2020’s Dark Night of the Soul: The Year So Far Part II

By Last Updated: September 1, 2021Views: 1385

And so it goes.

2020 continues its endless slog into the dark night of the soul that has been thrust upon us by the ruthlessness of nature, the cruelty of fate, and the incompetence of man. I would say it’s unprecedented but by this point, so many truly strange and bizarre things have happened I’m pretty sure everything’s just precedented now. If the seventh seal were to be broken and a seven-headed, twelve-horned dragon fell flaming from the sky I’m confident the public would look up, give a collective shrug and say, “Pfft, figures.”

To be fair the relentless awful does seem to have leveled off a bit into a soft drone humming away in the background as we attempt to wrestle normal back from whatever hell it was condemned to a few months back. And amid the sickness, selfishness, and death we can see – faintly – off in the distance a light at the end of the tunnel.

That being said as I write this we are about two weeks away from a national election that will decide if that light is in fact the emergence from darkness or a train rushing full speed toward us. At this point still too early to tell.

As for me, I’m just waking up from a long, restless sleep. I’ll explain.

To recap, the last time I wrote about the year so far I had gotten incredibly ill, my dog died, I separated from my wife, and a global pandemic locked down the world. Normally that would be enough badness to constitute an entire year – decade even – but in 2020 that was just the first four months. 2020: an overachiever in awful.

And so it continued.

If I’m honest compared to the first few months the next several were not nearly as bad. Again, this is only in comparison. And I speak only for my personal life. The country I live in has been on fire – figuratively and literally – and I do not wish to downplay the importance and consequence of these events but my tiny corner of existence has been relatively immune to the upheaval around me. I do attempt to stay informed and participate in the world but it would seem I have drifted into a bit of a fugue state allowing the world to happen all around me like flipping through a book of old photos or watching the TV in a neighbor’s house from outside.  I am present but at a distance.

There is a reason for this.

First off I moved. I moved for a third time in six months in fact. (As an aside I want to say that if you get a chance to move your entire life three times in a six-month period – don’t. It is not fun and can be – and I say this fully understanding the understatement – disruptive.) But this time I moved to a place that would effectively the one I will settle into for good. Or at least a year. I refuse to make predictions anymore. In a year like this one no telling what will come to pass.

This place – a one-bedroom apartment on the ground floor overlooking a very pleasant park – is for all intent and purpose the first place and first time I have ever lived alone. Seems odd right? I’m fifty years old and I have never lived alone. I have never had my own apartment. How could that be you ask? But it’s not that hard to understand if you think about it.

I lived with my parents up until I moved to San Francisco. And when one is young and poor and living in San Francisco one does not live alone. Roommates are a must if one is to actually pay rent and have little luxuries like – you know – food. San Francisco is expensive is what I’m saying. After that I bopped around the country living in various places but always with a roommate or a girlfriend. Till one day a girlfriend became a wife and seeing as husbands and wives tend to live together I suddenly had a permanent roommate for the next 20+ years.

And now I am alone.

I admit it was an adjustment. You don’t just go from living with another human being your entire life to being alone without getting used to a few behavioral changes. There was loneliness, yes. I would be lying if I said that I did not miss the comfort of the presence of another but for me, it was something more than loneliness. It was a feeling of being out of place; present but at a distance even from myself.

So I fell into a routine. I wake early and go to work. When I come home I watch TV (old movies and shows mostly – ones I have seen before and know by heart. These are a comfort and not very taxing). And then I would sleep.

And so it would go – wake, work, and watch. Then sleep. Repeat. Not a bad life, just an uneventful one. And again, if I am honest, uneventful was nice. But it was far too easy to sleep. To sleep at night with eyes closed and to sleep all day with eyes open. And my feeling of displacement fed by the comfort and ease of routine led to the fugue state I mentioned. I suppose it was a defense. With so much bad happening both externally and internally better to sleep, to embrace the uneventful, and to be consoled by the mundane.

But I realized something recently, something that pulled me from my deep slumber – I have not been dreaming. I knew as I slept-walked through my days that there was something missing. I knew that although I was happy (or at least not sad) that I needed something. Something couldn’t quite place. I needed to be dreaming.

I consider myself a writer, or at least a teller of stories. I like to wave tales of wonderful things in faraway places, terrible things in places far too close, remembrances of things that have never happened, and fictional accounts of things that have. In the time I had been sleeping there have been whole countries left undiscovered, conversations never spoken, and feelings left unexpressed. This has been my displacement. The reason I have been out of balance lost and drifting. I have not been telling stories. I have not been dreaming.

It may seem a frivolous thing talking about telling stories in a time of disarray and uncertainty. But in my defense when I am not telling stories I am not engaging with the world. It may seem strange but the more I dream about fictional spaces the closer I come to the one I live in. We write about what we know and the best way to know something is to investigate it, to get close to it, to see all its terrible beauty and to dream something new from it.

So now there is a little more than two months left of 2020 and I am awake. I am looking out a window – my window, my very own window – and I see the leaves have changed color and the air is crisp with the coming of winter. The animals are going into hibernation but I am just now waking. I move from the window to my desk, my fingers hover above the keyboard. I am awake. Now it is time to dream.

…to be continued.

Originally published October 18, 2020

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