The Internet asks us to feel about everything, for global warming, police brutality, assholes who fly giant Confederate flags from their pickup trucks, AIDS in Africa, and poachers who’ll soon make elephants extinct. We are expected to be outraged when a parent disowns a gay teen, and to rally when a dentist kills a famous lion. With so many evils in the world, why should anyone give two shits about me, a struggling writer? Nobody likes sour grapes. Whiners, I am fully cognizant, are pitiful. But this post isn’t for you. Words are my catharsis, make up my defenses. Sentimentality may be for losers, but it keeps the demons at bay. Like playing the blues. Also, I write for those few creative types, who battle the same demons of apathy. And yet, the problem of apathy affects everyone and everything.
Social media, the Internet, Facebook—name it what you will—never in human history have we been so inundated with information, and most of it ill news. We are saturated by misery, from every corner of the world, and the result is a growing numbness. How many horror stories can you read about, before none of it seems to matter? What makes this flood of information worse is how removed we are from the reality of it. We are sensorily deprived, when we learn of people being slaughtered daily, in countries like Syria, and all we can see are the numbers. It is expected that we mourn pixels on a screen and so are left emotionally detached. We feel nothing and do nothing, because distant people might as well be nothing. We cannot look into their faces, nor hear their voices, nor hold them close to us. On a purely intellectual level, we know they’re out there, but emotionally, they do not exist for us. The Internet is a great source for knowing things, but in a way that is divorced from pathos, and pathos is what we are sorely lacking in our time. This technology-behemoth, this information superhighway, has given us the godlike gift of near infinite knowledge, but it has come at a great cost. Our humanity.
So what is the antidote? In a word, art, and not just pretty paintings hanging in museums. I mean music and literature, and all the things that stir the soul, and enlighten us to our existence. This is the very purpose of art. Poetry makes the rock “rocky.” A song can make you angry or sad, or bring about revolution. In Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, I experienced the suffering of the poor in a way that it felt personal. The mistake people make about art, is to say, “How can you care so much about [insert protagonist here]? He isn’t even real!” But we are not, as readers, truly mourning the excommunication of Hester Prynn, or the death of Quasimodo, whose skeleton was found in a loving embrace about the corpse of his Esmeralda. No, the lives of fictional characters matter to us because they represent the whole of humanity, allowing us to feel for the countless individuals who have lived, but whom we would never have otherwise known. Quasimodo may not have been real, but there have been people fated with both spine bifida and unrequited love. Art is what is missing from news sources like the Huffington Post, because they only give us facts. I am not suggesting that news outlets be changed to accommodate our emotions. It is not the job of journalism to sensationalize, but the artist’s, who mine raw data to be hammered into beauty and meaning. What could matter more? Cynics may dismiss me, scoffing, “Art? How does art solve anything?” I think the late great Robin Williams said it best in Dead Poets Society, “Poetry is what we live for.” Science took us to the moon, but we could never have gotten there, if we had not first dreamed of going. Jules Verne is as responsible for Apollo 11 as Isaac Newton.
Nowadays, it seems, people are utterly indifferent to poetry, or to literature or philosophy. Brilliant writers often work hard to hide their brilliance. If a story possesses some kernel of higher truth, to enlighten or inspire us, it must sit behind a facade of inanity. Publishers are concerned only with the bottom line, the almighty $, and the chance to turn a book into a movie. What sells, and what is trending, is all that is deemed “good.” The success of Fifty Shades of Grey showcases the dumbing down of literature. Even the Song of Ice and Fire series, though epic in its scope, has little to say in terms of the human condition. Maybe the video game/meme generation is to blame, where instant gratification and simple, straightforward interpretations are always preferable.
Again and again, I have tried to make a case for literature, to engage people in a dialogue regarding the greater purpose of life, but even through the computer screen, I can feel them rolling their eyes at me. Who has time for books, when there are games to be played and movies to watch? I know of so many people who adore the Game of Thrones TV show, but will never bring themselves to pick up the books. The same goes for comics. My nephews love the Marvel films, and will talk obsessively about superheroes, until I show them the Marvel Unlimited app, which allows you to read 15,000 comics for $80 bucks a year, at which point they’ll change the subject. At times, I feel that reading, real reading, is going the way of the play. According to Cracked.com, nearly twice as many Americans are reading novels today, compared to sixty years ago, but where the heck are all these people? I don’t know of a single reader personally. If they exist, they certainly don’t live around me. Here is a perfect example of the disconnect between what the Internet tells us to believe and how experience makes us feel. I hang out at Barnes & Nobles sometimes, just to convince myself that people still enjoy books.
As for my own work, I have no chance. It may very well be that I am a crap writer, but my friends and family don’t even bother with the first page, so how can I prove myself to them? They have every other thing to do, every new app to try out, every silly YouTube video to watch, anything and everything but turning to that first fucking page. Some people think they can relate. After all, broken dreams are a part of life, the hazing that comes before adulthood. But I have been at this far too long. Since six years of age, there has not been a moment, a second, a morning or a night, when I have not thought about writing. Very few can say the same, and things only happen unless they happen to you.
Late at night, I search Facebook and DeviantArt and my blog, for any signs of hope, and finding none my thoughts turn to suicide. It would be so much simpler, turning off the pain, the aching emptiness left by the indifference of the world. But I go on. Far below me, I see the valley of youth, where we are taught the great lie, coming into this world, that dreams are possible, that we can become anything we wish if we only believe. But on this Mountain of Apathy, which I have climbed these past three decades, I am surrounded by the orcs and goblins of indifference; and by Nazgûl, Witch Kings of False Endearment, who call themselves friends, family, everyone claiming to love me but does nothing to ease the burden. Lastly, there are the Uruk-Hai, who want me to fail. Like the Elves of Valinor, these are twisted and bitter people, transformed by a lifetime of disappointment, and it angers them that I should continue to pursue my dreams when they have long given up on theirs.
In such a place, a true friend can mean salvation, and this person, my Sam Gamgee, is David Pasco. Without him, I would have surely been lost long ago, devoured by Shelob, the spider of despair. I am fortunate, also, to have my own Elf Queen, my Galadriel, in my wife Hynde, who lifts me up when I am down. Who is Sauron in this analogy? The agents? The publishers? Perhaps, for they seem to hold all the keys to my fate, the watchful Eye always judging, deciding who will pass, and who will fade into the lake of obscurity. But the Ring, that is my precious and my pain to bear, my books and the worlds within them, the children of my brain.
I do not see the mouth of the volcano. I cannot see how far I have to go. But I climb. In a world of apathy, I climb.