I’ve had a hard time looking on the sunny side lately. I go through the drawers of my mental writing cabinet looking for something bright to share but only find dusty scraps of paper with half-formed scribbles on them, thick sheets covered in negativity. Running through my mind like some sort of dark and relentless mantra, I’ve only what Edgar Allan Poe called “night-thoughts.” And when I try to drive away these nagging social critiques, judgments, and condemnations of perceived universal idiocy and think of something uplifting, I draw a blank.
I no longer trust myself or my thoughts. I have lots of ideas and opinions, I’ve no end of feelings about “what needs to be done,”, how to correct things, but who doesn’t ? Having ideas isn’t the problem. Rather, I suspect there’s a process at work in the world, maybe a conspiracy. I’m starting to believe that the thoughts rolling around in my head aren’t really mine. That is, I didn’t self-generate them. They’ve been generated in a number of ways, by my upbringing and family life, my social class and my education and a mix of other forms of mental Manchurian Candidate-like conditioning. Consider the onslaught of “information” hurled at me each time I turned on the TV as a child or, later as an adult, each time I turn on the computer to check one of my social media accounts. From The Beverly Hillbillies to Elon Musk. Who can possibly lay claim to original thought in such an atmosphere, in a constant tidal wave of conditioning?
More than once I’ve thought of myself as a character in a book, someone to whom things happen. The question is, who is the author of this book and does the plot, if there’s a plot, have any ultimate meaning? These are questions that are hard to answer, they might border on the religious. Within the story’s narrative, there’s an occasional surprise, an unexpected event, but for the most part things stay true to the course of action established in the early chapters. Though there’s a certain lee-way in my personal drama, things haven’t yet become too absurdly coincidental. As an example, I’ve yet to learn that a distant uncle has left me a castle and a title of nobility nor have I been drawn into a plot to assassinate a head of state.
I don’t want to give the impression that this manner of perceiving my own existence is a constant. Not only would that be false and pompous, it would probably lead to some form of schizophrenia. I get wrapped up in things, forget myself, have enthusiastic moments, moments of insight (real or imagined), despair and foolishness, not to mention daydreams, fantasies and boredom. But from time to time, “the overview” comes back and I see myself as less the one acting and more as the one acted upon. What has this revealed?
It's pretty simple. We keep moving from chapter to chapter. We can’t peek at the end and the print in the opening chapters begins to fade. On the bright side, the story as it’s so far developed has had enough interest to it to make me want to keep reading, which is a euphemistic manner of saying I’ll keep up the fight as long as I can. Yet I have a premonition of how it’ll end. I’ve lived long enough to see it end for others, so why should I be spared? When we’re younger we crave experience, to know what life’s about, so why, when the veil is lifted should we be let off the hook?