“Imaginary evil is romantic and varied;My, I've been reactive lately. Even in my happiest of moods, I've been feeling thin-skinned, like people who can't stand a shirt label touching the back of their neck.
real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring." [i]
I think it's because of my workplace, mostly. Keeping a thriftstore diary for the past three months means I've been writing about it after every shift. Surprisingly (to me), that's making me feel worse, when otherwise I cope not-too-badly.
They (psychologists and folk) used to think people who went through horrible events should talk about it right away-- students in school shootings should talk to counselors, and so forth.
But after some time, they found that talking about horror sometimes cements all the nasty events in the brain, which otherwise might wash some away or put them in their proper boxes for proper handling when able.
I'm paraphrasing, obviously. I'm not going to stop and google this, but I read it several places.
. . .
As if! Having written that, then I had to google it. Oh, the brain of a librarian: MUST FOOTNOTE EVERYTHING.
Here's an example, from an article in the Guardian, 2014: "When talking about your problems actually makes them worse":
"Dwelling on trauma may do more harm than good. But burying your head in the sand isn’t going to help you get over it either. It’s complicated.Yes, it's complicated, and keeping a diary about the evil I see (often just everyday stupidity, but sometimes human cruelties, and definitely real social breakdown), I got sucked in rather than distanced.
"The effect of the trauma is diminished [my italics] if subjects take a fly-on-the-wall view and write an account of the bad experience, referring to themselves in the third person.
This distances them from the painful event, enabling them to be more thoughtful about what happened without being self-destructive."
The other day I wrote a long post about the latest round with the dealers outside the store, and how the City descended with fire trucks, cop cars, ambulances, even a caterpillar/earth mover machine to scoop up the barbecue grills they've been burning bonfires on...
I wrote about how I feel like I'm living in The Wire, 'cause same as on that show, after all the drama, the very next day we got different crew out there, same deal.
So, that amount, what I just wrote ^ above, is okay.
But I went into details, and recorded things people said (some of them quite funny, from my wry coworkers). At the end I felt like I was reporting on civilization sliding off the edge.
And maybe I am, but, I thought, I NEED TO STOP THIS. For now.
For my peace of mind, so I can keep doing what I'm doing, which is tiny but not nothing.
I have coping mechanisms for being at the store that are almost invisible to me. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see shadows of shadows of spinning gears... moved by gravity, or geothermal heat, who knows...
I imagine some interior, fantastically steampunky, brass navigational tool, an astrolabe of the psyche.
I've been seriously thwacking that navigational instrument, and it got out of whack.
One way that is evident is, I get extra impatient with people.
A long time ago, I met a woman at a party who worked in the prison system. "I hate normal people," she told me.
People say that sometimes––ha-ha––lightly. They put it on their fridge. And then they go on with their gardening, like normal people.
But I'm sure she really meant it.
I knew, even then:
It's a problem when you start to hate normal people, and gardening.
(Or any people, sure, of course, but this is a particular twist, hating normal people. And I've been feeling that. Warning: Not good.)
I ask myself this, every so often.
I answer myself variously, but in similar ways.
In recent years: Dolls. (Toys. Play. Invention.)
Dolls help. For real.
They (toys, play) are Good.
Church (Catholic, in my case) sometimes helps, because it presents some home truths about human suffering--there it is, in a bleeding statue––but keeps it at a distance and provides physical practices to help handle it--kneel, stand, kneel.
Again, I'm only speaking for me---I know a lot of people for whom church was the evil!
There's another line to the quote from Weil, up top:
"Imaginary good is boring;
real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating."
Living with evil––we all do, to some extent––I think it helps to cultivate the good. Not just in theory, but to DO it.
That's why I'm liking Toys Recreate Paintings:
it gets me to DO it, not just read and write and think about it, which I love but is not the same as physical ACTION.
And, it's shared, even if only with a handful of people, which is Good x nth.
"Only" a handful, I said? But that's a lot!
Sometimes I forget in this world of "a million followers" that I (we) can only take in the energies of a few people.
(This is the point of view of me, an introvert.)
Weil uses these grand words, marvelous, intoxicating, but the acts likely are not grand.
"Tiny, unheroic acts" Chris Hedges calls them, in his book American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (2006), which I finished reading in bed last night.
He writes about the danger of turning individuals into abstractions, into Ideas, instead of this or that messy human right here. Me and you and the other annoyingly imperfect people around.
I noticed long ago that wanting to "improve" or, worse, to purify people can be really bad. That's why I don't like it, it worries me, when I get preachy.
Trying to clean up imperfections and annoyances, we start scrubbing away with deadly bleach at the healthy bacteria of being human.
I trust myself more when I talk about what kind of doll costume I want to make.
We are a mess, yes.
But the drive to sanitize creates monsters.
Hedges is the son of a preacher and himself studied to be one, though he was never ordained and became a foreign/war correspondent instead.
He gets a little high-flown here––"only through kindness"––but I basically agree with what he says here, in his concluding chapter (p. 205):
"The worst suffering in human history has been carried out by those who preach grand, utopian visions....
Dreams of a universal good create hells of persecution, suffering and slaughter. No human being could ever be virtuous enough to attain such dreams....
"This is true for all doctrines of personal salvation, from Christianity to ethnic nationalism to communism to fascism.
[Members of the radical Christian right] commit evil to make a better world. To attain this better world, they believe, some must suffer and be silenced, and at the end of time all those who oppose them must be destroyed.
"It is only by holding on to the sanctity of each individual, each human life, only by placing our faith in tiny, unheroic acts of compassion and kindness, that we survive as a community and as individual human beings." [my italix]
I am a little put off when people talk about kindness and compassion, because it sounds like you have to have a Heart of Gold that feels warmly.
If you wait for a warm feeling for your fellow man, that's not a good policy because it might not come, given the reality of what one's fellow man (and one's own self) is really like.
So the tiny heroic act does not necessarily arise from emotion.
It can be a policy, a practice.
But I'm quoting Hedges out of context. Before what I quoted, he's just given Huck Finn as an example--the scene that is the crux of Twain's whole novel:
Huck deciding not to turn the slave Jim in as stolen property, even though Huck knows (as he'd been taught) that is the proper and Godly thing to do--to write a letter to Miss Watson telling her where her stolen property--the man Jim--is.
And it (his decision not to turn Jim in) goes exactly against what he thinks is good and makes him FEEL clean.
First he decides to do the "right" [lawful] thing:
"Why, it was astonishing," Huck says when he's decided to write the letter, "the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone."
And after he wrote it,
"I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and knowed I could pray now––._____________
. . thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell.
. . .
But then Huck thinks about "our trip down the river, and I see Jim before me, all the time in the day, and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking, and singing, and laughing. But somehow I couldn't seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind.
I'd see him standing my watch on top of his'n, stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and him how glad he was when I came back out of the fog. . . and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me; and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he's got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper [the letter].
"It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:
'All right then, I'll go to hell'––and tore it up."
And as proof that it's not just the Christian right that is full of misguided fools looking for simple solutions, there are plenty on the Liberal left who think Huckleberry Finn shouldn't be taught because it is racist. [ii]
[i] Quote from Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, (London: Routledge, 1963), 62.
"Friends’ Central School in [Philadelphia]... reported that the school’s administration decided to pull the novel from its 11th-grade American literature class, although it will remain in the library.
"The school’s principal told parents in a letter that 'we have all come to the conclusion that the community costs of reading this book in 11th grade outweigh the literary benefits', saying that some students had found the 'use of the N-word' to be 'challenging', and that the school 'was not being inclusive'.
"The school is guided by Quaker philosophy, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, and 'peaceful resolution of conflicts, seeking truth, and collaboration are key aspects' of its operation."
I would say that in their faithfulness to the standards & norms of their times, they failed the Huck test. If they lived in his times, they'd have turned Jim in.