1) Over at First Things, and similarly confronting the stigmas of mental health as discussed in an earlier post this week, “The Christian Neurotic” ponders “neurosis” and its impact (good and bad) upon one’s grasp on the dual nature of reality, that is, one fraught with despair and yet, in the framework of Christian belief, tinged with hope:
The psychological conflict of living in two cultures at once can be overbearing. However, it should also be observed that immense creativity is latent within the stress. Hannah Arendt, Leo Strauss, Karl Marx, and Amedeo Modigliani were all European Jews. C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot were adult converts to Christianity in a modernizing world. Kierkegaard, Solzhenitsyn, and Tolstoy all felt like outsiders.
Is the neurotic Christian unhealthy? Possibly. But you would have to judge him according to the norms of both his cultures. Moreover, this tension may be merely an enhanced version of the tension that all people are susceptible to when living in a finite, hurtful world. The world is good, and yet it is bad. People are spiritual beings, but find themselves far from God. The Christian neurotic, with the right guidance, might have the best experience to relate to when the world seems cruel and contradictory.
In the strand of dualism, the Onion’s Point-Counterpoint this week is apt: “As Long As You’re Smiling, Nothing Can Get You Down vs. This Shelter for Homeless AIDS Sufferers Has Been Defunded; Please Gather Your Things.” Favorite line: “So buck up! You’ll be smiling in no time if you just stop to think of all the wonderful things in this world: an ice cream cone on a sunny day, your children’s faces when you hand them a new balloon, and, perhaps greatest of all, the feeling you get from knowing you’re the one in charge of your own happiness.”
2) A heavy, painstakingly honest memoir from the mother of a child with Asperger’s Syndrome, over at the “Real Families” section of Salon.com, entitled, “When the Shrieking Child Is Your Son.” From the mother’s perspective, you are given the biting reality of familial burdens, and the cumbersome extremities of sacrificial love, when it’s demanded from a human being:
“This will be a problem until you accept it,” New Doctor says, somewhat harshly. “We will put him on this anti-psychotic medicine, try a social skills class, and enroll him in an occupational therapy program. This can work, over time. ”
I tune out. It’s the word “time” that hits me. I am already stretched to my limit. I work 40 hours a week. I take my children to the pediatrician, dentist, eye doctor and reading specialist; they both are in swimming lessons, and my husband is often gone because he works for the military. But, sure, let’s throw in some more classes.
Now, the doctor is saying that I’m doing a good job. I don’t believe him; he sounds too patronizing. He also tells me things might get worse, especially when my son hits adolescence. He rattles off a long list of problems he will likely encounter — ordinary things like peer pressure, alcohol and drug abuse, hormones — all exacerbated tenfold by his special needs. It’s a glimpse into the future as my son’s mother, and to be honest, I hate what I see. Where will I get the guts, help, information, help, respite, help, time, help, steadfastness, help, money, help, love, help, energy, help, I need for him in the coming years?
About two months later, as the medicines kick in, the New Doctor turns out to be right. My son does indeed get better. The rages have stopped, for the most part, except when we go to crowded, noisy places, like a restaurant, like a school concert, like Walmart. I have cut my hours at work so I can take him to therapy appointments. I have learned to prevent a lot of problems for him by sticking to routines and eliminating a lot of extra things from our lives. It is hard. Very hard. Life seems … sparse. But still, I see improvement, and I cling to it. My son seems more content, more balanced and more — I hate to use this word — normal.
Me? I’m not sure I fared as well. I’m not normal anymore. I am tired. And to be honest, I blame myself, I blame my husband, I blame Old Doctor, New Doctor and Nice Doctor. And on a lot of days, I blame my son. I know I’m not supposed to, but I do. I’m working with another psychiatrist, this time for me, trying to get past all that blame and anger.
Until I do, I’m just another mother in Walmart, walking fast, trying to avoid eye contact.
3) Steve Jobs’ stepping down this week at Apple brought to light a Stanford Commencement address that provides a beautifully confessional cross-section of the man who “created the Anything, Anywhere age.” Instead of a salutation of will-power, Jobs realistically addresses the hardships of life, its uncharted-ness, the pains of being an adopted child, amongst others.
4) Over at Slate, all the recent retrospective Grunge-love (from music publications, festivals, and recording studios) is convincingly stemming from a modern, psycho-cultural malaise coined in the article as the “Epochal Self-Image”–a concern suited with the law of labeling rather than the music of living. Simon Reynolds points through the recent Nirvana re-obsession that fitting music within the constraints of eras/periods/genres has been a destructive project for the modern musician/listener, and that it’s actually hindered the kind of freedom which made Nirvana’s Nevermind so “epochal” anyway. Pitchfork fans, ear muffs!
But what is also true is that that the media organs of the analog system generated what you might call the “Epochal Self-Image”: a sense of a particular stretch of years as constituting an era, a period with a distinct “feel” and spirit. That sense is always constructed, always entails the suppression of the countless disparate other things going on in any given stretch of time, through the focus on a select bunch of artists, styles, recordings, events, deemed to “define the times.” If we date the takeoff point of the Internet as a dominant force in music culture to the turn of the millennium (the point at which broadband enabled the explosive growth of filesharing, blogging, et al.), it is striking that the decade that followed is characterized by the absence of epochal character. It’s not that nothing happened … it’s that so many little things happened, a bustle of microtrends and niche scenes that all got documented and debated, with the result that nothing was ever able to dominant and define the era.
The failure is bound-up with the erosion of the filtering function of the media and its increasing inability to marshal and synchronize popular taste around particular artists or phenomena. The Internet works against convergence and consensus: the profusion of narrowcast media (blogs, netradio, innumerable outlets of analysis and opinion) and the accelerated way that news and buzz get disseminated, mean that it is harder and harder for a cultural phenomenon to achieve full-spectrum dominance of the attention economy. Now triumphant, the digital system has interfered with our very sense of culture-time.
That is why it is so hard to see what, from the last dozen years or so of rock, could be the focus for future commemorative or revivalist impulses. Can you envisage the 20th anniversary of the Strokes’ debut album, or the White Stripes’s breakthrough LP, White Blood Cells, being celebrated? Spin will not be able to put either group on the cover under the legend “The Album That Changed Everything,” because neither record came close to Nevermind‘s paradigm-shift. (Remember the droves of grunge-lite copyists like Silverchair and Bush? The undignified way that even superestablished bands like Metallica tried to de-metallicize their sound and image? How Axl Rose disappeared into a bunker of botched self-reinvention for 15 years?) Even less epoch-defining clout could be claimed for those Pitchfork-anointed bands who’ve codified the post-indie sound of the 2000s such as Arcade Fire and Animal Collective.
5) Also in music, the A.V. Club gives sneaks into a first Ben Folds Five recordings in a long long time, as well as the new Ryan Adams album. Then NPR reviewed the new book this week, Devil Sent the Rain by Tom Piazza, which covers a long line of roots music, and its heritage as carried through the American story of desperation. Accompanying this review was a pretty fantastic mix. Speaking of roots, bluegrass banjoist in Allison Krauss’ Union Station band, Ron Block, wrote a superbly thoughtful essay on the Nashville singer-songwriter blog, The Rabbit Room. It’s about the “Sons of Self-Effort,” no joke. It’s worth reading it all.
6) Finally, in film, though it hasn’t received glowing reviews, it turns out that Paul Rudd is Jesus in his new film, Our Idiot Brother. Based on Dostoevsky’s Myshkin in The Idiot, the Wall Street Journal reports that Rudd’s character is the figure of intolerably child-like love, which leads him into comprising and awkward situations of misunderstanding.
The muttonhead of the title is portrayed by the eminently likable Paul Rudd, who has brought an ironic self-awareness to many slacker comedies, a category that would include “Our Idiot Brother”—if “Our Idiot Brother” weren’t also an allegorical social critique inspired by Fyodor Dostoevsky and his collaborator, Jesus Christ. Directed by Jesse Peretz—and co-written by his sister, Vanity Fair contributor Evgenia Peretz, and her husband, David Schisgall—the film finds comedy in contemporary mores; satire in hypocrisy; and inspiration in Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot.” In that novel, the hero, Prince Myshkin, possessed such goodness he was judged insane and sent to a sanitarium. Upon emerging, his life is dominated by three sisters. Eventually, he goes back to the madhouse.
Likewise, Ned, sort of: It’s his innate decency that prompts him to give a bag of pot to a uniformed police officer; the cop, who’s been crying the blues to get the pot, then insists on paying, so he can properly arrest Ned for trafficking. Off Ned goes to the hoosegow, where he becomes a popular prisoner and gets released early, then meanders back to the organic farm he shared with his girlfriend, the loathsome Janet (a great Kathryn Hahn), on the assumption that life, as he knew it, will resume. No way: Janet has taken up with another airhead, Billy (T.J. Miller) and unceremoniously evicts Ned from the farm. She won’t even give him custody of Willie Nelson, his very mellow golden retriever. Paroled and homeless, Ned is remanded to that place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in: Mom’s.
With his long hair, beard, blissful mien and empathetic nature, Ned is the embodiment of those qualities we idealize in theory and often recoil from in the flesh: pure goodness; an utterly frank nature; a propensity for saying the wrong (aka truthful) thing at the wrong time. While everyone in his dubious family, extended and otherwise, is painfully aware of Ned’s supposed shortcomings, he is blithely oblivious to theirs. Which takes some doing: Selfish and self-absorbed, they’re state-of-the-art hipsters who provide themselves all manner of moral alibis through holier-than-thou lifestyle options. One sister, Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), is in a committed relationship with lawyer Cindy (Rashida Jones), although she beds down with just about anyone. Another, Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), a writer for a monthly magazine, is happy to exploit Ned’s people skills to get a juicy story out of a high-profile subject—and to involve Ned in a cover-up when her ethics are questioned.