For some time now the impression has been growing upon me that everyone is dead.Walker Percy, The Moviegoer
It happens when I speak to people. In the middle of a sentence it will come over me: yes, beyond a doubt this is death. There is little to do but groan and make an excuse and slip away as quickly as one can. At such times it seems that the conversation is spoken by automatons who have no choice in what they say. I hear myself or someone else saying things like: “In my opinion the Russian people are a great people, but–” or “Yes, what you say about the hypocrisy of the North is unquestionably true. However-” and I think to myself: this is death. Lately it is all I can do to carry on such everyday conversations, because my cheek has developed a tendency to twitch of its own accord.
That is Claude Monet’s Poppies at Argenteuil, one of my favorite works of art.
When I moved into my dorm room as a freshman, a thousand miles away from my family, I bought a beautiful duvet cover for my bed made of white Battenberg lace. At the time, it was the loveliest possession I had ever owned (and worked for) and I was very proud of it. I stuffed it with an emerald green blanket. It was gorgeous.
I had once stayed in a guest room of family friend’s house that had heavy mahogany furniture. All of the textiles and wallpaper were patterns of emerald green and white. I had fallen in love with that room and the color combination as a child, which was so different from anything my parents would have picked out. It transported me to another era that was a lot less generic in taste. Whenever I was given the opportunity to pick things for myself, those were the colors I chose.
(I even pledged Kappa Delta when I was in college… A sorority whose colors were emerald green and white. I had no problem turning everything in my dorm room and apartment into those two colors.)
I bought a print of Poppies at Argenteuil to go over my bed because the painting was heavy on those two colors as well. Beyond that, I loved the visual of the field of poppies, which reminded me of my childhood in California, where poppies would take over the hillsides every year. My life rhymed with what Monet experienced in his later years. (And we both became avid gardeners, ha.)
Those were tumultuous years for me, like they would be for anyone far away from home, in a place with no easy social connections and a lot of pressure to perform. But I remember them as being years when I had the opportunity to be surrounded by beauty. My room was in an old building with elegant sitting rooms and a ballroom. I mean, come on, how often do you get to hang out in a ballroom these days? It was surrounded with sprawling live oak trees and rose gardens. I did my homework in the reading room of a library surrounded by stained glass windows depicting scenes from Robert Browning’s poetry.
I am hearing and seeing so many people these days who are concerned for their own mental health. I can’t stand the news either, so I get a lot of my “news” from reading things like the commander’s reports published after each shift by our sheriff’s office. It is better than the local news papers, which have precious little local information in them.
There are usually about five “Baker Act” arrests every single day here, in a smallish city of 80,000 people. A Baker Act arrest is when someone is detained out of concern for their mental state, meaning they might harm themselves or others. Most of these are attempted suicides.
I was adamantly against the lockdowns from the very first day they were announced in other states. I said they would not work, they would cause immense financial destruction, and that would contribute to increased depression and suicides. I feel like I understated the mental health problems, in retrospect, as I see a lot of people who are being slowly driven insane by the general nastiness of their social environment and everything that is available for them to consume, the sense of disenfranchisement that comes with being told you must do something that you do not like and disagree with, losing well-established outlets for stress and personal space, etc.
People take for granted how important having an aesthetic is, not only for being happy, but for your survival. This is why one of the greatest injuries a soldier can suffer is receiving a “Dear John” letter. Having someone to love, the sense that there is something to go home to, is what gets a man through a minefield. Not technology, not an astute superior officer. It’s his reason to live in a world that does not value his life that allows him to survive despite his circumstances.
That’s how a lot people feel these days – they are living in a world where their feelings, opinions, and really their entire existence, seems to have diminishing value. They need to find something out in the void that tells them the opposite is true.
I have been citing Charlotte Mason’s checklist for a good education a lot lately. But it never stops applying to people – it’s a recipe for flourishing as you grow older, too.
Every day, you need:
(1) Something to love;
(2) Something to do; and
(3) Something to think about.
If your environment is not supplying you with those things on a regular basis, you need to go out and find them. If the majority of the stuff you are reading on your phone or streaming on television is toxic (“comedy” that is just vapid and petty trolling, shows with an Armageddon-ish theme, political trash, reality shows designed to make you covet other people’s life, etc.), then you need to turn it off.
Make a decision not to hate the world you live in.
In a strange way, this is a different iteration of the personal finance mantra “pay yourself first.” If you are depressed because you do not have a mate, it will be easier to find a mate if you have passions that make you interesting. If you have been laid off, it will be easier to get a new job if you do not come across as miserable and desperate in job interviews.
It’s very trendy (especially among women) to talk about “self-care” rituals. I absolutely cannot stand this chatter or that phrase. A bubble bath, essential oils, and writing in a gratitude journal are not going to feed your soul. You need honest beauty and intelligence in your world, not to be a better consumer of what some “influencer” is peddling. In fact, half of the battle is to stop consuming things.