“I never used to be this cold, and I don’t want to think these things about people, but everybody I see is just the dregs of society.” It’s a holiday party, and someone is worried about what his job has done to him. He continued, “Like, these people will sit and watch television and I’ll have to ask them to move so we can carry their dead grandma out through the living room. I know not everybody is that way, but those are the people I see, and they’re worthless.”
At another party, another guest: “Sometimes my dad used to get sick of it and tell those people, ‘You want change? Why don’t you get a job for a change?'” And everyone laughed amicably, but I felt uncomfortable. Then the guy quickly told a story about how he had adopted a poor family for Christmas. Midwestern people are so careful to maintain their niceness. I love that about them.
Then someone passes along a story about a church: “These people are always complaining that the clergy don’t know who they are, don’t reach out to them.” And I said, “Church is the only place you go in America that isn’t a consumeristic experience. You don’t go there to be served. You go there to serve.” And then I felt cold, and hard, as like Mr. Racist Tendencies and Mr. Beggars Need Jobs.
Last night I reached my natural limit for cover bands. It wasn’t that the people playing Radiohead covers were not good. Let’s just say I’m an idiot and my opinion is worthless. And because I have no taste or sensitivity, the performance did not move me or engage me. It just reminded me of Plato. While I stood there, crammed up against everyone and everyone’s drink and elbow at the sold-out show, I thought, damn, these are the cave shadow puppets! I am chained up and underground!
Some people read that Allegory of the Cave business and think it’s ridiculous. I read it in my 9th grade social studies class, and once I got it, I thought: of course. That’s why I’m always slightly displeased. That’s why my interior world is so much more compelling. That’s why big ideas excite me. I’m Platonic. Or neo-neo-neo-Platonic, or whatever.
In spite of the care and energy the musicians brought, in my grouchy state, those covers only made me think of was how much I loved Thom Yorke’s voice, and how much I loved the original arrangements, and how I wished I had seen Radiohead more than the one time, in fact, perhaps I should go on the road with them because they were the only band I cared about and their music was the only thing that gave life meaning. (Platonists are more given to these kinds of histrionics than Aristotelians, obviously.)
Was it that, or was it that I had become hard? I had gotten myself this giver job, so much giving that I feel like I am often teetering on the edge of empty. I had no sympathy for the whiners at church when the priest forgets their names. “If you want people to know who you are, volunteer at the soup kitchen, ask them how they are doing, and tell them your name until they remember it,” I snapped.
I promised myself that if I felt dead inside, or I couldn’t write, or I didn’t love it anymore, I would quit. Wouldn’t my feelings be hurt if the priest forgot my name? (He has, and they were, a little.) The idea of kindness, the idea of openness and acceptance and charity, is much better than the shadow-puppet version. But them chains is heavy, and that cave is way down deep.