This is what life feels like: out of the four or five different roles I play in a given week, two distinct minds arise most often: that of the experienced man who’s endured a few roadside ruts, and who’s ever tempted by cynicism; and that of the optimistic-leaning kid who feels the burden of life to be light and its outcomes mostly good. The older I get, the more the cynical man shuts out the optimistic kid, but I did notice a tendency toward the latter while staying up late last night watching Fred Armisen on the Netflix comedy special, Standup for Drummers.
Armisen is more endearing than outright funny, and I found that I wanted to keep watching him the same way I’d want to keep listening to a quirky and amusing friend. It was obvious the room where he performed was feeling it, too. The audience’s faces reflected affection rather than incredulity (like what you might find at a Dave Chappelle show, where the common reaction is “I can’t believe he said that!”). Where many comedians depend on outrageousness, Armisen exudes friendly irony; he could be Kurt Cobain’s mild-mannered and sanguine half-brother–just as capable of snarling social commentary, but with a delivery that wouldn’t be out of place on NPR.
Fred Armisen analysis aside, there was a feeling I had watching him (not exactly sure why) that felt like youthful optimism–a feeling that people are generally well-meaning, that there is still room for civility and lightheartedness among those who may not agree on everything but still place one another’s humanity first–first before, even, the need to be right, and while respecting each others’ capacity for figuring things out themselves. But then waist-deep in this blog, the old man (my other mind) comes slogging through, grumbling about the impossibility of this fragile scaffolding we call society. And all I can do is turn up my music and stare at the clouds.
People fade. This topic drifted through my head all weekend, sinking at times into forgetfulness, then carried by currents into different subconscious zones, rising unexpectedly to bob at the surface for a while. I’m not talking about the gradual forgetting that happens by successive generations after we die, I’m talking about the out-of-sight-out-of-mind phenomenon that happens very much while we’re still alive, the one that’s going on right now. Think about folks you knew in grade school, folks you’re not even friends with on social media–haven’t they faded for you? If and when you remember them–and that’s a big if–they’re as you last saw them, paused in youth or young adulthood. The truth is we rarely have significant reason to remember most the people we’ve forgotten, and that’s largely okay, I think. But then there’s the occasional someone we never thought we’d forget–a best friend, a former love, an adult that seemed like a third parent. Of course you remember them–who they were, what they meant to you–but it’s in a detached kind of way, like the way you remember a character from a television show you watched religiously.
This would hardly be worth writing about if it weren’t so strange–the way someone essential to our happiness twenty years ago is now such a non-factor as to almost never arise in thought. I guess it’s sad, or is it? I can’t decide. I do know this: it’s completely natural. Whether sad or not, it’s something as natural as eating. I’ve thought about lost relationships on occasion, wondering if I should mourn them or maybe try to recover them. But, tellingly, there’s little motivation to do either. Is this a flaw in my character? (Don’t answer that.) I suspect, too, it’s part of an emotional healing process. Except the rub in the healing theory is that often there’s little actual desire to heal. When things end naturally, often our response is simply to let them. Or in more famous words, to live and let die.