Current Conditions, Fall Walk on Mount Tabor

For this Fall walk on Mount Tabor, I took the same paths, photographing the same trees and views, as I did on a walk in Spring of last year.

This week’s Rolling Stone magazine sports a good psych-brain article on the difference between fear and anxiety. One difference is that fear appears to be a kind of GPS (Global Positioning System), constantly mapping our current conditions, while anxiety plays out what we’re thinking might happen to us at some point in the future. The angle of the RS article is the effect of so-called fear manipulation infusing the current election campaigns and resulting media coverage.

“No reason to get excited,” the thief, he kindly spoke
“There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late”

All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too…

Bob Dylan, “All Along the Watchtower

But I’m not always sure what comes first, the campaign or the media coverage, Dylan’s thief or his joker. It’s not fear but anxiety that’s being manipulated. Fear is immediate, warning and response: take cover; not here, not now, not me; play dead; run for the hills. The problem with anxiety is there is no response, only a warning. We’re incapacitated, not with fear, but with not knowing which way to turn. Fear draws a map; anxiety is a riptide we can feel but can’t see, “no direction home.”

Fall suggests to some only a warning winter is coming. Anxiety prevents us from feeling the truth of our current conditions. That is why in literature, Winter is the season of irony and satire, Fall the season of tragedy (Summer of romance, Spring of comedy). And our current conditions usually change slowly. Yes, the leaves are changing color and falling and Winter is icummen in, but an endless summer is impossible; it will take time to finish the new novel – I’m thinking Spring, 2017, before another book launch, but I’m not anxious about it, and certainly not afraid of it. When I’m writing, I feel no anxiety, like a walk in the park in Fall.

Gold in these pines

“We look before and after,” Shelley told his quiet skylark, “and pine for what is not.” Shakespeare would have enjoyed Percy’s pun, knowing naught comes from knot, “like quills upon the fretful porcupine,” this from the ghost of Hamlet’s father, and of Hamlet’s replies, “a happiness that often madness hits on,” follows from the bumbling fool of wise quotes, Polonius. Hamlet suffers the curse of anxiety, and one imagines the prince of plotters distracted by his Facebooking and Twittering, there staging his feigned feelings, for his mood is not hopeful.

And to what do we owe this staged post? To Jill Lepore’s “Dickens in Eden: Summer vacation with ‘Great Expectations.’” But just this, Jill quoting from one Andrew Miller, academic from Indiana, who, Jill says, “…argued that the novel [Great Expectations] is defined by ‘the optative mode of self-understanding,’ an experience of modern life, in which everything is what it is but could have been something else” (New Yorker, 29 Aug. 56). Ah, where’s a physicist when you need one? For how does one understand oneself when one’s creation is a matter of chance? But the mood of chance may be ever hopeful for a changed ending, a substitute ending, a revised ending.

And this is McTeague country, Naturalism, where Trina wins a lottery, an experience of modern life, for she might have lost, as everyone else does, and is not winning the equivalent to losing? And we were still considering the Greenblatt  (New Yorker, 8 Aug.), wondering if Rerum Natura might still come at a bargain, “By chance…By chance…By chance…” (29). But if everything happens by chance, why bother introducing any event as having happened by chance? Anyway, the chance of naught creates part of Hamlet’s anxiety, certainly, but even if he takes a Lucretius pill he still has his bad dreams – thus the not of the nutshell and infinite space.

In the pine, Shelley’s bird sings of jobs, of the disappearance of guilds, for what is not, and of winter in summer and the irony of discontent. This is the anxiety of our time, that it didn’t have to be this way; it “could have been something else.” Yet the physicist tells us that not only could it have been something else, it was something else; in fact, it was what it is and everything else. This is why we tell stories – like one of Leonard Cohen’s “lonesome and very quarrelsome heroes,” who would “like to tell my story before I turn into gold,” where gold is an antidote to anxiety.