The letters I’ve been getting recently have been super depressing, which is no shock. They’re a reflection of the times, and these are fucked times indeed.
But I’d just like to say that the piss and shit aren’t the entire picture. Even at my lowest points, I’ve been able to detect a faint thrill over the seemingly impossible fact that I’m right here, right now having a human experience. The last thing I want to do is force a sunny perspective, because when people do that with me I assume they’re either lying or ignorant. But I also feel it’s dishonest to be totally nihilistic.
For this reason, I really struggled with the first question. The best I could do was offer the writer — who signed their letter “Screw Your Thoughts and Prayers” — a prayer. I guess I just want to be clear here at the top that even on issues like gun violence that are so massive — and so outside the wheelhouse of an aging rocker such as myself — I do have an abstract feeling that change is somehow possible.
Given all this, if you folks feel like writing in with some lighter-weight questions for the next column, I wouldn’t be the least bit angry! Anyway, let’s get into it.
“How Am I Supposed To Talk To My Students?"
Dear Eve 6 Guy,
I teach at a university. Like way too many others, mine recently had a mass shooting. The immediate response was a focus on safety, which made sense for that day and the next. A week or so later, the administration issued some largely contradictory statements about how we should handle the rest of the semester, and informed us of things that we were supposed to tell the students. It's clear the administrators never actually planned what to do when this would eventually happen — which is just profoundly stupid given the ridiculous rate these things occur here in the US.
Many of the school’s new policies were… not great, and not really in the students' best interests. Some didn't go far enough; others were just security theater. I’m not tenured and this is the only university in town, so I have very little I can do other than letting my thoughts be known to my union. How am I supposed to tell the students the things I am required to, even if I don't think any of this is going to benefit them?
—Screw Your Thoughts and Prayers
Dear Screw Your Thoughts and Prayers,
To answer your question: I have no idea. Not the faintest, foggiest clue, my friend. I guess part of the appeal of this column is me (hopefully not too irresponsibly) grappling with issues well above my pay grade, but this is next level.
I don’t know what to do about any of this stuff. There are more guns in this country than people, and the gun lobby holds an inordinate amount of sway. The truth is, I sometimes consider the deep irony that hard power might be necessary to force our government to stop acting only in the interests of capital. How far has Hey, could you please stop letting Americans be killed by senseless violence, preventable illness, war profiteering, poverty, despair, and the rest of the features-not-bugs of late capitalism gotten us? Not very!
It’s difficult to adequately describe the degree of helplessness and frustration that I feel as news of these atrocities is blasted onto our timelines, sometimes multiple times in the same day. Attempting to do so now, I feel like I’m having one of those dreams where you try to throw a punch but your arm feels like it’s moving through wet cement. I feel so powerless. Every time, we already know what will happen. Before the bodies have gone cold the mind-numbingly predictable debates begin. We hear the same arguments being slung back and forth, and nothing changes.
It must feel so strange to do your job at this moment in time when the halls of higher learning double as an asymmetrical battlefield.
If my role here is to make you feel better, I realize I’m failing miserably. It must feel so strange to do your job at this moment in time when the halls of higher learning double as an asymmetrical battlefield. You have my profound respect and deepest sympathy.
As far as what to tell your students: If I were you, rather than rage against the machine, I would probably parrot the party line about safety in order to keep my job. Sounds like your only other options would be to quit or get fired, and those don’t do you or your students any good.
Mock me if you must, but the serenity prayer is for my money one of the most practical appeals there is: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. These lines truly help me distinguish what my sphere of influence is. I know you signed your letter “Screw Your Thoughts and Prayers,” but perhaps these words would be of help to you too.
I apologize for giving you more of a rudderless screed than an answer. You asked a medium-smart guy from a ’90s band a big question, and this is what I got. I hope you and your students can stay safe and that we can all live to see real change in this godforsaken country.
The Eve 6 Guy
“I Feel Like My Life Is Over At 24”
Dear Eve 6 Guy,
I have less of a question and more of an existential gripe: I don’t know how to deal with things as they are, like on a national scale. It feels like the fall of Rome. I feel like I’m running out the clock until someone I know or love is killed in a mass shooting. My rights as an AFAB [assigned female at birth] person are being stripped away, and there’s all sorts of awful shit happening that I don’t need to assail you with because you already know about it.
I work at a bank and I spend half my life getting yelled at for things I didn’t cause, and it just feels like people hate each other and are super-eager to antagonize each other all the time. I also frequently witness the obliteration of people’s finances when they have an emergency, and it makes me feel paralyzed.
What’s the point of saving for a retirement that’s never going to happen? Is my life until that seemingly mythical day just going to be shuttling to and from my job and to a few stores? Buying shit doesn’t make me feel better, and touching grass makes me wish I was someone else at a different time in history. I feel like my life is over at 24. How do you survive?
—Existential in Denver
Hi Existential in Denver,
Depression is not an unreasonable response to senseless mass murder, the revocation of bodily rights, financial precarity, and unfulfilling work that best case benefits no one and at worst makes one feel complicit in harms. I don’t think all depression is caused by systemic problems, but I think a lot of it is.
You’re not weird or wrong for having the responses you do to the way the world is. But resist the temptation to make hopelessness and futility the whole picture. It isn’t. There is still joy on offer. Change is still possible, and I would argue it’s inevitable, simply because people can only be pushed so far before they wake up and start pushing back. Push back in the ways that you can.
This doesn’t mean you need to be on the frontlines of political protests, but that is an option. You can also push back by vigilantly pursuing the things you value in spite of your feelings of hopelessness. Make stuff. Read. Watch great films. Expand your imagination. Lean on your friends, and let your friends lean on you. Create your own avant garde world outside of work that your boss can’t access. Fill it with things and people that bring you joy and make you feel less alone.
I found myself at the low end of a depressive cycle recently, and I did two simple things that made me feel a little better pretty quickly. The first was I reached out to a friend and said, “I’m not doing well.” It was a simple act of being honest and vulnerable with another person. The second was I just started writing. Just smashing characters on my computer, not knowing where any of it was gonna go. It helped me make some sense of negative abstractions that had been taking up space in my mind.
I’m going to do a new thing, and prescribe you a movie and a record to help lift your spirits. I recently saw a tweet extolling Studio Ghibli movies for their ability to help get the tweeter through rough times. I’m going to recommend you watch Spirited Away. If you’ve already seen it, watch it again. One of the themes of the film is forgiveness; there is strength and fortitude to be gained by offering a gentler perspective toward people who don’t deserve it.
The record I’m going to ask you to listen to is Welcome Interstate Managers by the band Fountains of Wayne. It’s sort of a concept record about pointless jobs and quarter-life ennui. For me, it reveals the sadness, joy, and absolute absurdity that exist within the mundane. I think you’ll relate to this album, and it will give you some relief.
The Eve 6 Guy
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