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Excluding Unhelpful News

October 1, 2009


I’ve been going over my life and my self with a fine-toothed comb, seeking the missing thing, the fatal flaw, the bit that is holding me back from making things come out just right. This is not to be confused with a quest for perfection or a critical battering or a bout pitting me against myself. Rather, I have not been living up to my own modest standards, have not been listening to my gut, have not been making good choices or devoting effort to constructive things. Instead, I have been settling, languishing, stagnating, ignoring, dismissing, avoiding, diverting.

And, I have been reading, which is good.

Reading everything not nailed down, in fact: cookbooks, recipe-writing manuals, cultural histories, biographies and memoirs, fiction both good and bad (mostly mediocre, which is even worse than straight-up bad). Between the hours spent lost in my head and the ones spent with a book in front of my face, I haven’t watched a television programme in ages. Last night when I tried, I realised that my ability to follow a story in pictures has been temporarily suspended. I watched the commercial breaks then wandered my apartment during important points in the show, lost track of who that guy with the hat is, and how come that kid keeps showing up all sad. And that one who likes dancing–what’s up with him? Oh hey! The 2010 models from Ford! Ice cream for people who can’t eat milk! Good shit for cleaning your bathtub real nice! Yeah, that was “watching TV” at my house last night.

Most of the books I’ve read lately have been so-so, none are favourites or things I would recommend; however, the one stand-out was a curious, meandering volume. Well-written but poorly organised, hopping around, the writer’s ideas somewhat out of synch. But, I think this absence of cohesion tailored the book perfectly to how I’ve been thinking lately, too, as I excavate the debris of relationships, households, moves and relocations, changes and jobs and people and events, wishes and dreams realised, dead, forgotten or stale. On the streetcar, I read this paragraph and decided that was as much as I needed, to keep me thinking all day: 

“…this capacity for denial must have evolved out of a survival mechanism – some mental ability that helps one to focus and to exclude unhelpful news and distracting or diverting information when on the hunt or when courting. The skill and complexity of denial behaviors may have become absolutely necessary, at least at the time that they are needed – though sometimes later another point of view can be entertained and the truth confronted.”

The capacity for denial, and the possibility that without it, I would live a healthier life in some ways but might have cut so many other things dead in their tracks, things that are hitched to a bit of agony, but which I wouldn’t give up or go back and change. The idea that hunting and loving are not so different, and that the energy we used to expend hunting and killing to stay alive, we now have the luxury of diverting to courtship. The less we need to track a herd, the more weight and value we’ve placed upon pursuing love, and the grimmer our circumstances seem when faced with the prospect of remaining single. The resilience required – the ability to exclude unhelpful news – to make it through the process of meeting, dating, trusting, loving, sharing, and potentially parting or losing.

I feel like, more than being heartbroken a couple times this year, more than being discouraged by a slew of crappy dates, more than being grossed out by bad lines and lewd invitations and insincere suitors and selfish players, more than anything, I have lost my ability to deny. I can’t overlook unhelpful news or exclude discouraging information, and therefore have become mired in quicksand, reaching for a branch. The sweet optimist in me isn’t dead (though it was nearly drowned) and part of me continues to believe that, like my attention span for television, my capacity for healthy denial is just temporarily suspended, rather than utterly dead.


(from Bicycle Diaries, David Byrne, Viking Press 2009.)

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 4, 2011 11:09 am

    Can trying the other extreme reset a balanced state?

    I did that once…. with a man who made poor decisions and led an extremely unhealthy lifestyle – things that normally drive me down a deeply trenched road of judgment, disappointment and abandonment. I called it “a social experiment in unconditional love”. It was one of the most worthwhile and freeing things I ever did, just to know that it wouldn’t kill me to love someone like that because after all he of course had other great qualities… nothing that would make my experiment a long term thing however, heh. What am I trying to say here?

    Be the player!

    Swing the pendulum! Fling it, drag it, tell it who’s boss and show yourself what you’re made of.

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