March 13, 2020. The day the State of NM closed down the North Fourth Art Center and the first day of my pandemic year…or P-2020 as I like to call it. Almost a year ago.
I don’t feel well this morning, nothing serious, just…somber. Why?
P-2020 didn’t impose any real hardships on anyone among my friends and family. With reasonably good health, ongoing jobs or unemployment, lots of books and all those murder mystery series on our devices we made it through.
So is this T-2021 (Transition year 2021). It’s okay so far. The election and its rays of hope, vaccines completed for the family elders, cautious visits from California son and granddaughter, thinking of back to work and travel days ahead, visits with friends with whole faces. All good isn’t it?
Then why do I feel like weeping? It might not be just garden-variety Monday morning (without work) gloom. It might be existential angst. Seriously.
In recent years, when asked about my belief system I’ve often said I’m an existentialist, playing fast and loose with the formal definitions (of which there seem to be many) and simply defining it as my belief that our actual existence is everything. It affords large or small choices for each of us and those choices, whether to be good or bad, ambitious or lazy, curious or indifferent, restless or calm define who we are, how we relate to each other and the world. They define life.
I actually perused a couple of books from college days this morning and, enhanced by a bit of googling, here are a few lines about existentialism and why I’m a sad, but authentic, existentialist this morning.
First the original European model: Existentialism … centers on the lived experience of the thinking, feeling, acting individual. In the view of the existentialist, the individual’s starting point has been called the existential angst, ‘a sense of dread, disorientation, confusion, or anxiety in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world.’ Soren Kierkegaard, always cited as one of the founders of existentialism, said that each of us, not society or religion, is responsible for giving meaning to our own lives. Only I can decide whether to live my life ‘passionately and sincerely’ in other words, ‘authentically.’
Then the American version: In a textbook from my social work student days, Existential Psychotherapy by Irvin D. Yalom, the author describes how the American definition of existentialism diverges from the European model portrayed above. In the U.S. the belief in “expansiveness, optimism, limitless horizons, and pragmatism” substantially alters the imported form of existential thought, Yalom claims.
This morning I am deep in the European version — probably because I didn’t sleep well, my stomach hurts…oh yeah, and I’m old and cranky…and the world is in big trouble. Possibly another hour on the couch with a trusty detective novel, some stomach-approved healthful soup for lunch and doing laundry will switch me over to happiness in my American existence.
And there’s the rub. The conflict between Old World reality and the New World con. Tomorrow I’ll have transported myself back into ‘expansiveness…optimism…blah blah blah. And pretty pictures.