Ours is an age--until there is change--when people are increasingly incapable of separating insanity from sanity. The things I used to think that to me are basic and obvious, are now things that cause people to single out my perception. For instance, I can write an op-ed that to me says things that anyone can and should know, and I will have a unique op-ed because no one else can do this. One way to approach this age right now is as if you were an alien in another world reading the daily news of our world. Looking through the headlines, as it were. And you know what you'd say if you were an alien? You'd say, "Hmmm, those guns seem kind of bad. They should get rid of those." Pretty basic. Or, "Hmmm, drinking might not be worth it."
Every day, without looking for these stories--they show up in feeds--I see the damage that alcohol does. People like to project at this point, and launch into a diatribe on addiction, and how it's not a choice. Yes, fine, and you'd be speaking to someone who lost his sister to a drug overdose--my mother found her body--when their sister was thirty-three. My family knows about addiction. But I also see all of the death and destruction caused by alcohol and drugs--but I'm focusing on alcohol here--in those who don't battle addiction. Those who make choices. Those who wish to have alcohol in their lives.
My own issues with alcohol are certainly documented in these pages and in various high-profile writings, and I make my little note most Sundays about where I am in terms of not drinking, streak-wise. I was not an alcoholic, but I drank more than one, and this was not good. Right now I'm thinking about some remarks of Pete Townshend at the Fillmore East in 1968, before the Who performed "Little Billy," which was a song they wrote for the American Cancer Society, dissuading people from smoking. He says that they were hesitant at first, because he didn't want to dictate to people what to smoke. It's their life. I understand that. But I think there is something you should do with alcohol, or with anything--the show you watch, the people you know, what you spend your time doing, etc.--and that is to ask yourself what it brings to your life. Everything should be measured this way, and kept or discarded on the basis of the answer.
A friend of mine was recently saying to me that he shouldn't drink, it just makes him feel bad about himself. He's not a big drinker. Back in the day, to get drunk. Binge drinking at the bars. But not now. He told me about how when he was on vacation recently, he had a Long Island iced tea, because everyone was having them at dinner. He had the one. The next morning he gets up, and he didn't feel right. Felt sluggish, kind of blah. This is a small thing, right? He was saying this to me though because I had wondered aloud not long back as to what the point is of the drink. What's it adding to the life? Is it that remarkable for its taste? That pleasurable? It probably isn't, right? Now, if wine or whisky was a hobby, and one had a passion for the subject, I get that. You have shelves of whisky books, and you like making tasting notes, comparing drams, taking trips to Islay, discussing your hobby with other enthusiasts. That's not how most people drink, though, or why they're drinking.
That's not some anti-alcohol stance on my part. I tend not to care. I do know that so many people--I'll go so far as to say most--have real drinking problems and alcoholic tendencies or are outright alcoholics and pretend otherwise to everyone who knows them. I see the dependence. I am the person who is able to read between every line. I could give you a list of people I know who I know have drinking problems, who would like to think or hope I don't know and that no one one does. I'll also watch people who are only able to try and interact with me when they are drinking, because they are so intimidated by me otherwise. They have to get the courage up. Whether I've known you for twenty-five years or we are strangers who have never met, I will know what you are up to.
Anne Heche is going to die, and people are going for the points on Twitter. Those sweet, sweet attention points. A lot of them make it about her demons, and how one should have sympathy. Here is something that is the truth about humans: they don't care about other people. They care about themselves. They are selfish, and not selfless. Maybe one out of a million people actually cares about others genuinely. And the greater good. And doing the right thing because it is the right thing, no matter anything else. Kant put a term to this, that being the categorical imperative. There is right, there is wrong. There is no gray. There is no relativism. Relativism says that there are no absolutes, which is itself an absolute, and we are then done with relativism. And you know. You know when you're doing right, you know when you're doing wrong. What people do now is they apply terms from a ready supply of them that reframes their behavior. For this they are rewarded. They get "likes," followers, compliments, etc. They get job opportunities, awards, money. It pays to be a selfish person, of no integrity and outward intelligence.
I devote my life to changing that world. It is what I work towards in my work, and also in who I am. The work is bigger, the work is total, the work is boundless, and I believe in the impact it will have on that world and the change it will bring. The people who make a point of trumpeting their virtues are the worst people of the least amount of virtues. Put up no filters. Put up no signs on your social media. BLM. Ukraine. You save lives because you stay home. A person who is a good person is not interested in signage. They are an embodiment, and an embodiment requires no such sandwich-boarding. Be. Don't point.
I don't doubt that Anne Heche had her demons, and for me to say, as I could to anyone, that if they tried to live my life, they'd be crushed in a day, and it would be over, isn't the point. I am stronger. That has all been shown. I am sorry she had demons, just as I am sorry that some innocent person had their house burned down because of Anne Heche. But you know what does not fall under this umbrella of demons and addiction, which we now try to use to as part of the incessant push to make everything there has ever been a product of victimhood? That choice you make when you get behind the wheel of a car. That's not your demons. That is your selfishness and it could be just about anyone's, for the reason that very few people alive truly care about anyone else and the good of their fellow human. That doesn't mean you want people to be murdered and blown up in wars and for there to be starving kids in Africa. People don't wish for these things. But they also only care about themselves. That is their first concern. And it's often their last. Social media has muddied these waters and made it so that the people who are the most selfish and narcissistic can pass themselves off as altruistic super beings. People are also that dumb. They'll go along with anything, especially if it brings them something back--something as cheap as likes. As meaningless.
Your addiction does not order you into that car like it orders you to have another drink or tap another vein. If you do that, you are doing it because you don't care what you do or might do to people. People are dumb in their teen years, and their early twenties. Mistakes are made, and hopefully they don't cost anyone. The college student drives home drunk from the house party. Or the high school senior. Not good. But I feel like all of that has to change entirely, if it was ever there in the first place, being a dumb kid or a dumb early twenty-something, and be entirely gone by your mid-twenties or else you're terrible. There is an element of you deserving whatever might come to you, and let us hope that your choice to drive impacts no one else. It's 100% on you, and there is no wiggle room.
A car is a potential weapon of considerable destructive force. I think about this for when I get my house back in Rockport. How careful I'll be. I don't want to have the life I am fighting so hard to get and then have it snuffed out by someone else. I used to think that when I was back there, I'd be a bike riding on the roads snaking about the coast, but I won't do that, because I don't want to take the chance and risk my life with cars at my back, figuring--or hoping--that people will be sober and not distracted, not dicking around on their phones. And that wouldn't be worth it for me.
I saw that story the other day about the nurse, and she was like thirty-seven. I saw her photo first in what I knew was a drunk driver story. Attractive young woman. We admire nurses, no? Initially I wondered if she was the victim, and had been killed, or she'd done the killing. You look at that photo differently, depending. I read the story about how she'd driven drunk, went through an intersection at 100 mph, and killed a half dozen people or whatever the number was, with a people being launched from cars, and a baby flying through the air and landing dead at someone's feet on the sidewalk. Turns out she had thirteen prior accidents, I think it was. You're a nurse. Her life is over in one real way. These other lives are over in the literal way. Other lives are forever warped, lessened, potentially crushed, no matter how strong the person or what comes next for them. A demon did not force that nurse to take that wheel. She didn't care enough about people not to.
Cars are misleading, you might say. We feel so safe in them sometimes. Think about when you're a kid and in the back, driving home with your parents at night. They're talking up front, maybe the radio is on. You're warm and sleepy. You feel safe. We may feel secure in a car, with no real understanding of the potentially destructive forces at play. Most people don't hit things, but hit a tree at twenty miles per hour, and you're almost certain to be shocked by the level of damage, and even your own injuries. Granted, this nurse would have known all about that. But things can change awfully fast when a car is involved, and they are not reversible.
I think it's good to ask ourselves, with anything, what that thing brings to our lives. What is the value? Are we better off without it? Or, better yet, with something else? Someone else? It's ironic that everyone always says, "Life is so short!" Is it? I feel like it's not. I feel like a universe can be contained within a day. I live lifetimes inside of a single morning, just about every day. But for the people who say this cliche, they certainly live as though life, despite the alleged brevity, can be wasted, no problem. Can be wasted in binging mediocre shows on Netflix, and staring at their phone, and sitting on their ass. If life was so short, shouldn't you be racing around to read the best books, and make sure you listen to Beethoven, and learn all you can about nature, and watch Citizen Kane, and be honest with yourself, and take those chances to be vulnerable and say those things you're normally scared to say because they're real? "Amazing, what you did here blows my mind." Say that. Or, "When you were there for me last year, it meant the world to me, and I'm grateful for your friendship and I love you." That person you always see at the Starbucks every day, working while you work? Talk to them. "Hey, working hard again, huh?" They might be coming back to that cafe because you're there, and if not, so? Be a romantic. A romantic isn't someone who hops up and down saying "I love romance! Let's watch Hallmark movies!" A romantic is tender, open, vulnerable, expressive, and brave. They are loving and caring, and okay with people knowing it, and you never know who you might inspire, and when we inspire each other, we are building a better world, we are changing this one, for real. Not "look at the filter on my Facebook account!" posturing, but for real. A romantic can handle someone stepping on their heart when it's out in the open, and can pick it back up, dust it off, and carry on, ready to put it out there again because it is the right thing to do, and a romantic is never a relativist. You build strength that way. You build self-respect and self-love. And when you build these things, you realize that they also exist in proportion to your selflessness with others. They're a tandem act, different sides of a connective string, but make no mistake, there's no acting or artifice involved.