“Existential Angst” has become such a cliché that I’m forced to put it in quotes, but it sure describes how I’ve felt today.
One of the bad things about being relatively smart is that your vocabulary is too big to let yourself just have “the blahs,” so you spend the day wallowing in a swirling dung-heap of German, French, and Latinate roots and spouting psycho-babble and imagining you’ve developed acute anhedonia.
I’ve read a number of M. Scott Peck’s books, and since I’ve forgotten more than most people ever know, I remember very little, but two things stuck with me:
The first is that he opens The Road Less Travelled with the simple statement, “Life is hard.”
The second is that he described something called cathexis that I really identify with, pun intended. See, cathexis is the investment of psychological energy into ideas, objects, groups, and people. In simplistic terms, if something has sentimental value to you, then you cathect it. I just think of it as caring about something, the way I actually “love” my old ’89 Honda Accord, or worry about my aquarium or my vegetable garden – it’s crazy! I mean, why should I care about whether other people appreciate Elliott Smith (a lot), if I don’t care about who won the last Superbowl (at all)? Here is why: I love Elliott Smith’s music, and I’ve come to identify myself with it, and taken it into myself, and I want you to love me, so you have to love Elliott too. And because I was a scrawny brainiac, football is anathema to me. (I told you this stuff was crazy.)
Here’s another way to look at it. Cathexis is kind of like the opposite of catharsis. Catharsis is how you get things out, like screaming into a pillow or kicking the dog. Cathexis is how you invite things in, and I’m a cathexis junkie.
Unfortunately, cathecting things takes time. It’s a lot faster and easier not to do something than to do it. It’s easier to have a weed patch than a garden. It’s easier to not have an aquarium than to have one. Life is hard, you don’t get something for nothing, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and you really have to try, but no less a man than Homer J. Simpson said it best when he told his kids, “Trying is the first step towards failure.”
So I’m planning to take some time to rethink what I’ve chosen to identify with and care about and try.
And with that, dear reader, I believe my catharsis is complete.