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Living On The Edge…Of Night

June 15, 2010

Growing up in the early 1960s, Pat, the old Irish lady who sat for my brother and I, got me addicted to her soap operas. My favorite was “The Edge of Night”. And ever since, I have lived my life as if it were a soap opera, where at any moment the organ music would come and disaster would strike. And I’m talking Big Fear here:  Economic collapse; nuclear catastrophe; famine; plague; Sarah Palin.

My father would get a kick teasing me about it. Every time something bad in the world would happen, “Charley-gloom-stock” would go up, he’d say. The Cuban Missile Crisis? “Up 50 points!” he’d say. (At the time that was a lot). JFK assassination? “Up 75!” I even got hooked on a charismatic fundamentalist Christian radio personality (Garner Ted Armstrong) because he said the Book of Revelations foretold the end of the world within the coming years (one book of his was called “1975 In Prophesy”. Later on in life (and after only 50,000 therapy sessions) I realized I was drawn to this kind of thinking because as a kid I hated the world for what I thought were its injustices to me, and secretly wanted it to end, thereby getting my revenge.

But therapy or not, I never lost the taste for catastrophe. Especially coming of age in the late 1960s, when every year it really did seem like things were coming completely unhinged. If later on the world seemed calmer, it would eventually supply further food for my fear. Whether it was Three Mile Island, or the “crash” of ’87; or being woken up one morning here in Brooklyn by the UPS man delivering a package with a gasmask on, and the street behind him filling up with ash from lower Manhattan. 

I’ve always lived my life with one eye searching the sky for an approaching storm, and sometimes there’d really be one. And I’d always half expect one of them to be the storm, and last for 40 days and 40 nights.  

So now it’s 2010.  I now write this blog called The Joy Project, and I notice the biggest obstacle between me and joy is usually fear. (Now if I can only find a way to write a post called “The Joy of Fear”…). I also associate with a subculture that periodically screams The Sky Is Falling! That is, I rub elbows with people of the left and right (though mostly the left) who are certain we’re headed right for The End. And also that we’ve got it coming. (Maybe some of them, like me as a younger man, are secretly hoping for it?) Even those who preach “transformation” seem to salivate at the idea of our “unsustainable” lifestyles leading to environmental or economic calamity.

So, as we approach the Summer of Loathe, we have an unprecedented environmental crisis in the Gulf and foreboding economic storm clouds gathering in the eastern part of the sky, somewhere over Greece.

It’s quite a way to live, trying to be, and act, normal in abnormal times. Wanting just to do my work and see my friends and look forward to retirement, as the world is veering – or seems to be veering – out of control.  Or at times I feel like a man who lives with some kind of congenital heart condition, who’s told by doctors, “Go live a normal life. But one day…”

It’s not just that one of my oldest and dearest friends just sent out an email that reads, in part…

“I’ve been trading [stocks] for 50 years, and I do more than 500 trades per year…I am urging you to sell all stocks and bonds immediately. Do not wait. Do not hope…Do not keep money in the bank. All paper currencies are going to be worthless within a short time…Gold…is going to be the only currency left standing…Buy gold. I beg you to do this!”  (Meantime my financial advisor at Met Life is begging me not to give in to “emotional investing”.)

And it’s not just that the New York Times the other day noted that even lots of shrewd people, including billionaire George Soros, believe in stocking up on gold.

It’s also that someone I hadn’t heard from in years came back into my life a few weeks ago, just for a moment, during which he mentioned the name Arch Crawford to me. I knew Arch 25 years ago. He was a friend of mine. He’s gained notoriety in some circles by using astrology to predict the stock market. What a strange coincidence, I thought. So I googled Arch and discover he’s predicting economic Armageddon (or just your ordinary run-of-the-mill Armageddon) around August 1st, 2010. Now I don’t believe in astrology, and normally I’d dismiss this kind of thing out of hand. But then I wonder, “Is the universe trying to tell me something?” 

So once again I find myself going to my default position: Freak out. The past week, I go into all of Shelley and my accounts, and sell all our stock, except for gold. It’s like the slogan for a kind of negative lottery – “Hey, You Never Know”.     

After I converted the balance of our investments to a fixed-interest account earlier today, I felt an empty feeling inside. “What a way to live!’ I thought. It’s like fear has a ring in my nose and sometimes gets to lead me around wherever it wants me to go.

I know my fear can get the best of me. In my life, I’ve seen so many would-be Big Bad Calamities die silent, whimpering deaths.  But we really are living in — that old Chinese curse — interesting times. Things really may be falling apart. There are facts that you can connect like dots that show a pattern of us falling over the edge, into night. And facts you can connect that show us at the edge of a new dawn.

Nobody knows.  

Today’s Joygasm:

Back in 1974, Jackson Browne wrote a song called Before The Deluge. Click the title to listen while reading along, and see how relevant this remarkable song is, 36 years later…

Some of them were dreamers,
And some of them were fools.
Who were making plans and thinking of the future.

With the energy of the innocent,
They were gathering the tools
They would need to make their journey back to nature.

While the sand slipped through the opening;
And their hands reached for the golden ring;
With their hearts they turned to each other’s heart for refuge.
In the troubled years that came before the deluge.

Some of them knew pleasure;
And some of them knew pain.
And for some of them it was only the moment that mattered.

And on the brave and crazy wings of youth,
They went flying around in the rain
And their feathers, once so fine, grew torn and tattered.
And in the end they traded their tired wings
For the resignation that living brings.
And exchanged love’s bright and fragile glow
For the glitter and the rouge,
And in a moment they were swept before the deluge.

Chorus:

Now let the music keep our spirits high
And let the buildings keep our children dry
Let creation reveal it’s secrets by and by
By and by–
When the light that’s lost within us reaches the sky.

Some of them were angry
At the way the earth was abused
By the men who learned how to forge her beauty into power.
And they struggled to protect her from them
Only to be confused
By the magnitude of her fury in the final hour.

And when the sand was gone and the time arrived
In the naked dawn only a few survived.
And in attempts to understand this thing so simple and so huge,
Believed that they were meant to live after the deluge

Chorus:

Now let the music keep our spirits high
And let the buildings keep our children dry
Let creation reveal it’s secrets by and by
By and by–
When the light that’s lost within us reaches the sky

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Rob permalink
    June 15, 2010 11:18 am

    Hey Charlie,

    Your problem is just that you fixate on what is going wrong to the exclusion of what is going really well. After all, just think about how well the war on the environment is progressing.

    Rob

  2. Daniel W. permalink
    June 15, 2010 4:27 pm

    ^ Hahahaha Rob…

    I can definitely relate to this post. I’ve believed, ever since I’ve had post-apocalyptic dreams as a middle-schooler, that the world is doomed. And like you as a young’un, I believe that this isn’t much of a bad thing. For the current economy to collapse? Do you know how much I hate malls? How much I hate the fact that our lives are seemingly run by money? How destructive the lust for money has been to the environment?

    But remember, what is ecstasy? Staying in the moment. It’s easy to dwell on the future, but that’s not where we are.

  3. June 16, 2010 7:14 pm

    I think you’re exactly right about the psychology of apocalyptic thinking. I think Stanislav Grof said in one of his books on LSD psychotherapy that those who seek apocalypse are unconsciously trying to repeat the birth trauma and come out the other end reborn. So wishing for apocalypse is not just a desire to destroy the world, but a desire to radically transform it. The problem, though, is that not all positive change requires destruction, and sometimes destruction is just destruction. History has shown that war, for example, rarely leads to lasting peace and prosperity.

    When analyzing the economy, you do need to be as “objective” and “unemotional” as possible, separating out your subjective emotional issues (such as the unconscious desire to repeat the birth trauma) from the objective facts.

    The stock market is notoriously difficult to predict. Some, including George Soros, believe that it is ultimately impossible to predict financial markets because the thing we are trying to predict is effected by our attempt to predict it. Stock prices don’t so much reflect the value of companies as they do the value that investors believe companies have. So predicting stock prices is really a matter of predicting investor’s predictions. Financial markets are, according to Soros, complex systems with positive feedback loops, which is why a stock market chart has a chaotic form.

    The upshot is that unless you have some special information that noone else has you’re best investment strategy is to diversify and use index funds. Shift to more fixed income investments as you get older. And that’s about it. If you’re acting on information you received in the media (and how many of us have more than that?) then you’re acting on old news that everyone already has and that is already factored into prices.

  4. June 19, 2010 1:56 am

    Charley–Just FYI, not to scare you, but as an indicator of just how over the edge you might be teetering, when I clicked on your link to the Jackson Browne song above, you don’t get the song, you get the doomsday astrology blog about the market crashing. Freudian apocalyptic slip? In any case, contemplate the famous Zen parable: a guy is chased by a tiger to the edge of cliff, jumps over and manages to grab hold of a thin vine, dangling over a deep drop. The tiger is peering down at him from above, and down below is another tiger, pacing and growling. Meanwhile, a mouse is nibbling away at the remainder of the vine. Just then, he sees, right in front of him, a big, beautiful, juicy red strawberry, which he plucks and eats. Ahhh, delicious!

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