“The most universally practiced form of therapy, and the most dependable device to free oneself from the torments of excessive introspection, is to stay busy. Work is good, and proper, and necessary. It is always good to work, it keeps you occupied, gives a feeling of accomplishment, plus you get paid, which allows you to live. And everyone knows you have to work, so working long and hard is also rarely seen as a vice,” A said.
B was quick. “Yet you, I notice, endorse indolence and excessive introspection for yourself. Which would be fine if you were wealthy or successful, you’d be entitled to your opinions, not needing any further pay for them. But you are neither wealthy nor successful and clearly are in need of pay, even if it comes only in the form of recognition or appreciation.”
“What I endorse for myself I would not recommend for everyone. In fact, I say ‘go to work’ whatever that work may be. Better you were working now than busting my balls, for example.”
“Yet you feel superior because you spend your days ruminating, seeking connections, puzzling, trying to clarify. You actually feel superior because you do not work, because you believe you are somehow doing hard and important work by tapping away in your little journals even though nobody pays you for it,” said B.
“That may be so, but I don’t fault anyone for not taking the time to try to think things through too deeply. It can hurt, that much is clear– and whether it can help is an open question. And look, I understand, perhaps more than most, that people need recognition and appreciation, in many forms. Dale Carnegie, years ago, set out in his principles of how to make friends and influence people, that first among our needs is the need to be acknowledged. No sweeter sound than hearing one’s own name spoken kindly and so forth. We live in a world where this is simply not done very often. In its place we have getting and spending, deriving self-worth from our work and our possessions, striving, trying to thrive as comfortably as possible. Why explore the roots of an anger you’ve spent a lifetime repressing if you can work long and hard day after day and then go on a fabulous vacation instead? Or, in rare cases, just be happy because you have the genetic set-up for it?”
“Why, indeed?” said B.
“No, I grant you that. 100%. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If you fit in, and you are able to be happy competing, rising early, striving all day to do your job well, going to bed tired with a feeling of accomplishment, God bless you,” A said. “I’ve never had that talent.”
“That’s why people think ‘A’ stands for ‘asshole’, my friend. You sit around all day brooding and judging, and think you are…. ah, never mind,” B said.
“Look, I grant you that I am annoying. What is my life but a perplexing mystery and the story of incomprehensible failure? I may have mastered a few things over the years but what have I done with any of them beside make fine hobbies of them? I recognize that even someone like George Steinbrenner, who I had nothing but contempt for when he was alive and little feeling for at all now that he has a monument bigger than Babe Ruth’s in Yankee Stadium, could be a hell of a piano player. I knew a cocaine addict, a pretty decent bass player, who grew up near Steinbrenner’s and somehow became connected to the old tyrant. He told me George could play the hell out of a piano.”
“Fascinating,” said B.
“Point taken. It’s just that I’m struck over and over by how many people’s lives of quiet desperation unfold with just one or two moments of seeming broader understanding popping up. Is insight worth so little that…” A was at a loss.
“‘For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow,’ Ecclesiastes 1:18,” said B.
“You quote scripture at me, Devil? Those books contain every kind of justification you could ever want: God has no problem with slavery and genocide, God hates slavery and genocide. Isn’t Ecclesiastes The Book of Depression?”
“Yes, I think so. The Book of Depression, yes. That’s what most biblical scholars have taken to calling it,” said B.
“Or maybe it’s the book of what just is: a time to be born, a time to die, vanity is just vanity, do not spend too much time chasing the reasons you are miserable, don’t worry, be happy,” said A.
“Oh, are you a biblical scholar now too?” said B.
“No, I read about it on Wikipedia. Anyway, I got a note recently from a supremely busy friend, perhaps the most harried person I have ever known, a little piece he’d dashed off while in flight to a business conference of some kind. He wrote that he had gained some insight into his troubled marriage and had reason for hope of improvement, based on small signs of tenderness from his often angry wife. Within that note was a report that in a fit he later recognized as rage, he had totaled his car. I wrote back to tell him I was glad his marriage was looking up,” said A.
“This is exactly the reason some people who hate you hate you,” said B. “Everyone you know is just a lab rat to you, a living chart to be pulled down and vivisected to make your pretentious points about human life here in this unexamined world.”
“Heh,” said A, “that reminds me, years ago F called to tell me he was sick of being one of my lab rats and that he was resigning the post. I laughed and told him I was making note of this excellent reaction in my lab book, that his ‘resignation’ would be presented in my next scholarly paper. And I told him I’d make sure he was given two extra pellets for that fine work, that I was proud of him but that, of course, letting him out of the cage could not be considered.”
“You’re a sick bastard,” said B. “now, if you will finish your point about the busy friend with the glimmer of hope about his difficult marriage, I have to get back to work.”
“OK. So I get an email back from him saying I’d missed the point. The point was that he’d been enraged, and, driving in this state, totaled his car. His anger, damn it, that was the point, was I not paying attention?” said A.
“Were you not paying attention?” said B.
“I’m sorry…” said A, “what were you saying?”
“OK, I really have to get back to work, what is your point, if any?”
“As long as my friend stays busy, busy, busy he will never have to think again about the anger that drives him, dogs him, bedevils him, anger that I’d been so fucking oblivious about,” said A.
“Without a doubt,” said B, “now, unlike you, I have to get to work.”
“Go forth and be productive,” said A, sliding off his chair back on to the carpet.
“And you, have a nice nap,” said B.
“Look,” said A, “some people respond to their anxieties by running, others by stopping in their tracks.”
“Profound,” said B, “I suggest you sleep on that one.”
“Excellent idea,” said A, curling up to think on it more.