One night, I received a voicemail from my roommate. “I just had an experience and I had to call someone. I was driving down the freeway and suddenly a white light from another car’s headlight blinded me. I swear to God I thought it was the end. I said a little prayer and got ready to die.
The car hit the edge of another car and instead of hitting me head on, it created a pile up. I opened my eyes and realized I survived. I had to call someone. Tonight is a good night.”
I saved the voicemail for as long as I had that phone. It was a defining moment and I was the person he called to share it with.
“Iz” was a middle-aged man living off of what was left of a family trust fund. He was funny, charming, selfish and lonely. He loved cocaine, poker and stand up comedy, and took from that well until he had nothing left. Iz was intimate with an addict, a woman, who was dying slowly in front of all of us. Another well sure to run dry.
He was there for me when I needed him, but only as a cure for his own loneliness. I loved him. I still do.
A week later, he was in our living room updating us on the accident. “This guy [who drove into us] got out of his car and ran to the hills. We were all left there getting each other’s insurance information except the guy who collided into us. Someone has to be responsible. There was a guy there who gave me his insurance. It is just going to have to be put on him. I am sorry but shit rolls downhill. I have to take care myself. That’s just life.”
Shit rolls down hill.
If ever there was an arrangement of words that could really define our cultural attitude, it would be “Shit Rolls Down Hill”.
I started another draft of this blog about the show Girls. I wanted to write about how the show is not the voice of a generation or demographic but rather a cultural attitude among all Americans. I didn’t want to make it about Dunham’s creative choices, which equally interest and depress me. I want to make it about Americans.
Americans are assholes.
A lot of my friends are assholes.
When an Air BnB host asked about a stain left on her couch, a friend I shared the house with wrote her a lengthy email about how I lacked control as a parent. If either the host or the friend had asked me to pay a dry cleaning bill, I would have happily done so. Instead, I was accidentally cc’ed on seven hurtful sentences about what an awful mother I was for feeding my child on a couch. (I scrubbed the couch immediately after the incident and thought I resolved the issue. Oh well.)
The same friend took the last luggage cart at the airport despite the fact that I had a baby and car seat strapped to my person while she was travelling alone.
Friends post articles exposing companies for sexism, then message me over and over asking how large my breasts are ten months into breastfeeding. Never mind the countless times I have told “them” this line of questioning makes me uncomfortable. They can not help themselves.
I listen to grown friends in their 40s and 50s talk about themselves. I am forced to absorb their uninformed advice about parenting, about my vote in the last election, about my family’s diet, about my dogs and about my relationship. Nothing is off-limits. They believe they know best about the most personal elements of my life.
A select few think it is cute to make harsh judgements while they are personally not equipped to deal with similarly colored criticism.
And this is not about social media, though I believe it can bring out the worst from people. This is about a culture where the self has risen above the common good. In person, friends have grown rude, harsh, insensitive and so talkative sometimes it is impossible to respond to a question that flies by without pause for an answer.
A few days ago, I enjoyed a dinner with a fellow writer, Matt Perry. He calls this “Lecture Mode”. The disintegration of communication to the sound of one’s own voice over and over again.
Here is a general rule of thumb:
If you think you are more enlightened, you are not.
If you disagree with someone and accuse them of being less educated, you are an elitist.
If you are confused why somebody didn’t vote the same way as you did, you need to read and speak with people who are different from yourself.
When I think about the characters in Girls, I wonder if we have grown so self-serving because of first world privilege or because we have distanced ourselves from religion or because birth control allows us to avoid factoring in another human being for as long as possible.
With regards to religion, personally, I do not subscribe to any form of organized faith and, as a result, do not regularly reflect on what other people have written, thought or preached about our morality (with the exception of books, blogs and essays).
That is not to say I don’t personally reflect on spirituality or morality― as a writer, vegan and mother I can ad nauseum. It might be time to open up my mind to other thoughts other than my own in a social atmosphere.
With regards to pregnancy, I have used modern health care to my advantage and avoided becoming a mother until I was fast approaching 40. Now I wonder if becoming a mother sooner would have helped me become a better person earlier in life.
Again, that is not to say you need to give birth to a child to help you blossom as human being. However, taking care of any other human being, animal or even a plant may be a necessity to personal growth. You need to give in order to take. I am not sure we can circumnavigate this process as sentient beings.
And as for privilege, after the baby enjoyed spaghetti in our bed for the first time (we were in bed because I was exhausted, dehydrated and falling asleep), my partner Michael started washing the only two bed sheets large enough for our mattress.
“You just started the wash? I can’t stay awake for two hours,” I said.
“What do you want me to do and I will do it,” he said, cupping his hand over my feet with an affectionate squeeze.
“Go buy a bed sheet….”
We all have our little moments living in this time and place. And some of us will recognize those moments with #firstworldproblems. Pat on the back for us.
Our humor, our intelligence and our self-awareness will not save us.
Civilization requires community to support itself. That means not just talking, but listening. Not just taking, but giving back. (Giving does not include consuming entertainment or favoring companies who use politically “unifying” ad campaigns.) While I was protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline on Superbowl Sunday, most of the Angelenos were at home, enjoying chips and dip. Because Pepsi and the DNC both know young people are more likely to put their spending power into sugar water than their own principles.
The night before the march, I told a young woman in her late twenties about the protest the following morning. “I want to go, I am just not a morning person.”
Another morning, a vendor took my credit card for a purchase. I told her we should be boycotting the banks involved so we can defund the pipeline. “Yes, but switching banks is too much work,” she said.
Giving is volunteering. Giving is donating. Giving is work.
Friendships are work.
Relationships are work.
Life is work.
“These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.” -Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776
And this weekend, while we drop over 50 missiles on Syria, while some choose to mourn the death of Don Rickles others will google Kendall Jenner and the most tone deaf commercial of televised history, I will fight to care― because caring, while inundated with bad news every second we try to connect to another device or person, is heartbreaking work. Now more than ever. And I will watch Girls to the end. I will laugh at how selfish and yet self-aware those characters are.
On Sunday morning, I will be attending church for the first time in 20 years.
The generation before mine looked to Jimmy Stewart, Atticus Finch and characters built on morals, my generation had sitcoms with morals buried in a half hour story, and now a generation of stories with no moral whatsoever. Thomas Paine would turn in his grave, wherever that is. (Against his dying wish, his body was moved from one grave to another and is now lost.)
Not even the true American heroes get a break. May God have mercy on our souls.