I have finally decided to cultivate a more Soviet attitude. This is quite a reversal, despite and because of the fact that I was born in the former Soviet Union and raised by Russians. If you’ve ever read Tolstoy, Chekhov, or Akhmatova you are familiar with the painful machinations of the Russian soul and yet these writers rarely succumbed to suicide. Rather they seemed to use the fuel of “What else could possibly go wrong?” to inspire more art, almost enjoying the torture of it. And now, I have decided to join their ranks, in mindset if not literary output.
The biggest proponent of the fatalist philosophy was my maternal grandmother, and lest you think this was a kindly old lady, who came over for cucumber sandwiches on a pleasant Sunday brunch, let me explain. This was a multi-lingual, piano playing, perfect-pitch having intellectual who was instrumental in raising me as my parents both worked and with whom I even shared a room for two years as a new immigrant to Australia. She was also, in the manner of most people who are too smart for their own good, notoriously difficult.
To say my grandmother was mildly over-involved in other people’s business was to ignore the times she reached into the wastebasket and dragged out my recently used tissue.
“See?” she would insist to my mother, “She only blew her nose once, and wasted the rest of it.”
This woman who was set on controlling even my bodily fluids was a complete pessimist, but also never depressed. She lost her father and one brother in the Holocaust, so realistically had seen that the worst scenario could and would happen. In fact it already had. But, like a female [slightly more mentally ill] Elie Weisel, rather than declaring “What’s the point?” she simply went with, “Well, maybe nobody will die today, I’m going to rush to the market and buy fruit while no one has died yet.”
As I came of age in the 1980’s and began struggling with my own bouts of darkness, I rejected my family and their dismal view of life. Louise Hay told me I could “Heal my Life,” Wayne Dyer said the “Sky’s the Limit,” and others were teaching that if I could just circumvent my cultural conditioning and “think positive,” good outcomes were guaranteed! You only had to believe good things would happen-it was magical, as “The Secret” would later so lucratively re-package-we could all cure cancers with our minds! My teenage bedroom retains an artifact of that time, a poster inside the closet with positive affirmations like “I love myself, I am worthwhile, I have nice hair” which I probably made right before getting drunk, smoking a pack of cigarettes, and punching myself in the face.
So here is what I now know in my early 40’s – life is a dismal shit-sandwich. You think things can’t get worse? Hang out, because there’s always tomorrow! We are all aging, the planet’s fucked and I don’t know what your kids are like, but mine’s favorite snack is sipping my blood through a straw, with a side of my liver.
Unfortunately, I have never come back from the brink of suicidality and thought “I’m so glad I lived to experience this next wonderful moment!” I have only thought, “Oh, this is much, much worse than I thought I would feel again…”
So, I have given up. I am no longer waiting for self-love, joy and giddy excitement. In fact, what my treatment resistant and consistently recurring depression has taught me is to aim for just “okay.” I feel “okay” today, with maybe some moments of “yay” because my kid smiled a certain way, or because nothing hurts or I found my glasses where I left them. But the gushing appreciation for life heard in particular meetings and elsewhere is beyond the pale. Go take your gratitude elsewhere, Brenda, you’re making the rest of us look bad.
This is disturbingly close to my forefathers’ and foremothers’ thoughts, in that it keeps expectations low. If no one you love gets cancer today, it’s a win. Strawberries on sale? Aces, even if some of them are already rotten. A piano didn’t fall on your head? Groovy.
Of course, I would not recommend this attitude when it comes to sex and dating. Being somewhat fatalistic is okay, but never resigned. There is no reason you shouldn’t get your needs met, it’s just that like everything else, it’s going to take a little more work than you thought. You cannot be mad at someone for not reading your mind (well, you can, but don’t.) Also, knowing that someone else cannot solve your problems/be your salvation is a hard-won lesson we must all learn.
So when the opportunity presents itself to have a transcendental connection, we must do whatever we can to take it, revel in and sustain it. Because of all the moments of “Ahhhhh, this is why we still exist on this sad spinning planet,” the ones of touch/breath/orgasm are still the purest I have ever known.