all "fun and carefree" things are, it was fleeting. Sure, I'll remember places, people, and concerts, but did it truly define me to be able to be married, be a professional, own a home, recover from my mistakes, or survive a situation like Parkinson's? Sure, in some ways, it expresses me and some of it did help me, but is it the deeper part of my life? For all of the people I know who made it out of their "generational" world intact, they redefined themselves right after it. Like King Henry IV, Falstaff has to go. There is leadership and maturity, as well as purpose, waiting for us - if we grow up and leave the empty and temporary things behind.

Nevertheless, as we move beyond our emptiness, we must leave others behind. Sadly, along the way, we will watch our heroes die, not of old age, but their own hands. Like Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, the history of depression and meaninglessness has led to many casualties. Kenneth Rexroth, a Beat poet, explains it well in "Thou Shall Not Kill."

As time goes by, more names make this list as they die by their own hands, too. Other young people feel so nihilistic that they hurt others before hurting themselves. I'm not here to go political on this, but I want to know why this is as something more than latching on to a cause to find "so called evidence" to advance their own other cause (no more guns, violent video games, dangerous meds, mentally ill people running around, rock music, capitalism, low church attendance, or any one of a number of things). 

Instead, I want to do my part in helping people find their own peace, their own enjoyment that doesn't hurt others, and their own place in time. I'm not here to sell them mine.

I don't want to get into the politics of this other than to say, "What can we do to like ourselves, enjoy our lives, and do meaningful things? What do we need to do to realize life is about community?"

This isn't an economic or theological concern. This is about realizing we're all on the same team as a people concern. This could be family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, or random acquaintances. Life is about respecting ourselves and others. By any means necessary, let's do better.

Martin Seligman - positive psychologist

So yes, as society sees two more high profile suicides (Kate Spade + Anthony Bourdain), we are asked to think about several issues. Here, I feel compelled to state a few things that I feel for you:

A)    If you know someone who needs help, be there for him or her as best as you can. 1-800-273-8255 gets you the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. CNN has an article on what else needs to be done in addition to just making a phone call.
B)    Encourage people to get professional help. Provide them with empathy.
C)    I IMPLORE you to learn about the side effects of your medicines. There are lots of nasty ones out there. See THIS LIST. If you don’t like what’s going on, from a rash to behavior that is unrelated to who you are as a person, you have the RIGHT and RESPONSIBILITY to DEMAND something new. Please check out articles LIKE THIS ONE by Susan (Robin’s wife) Williams. It’s big and it’s scary, but it says things we Parkies (and other people with conditions) need to confront (even if Robin didn’t have Parkinson’s, Lewy body dementia is close enough). Additionally, other people need to be able to talk to you about these effects. Please open up the best you can.
D)    Anoint people in your life as something more than caretakers. I may call my wife the CEO of my Brain, but she is also on my living will. That's more real than a clever nickname She gets to make legitimate medical decisions if I can’t. My parents are the Board of Trustees of my Brain. Between the 3 of them, they have the right to consult together on my behalf. I have given them the right to discuss things I may not be aware of (though I’m usually really good at acknowledging all things, I sometimes can’t see everything). My job is to sit down, shut up, listen, and think about what I'm experiencing and what it could do to others.
E)     Many of us with Parkinson’s (or other conditions) have issues with serotonin to go with our dopamine problems. We’ve seen dark days because of biology playing its cruel hand on us, as well as life issues that multiply this, but we moved through them to be here today, even if it hasn't  been pretty. We have our scars. Some of them were self-inflicted. Others are emotional. The point is, we need to acknowledge this and work toward better solutions. Sometimes, it all begins with a "you're OK, man." Whatever it takes. I've needed to hear it and say it. Remember, we've all been there.
F)     One solution for people in need of better living through chemistry is to push for anti-depressants with less harmful effects. Some people self medicate to avoid these effects. I'm not here to judge that, but if we can make an iPhone whatever, can't we do better here, too? Research meds in a scholarly way on scholarly sites. Don't rely on my advice to say, "Oh, don't take X. I got Y from that." Yes, it may be true, but my body is really sensitive to some meds. Yours might not be. While chat rooms are beneficial, rely on professionals. I may have learned about my condition, but I'm not a medical expert (neither is Jenny McCarthy). Talk to your professional about it... not your neighbor.
G)    Another solution is to live by positive psychology, philosophy, theology, and / or whatever values make sense to you (in addition to medical treatment). As I stated at the tops, there’s a lot of negativity out there. When people lose meaning in their lives, then what? The point is that when we do things that create purpose, be it cleaning trash off a trail, painting a picture, teaching a class, or any other process that makes the world better, we’re doing what our deepest self likes. Be this D.H. Lawrence, Dan Pink, or Sonja Lyubomirsky, it’s all good. Just do things that you can enjoy (and don’t help other people) and things that you can be proud of.

H)    In the end, you don’t have to feel ashamed to get help. Share your emotions. Work toward your solutions in a multi-pronged attack. Don’t expect overnight success. Just keep moving no matter how long it takes. If you have to cry, cry. If you need a hug, ask. Just keep moving, however slowly. Don't let medical stigma hold you back. You're a good person... whatever it takes.
I)       Just because the person you are / the people you know who feel these problems don’t design handbags or have extreme television shows doesn’t mean they and / or we aren’t as important as Kate and Anthony. Every loss we take is a bad one. People who shuffle off this mortal coil, like those who live on it, are beautifully imperfect. We all have our faults, but we also have a journey that impacted others for better or worse. Don’t ever forget that or how important you are to someone. Whether it’s a spouse / friend / relative / co-worker / me (after all, you support my writing dream / Parkinson’s advocacy by being here). You make a difference. Find a way through. You got this, as Mo Onstad would say!
J)   Or as Winston Churchill said, "We will never surrender!

K) Last but not least. Life is funny. The things we misspoke on, the things we never thought would happen to us, the medications we once stigmatized / didn't understand... yeah... things have a way of coming back to us double. This isn't a punishment from God, but I will say the universe has a terrible sense of irony. My life is living proof (beefcake, beefcake)! Nevertheless, learning helps us and others. Make your life work.

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