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Saturday, June 4, 2022

Wilmette Notes: Dismayed at the idiocracy

     I have a certain genius for tuning out the world, closing my eyes to the horrors and the injustices. Just ignore it. That is a luxury that Caren Jeskey doesn't permit herself, as is clear from today's report. 

By Caren Jeskey
Among The Multitude
Among the men and women the multitude,
I perceive one picking me out by secret and divine signs,
Acknowledging none else, not parent, wife, husband, brother, child, any nearer than I am,
Some are baffled, but that one is not—that one knows me.
Ah lover and perfect equal,
I meant that you should discover me so by my faint indirections,
And I when I meet you mean to discover you by the like in you.
           — Walt Whitman
     The average life span for a man when Walt Whitman died on May 31, 1892 was about 45. He lived to 73. Does having a calm and present demeanor increase life span?
     Stress is a precursor to depression and anxiety. Biden’s White House website noted, “As we mark Mental Health Awareness Month, our country faces an unprecedented mental health crisis among people of all ages. Two in five American adults report symptoms of anxiety and depression, and more than half of parents express concern over their children’s mental well-being. Over forty percent of teenagers state they struggle with persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.” 
     Dismayed at the idiocracy all around, I asked some friends who are either from other countries or are now ex-pats how they feel about the U. S. of A.
     An expat now living near Mexico City says “I think of a country that was founded on the genocide of indigenous peoples and the enslavement of African Americans, that was built by the exploited labor of Asian Americans and Latin Americans, that has more military force than any other country and uses it to imperialist ends and for the aggrandizement of US corporations, that has lower quality of living indicators than many peer nations (healthcare, education, etc.) yet still tries to propagate a myth of innocence and superiority.” 
     I got to see the blight of this reality as a social worker. We still stand on the backs of others to get what we want.
     Personally, privilege has created a climate of greed in me. I want want want. Comfort, gourmet food, high quality distractions. The tragic thing is that our country is literally falling apart and we are in a serious, collective mental health crisis. It’s inspired me to simplify even more, to give things away, to reach out to help others in small ways, and try to imbue meaning into my life whenever I can.
      Our image conscious society is broken. We don’t raise people up to be solid and content. Adults are a mess, so how can they (teachers, parents, etc) lead young people to internal safety? They can’t until they find it themselves. Research clearly tells us what to do, but we won’t. Most people point to underfunded social service agencies, churches, and to countless forms of “them” to solve the problems that must be solved by the community itself. They rail and complain but don’t take action to help.
     A local friend originally from Croatia (who’s there visiting now) said the first thing that popped into her mind when she thought of the States was “Simon and Garfunkel, second thought, Arlo Guthrie.”
     Similar to our dear Mr. Whitman, these gentlemen spent time honing their creative sensibilities, observing themselves and the human condition, and getting it down on paper for us. We feel more connected to life through them.
     “Let us be lovers, we'll marry our fortunes together. I’ve got some real estate here in my bag. So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner's pies and we walked off to look for America.”                      —Simon & Garfunkel, "America"
     Arlo Guthrie writes on his website “I want our country to be the one that helped everybody, no matter their politics, religion, or traditions. That would be a country to be proud of.” In his song City of New Orleans written by Steve Goodman, he sings, “Good morning America how are you? Say, don't you know me? I'm your native son,” imploring his land to help him feel welcomed. “Through the Mississippi darkness, rolling down to the sea, but all the towns and people seem to fade into a bad dream.” Why are we so prone to ride the rails and sing about how lost we feel?
     My Croatian comrade remarked “whether in super subtle ways like Paul Simon, less subtle ways like Steve Goodman, or totally direct ways like Chuck D, I grew up learning from truth tellers. No illusions about the US in my young head. Btw it's now exactly 20 years since I moved to the US.”
     A friend from Skokie notes that we are “a country with a groundbreaking constitution that is no longer serving us. And has been hijacked by minoritarian protofascists and confederates.” I had to look that one up. Thanks wiki: “In minoritarianism (or minorityism) is a neologism for a political structure or process in which a minority segment of a population has a certain degree of primacy in that entity's decision making."
     So what will I do with all of this? As my mind swims with fear and dread, I am more committed than ever to do my best to stay out of ruminating about the past or fearing the future. I’m running my second 5K this month tomorrow. I took a ten mile walk the other day. I’m marveling at the pops of green all around, and spend time in the woods.
     I met someone and we dated, casually, for about 6 weeks. It ended last week, much to my chagrin (even though there were yellow and red flags there since Day 1). But we had fun together! I was heartbroken— maybe more than I should have been after such a short romance.
     As Walt said in the poem above, “some are baffled, but that one is not—that one knows me.” I guess I thought my moment for partnership had finally come. The one who gets me. I’d be like the normal people on TV. House, yard, partner. Then I realized that this was my Disney brain falling for a false knight in shining armor, and Walt probably meant self-love anyway. Or so I'll tell myself.
     I may get shot to death anywhere at any time. I will pull from the many great minds in my life, those who have come and gone and those who are still here. I will learn to continue to tolerate this human experience, and day by day do all I can to soak up every nuance of my fragile precarious life.


  1. Caren your Saturday dispatches are a welcome relief after a week working in a school with teenagers placed there for social, emotional and behavioral struggles. Lots of trauma as you can imagine. Your premise about adults being a mess and the questioning if we are able to guide our youth to internal safety is spot on. Having worked in the helping profession with youth, families and seniors since 1984, I don’t know if I have what it takes to put in a few more years to reach Medicare eligibility. Until a few months ago I thought I did. Yesterday a graduating student was very specific with me as to how I helped her navigate high school. Maybe I do have the internal strength and enough mental wellness to do it. In the meantime, please know how valuable your Saturday posts are for this geezer.

    1. I hope you have the inner resources to do it. When we show up for others we can be less self-absorbed, at least in my case. I am so grateful for clients because it's a nice break to really tune in to others and leave my sometimes murky mind behind.

  2. I love Walt Whitman, but wouldn't emulate his wonderful attitude towards life and self regard. Surely, the poem cited above yearns for some other who will understand the poet almost instinctively, clearly a fantasy, but if that other is conceived as the self, it is equally fantastical and unreal. Who knows himself/herself/theirself? Not me, definitely. And not Walt Whitman either or Caren Jeskey, I'm guessing. The best of times and the worst of times is forever.


    1. Good points John, yet I will continue seeking. My plan is that when I take my last breath I can say "I've done my best" and also be at peace with it all ending.

  3. I don't have a calm and present demeanor & I'm closing in on 73!

  4. Thank you for this column. It spoke to me. The disillusionment with our country, the frustration of having such a large percentage of my fellow citizens “minoritarian proto-fascists,” living without a life partner, and trying to find meaning and joy in that stew. And, of course, we do find meaning and joy in that stew, just not in the ways we expected or were taught. As kids we were taught that the gold standard was spouse, house, kids, happy family with yard, in wonderful country that is a beacon for freedom, ya, ya, ya, etc., etc., etc. And we wake up in this dysfunctional hellscape. Whenever I get caught up in my feelings like that, I meditate. I picture myself as a being, which after all I am, who is alive in a certain time and place, and, as such, has certain limited options and choices that it can make to find meaning and joy. I think about those different options and choices. I breathe deeply and resolve to make certain choices. And I realize that I could do that whether I was in prison, whether I was wealthy or poor. I would just have different options and choices. And, somehow, I feel better. And I think that what makes me feel better is that I start looking at life from the inside out instead of from the outside in. I stop judging myself and my life from the outside using our culture’s standards. I stop judging myself entirely and see myself as a being with agency. Just a thought.

    1. Thanks for your comments Clark & Joanie. Seems like you and I are on a similar path Joanie.

  5. Neil- sometimes I can and do shut it all out, for sure. But when several stressors pile on in a short time it's harder to do. I am heading to an outdoor birthday "party" (only a few guests for COVID safety) for a fabulous 9 year old and will leave the real world far behind for a while. :)

  6. At the risk of dragging us off-topic, I'd like to request that it would be good to caption some of the images chosen to accompany these columns, whether it's to explain the choice, credit the artist, identify the subject or whatever. I get the gist of it today, but would still like to know, for example, if the image of the overwrought girl holding her hand to her mouth (it looks remarkably like Emma Stone) is part of a larger painting, and where it comes from.

    1. I do often caption the photos, particularly to credit and ID artwork, say, used from the Metropolitan Museum of Art site. I'm not going to explain the choice — the burning flag, for instance, which is from a previous post on W.G.N. Flags. That seems to be trafficking in the obvious. The overwrought girl is "The Casualty" by Josiah Eidmann, a painting in the collection of the Northbrook Public Library.

  7. Shutting unpleasant things out is important but not always easy. We also have to let them in at times. If we don’t it is sort of like giving up. The reality is there is little anyone of us can do as individuals. When those who committed genocide and adopted slavery as a key part of the economy, the wheels were set in motion. The ex-pat was pretty right on as hyper-individualism and runaway capitalism is what has evolved..
    With that being said, there is much to enjoy and much for which to be grateful. We owe it to ourselves to take advantage of that while we can.

  8. Yes, Caren, I have heard that anxiety, agitation, and nervousness shorten a lifespan...which makes me the hell did I ever manage to make it to turning 75 in August?

    Frankly, my dear, I don't know what else to say to you right now,. Especially after the last few weeks and months of Saturdays. Stressed-out over our worsening minoritarian idiocracy, feeling avaricious and Scrooge-like, drowning in fear and dread, being afraid of the future, thinking that you may end up being shot to death, anywhere, and at any time. And it makes me wonder--have you given any more serious thought to the possibility that Chicago may no longer be your kind of town? Or is that just what I'm seeing?

    Maybe it isn't you at all...maybe your internal security system is telling you a hard truth...that things have really deteriorated to the point that your hometown (and mine) has just become too damn dangerous, unpredictable, and perilous. Maybe it isn't Covid...or all. Maybe it's just not safe for some people anymore, and you're one of them.

    I know I've mentioned these things before, and maybe I'm just speculating. Meowing at the wrong door. I left for good thirty years ago, when things were a lot different. Not necessarily saying they were better...just...different. And I haven't been back all that often, so it's not so easy to compare 2022 with 1992.

    I hear too much these days about Chicago's crime and violence and endless gunfire, and that the CTA trains are now even more sketchy than New York's much-maligned subways. You recently said you planned on moving again, down the road. Maybe you've come to that fork in the road, and need to take it. Maybe now's the time.


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