Someone’s sent me a letter. Possibly some time ago, as I never check my now-lockable mailbox. Because no-one ever sends me letters.
Yes, in case you caught that bit, I did acquire and install a lockable mailbox, several years ago. Because my mail was regularly being stolen (along with a number of other things that I won’t otherwise mention just now). Funny thing, the person my locking mailbox primarily seems to keep separated from my mail ever since then is—me.
But I digress. A letter. And a book.
I don’t know if I’ll read the book. Still reflecting on things. But the letter itself is very nice; it must be. Look, I’m writing about it. And I haven’t been writing about anything—anything at all—for some time now.
— § —
Unrelated but related.
Men are lonely. I’m not entirely sure whether this is a matter of our particular culture and epoch or whether this is something to do with testosterone and garages. But we are lonely, lonely creatures.
Okay, I lie. I am sure. Not in any epistemic way, but rather as a matter of the puffy white clouds of my own opinion-making, which (refreshingly) sail the skies of my life again since I left academics and no longer have to prove everything with reference to (always obnoxious) “intellectual giants” or (even more obnoxious) “highly cited articles.”
But yes, as I was saying, we are lonely, lonely creatures. And it’s at this point that all of the women in the room start on about sharing feelings and finding connection and all of that sort of thing, but the fact is that all of that really misses the point. It’s part and parcel of the problem, in fact.
If we could share feelings and make connections and so on and not be lonely, we’d all have done it already. Therapy, after all, runs like water in our culture, and very public (and often entertaining and witty) advice along these lines doubly so.
But being lonely doesn’t come from making no connections. We make connections and we’re still lonely.
— § —
I remember the last time I cried as a child, and the first time I was unable to cry, despite very much wanting to. I simply—couldn’t. I nudged all the right muscles and made all the right facial expressions and tried a heave or three, but nothing would happen. It was infuriating.
It was, in fact, the terrible moment at which I knew that for the rest of my life, “release” of any kind would be a limited resource. It was the moment at which I caught my first young glimpse of the concept of “destiny,” and of my destiny as a man in particular.
No one ever told me not to cry. Quite the opposite, in fact. I had that very modern, forward-thinking, highly educated, very liberal WASP mother who reassured me to no end that sharing feelings was right and that it was very good for boys to cry.
Women think boys don’t cry because we’re trying to impress them. Or ourselves. Or because we were beaten by a toxically-masculine brute at some point, or teased relentlessly on the playground for it.
In fact, many of us can’t because we just—can’t.
I suspect it has something to do with XY and hormones. It’s probably a reasonably good evolutionary adaptation. If your job for the species is to ward off predators double the size of any community member and to fight off invading armies of clever homo sapiens sapiens opponents, it’s really an “all-hands-on-deck” sort of thing you’re up to.
The jobs of men have traditionally been the jobs of pain, suffering, and early death on behalf of others—so that those others, offspring amongst them, can thrive.
Breaking into sobs when things really, really suck may be good for the soul but I imagine it’s an evolutionary dead end in comparison to those who aren’t so encumbered.
But of course that’s a just-so story based on nothing but my own surmise.
— § —
Time is passing.
I’ve written that phrase so many times here and elsewhere that it’s a terrible cliché for me. Yet it is. And more. More than ever.
I am grappling, in fact, with the problem of mortality, because I can smell it in the air.
When I was younger I absolutely reveled in the “half as long, twice as bright” thing. “A pirate’s life for me!” and all of that. I did not live with longevity in mind. I wish I could say that I lived well, but I can’t honestly say that, either.
In any case, parenthood changes things. “Half as long, twice as bright” is not good for the kids.
I am overtaken with immense parental guilt about my own mortality and the many, many ways in which I may have hastened it when I was younger and likely continue to hasten it today. I’m trying not to be obsessive about it and, for the most part, succeeding, but the reason for that success is more analagous to the reason I never cry than it is to any particular substantive state of mental healthiness.
— § —
This brings me to a strange kind of empathy that I have begun to feel for my elders and forebears—an empathy that continues to be comingled with resentment and shock.
Because of course they built this world. This world of nuclear arsenals and global warming and asbestos and runaway capitalism and arid secularism and so on. For so many years, what I mostly felt about them was a kind of naive rage. How, after all, dare they? How dare they and also have us?
That tapered off somewhere in my thirties and I generally forgot about all of that. I think that’s what one’s thirties are generally for—forgetting things.
And now, the forties, in which one’s purpose is to remember all of the things that one has never yet known. Including the fact—in my case, at least—that I am now my forebears. I now inadvertently destroy the health and happiness of my own progeny with nothing but the best of intentions, just as they did.
Innocence isn’t just at a premium; it’s both a scurrilous fable and the essence of all being at once.
— § —
We were talking tonight, the kids and I, about dog cognition.
We were veering perilously close to Sapir-Whorf territory, but what can you do? Dog cognition is dog cognition and in comparison to the human phenomenological universe, Sapir-Whorf seems both pedestrian and obvious rather than fraught.
But as the children wisely pointed out—or is that understood—it’s difficult for me to understand the difference any longer as a parent, which really deserves a post of its own but won’t get one—underneath it all, we humans all have dog cognition as well.
And, in part, it’s what must be recovered if one is to survive middle age and the golden years without snuffing oneself out.
It’s the best substitute for the ability to cry that a man is likely to come up with—that subverbal and in fact subcognitive level of stimulus-response that is the human equivalent of (to use a phrase that I found surprising and delightful and sad all at once when I first heard it) “the pure, unironic joy of being a dog.”
Some men get it from motorcycles. Others from guns. Others from sanding boats. I myself get it from wristwatches. And sunroofs. And, say, getting unexpected letters in the mail.