What is even going on any more?
You're not alone if you're caught in the insanity of the here and now
Here on Story Cauldron, I like to look at stories in our everyday world. Sometimes they relate directly to my fiction, sometimes to local history, sometimes just things in my personal life.
Today I want to stop and catch my breath because the world feels insane, and the weight of it is so heavy that it’s hard to be thoughtful and creative right now. And if I’m feeling that way, I’m sure a lot of other people are feeling that way too.
First off, I want to state that I am not trying to be an alarmist or downer here. I don’t want to add more negativity to your inbox. But I think it’s important to state what’s going on and how it makes us feel, because ignoring it doesn’t make the problems go away and it doesn’t help us solve them.
So here we are. If you’re like me, many of your friends and family members have COVID right now, or are recovering from a recent bout of it, or you had it yourself. Almost no one wants to call January 6th what it really was, and now you feel like voting rights and democracy are suddenly a pipe dream. You’re worried that crazy climate issues will bring tornadoes or wildfires to your door, or cause the power grid to fail again. (And let’s not even talk about Betty White, Sidney Poitier, and Michael Nesmith.)
Throughout it all, certain people continue with what I call “predictive victimhood,” claiming that everything from masks and vaccines to mail-in voting to the latest Substack content guidelines will take away their freedom.
Throughout it all, people are exhausted, stressed out, and again, if you’re like me, you might be feeling like society is gaslighting you for daring to suggest that things aren’t okay (because of course, everything is fine. Right?)
Recently, the author (and generally hilarious and perceptive human being) Chuck Wendig wrote about this gaslighting, as it pertains to COVID, saying:
I feel like someone just told me 2 + 2 now equals 22, and a lot of people seem to agree with that, even though we all know math doesn’t work that fucking way.
I feel like I’m seeing and hearing how bad the pandemic is presently, how the systems are straining, how teachers and healthcare workers are quitting in droves and are pushed to their limits, how friends and family are seeing workplaces and schools hamstrung by all this shit, and then, at the same time… I’m seeing nobody do anything about it. Like, not a fucking thing. In fact, less is being done.
Do you feel this way? I know I do. Omicron is more contagious than anything we’ve seen so far, and cases are skyrocketing to the highest levels since the start of the pandemic, but lots of people are pretending it’s not a big deal. Yet our hospital system and our supply chain are both on the brink of collapse. Teachers and parents are losing it, and based on this account from a student in a NYC public school, schools are in free fall.
Sometimes it feels like we as a society are akin to a massive freight train racing down a track, with the bridge out just ahead, and the conductor isn’t listening to warnings about it. (I think this is the general plot of Don’t Look Up on Netflix but I haven’t had the courage to watch it yet.)
We’re all screaming right now but the train just keeps going.
What can we do?
I think the first thing we have to do is recognize that the world is crazy and it’s not just you. If you share any of the feelings I have expressed above, recognize that you’re not alone. If you have people in your world telling you things that fly in the face of reason—whether it’s your spouse, your boss, your child’s school, or a government official—understand that they’re gaslighting you and you don’t have to listen.
It’s a tough time for everyone, and I think all of the anger and nastiness we’re witnessing both in real life and online is a consequence of it. We’re all so stressed out that many of us act in ways that aren’t always productive.
So if you’re at all like me, you might hang out on the couch all weekend and binge Netflix rather than clean the house, work on your novel, or whatever else is pressing.
(Speaking of which, I really enjoyed the latest Harlan Coben Netflix limited series Stay Close (which has Richard Armitage, just saying), as well as the new Dexter: New Blood on Showtime (avoid all spoilers!). Okay, so I’m not sure what it says about me when the shows I recommend are about serial killers but maybe that’s the best medicine for an ailing society? )
If you want something a bit more constructive, journalist Anne Helen Peterson has a nice, thoughtful piece on “How to Build a Rugged, Resilient Society” in which she enumerates some of the brokenness and how we must address the problems facing our world if we want to climb out of the hole we’ve dug for ourselves. She suggests,
…we need to cut nostalgia, and look clearly at the present. You can’t build a structure that stands unless you acknowledge the composition of the ground on which you’re building. That’s what ruggedization allows: a framework for action in face of constant upheaval and disruption.
I love how she identifies the larger problems and offers a systemic solution. It makes so much sense. Maybe if a bunch of people have a shift in their mindset and recognize that our broken society doesn’t have to be this way, and we can make changes, maybe we will. And repairing what is broken could make us stronger and the world more beautiful, like a piece of kintsugi pottery.
Updates on my own writing and creative world
So this whole newsletter was me saying, look, I just haven’t felt like doing the work lately. I do what I have to do for my paying job, and I’m trying to get my writing done, but it’s hard for me right now (and I’m so far relatively unscathed by the whole COVID experience compared to most).
I wanted to speak my truth in case it helps you feel less alone and frustrated that you know the emperor has no clothes but no one around you will admit it.
However, I am making slow progress on my writing all the same. I am exactly two chapters ahead of my weekly publication schedule here on Substack for The Boy Who Can Taste Color, which is a terrible place to be but it’s at least better than having to write the next chapter for this week’s newsletter, which is where I thought I was until I did some revising. (Yes, the novel is technically complete, but I’m revising by the seat of my pants.)
If you haven’t yet joined the teeming throngs who have purchased a paid subscription to Story Cauldron to follow along with the novel, now’s your chance. And if it doesn’t fit your budget, just shoot me an email and I’ll comp you a year.
What to read
If you’re looking for a new book you’ve likely never heard of, I’ve started one that I immediately found entertaining. It’s a historical novel called A Tip for the Hangman, written by Allison Epstein. It features a young Christopher Marlowe who has been recruited as a spy by Francis Walsingham during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
I’m only about four chapters in, but I’m enjoying it so far—which is unsurprising since Allison’s Substack is one of my favorites and something I always look forward to reading. She investigates “dirtbag” historical characters through an unapologetically modern lens, and it’s always both educational and hilarious. And as a historian of early modern England myself, I can’t help loving both the Substack and her novel. As an antidote to current events, I recommend it highly.
Let me know what you think!
I always love hearing from my readers, and I appreciate each and every one of you that takes the time to like my posts or share your thoughts.
On this topic in particular, I’d love to know where you stand, and if you feel like you’re about to shatter into a million pieces or you’re holding up pretty well. And if it’s the latter, please let me (and my other readers!) know how you’re accomplishing it.