You are medicating yourself right now, no matter how hard you try to stop it. Alas, let me explain.
Since Lucy came around five years ago, I’ve been looking at the world through her eyes approximately 50% of the time – not just when we’re together, but also when I’m alone, and the juxtaposition has been horrifying. I’m continually amazed at the kind of casual, ugly, soulless profanity I used to take for granted; I have seen stomach-churning porn, the equivalent of snuff films, horror movies full of splayed intestines, and all kinds of gruesome images meant to deaden the human spirit.
Now I have a little girl who has a hard time getting through Snow Buddies without screaming in fear. Necessarily, I’ve adopted much of her innocence as my own, and largely shed all the callouses and callousness that enabled me to get through my twenties. This tectonic change in the way I experience culture has led me to understand a much bigger, much more obvious point: the western world of the 20th and 21st century is goddamn crazy and we are all doing a heroic job of getting through every day without EXPLODING.
The bombardment of information, the months spent in traffic, the demands of jobs, and the backbreaking load of personal shame each of us endures every day has made us, the human animal, virtually incompatible with the lives we’ve built for ourselves. That we still laugh, still possess empathy, still find time for absurdity and silliness, is proof some part of homo sapiens remains truly divine.
I’m not saying you have to accept this “hunter/gatherer forced into sensory overload” theory, but if you do, you might also accept we can only get through this life with help, by whatever means necessary. In my experience, almost every single person I’ve ever met needs to compensate for the horrorshow of modern existence by some means. In fact, I’ll put a partial list here:
• cocaine, ecstasy and harder drugs
• behavioral pharmaceuticals
• magical thinking
• singular obsessions (hobbies, sports)
…and those are just some popular ones. I have come to understand I compensate for my inability to “deal” with the present world by taking Cymbalta, Dexedrine, weekly talk therapy, a hyper-caffeinated tea, a mid-level candy addiction, and perhaps a low-level Wikipedia addiction. These things were unnecessary when we were at Carolina, due to the incessant distractions of Experience and Romance, but as all of us got older, we either had to have a fearless look at ourselves or risk becoming the unwitting punchline of a forgotten joke.
Put simply, we are all biologically engineered for a simpler existence. It can be argued that we’re not meant to be constantly hijacked by Facebook, not meant to be sitting on a stopped freeway speechless with rage, not meant to sleep in a room scattered with LED lights glowing all night. We are not meant to know about earthquakes in New Zealand, global warming, or babies dying in gangland shootouts.
And so I look at Lucy, and I see the world through her eyes, and I want to limit as much of that lunacy as possible. I bristle at the idea that sheltering kids from the world’s worst aspects renders them unprepared for the realities of life – I got a healthy dose of the world’s untethered morality and cruelty growing up, and it did me no favors.
Lucy with Lily’s friend Bisou
Do I fancy some return to a halcyon, simpler life, free of deviant pornography, Twitter and foreign correspondents reporting from mass graves? Um… no. I’m way too much a product of technophilia, and I’m a big believer in antibiotics and modern dentistry. But there may be some redemption in understanding you’re doing a pretty fantastic job just by staying sane.
If you aren’t one of the rare beasts who require no help to slalom through life at the beginning of the 21st century, then you are medicating, even if you don’t see it. I don’t know what your specific medication is, but you can start by forgiving yourself that you need it. Brian Wilson – a genius madman shut-in if there ever was one – wrote I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times, but really, it’s okay, because none of us were.