Ever since I wrote a draft memoir several months ago, I relaunched my public writing efforts and focused them on…well, it’s been hard to define exactly. While one hand, I’ve identified with the memoir genre and have written about it here, another theme occurs again and again: memory and the human experience of making it, reliving it, and understanding it.
I’ve found myself in that space a lot lately. I am wondering how much of my own life’s experience was real, how much was a dream and most of all, how was that shaped by factors beyond my understanding and beyond my control?
That last portion is the most relevant. It’s because I live in an era with its own, particular sense of paranoia and terror. There have been numerous accounts of mass fear, anxiety, and panic through human history. This one is ours. Coronavirus has obviously informed a lot of my recent work, because it’s an obvious signpost anybody from any culture can relate to as a threat to one’s existence. Pestilence, after all, is one of the Four Horsemen.
Additionally there’s the ongoing civil rights movement, a new wave rising up just as mid-20th century giants like John Lewis have left us here on Earth. It’s a massive, crossover movement. It’s intersectional. It has readdressed and recontextualized themes considered more distinct and basic in the 1950s and 1960s. It has also struck fear into the “squares” – that being White Christian America, which is in its own way, ending.
Then as if that weren’t enough, let’s throw in massive wealth inequality which makes the Ancien Regime look egalitarian; a global order which is splintering and growing more nebulous; and, as if one could forget? Climate change.
These phenomena are what put me in such a deeply introspective state, ultimately wondering if my own memories are real. To add some more background: I am a trauma survivor. As I’m sure you are. Nobody’s lived a wholly idyllic life. In my case it involves family dysfunction and psychological abuse trauma. Nevertheless when you start processing your traumatic memories, in order to learn healthy coping skills you go through the grief process. You feel sad at knowing many happy memories which gave you comfort also cause you pain, existed alongside pain, and often contains those responsible for the pain. We usually call this nostalgia but it’s something deeper than that. It’s part of our grief process. Since so many memories involve your abuser(s), those memories turn bittersweet.
Hence for me this means I’m not only processing, grieving, and coping with my own personal history. I’m a part of the world, just like you, and I see what’s happening or it’s affected me directly or indirectly. I know people who’ve protested police brutality and been arrested. I have family members who are immunocompromised or are elderly. I have a service-related medical condition. I’m an aerial combat veteran from the American-Afghan War. My old office was destroyed in spring 2019 floods here in Nebraska. What’s happening today isn’t just the news for me. It’s personal.
Furthermore I’m a white cisgender male. I’m heterosexual. My whole life has been gilded with cultural lies about meritocracy, masculinity, and stoicism. Coping with my personal history means reckoning with the history around me. It’s a history steeped in oppression and mythmaking.
Go find some men who resemble me today, who are marching with Nazi paraphernalia, whining about political correctness, and equating wearing a mask with oppression. They’re probably in Matt Taibbi’s Twitter mentions, claiming to be former Bernie Sanders voters who are now considering a vote for Trump. They listen to Joe Rogan Experience and watch Krystal & Saagar on Hill TV. They repost memes which originated on 8kun and 4chan.
Regardless of their habits, gripes, and proclamations they know deep down, just as I do, they were reared in myths and lies. They can’t cope with these things, so they have doubled down, voted for Trump (or threaten to), believe in a flat earth, and remain trapped in unfocused, unprocessed, and destructive grief. Like me, they wonder how much of their existence was ever even real. Unlike me, they refuse to reckon.
As I work through my own grief, I’ve come to accept certain things, while other memories and facts cause me to work through the other stages again: denial, anger, despair, and bargaining. There is recent work on grief by researchers, who posit a sixth stage of grief: finding meaning. I figure it’s partially inspired by Dr. Viktor Frankl’s work in coping, which he published as Man’s Search for Meaning. I have to admit I haven’t found meaning. Maybe I’m conflating meaning with authenticity, or I’m thinking authenticity imparts it. Wherever I am, I resolve to arrive where I need to be.
How about you? Are you reexamining your life? Are you questioning your history? Are you searching for meaning? Are you in one or more of the five/six stages of grief? I would appreciate your sharing, if you feel comfortable. Thanks for reading.