Grocers of Despair- A Blast From the Past Post from March 2012

*I am struggling in with a rather difficult post just now, which is somewhat related to this one.  At any rate, forgive me if I put up a BFP today.*

This is a post about the qualities and the effects of despair.  There are several reasons for it, the proximate one being that we are fed a lot of it – purposely? – by our art and entertainment complex.

I’m well acquainted with despair.  You could say it is an old friend of mine, except that despair is no one’s friend.

Despair accounted for how long it took me to break into publishing, to an extent, by creating long gaps of silence in my production, and several attempts at doing something else – anything else – with my life.  My basement is littered with the beginnings of would-be-money-making projects I tried to engage in to avoid what seemed to be a hopeless attempt at getting published.  Despair has accounted for how few of my books have been out the last two years.  Those of you who have followed my blog through that time know I hit the nadir of despair about a year ago, when it looked like despite all my best efforts to keep running on ice, my career in writing was over.

I was wrong.  I was wrong for several reasons, one of them being that Darkship Thieves – my heart’s darling at that point – did well for itself, and continues to do surprisingly well.  I was wrong, because indie possibilities opened.  I was wrong because I lost it – truly lost it – and started telling it like it is, and weirdly, surprisingly the “me” I’d suppressed so long, in order to have a career that would allow me to feed the kids, allowed me to find readers who helped my career.  Go figure.

But the point is not that I was wrong.  The point is that I know from despair and what’s more, I understand why despair is considered a sin.  This is not always the case, and I’ve always had an issue with, say, sloth, since – being active by nature – I can’t imagine a worst punishment than being forced to do nothing.

Despair is a sin because it eats you, from the inside out.  Despair comes with “I will never” and “what is the use” and “the game is rigged, so why bother?”  Despair comes with beating your head against a glass window that shouldn’t be there, and yet is.  Despair, in its ultimate form has blighted more artistic careers, destroyed more souls (and by soul here, I don’t require you believe in an immortal entity.  I refer only to that which makes your mind and spirit yours) caused more suicides than anything else.

Despair is that feeling you get when you’ve run the maze, you’ve done your best, and you come to the end and there’s nothing but a blank wall.

It is a powerful emotion, at least for those of us who have faced it.  It is dramatic, if you end a story with it, after a good run and a lot of hope, it stays in the mind.

It is in fact a primary color, and it’s small wonder beginning writers use it, just like beginning artists – say kindergarten – use primary colors.

And it is a sin.  It is a sin against your future self.  It is a sin against humanity.  It is a sin against possibility.  Remember that.  We’ll come back to it.

However, the fact that it is an easily identifiable tint and primary doesn’t explain why there is so much of it larded around science fiction and fantasy, which SHOULD be the literature of possibility.  Sure a lot of this can be explained by the youth of writers (in truth or in practice,) the youth of editors (most of the ones working with newby writers are just out of college) and a certain fashionable air of the times, when it is considered smart and hip to dress all in black and moan about the evils of the future.  (Kind of like it was fashionable for Goethe’s Werner.  Never mind.  Hip, I tell you.  futuristic even.)

But wait, there’s more.  There’s what despair serves to do.  People who despair don’t try to change things and/or undermine the establishment.  People who despair, at the very least go away and shut up, even if they don’t deliberately kill themselves.

There is a striking scene in one of Leo Frankowski’s books, in which a Mongol Lord gets peasants to line up so he can behead them.  And when the hero comes along and kills him, the peasants turn on the hero because “now you’ve gone and angered them.”  And when the hero asks what can be worse than being killed, they have nothing, except “they will make it worse.”  THAT’s despair.  Despair makes you embrace death willingly rather than rebel, no matter how bad things get.

While I don’t believe in a grand conspiracy among publishing outlets and entertainment venues, I do believe in a tribal culture in what is – after all – when it comes to influential people maybe a few thousand people: a small village.  Tribal cultures are easy to influence.  I’m not saying anyone is, I’m saying it’s possible – and we’ve found that type of influence behind a lot of the recent “trends.”

So, before you give in to despair, ask yourself cui bono?  (And if you’re not into asking yourself Latin questions and are now wondering if you should have been paying more attention to Dancing With The Stars and supermarket tabloids, let me dispel your confusion.  That means “Whom does this profit?”)

Dave Freer talks about sheep and goats.  Most of humanity are sheep.  Some of us are goats.  The problem of any establishment, any power, anyone who abrogates influence over human hearts and minds is to control the goats and to make the sheep do more than stand in place and bah.  The more brutally repressive regimes eliminate the goats, often physically, and leave only the sheep.  The result is all the innovation and elan of… North Korea.

The best regimes manage to allow the goats their head, keeping them only off the things that will hurt other people.  They usually result in the highest production – both artistic and material.

In between there are several types of goat-herding schemes, including tolerating them within certain bounds and shipping them abroad to claim new pastures for the sheep.  The British Empire used both strategies with great success since the Elizabethan age.  They eventually stopped using it and resorted to despair.  The British Empire didn’t survive much longer.

So ask yourself what about the current establishment makes it resort to despair?  It’s surely the mark of a philosophical system that has nothing else to offer its goats.  It’s the mark of a philosophical system that is doomed, and wants to keep things quiet “just a little longer.”

And it has been THE culture in publishing since the seventies.  The embrace of declining numbers, declining revenues, declining living standards for writers – the willing embrace of decline – the meek submission to the people who are killing us, because you wouldn’t want to get them angry.  They could really make it unpleasant then.

In According To Hoyt, we’ve talked about how going Indie is a mark of impatience… or something – at least according to the establishment.  We’re supposed to stay still, and let despair permeate us, and slowly tighten around us like a band, allowing us to make only the approved noises, which increase the cultural despair and get everyone accustomed to decline and darkness, and no way out.  When publishers say the mid-list should die, they expect us to curl up and do so.  How quaint.

Despair is a sin.  And, to quote Jerry Pournelle, it might not even reflect the truth.  Look at Heinlein, a smart man and most of us would say an optimist, who chose not to have children, avowedly (yes, I’m aware there might have been other reasons) because “the world was such a mess.”  And yet, if he’d had a child in his first marriage, that child would now be older than my dad, who has had a full life, and not an unpleasant one.

Do not take Mr. Heinlein’s example in that particular aspect of his life.  Take his example in his writing.  Despair is a sin.  And there is usually another way: a way through, a way around.  Find the way.  Pull the Mongol horseman down.  If you kill enough of them, they’ll go away.  Refuse to write despair.  Refuse to believe despair.  Look doom and gloom in the eye and ask them “you and what army?”  Yes, it might all come to the same in the end, but at least you’ll have fought and died like a human being and not a bah lamb.

Tell the Grocers of Despair you have better things to do.  There is a fight going on, and you’d rather fight.  And then go on and discover new pastures.  The poor sheep need somewhere to graze on.  And you’ll have more freedom to breathe.  And everyone wins in the end.

Remember qui bono?  If they sell you despair it’s because they’re afraid of what you can do if you don’t give up.  Don’t give up.  Nothing will piss the establishment more than your continued – and cheerful – battling on.  Do it.  Let THEM despair.

186 responses to “Grocers of Despair- A Blast From the Past Post from March 2012

  1. You know, this is one of the reasons I was getting a little tired of reading science fiction. (I play with writing it, but so far I’m very uneven as a writer.) Despair is pretty much omnipresent these days. I have to go searching around a lot to avoid it. Everything is a grimdark future that is teetering over the edge of the apocalypse, and it’ll take everything the characters have to survive to see the whole works spiral down the toilet drain.

    I liked the Martian for that reason: There was a lot of serious crap rained down on the main character. There wasn’t a lot of despair. There wasn’t a lot of rubbing the audience’s face in things not being fixable.

    I’ve also discovered a new author (not sci fi. Fantasy-ish. Of strange mashup genres, but well done), and I find I’m actually having a lot of fun with his books. I really like his books because the worlds he dreams up aren’t dying, aren’t grim and gritty, aren’t ugly. The worlds he describes are places you might like to visit. His characters are generally heroic. His view of human nature seems to be far more benevolent than the “They’re all scum. Some of them might be wheedled into being on your team.” view that I get over and over again. Self published too.

    Check Paul Kidd out, if you haven’t already.
    http://www.amazon.com/Effectuators-Horrors-Night-Paul-Kidd-ebook/dp/B006BJGYI6/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1443614938&sr=8-2&keywords=paul+kidd+the+effectuators

    • Paul Kidd’s favored plot device seems to be: Take genuinely decent people who have constructed a liveable world (or microcosm), and throw monsters at them. Then have them win.

      Come to think of it, the Martian’s main plot device was: Take genuinely decent people trying to do something insanely difficult and throw a wrecked Mars mission at them. Then have them win.

      • I just bought GeneStorm(?)

      • There’s the problem with the despair mongers and Writers of the Grey Goo — they don’t know, much less like, any genuinely decent people.

        • Oh, indecent people can be great fun. It’s depressing people that are the problem. Generally, the indecent are not depressing – or at least not dull.

          • By and large I find that depressed people can be depressing and I have to remind myself that this is not always so. I have always had a bit of a soft spot for Eeyore and Puddleglum.

            • Puddleglum was morose, not depressed. Had no difficulty carrying on with the quest as much as Jill and Eustace.

              • A point. And he had less trouble with the quest in the end. Even if light should it be nothing but a vapor in memory it is better than embracing the darkness.

                • The truth of ‘life as it should be’ (to switch works of fiction.)

                • Depressed people are not fun to be around, and they usually can be – when it’s real depression, not just feeling sad – pretty useless too, at least for anything requiring real effort (depends on how deep it is, of course).

                  Somewhat off topic, but: what is worst for _them_ (or at least for me when I’ve had that problem) are two completely different approaches, both the determinedly upbeat “hey it can’t be *that* bad, now get a grip and go and DO something” and the other, people who keep on pointing out the depressing in the world when you are trying to find something uplifting.

                  Have dealt with both. You can’t just go and “get a grip” when you are in the middle of it, but it seems to be possible to inch away from it. Stories where characters don’t have it easy, and aren’t perhaps overly optimistic, but just keep on doing little stuff, day by day, until they get to a point where they can maybe go for the big effort can help. As well as stories in which the main characters mostly treat the whole thing as a comedy even when it does get dark. And then they win. Because that seems to work for depression too. Day by day, find out what makes you feel what, and then search out what makes you feel a bit better and avoid everything that has the opposite effect to the extent you can. And then you can, with luck, get to the point where you finally CAN get a grip.

                  Treat yourself as an experiment in progress, find out what makes you tick, search out what makes you more functional.

                  On the other hand, for somebody prone to depression all those modishly grimdark stories are the damn last thing one should look at, and I damn well hate when they are promoted to me because they are so “real” or “deep” or whatever. Besides all other concerns, no, most of them actually aren’t. An overprotected child who finally gets to the point where they have to deal with the real world, at least to some extent, may think so, but if you grow up for real you should get past that stage. Thinking that being adult means embracing all the dark is about as mature as thinking that being adult just means being sexually active.

                  I admit I have never had really difficult depression, although I have gotten to the middle stages or close a couple of times during the years when I didn’t know I was suffering from SAD and let myself start thinking that I was useless as a human because I could not function well in middle of the winter, which led to something of a downward spiral where I then didn’t fully get out of that during the summer either, and then next winter it would be worse… finding out why I could not function in the winter, and that it was not a character fault, helped a lot. But what finally got me out of the spiral was starting to do that experimenting. Some of my more, er, religious, I guess, beliefs helped too, I think that I have a soul that is the “real” me, and that this soul has been somewhat fused with the body for the duration of life, but the body is still more of a waldo than a part of the real me, so if the waldo has problems it’s not necessarily a reflection of my real worth. Should do my best to and try and fix it to the point I can, though, because if I don’t that does say something of the real me. No religious debates, thank you, I don’t claim that that is the way it works, just that I need to think that way because it helps me to function better. And yep, I’m afraid I still care more about the brain than the rest of my waldo which has not been maintained all that well, it has never been even close to the optimum condition it could have been brought to…

                  And I’d say, if it looks like you have actual depression you really need to start dealing with it right away, before it gets any worse. Mild can be fudged with, but the worse it gets the harder it will be to get out of it, even with help.

                  (Got a bit long, sorry).

                  • Somewhat off topic, but: what is worst for _them_ (or at least for me when I’ve had that problem) are two completely different approaches, both the determinedly upbeat “hey it can’t be *that* bad, now get a grip and go and DO something” and the other, people who keep on pointing out the depressing in the world when you are trying to find something uplifting.

                    YES! Yes, this.

                    After someone attempted to ‘encourage’ me by telling me to get a grip and pull myself up by my bootstraps I recall contemplating the fact that it was a ridiculous image. Really. Think about it.

            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              Not sure about Eeyore, but Puddleglum “kept on trucking”. [Smile]

              • My mom use to quote Eeyore’s response to his house collapsing a lot: “Oh well. Guess I better get to putting it back together.”

                I think it may be a thread of English depression that is best dealt with via fatalistic determination– “It’s hopeless, so of course the only possible response is to keep going.”

            • Keep in mind Freddie Prinz, and Robin Williams. Not every morose person is depressed; not every cheery person is happy.

        • What puts me off in a bunch of fantasy novels is that they seem to be all about the scheming. I’m not really interested in baroque plots with scheming. If I want to read about plots I’ll read the newspapers. It seems like the written version of gossip. Small people seeking small ends in a small world.

          • I hate politics in my fiction. At least, centrally. Madeleine and the Mists did turn out to have quite a bit — as things Madeleine needed to maneuver about by non-political means.

          • This is an old complaint. LeGuin complains about it in one of the essays in Drawing Down the Dark (sadly, very out of print). She quotes a long passage of two characters discussing a coming royal council meeting in a fantasy novel (I suspect a Deryni novel but the names are not provided to protect the guilty) then says she sat it down only to pick up a very different novel. She then quotes this very different novel with a passage about two characters discussing an upcoming Senate Committee meeting.

            Of course, they are the same section with just the terminology specific to the royal council replaced with the committee. She then contrasts that to several passages from classic fantasy (Tolkien among them).

          • Bill Whittle pointed out that the reason the first three Star Wars movies were so much better than the prequils is that the original trilogy involved people with American accents doing things while the pretenders featured people with British accents talking about things.

      • When you describe it like that, I have to take a look.

      • Paul Kidd’s favored plot device seems to be: Take genuinely decent people who have constructed a liveable world (or microcosm), and throw monsters at them. Then have them win.

        SOLD!

        Well, on the wish list, actually– eight bucks is a little high right now, since the gov’t budget hissyfit means that my husband won’t be doing his “one weekend a month” as scheduled.

    • The Martian was easily the best new sci-fi author I’d read since Alastair Reynolds came out. It was full of nice techy details and a main character who was working those techy details to achieve his goal.

      I didn’t think of it in terms of despair but there it is.

      Interestingly enough Reynolds’s early books deal with the same thing: humanity facing extinction due to robots programmed to kill any intelligent species which extends beyond one solar system with the ability to manipulate stars into burning planets with induced and directed solar flares (to give one example). They add in humanity, as always, engaged more with petty wars among itself interfering with stopping them.

      Yet the characters do struggle and despite making bad choices which replace one enemy with another find a way for humanity to survive millions of years in the future.

      I don’t mind “a grimdark future that is teetering over the edge of the apocalypse, and it’ll take everything the characters have to survive”. Reynolds’s world in his early novels is like that. I don’t even mind characters knowing they are going to their deaths in that struggle. What I do mind is “see the whole works spiral down the toilet drain”. Lots of major characters, as well as billions of faceless extras, die in the fight in those books. However, every major character who goes down goes down “on the bounce, head up, still swinging”.

      At least one goes to her death quite willingly to save others when she could have saved herself in atonement for past misdeeds. How much more interesting is she than someone who swoons and dies (unless it is the goth community’s “hand, staple, forehead swoon” maneuver which is much more satirical as it is serious).

    • So, I checked out Kidd and, to get to yesterday’s topic, $7.99 is a steep hill for a first time eBook. I did grab the sample, though.

      Remember, I liked Wearing the Cape enough to order the sequel upon finishing and still balked at a $7.99 eBook. Once you start hitting $8 I’m going to want something physical (in part because that is where MMPB seem to be sitting…same price for electrons vs. paper you’d better be on my good side).

    • Three times now, I’ve been on different British blogs, made a suggestion, and got a wrathful response along the line of “You Americans, you think that every problem has a solution!”

      Well, maybe if you define yourself by your problems, solutions aren’t what you want…

      • Every problem does have a solution: Die, mother-f[ ]cker!

        Many problems do not have pleasant solutions. The question is always: what price will you pay?

      • “problem” admits of several meaning. One would admit that G.K. Chesterton did grasp one of them here:

        “I think the oddest thing about the advanced people is that while they are always talking of things as problems, they have hardly any notion of what a real problem is. A real problem only occurs when there are admittedly disadvantages in all courses that can be pursued. If it is discovered just before a fashionable wedding that the Bishop is locked up in the coal-cellar, that is not a problem. It is obvious to anyone but an extreme anti-clerical or practical joker that the Bishop must be let out of the coal-cellar. But suppose the Bishop has been locked up in the wine-cellar, and from the obscure noises, sounds as of song and dance, etc., it is guessed that he has indiscreetly tested the vintages round him; then indeed we may properly say that there has arisen a problem; for upon the one hand, it is awkward to keep the wedding waiting, while, upon the other, any hasty opening of the door might mean an episcopal rush and scenes of the most unforeseen description.”

    • A leavening of darkness is good, IMO. (I mean, come on. It’s me. 😉 ) It’s the dark that really makes the light pop out.

      It’s when you go _all_ dark, as is happening too much in tradpub, that it gets to be a problem.

  2. Meredith Dixon

    “Cui bono,” not “qui bono.” But yes.

  3. I love the Cross Time Engineer reference.

    Probably the biggest change in my 50 year life has been the internet. It crept in so slowly, and around the edges, that I think most people don’t even realize the change that it made. MMORPG’s are just fun games. Cat pictures are cute. Internet porn, need we say more.

    But many of our gatekeepers are GONE. Publish a book? Easy, technically anyway. Make music? What used to take a million dollar studio is now a closet and a grand in software and equipment. Ditto movies, although the cost to entry is larger.

    And, if we choose to, we can fact check from anywhere and any time. I have much of the worlds knowledge at my fingertips. Yes, we have more trouble sorting the wheat from the chaff, but it so very much better than only hearing the approved narrative. I see the traditional news media yelling louder and louder, yet hear them less and less.

    Despair is easy to find. Easy to sell. It makes it easy to control the story. It takes work to find things on your own, to get informed, to dream. But if we dare to dream, we can find it is a pretty wonderful world.

    • Re: movies. The last time I was in a movie theater, every singe preview was for a sequel or a remake of something that had already been done. Hollywood has become so inbred that it makes the 18th century Hapsburgs look cosmopolitan. I can’t wait for the technology and – more importantly – the distribution networks to get to the point that we can see some creative movies again.

      • Moving pictures require more work – and more people – than written stories, but all those fan made Star Trek and Lord of the Rings fanfiction stories on youtube, not to mention some original movies etc too, are promising. It’s not quite here yet, but definitely coming.

        • I used to help a friend out with 48 Hour Film Festival projects. It really doesn’t take much more than care to get decent results.

        • Music video example:

          • Heh. Like that one. Better than Kesha’s original version.

            (I don’t like her singing style or the words or much anything else of in the original versions she sings, but just the music stripped of everything else if often good enough, at least you could usually dance to it, so parodies and filks and whatever, welcome. 🙂 )

            • I’d actually never heard the original until long after I saw the video…and still mentally translate it as “Like a low-medium-pay-grade government worker.”

              It’s technically “GS-6,” but everyone CALLS it a “G-6 job”…. (A bit under $40k/year in San Diego.)

              From the context, I gather that it’s supposed to be “like a high roller,” and I’m hearing it as “like a get-your-foot-in-the-door job.”

              • Wasn’t the original actually done by some group called Far East Movement? I think that Ke$ha did a remake/parody of “Like a G6”. I think they mashed up this Ke$ha song with the chorus of “Like a G6”

                I’m weird, but I actually like Ke$ha, (I get some strange looks, even from people that know my eclectic tastes in music, when she comes on my stereo) but this is not one of her best songs, IMO.

                • <= doesn't know her from Adam's off ox, barely knows the original song.

                  • I recommend staying that way. Her videos tend to be the sort to appeal to youngun’s, lots of glitter, bright flashy lights, and stuffed animals. Some of her lyrics however… while acceptable for radio are not something you want your five year old repeating.

                • Ke$ha joined Alice Cooper on What Baby Wants on his Welcome 2 My Nightmare. I really want a gif of her reading of Oh really?. It could be so useful when posting…

                • Not a fan of her music, but I rather admire someone who attends math and physics lectures for fun. Which she apparently does.

      • I’ve known some studio execs: A more wretched hive of individual examples of scum and villany would be difficult to imagine. Really slimy guys (never known any female execs), mostly whose talet is “making the deal”.
        When you are basically a used car salesman elevated to studio greenlight levels with power over hundreds of millions of dollars of project budget, and you have a choice between an innovative new story on the one hand and another reboot of TJ Hooker – The Motion Picture on the other, the one that will sink your career fastest is the new story. There’s no one to blame if it fails other than yourself.
        But if you pick the TJ Hooker remake, you get to blame the director’s interpretation of what is obviously your studios valuable intellectual property: “Hey, it was successful the last three times! Sure. looking back I should have hired a better director, but this guy made such great music videos! How was I to know he couldn’t walk right from what are effectively 3 minute silent movies into a 100 minute movie?”

  4. Learned helplessness – Seligman – throw enough inescapable adversity at a set of individuals and many of them will “learn” that there is “nothing they can do” and quit trying, i.e., they will become hopeless and despair. A minority, but a sizable minority, will never quit trying to escape and, when a way out opens, will find it. Those who learn helplessness can unlearn it, i.e., they can become more optimistic thinkers, by learning not to overgeneralize adversities by saying “it’s always going to be this way” and “this will blight everything I try.” Rather, optimistic thinkers say, “only that” and “over and done with” and start looking for the next thing they can try to control. Once they get hold of a piece of control, they just keep tugging until they rip open a pathway to their goal. Those of us who didn’t develop this pattern in our thinking as youngsters can practice it and gain the benefits.

    This seems to me to be what has happened and is happening in indie publishing. Some who were being fed “inescapable adversity” by publishers just wouldn’t give up. Some grabbed a corner of the fabric of “reality” called Baen and tugged open new pathways. Others have grabbed Amazon & Kindle and are doing the same. So, the black dog of despair is now facing the other way and it is large publishing firms that can think “this is going to always be with us” and “it’s going to affect everything we do.” And, in a sense, they are right. The terrain is changing and they will need to adjust. But, there are still unmet needs out there which they may be well-positioned to meet, though I suspect they are going to need to simultaneously become both more author-centric and more reader-centric to make that transition. The exact shape of that transition is beyond me, but I’m pretty sure they won’t make it until they accept the event that has happened and find their piece of control (and value!) to tug on. Yes, the change in the production and distribution channels and economics for entertainment reading is big, but it isn’t everything – there’s still room for editors, artists, and marketers to make a difference, but the levers of control are different, and I strongly doubt that pricing e-books higher than hardbacks is going to put those levers back into the hands of publishing houses.

    • The problem is, of course, that frequently there is nothing you can do, you have to cope or work around something. Fictionally, we have the moment in Order of the Stick when Roy realizes that there is nothing he can do to change his father, and stops trying. One can no doubt multiply from real life.

      “By no striving of mine can I reach a goal that is beyond my grasp” is one of the Copybook Headings. Or, if you want a more Murkian phrasing, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”

      This is why Prudence is the first of the cardinal virtues. Judging what is the right thing to do in any given situation is complex.

      • “By no striving of mine can I reach a goal that is beyond my grasp” is one of the Copybook Headings. Or, if you want a more Murkian phrasing, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”

        Another phrasing is “pick your battles”.

        This, incidentally, is where I generally end up at loggerheads with the “ideological purity” wing of the libertarian movement.

        • You don’t think it’s great tactics to turn on allies against deadly enemies over “what do we do when we’re NOT facing deadly level challenges”?

          Goodness, you Splitter, you.

  5. “…I understand why despair is considered a sin. This is not always the case, and I’ve always had an issue with, say, sloth, since – being active by nature – I can’t imagine a worst punishment than being forced to do nothing.”

    Interesting comparison, inasmuch as the two are more closely related than you might think. The original word that is translated as “sloth” is acedia, which turns out to be what Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acedia) calls “mental sloth”, and which they also compare (indirectly) to depression.

    So despair is basically either acedia or a direct consequence of acedia. So–as it turns out–you do understand “sloth” better than you think–you just have to understand it as something other than physical laziness! 🙂

  6. At any rate, forgive me if I put up a BFP today.

    What is to forgive? There are some things that we need to be reminded of on a regular basis.

  7. I’m well acquainted with despair. You could say it is an old friend of mine, except that despair is no one’s friend.

    Yes.

    Hopes 😦 –> 🙂

    • Despair may be no one’s friend, but it is many a person’s drinking companion.

      (Damn the language warriors – that reads much better as “… many a man’s drinking companion.”)

  8. I am new here. This is not a repeat for me. And day-yamn, nearly out in 2011 or 2012?! Ouch. I recall you from 2007, so… something bad tried to happen? Well, evidently whatever it is.. will just have to despair, won’t it? Sock it to ’em!

  9. I’ve hit glass ceilings and walls and illness and even disrespect for my abilities. I don’t always crash through … there are times that I am driven to succeed and there are times that I have to re-evaluate. Somethings that I try to crash through are not for me. 😉 Yes, and I have felt despair. Actually very recently.

    The nice thing about it is that when I hit rock bottom, there is no where to go but up. TG for options even when I can’t see them for the tears.

  10. I think I’m dealing with a little of this right now. I’m looking around at where I am and suddenly I’m worried, that maybe this is as far as I go, that maybe I’ve reached the top and it’s all downhill from here.
    It’s subtle and insidious, and it’s worse when you don’t have others to talk to about it.

  11. Well, there’s despair and then there’s despair. The despair that is sin is the belief one is beyond the salvation of God. The other despair? Well, the prophets knew that if things continued along those lines the outcome wouldn’t be good. OTOH, they had inside information.

    I really think despair outside of the religious sense is a form of depression, and depression messes with your head. Depression whispers things will never get better; despair is the same. Both presume a perfect knowledge of the future. And since prophets are thin on the ground, we don’t have inside information to know if the words of depression/despair are so.

    The worst? Sometimes you pound your head against the wall over and over again and never think to ask if you should try going around. By the time you do, you’re often so tired of it all that you want to say to blazes with it.

    • Of course, it’s worth noting that even as the prophets were told that things were going to Hell in a handbasket and almost certainly nothing they did would change that, they were also told to get off their butts and get busy trying anyway (I paraphrase). God didn’t allow even those who knew with a virtual certainty that the future was screwed to give in to despair. Makes me think that he’d be even less interested in the whining of those of us who don’t know for sure.

      • Lately I’ve been thinking of Belshazzer. He had seen the writing on the wall – literally – and had been told what it meant. He still died on his feet, a scimitar in his hand.

        There’s a story, there, but I can’t get it to gel.

      • One might say that the lesson was avoid attachment to the consequences of your actions, which are not guaranteed.

      • Many of the prophecies were conditional (This will happen unless you repent, or This good thing will not happen this generation if you do a bunch of bad stuff).

        As you recall, Jonah was frightened to prophesy to Nineveh, but then was rather put out that his prophecy to Nineveh turned out to have been conditional.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          I think you can read the Book of Jonah as him trying to “get out of prophesying to Nineveh” because he was afraid that Nineveh would repent.

          IE He wanted Nineveh destroyed.

  12. Relevant:

    David [Horowitz] was raised Communist. This experience made him one of the best anti-Communists of our age. When he was 14, he was walking across the Triborough Bridge (in New York) with a mentor of his in the Party. They were on their way to a rally in defense of the Rosenbergs.

    Their conversation went something like this, I believe: “Sure,” said the Party veteran, “the Rosenbergs are working for our friends in Moscow. But it’s necessary to lie about this to advance the socialist cause. That’s why we are saying they were framed. This is revolutionary morality.”

    Something in the young David could not abide this. He had a sense that lying was wrong. He could not — not forever — remain a Communist, or even on the left.

    Solzhenitsyn said, “Live not by lies.” I sometimes think that the world is divided between those who do and those who don’t. Certainly, Communism, fascism, Islamism, and all the rest have depended very heavily on lies.

    Jay Nordlinger, at The Corner
    http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/424833/david-n-ethel-jay-nordlinger

  13. Despair, in its ultimate form has blighted more artistic careers,

    As one example, my recollection is that money problems, and his writing not bringing in much is a large part of what led to H. Beam Piper’s suicide–just as Little Fuzzy was taking off.

    • His agent had died, leaving his affairs in disorder. He was literally going without food.

      • Yes, but he was also not going outside, and not asking for help. He knew a lot of fannish and writer people who would have been delighted to have him stop by the house, and gone to pick him up or lent him some dough, or who would have bought a story from him sight-unseen for a fannish magazine. There were a zillion ways he could have dealt with his temporary money-flow problem (not uncommon among his writing peers), but he was too proud to do any of them. He didn’t want people to know about his true situation; he wanted them to think of him as a bon-vivant.

        So yeah, it was sad, but he also was being a jerk. Depression does that sort of thing.

        • And needless to say, his town did include churches and charitable organizations. But the same pride applied.

          “I will shoot pigeons from my window until I run out of bullets, and then I will shoot myself” is not a viable survival plan when you live in the midst of a land of plenty. Heck, he didn’t even go foraging in the parks, like Empress Zita. Freakin’ false pride and depression, probably mixed with hikikomori syndrome.

  14. I hear the Grocers of Despair deliver … but they usually get the order wrong. That’s what comes of letting hipsters pack the bags.

    • Patrick Chester

      The albino greeter is a bit creepy.

      “Welcome to the Grocers of Despaaaaaaiiiiiiiir… don’t even try to-*hack* *cough* *wheeze*”

  15. I was diagnosed with clinical depression at the age of ten. I’ve been on anti depressants since high school and probably will be for the rest of my life. That despair is a sin is a reminder I need every day. Thank you for today’s reminder.

  16. This post, along with recent discussion of Human Wave, gets me thinking.

    I had read a glowing review of “Dark Mirror,” a British Twilight-Zone-like TV series, and a list of the best episodes. I fired up Netflix and watched the supposedly best episode, “The Entire History of You,” about a troubled couple using the technology of life-recording to break up in the ugliest possible way. Now I’ve counselled couples who break into each other’s phones and this was much the same, but more horrific than even that could be.

    It was well-written, powerful, and depressing. Let’s focus on awful people and show how technology can enable them to be *even* *more* *awful*!

    Long-suffering partner threatened to take away my future votes for what to watch. He still blames me for “The Constant Gardener.” So I watched one more last night, “White Bear.” Again, awful people doing creepy things. Humans! Who would want to be like them?

    There’s no denying these are really great — artful, like the best short stories. But minus any Human Wave sense of struggling to beat back the darkness.

    Because being fully human has a *purpose*, if you are well-adjusted. It might be religious, it might be building Teilhard de Chardin’s Noosphere and reaching the Omega Point with as much knowledge as possible, it might be building the best world for your children’s children’s children. But there are positive goals to strive for, not just surviving and contending with other humans for a shrinking share of a shrinking world. Raising children is a risky exercise, and you do it when you have some faith in the future. Malthusian dread and belief in ever-darker futures kills off the will to fight and to win against those who would tear it all down.

    Grimdark art has its place as leavening for the “uplifting” stories that keep us going; maybe 10% of our stories might be grim, to remind us of the power of despair. “1984” is to remind us of how to avoid that fate, not a prediction. As “liberal” changed meaning (in the US) to become the opposite of free, “progressive” has become a belief in limits and controlling others. Academia, freed of the need to satisfy an audience by government support, now promotes arts that discourage accomplishment and exploration of expanding frontiers. We are to be afraid, to cluster for safety, to see other humans as threatening and in need of control. And to look to our academic and government betters for guidance, to deliver us from evil.

    It’s easy to despair when you are looking for a job or to publish your book and no one — literally no one — responds to your resume or submission. That’s when you get up and start your own business or self-publish. And regulators will try to stop you, legacy publishers will pretend you don’t exist, but customers will take a small chance on you, and if you listen to them, you can make it.

    • Oops, it’s “Black Mirror.”

    • Tell partner he has NO REASON to complain. Dan made me sit through The Pillow Book. He hated it too (also very grimdark, particularly the end) BUT we’d paid to get in, and by jingo, we were going to watch ALL of the awfulness. 😛

      • I don’t want to hear it from any of you given Crystal has taken to binge watching Glee. Yeah, mostly when I’m not home but after a later than normal day I can home to the grand finale of one episode.

        The only upside is I’ve told her she can never make fun of my collection of rom-coms again now that she’s a fan of that show.

        • Dan did that to me for years. Fortunately they jumped the political shark, so he no longer watches it. I still have to put up with Dontown abbey or whatever the stupid name is.

          • Now, Downton Abbeyis a little different. A non-insignificant portion of my social circle watch it as porn…and I do mean that quite literally (or maybe erotica if we have to be all fancy).

            • I don’t think that’s why Dan watches it. For me, the history “history” is so tinged with Marx I want to throw things through the screen.

            • I know a whole set who follow what they commonly referred to as BBC clothes porn. Even for spectacular costumes there is a limit to what I will watch.

              • Oh, there are tons of X-porn…for example much of what I watch is called competence porn.

                That is why I used the world literally…as in the formal service provided by the servants in the show induce a erotic response in them when they place themselves in the roll of those characters. There may be some who get an erotic charge from placing themselves in the role of those being served but I’m less likely to hear about that.

        • Shame on you! Glee is an enlightening television experience, one which makes you appreciate well-crafted programming all the more.

          see also: walls, banging head against

          • Right now the only show reallyl on my radar is finishing Leverage although I got a good vibe watching the premier of White Collar while searching for Leverage‘s replacement when I’m done.

            • Both Leverage and White Collar are really fabulous, although White Collar does have some issues with trying to maintain the tension between FBI handler and conman.

              • The thrill of both for me, and Burn Notice which I had watched prior is the competence porn aspect. In that Leverage is probably the weakest as it is more fantastic as opposed to “realistic” in what they do.

                White Collar based on the pilot falls between the two. I know USA developed it (and I believe Royal Pains) to appeal to the Burn Notice audience. Over time it also had issues with the tension between Michael and various agencies.

                • If you are in the mood for spy silliness, I cannot recommend the series Chuck highly enough. Overall an upbeat, vastly entertaining show. Great cast, usually great writing (they still suffered from the usual stupidity that infects tv writers when it comes to writing couples, but at least to a far lesser extent than other shows). Lots and lots of nerd references.

                  I need to finish watching White Collar and Leverage both, come to think of it…and start watching Burn Notice.

                  • The only criticism I can make of Chuck (and it is a mild criticism) is that it suffered from a lack of network support. They consistently had to write a season’s story arc for fifteen episodes, that being all they were contracted for, and then having to transition to another eight episode arc once the network extended them to the full season. The fact that they annually were renewed only at the last day also impaired their ability to build story arcs over seasons — everything they planted had to be harvested within the season, they could never count on coming back in a year.

                    Because they were being fair to their audience and writing everything to tie up neatly, the extensions were often a bit jarring, like hitting a rough patch between two sections of roadway.

                    That said, the series rewards repeated viewings, is great for binge-watching and has, as Sara says, great treats for geeks, with terrific in-joke guest stars.

      • Movie theatres do not exactly broadcast this, but if you find yourself in a movie that you truly* don’t like they will refund your ticket price. Naturally there are some reasonable standards applied; attempting this with five minutes remaining is likely to not work, but if you discover within the first 10 – 20 minutes that you have chosen poorly a polite request for refund will generally be granted. Asking for a pass to some other movie is even more likely to be recognized as it does not entail any book keeping problems.

        It is probably best to do this when the box office staff are not being overwhelmed by movie-goers clamoring for seats for the latest blockbuster.

        *Sincerity tests rarely applied

      • Just because you wasted your money on tickets for a movie you hated doesn’t mean that you also need to waste your time actually watching the damn thing.

        I was in my early twenties when someone pointed that out to me about books. Now, I feel liberated every time I read 1/3 of a book, say, “You know what? This sucks!” and dump it in the goodwill pile before rereading an old favorite.

        • I’ve only NOW managed to get husband to see this, and we’re in our fifties.

        • The summer and fall of the year I was born still hold many of the records for highs for the eastern U.S.. It was before many people had air-conditioning in their homes. Momma used to go to the matinee at the local movie theater for the cooling. She generally preferred a good movie, but that year the length really mattered. She told me that she was so happy when they re-released Gone With The Wind that summer.

          • I’m always cold, in general, but the last two months with Robert (who was born in July) I was so hot that I put our air conditioning to 50 in our little house in Charlotte. The windows cracked from the difference between interior and exterior temperatures.

        • I’m reading “one of those” books right now, kindle says I’m 71% of the way through it, and it STILL hasn’t grabbed me. The main characters could all die terribly and pointlessly, completely outside the plot line that I’m assuming is there somewhere (it’s reading more like a slice-of-life than a plot line), and I don’t think it would bother me. It is from an author that I usually like (not on my most favorite list, but one I generally pick up if I see a new title come out that isn’t too far outside my interests).

          The problem is, I’m STUCK. I can’t seem to bring myself to not finishing it. I’ve been reading it for well over a week (it usually only takes me 2 to 3 days to devour even a sizable book) and it is eating it’s way through my reading time where I could be reading books that I would actually enjoy. BUT… BUT… I LIKE this author… (Usually). I keep thinking one of the characters will do something endearing at any moment and it will turn out great!

          At this point, I’m close enough to the end of the book that I’m probably going to stick it out and see IF there is even an ending worthy of being called that. I wouldn’t be surprised if the characters are in the middle of breakfast and “THE END” just pops up right in the middle of the scrambled eggs, followed by “Wait for the next book in the series coming out whenever, it might just be interesting”

          Sadly, It’s damaged my trust in that particular author, so next time I see her name on a book, I may not be as inclined to pick it up. Truthfully, it may depend upon the size of my “to read” pile at that moment.

          • There is a nomenclature I have found useful for exactly the type of book you describe. We are all familiar with the description “a book you can’t put down.” Extending that we get to your circumstance: a book easy to put down and hard to pick back up.

            There are also books which are easy to put down and easy to pick back up, and books you have no interest in picking up in the first place, even if you’re on your fifth cocktail and it has a brown paper bag over its cover.

  17. One of the things that was explained to me when I was being treated for depression was that what made people suicidal was not how bad they felt then, but the conviction that it was never going to get better, that there wasn’t ever going to be “one more happy day” (see “Superman and the Jumper” for where I got that line–when Superman is written well, he’s very good indeed).

    That “it’s not going to get better, this is it” is insidious. And part of it is especially damaging if the situation that one believes isn’t going to get better isn’t all that bad on some objective level. If you have something really bad–recent loss of a loved one, painful battle with cancer, that sort of thing–people are there for you, supporting you and trying to help you if only with emotional support. But if the “problem” is modest in nature, some rut you don’t see yourself ever being able to break out of and the responses you get are “look at X who has it so much worse” well, that just reinforces the root problem.

    Often it’s not the “things are bad now” that gets people but the “there’s no hope things will get better”.

    • Re: Depression. My understanding is that actual full blown clinical depression has an actual chemical cause in neurotransmitter imbalances in the brain. It pretty much has to be fixed chemically (ie. your brain is physically broken and is incapable of emotionally evaluating the world positively) – people who try to “tough it out” untreated end up suiciding at a much higher rate than people who merely have external problems causing depression as a reaction to circumstances.

      • Sorry, that came out wrong. Also, disclaimer I am not a psychologist.

        I was just trying to warn that actual depression is somewhat different from despair due to circumstances (or ennui or anything more minor), and people who have it need to be careful.

      • Been fighting depression for decades. The only time I had suicidal thoughts — the idea popping into my head at random — was literally the happiest time of my life.

        I’m old enough now I know there some things I’ll never do (raise kids), and some things are as likely as the sun rising in the west (a wife), my parents are in their last days, and work is a stress festival (six people on the team, eight projects with high profiles, and deadlines of tomorrow) but no suicidal thoughts.

      • Yep. It runs in my family.

  18. Pingback: “Black Mirror” | The Substrate Wars

  19. the responses you get are “look at X who has it so much worse” well, that just reinforces the root problem.

    This, along with all its variants such as “first world problems” have become a real pet peeve of mine. They are essentially solispism, sometimes by proxy, that makes the person to whom they are directed not real Human suffering is not a mathematical chain where at the bottom is a finite number of people whose plight is worse than all others or not comparable to determine position to those at the bottom.

    Such remarks endorse such conclusions and deserve the condemnation of what they give by rebuking all complaint by the utterer until they learn their error.

    • The most first world of all first world problems is being annoyed by someone else’s having first world problem.

      • I think people without feet are reasonable to be annoyed at complaints from people whose shoes are untrendy.

        • I have yet to hear someone who is homeless or from the worst of Africa use the phase. People who even by Western standards are well off, however, tend to use it quite a bit to dismiss people they “know” are their inferiors.

          • “I wept because I had migraines until I met a man without a head. He was a US Senator.”

          • Homeless people are more likely to express sympathy for your suffering and offer to play their teeny-tiny violins to accompany your tale of woe.

    • Or as my mother says to my dad when he berates himself for complaining about his knee pain because she suffers from chronic pain. “When it hurts it hurts.”

      I will concede that there are some times when the reasonable reaction to someones complaint of suffering is ‘Really? You have to be kidding me.’ But those tend to be cases of melodrama rather than real suffering, however small.

      • People who play the “you can’t be sad if someone else has it worse” seem to forget that that would also lead to “you can’t be happy if someone else has it better”.

        Of course, that might explain liberals.

        • It certainly explains Bernie Sanders and his supporters.

          • Actually, some variant of “how can you have fun when gay, transgendered, differently abled, minority whales who love baby seals are being hunted” is a common liberal refrain in my experience.

            • They’re kill joys. As P. J. O’Rourke put it, they’re the equivalent of the killjoy minister son in their group when he was young. They tied that guy to a fence, put milk in a crucial place, and turned a half-weaned calf loose on him. He says we should do the same to commies. With nukes. I’m not sure what that means, but I like it.

    • What, you don’t get an emotional boost from ripping into someone for accusing you of sadism? (Well, what ELSE do you call someone who feels good because someone else is hurt?)

      • One of the things you learn in certain places is there is no more vicious sadist than a hardcore masochist. It’s something other sadists rely on.

        Oh, and that is precisely what you call them. They come in two groups: those who realize that is off and find a socially acceptable way to indulge (for some definition of socially acceptable) and leftists.

  20. On the upside, we’ve apparently outlasted Lena Dunham. HBO has cancelled “Girls” and she’s quitting Twitter.

    One brick at a time…

  21. Look at Heinlein, a smart man and most of us would say an optimist, who chose not to have children, avowedly (yes, I’m aware there might have been other reasons) because “the world was such a mess.”

    Sad statement of a culture when that has a chance of being the polite fiction.

    Been talking to a lady who has secondary infertility who joined a Catholic home-school group just so that she wouldn’t have folks assume and praise her for her “perfect family.” (Girl and a boy, the “right” distance apart.)

    Like you, Sarah, she wanted a houseful.

    (No, she doesn’t go around telling everyone about this. There are just some people who will always manage to miss the Psychic Memo about topics to avoid, and end up jumping in the middle of someone’s big sore spot.)

    • Yep. We have two. People assume that we meant two, three and a half years apart. We meant eleven.
      Weirdly a great part of the issue was the botched first caeserean. If we’d avoided that… and, yes, if ifs and an’s.
      As is, if we weren’t so tight I’d have put word on my fan groups “If you are pregnant, before considering abortion, consider letting us adopt your child.” Who knows. Something might come of it.

      • Comments on family size are rude. There is just no way that it is a stranger’s place to comment, and a lot of hidden pain. (And nasty comments about large families are murderously rude. It is like saying, “Let me tell you which of your kids should die.”)

        One of the bad parts of our current society is the tendency to comment about other people’s business, with open rudeness and to their faces. I wish we would grow the heck up.

        • Especially since it keeps folks raw, so they CAN’T take something like “you’ve got four kids?” as a simple inquiry about the amount of treats to bring, or “you don’t have kids?” as checking if it’s physically possible to offer you a lift.

          I’ve got an aunt who has apparently decided that she needs to tramatize my kids by lecturing me about having too many kids. At every family event. And our eldest is aware enough that she WILL catch on, soon, and already is trying to figure out what Dear Auntie is talking about.
          Trying to figure out if I should pull the indirect warning thing– mention the Princess’ response to the family gossip– or draft someone to run interference, since she always decides to do this while we’re guests at someone elses’ party. Mildly rude confrontation didn’t work, just made her double-down.

          • “No, I don’t have nearly enough. On the other hand, I think my parents [my spouse’s parents] appear to have had one too many.”

            No, I don’t play well with others when that means playing with those who feel no obligation to play well with me.

          • Warn her once. Second time, punch her in the face.
            (Waiting for the aspirin to kick in, one of those headaches).
            But really, if you can’t punch your obnoxious relatives in the face, who can you?

            • Unfortunately not an option. She fights like a girl– and I don’t mean in the flailing sense, I mean in the picking her time to act sense. (Plus, I feel sorry for her– I’ve noticed that it happens shortly after anybody mentions that her favored child has done something he either laughable or childish.)

              • The just scream real loud and yell ‘keep you hands OUT of my dress!’ and tell everyone within earshot how she tried to molest you.
                Embarrassment can be just as good as a punch in the face, and the more outrageous the better…

                • Not the thing to do when the event is hosted by another aunt who is dealing with multiple life threatening or maiming issues.

                  Like I said, she picks her times– when responding is what will actually cause the pain in others….which is also what might make the whisper campaign thing work.
                  That’s the problem with setups. They can backfire.

  22. There’s a great book on this topic by Myrna Blyth.
    Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness — and Liberalism — to the Women of America

    • Second the recommendation. I read it when it first came out and kept nodding and saying ‘so That’s what I’m seeing. So that’s what happened.”

  23. questionableprovenance

    Worse than a sin: suicidal on many levels
    https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-24/edition-1/survival-psychology-wont-live

    And that expression says it all: “The won’t to live.”

  24. Wasn’t “Grocers of Despair” a Leonard Cohen song from way back when?

    Oh the Grocers of Despair, they are not departed or gone.
    They were waiting for me when I thought that I just can’t go on.
    And they brought me discomfort and later they brought me this song.
    Oh I hope you run into them, you who’ve been travelling so long.
    Yes you who must leave everything that you cannot control.
    It begins with your family, but soon it comes around to your soul.
    Well I’ve been where you’re hanging, I think I can see how you’re pinned:
    When you’re not feeling holy, your loneliness says that you’ve sinned.

  25. “Look at Heinlein, a smart man and most of us would say an optimist, who chose not to have children, avowedly (yes, I’m aware there might have been other reasons) because ‘the world was such a mess.’ ”

    Source please?

    I have read that he wanted to have children but had a very low sperm count or something.

    • The first volume of the Patterson bio.

      • Thank you! I’ll have to re-read it. I thought the same biography mentioned his fertility problem. (Moral: Never read in bed; decreased retention when you’re falling asleep. But that seriously cuts down on reading time. Oh dang….)

      • Found it! This is why I like having both paper and ebook editions:

        1940:
        “Leslyn and I intended to have children when we got married, but a combination of circumstances made it difficult. I came down with T.B.; I was retired which brought half-pay; the years piled up and now Leslyn is thirty-six and the world is in a hell of a mess. If she should become pregnant inadvertently, we would acquiesce cheerfully. In the mean time we have no plans for children of our own.” 72
        –volume 1 of Patterson’s Heinlein biography, pp. 266-267

        1954:
        “But that was not the worst of it: Campbell went on that he lacked serious social purpose because he did not have children….He did not tell Ginny about this incident: Ginny would have been offended by that no-kids-equals-no-social-consciousness crack— but she knew something he did not. In their last round of fertility testing, 24 the doctor had let her see the slides of Robert’s sperm sample: There were no wigglers living in it at all. “I never told him that,” Ginny later remarked. “He would have been devastated. I just let him think that it was that ‘mutual infertility.’ ” 25
        –volume 2 of Patterson’s Heinlein biography, pp. 118-119

        • So it sounds like “the world is a mess” was World War II and the lead up to the US entry into it. Later, when that was over, he apparently wanted to have kids with Ginny but couldn’t.

        • Shrug. I knew a couple where he had no living wigglers at all, and three months later she was pregnant and the kid is indisputably his. Back then the doctors weren’t… well…
          but yeah.

        • And you know, I don’t know if he realized he had hundreds of children, even a Portuguese daughter far away. But I hope at some point he sensed it.

          • I think he knew. But make that not hundreds but many many many thousands. He could be well satisfied with having made a big difference in the world.