Hello, good day, and welcome to yet another Thursday. Next week will be the last Thursday of this month, so three weeks remain (if my calculations are correct) until the next planned episode of “My heroes have always been villains.” Hopefully, I’ll be in an appropriate state to write that when the time comes.
I’ve been troubled by a certain issue for some time now, and I think I’ve mentioned part of it here before: I’m having a hard time reading new fiction. I’ve also, probably as part of the same problem, had trouble getting into and enjoying the rereading of fiction that I’ve always enjoyed reading previously. This includes the single most reliable work, The Lord of the Rings, to which I’ve always been able to turn hitherto. Ever since the first time I read it, I have, like Christopher Lee, read LoTR pretty much at least once a year every year. This isn’t atypical behavior for me; when I like a work of fiction, or even non-fiction, including everything from books to movies to comic books to television series, I tend to consume them repetitively. I’m not the sort of person to be thrown off by spoilers, obviously, because on the second reading of a book, there aren’t going to be any significant surprises. My memory and recall seem somewhat above average; I’m certainly not going to forget major plot developments in stories I’ve encountered previously. Nevertheless, as far as I can recall, each rereading of The Lord of the Rings, for instance, has always brought me nearly as much joy as it ever did before.
No longer. In recent months to years, I cannot seem to take pleasure in books that have always been reliable in the past. I’ve tried to reread the Harry Potter series recently, and even to re-listen to them on Audible, but I can’t seem to do it. I lose interest quickly, and find the attempt unpleasant. The same thing happens with The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, The Shining, The Stand, The Dark Tower, Floating Dragon, the works of H. P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe, of Terry Pratchett, Isaac Asimov, Anne Rice, Robert E. Howard…even my beloved Shakespeare. As Pink Floyd said in the song, One of My Turns, “Nothing is very much fun anymore.”
I can focus a little on carefully selected non-fiction, at least. If I couldn’t, I’m not sure what I’d do. But I’ve been able to read some good books by David Deutsch and Sean Carroll on physics, have been working my way through the monumental Rationality from AI to Zombies by Eliezer Yudkowsky, am partway through On Liberty by John Stuart Mill, and I listened to Yuval Harari’s Sapiens with interest on Audible. But all this has required significant effort, is plodding and sporadic, and has yielded steadily diminishing returns. On the fiction front, I’ve petered out halfway through at least three recent Stephen King books, more than one Discworld novel that I hadn’t previously read, and I can’t make it through relatively easy and well-done anime, manga, or light novels.
I haven’t even had any desire to see the sequel to The Incredibles. This is madness.
I worry about how this could be affecting the quality of my own fiction, but I’m not readily able to judge that problem. I’m certainly continuing to write, mainly because I’ve given myself the ultimatum that not writing it is not an option.
I’m sure that at least part of the reason for this difficulty is because I used to enjoy fiction (and non-fiction to a lesser extent) with, or at least around, my family…first my parents, my brother and sister, and my friends at home and at college, and then with my (now-ex) wife and with my children. Indeed, The Lord of the Rings was one of the pivotal shared joys that brought my wife and I together (though our both being cellists who shared a stand in the college orchestra was more instrumental, if you’ll pardon the pun). I really don’t have anyone anymore with whom I can discuss books, programs, movies, etc.—I don’t see my children (or their mother, for that matter), both of my parents passed away last year, and I live way down near the end of America’s dong, in a relative cultural wasteland, far away from those I knew before—which takes at least something away from my enjoyment.
But that can’t be the whole story. Even when I was, for three years, a guest of the Florida Department of Corrections, I read assiduously from the surprisingly good selection of books in the FSP West library, and though I found my fellow inmates to be surprisingly congenial company, literary discussion was an extreme rarity.
When it comes to the medical literature…well, I’ve meant to try to keep up with it at least to some degree, but there are almost nine-hundred notifications of unread emails linking to papers and articles in The Lancet in my Gmail inbox.
As for the notion of making new friends and finding people with whom to share interests of the kinds that I’ve had previously…I frankly can’t summon any interest in that, either. I’ve never been a very gregarious person; I can’t socialize just for the sake of socializing. Pretty much all of my friendships and other relationships developed as part of school or work, some purpose-oriented situation in which we were all thrown together. I’m not readily able to reach out to other people, and I feel both intimidated and anxious, as well as guilty, when either I try to do so, or when others reach out to me. The wall is too high, as you can see. And the worms do what worms do.
I’m not sure what to do about all this. I’m not sure what the solution is—or even if there is one. After all, nature doesn’t promise us that there will be answers to all our problems. There’s really only one thing that nature does promise us.
Sigh. I’m really puzzled, and fatigued, and enervated. If my enthusiasm were a nuclear weapon, I don’t think I could incinerate a mosquito. I certainly can’t seem to find anything objectively useful to do with myself. If I ever become incapable of writing, I think it will be the end of me.
Oh, well, whatever. Never mind.