Self-absorption, cruelty, pettiness. These are traits, these are behaviours, that get to me — especially when they show up in people with disproportionate amounts of power and unearned privilege.
Big, dramatic crises? Not even novel anymore. Unrelenting breaking news? A couple decades of practice behind me. But my capacity to put up with stupidity—a word I use to encompass that particular trifecta—has eroded over time.
This happened, in part, from realizing that all the stories were myths. From getting to be be in the rooms where the decisions get made. From getting to see, in real time, how history gets written. From getting to be one of the ones who decides, in those rooms. From getting to edit what becomes a draft of history. From fighting, first to get into those rooms, and then to transform them. From losing, over and over. From winning, sometimes, enough to keep going a while.
From seeing how often people choose the past of least resistance for them, even and especially when that path means so much harm for others. From hearing the stories people who chose that path tell about themselves to the people they allowed to be run over. From being run over. From telling the stories.
There is a running joke in my family—there are many running jokes in my family—that we are perpetually, singularly, indiscriminately unimpressed. I have resting unimpressed face is a fact and a consequence.
The sound of a crowd booing. The erudite shrug of a poet. The questions of a journalist. All things that might telegraph: we are not impressed by you. It is hard to frighten someone who does not think you particularly special.
It is time for new stories. Those will be myths too.
The princess is caged in the consulate. The man with the candy will lead the children into the sea. The naked woman on the ledge outside the window on the sixteenth floor is a victim of accidie, or the naked woman is an exhibitionist, and it would be “interesting” to know which. We tell ourselves that it makes some difference whether the naked woman is about to commit a mortal sin or is about to register a political protest or is about to be, the Aristophanic view, snatched back to the human condition by the fireman in priest’s clothing just visible in the window behind her, the one smiling at the tele-photo lens. We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.
Or at least we do for a while.
— from The White Album by Joan Didion