We must often make do with the best we can do

Dr. Pangloss, an absurdly optimistic character created by Voltaire, famously lived in the “best of all possible worlds” where everything happened for a preordained purpose, even the most senseless and horrific things.  As I recall he kept this belief even after half of his ass was removed by cannibals for use as a ham (and many other equally atrocious things befell him and his student).  Easy to laugh at a panglossian chap like that as we look around at a world that could certainly be better in many obvious ways, but I mention him to remind myself that sometimes doing very little is actually the best we can do in this world, and doing that little takes us, in a real sense, to the “best of all possible worlds.”   Under less than ideal circumstances, of course, but still, by far the best alternative available to us, the little we can do.

Being able to transmit complicated thoughts and difficult emotions in words is a gift of being human.    It is among the miracles of being a “wise ape.”  True, it exists along side our susceptibility to mass terror, mass murder and so forth, but our ability to speak, to read and write, is, in itself, a great blessing.   Words that literally change the world can sometimes be conceived and written.   Words can save a person from despair when she reads them, actually save a life.   Save a single human life, say the sages, and you have saved all of mankind.

Many of us write here on the internet [1].  We write for many reasons — to entertain, inform, make our opinions known, for attention, the illusion of writing for a readership, to brag, to show off our skills and our humility, to pretend to wisdom or expertise, to sing, to play, to force ourselves to write as well as we can, to drum up business, to gather an army of followers to invade and conquer other websites, to pass the time, etc.   But every one of us knows, I think, that, confronted by a sudden vexation, it is a great advantage to be able to write it out clearly.  

The ability to write clearly allows us to set things out for others to share and also, to see things more clearly ourselves.  Often this thinking-writing process is the best we can do and the time we spend here becoming better at writing with clarity is time well-spent when the last seconds are ticking away on the clock and the game is on the line.

You get screwed by a bureaucracy, say you lose your health coverage, without warning, during a deadly pandemic (to take a random example).   Frightening, disorienting, unfair, possibly illegal — just writing these words provides the beginning of relief.  Putting a scary or aggravating scenario into clear language does something to neutralize panic.  The practice of writing an aggravation down, tweaking the lines for clarity and brevity, adding helpful details, deleting distracting ones… an excellent discipline for taming thoughts and feelings that might otherwise run amok and rob you of rest in your slumbers. 

We’re living in a fucking worldwide plague, literally, with cynical, calculating, clueless cretins in charge of Federal Emergency Management and many other areas of public health, safety and liberty.   The thought that the forces of greed and death are exploiting this tragedy to gain even greater advantage over the masses of us worldwide is objectively horrifying.  There are many reasons to be concerned, afraid, magnified by disorienting loneliness during this time of “social distancing” when the closest to socializing many of us can get is the telephone or “social media” which is a shorthand for how to be in touch without actually venturing anything personal that you wouldn’t want the entire world to know about.  

Social media fosters the actual opposite of intimacy, it creates the superficial illusion of connection.  Intimacy is a rare and life-sustaining form of friendship that can only be achieved one on one, over time, with the ongoing sharing of vulnerabilities, values and trust.  You cannot, strictly (or even permissively) speaking, share real trust via social media, trust me on this.

Being old school, you reach out in your isolation to write a personal letter to an actual flesh and blood friend, knowing that she has a tendency to freak out sometimes and suffer in silence, to make sure she’s okay, extend a hand for mutual support.   “This plague is a disorienting ordeal, n’est-ce pas?  I hope you and your pup are OK” you write in a hand-written letter that sets out some of your own worries.

The answer comes directly a few days later, typed and delivered on your phone’s beautiful, glowing screen.

“Me and Bonesy are fine, old friend, thank you for asking, and, as you know, even if I was struggling and terrified, which I am not, thankfully, I wouldn’t be a whining, self-pitying wuss like you and make a squealing incoherent federal case out of bad luck that is entirely of your own making, pal.  Thanks for reaching out! Always great to hear from you.  Please keep in touch.”  

You might think, poised over the tiny keys of your phone: it appears my old friend might be in  trouble, I wonder — is there anything helpful I can do from here in my own quarantine?   Well might you wonder.   You might want to write a few hundred words, to make the wonder something you can set out in front of you, organize, study, explain a bit to yourself, mull over.   Edit, clarify and repeat.   Word to the wise.



[1] It occurs to me from time to time that I need to figure out how to collect the probably millions of words I’ve composed and posted here on this website the last few years and save them in a format I can store on various hard-drives.   If I had a mass of readers I’d ask for any ideas about how to do this, but since few stop by, I’ll keep the question to myself.  On second thought, anyone have any ideas?  Does WordPress still have something like that old RSS feed that can be copied and pasted easily?

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