It’s not often an athlete waxes any eloquence, more rarely so as Shakespearean in their use of repetition as Allen Iverson was some 10 years ago. “We’re talking about practice. Not a game, not a game, not a game. We’re talking about practice.” “Not a game, not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it’s my last. Not the game. We’re talking about practice, man.”
It’s one thing to be self-reflective – what a fine and therapeutic thing that is! – but entirely another to brood and whine so exhaustively that no one is willing to suffer your lamentations nor even bear your presence. That said, it is a great vehicle for a story. Truly, many of our most oft-quoted heroes are little more than bitter complainers who just need to be heard. (Note that they are all men.)
5. Ivanov (Anton Chekov, Ivanov) An overly dramatic fellow who really is a jerk to everyone around him, but he doesn’t know why and he really does seem to care, so much so that he takes it out on himself in the end. If an intelligent, educated, and healthy man begins to complain of his lot and go down-hill, there is nothing for him to do but to go on down until he reaches the bottom–there is no hope for him.
4. Josef K (Franz Kafka, The Trial) There is no doubt that Josef K has reason to complain – horribly treated by everyone around him, resulting in his inevitable abandonment and death – but what a depressing collection of thoughts! Yes, that’s the conspiracy: to persuade us all that the whole world is crazy, formless, meaningless, absurd. That’s the dirty game. So I’ve lost my case. What of it? You, you’re losing too. It’s all lost, lost. So what? Does that sentence the entire universe to lunacy?
3. Alvy SInger (Woody Allen, Annie Hall) A very funny neurotic to be sure, but it’s not hard to understand why Annie finally moved across the country to get away from him. I’m obsessed with uh, with death, I think. Big – big subject with me, yeah. I have a very pessimistic view of life. You should know this about me if we’re gonna go out. You know, I – I feel that life is – is divided up into the horrible and the miserable.
2. Holden Caulfield (J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye) A spoiled, selfish know-it-all who somehow holds the key to decent society. Kill all of the phonies. Indeed. It was that kind of a crazy afternoon, terrifically cold, and no sun out or anything, and you felt like you were disappearing every time you crossed a road.
1. Hamlet (Willy Shakespeare, Hamlet) A most moody fellow, profound in thought and discourse, not so great on doing anything – except for royally fucking everything up. What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?
In the film I’m Still Here (see yesterday’s blog), Joaquin Phoenix presents himself as a vile, cruel and vindictive drunk. It doesn’t come across as a joke, but a dark challenge to humanity, asking the chilling question: How bad can we be?
If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet, a recently opened Off-Broadway play by Nick Payne, examines this question as well. The fatherly academic George underlines his dim view of a species that willfully destroys its own world by directly asking, “Are we worth it?” The audience is left empty and doubtful too after witnessing the characters, including Jake Gyllenhaal’s most profane Terry, drift around in their sad isolation, as the stage floods from our suicidal global warming — depressing stuff indeed.
This isn’t anything new. Our storytellers have gone at our damaged and demented psyche from the beginning – including Aeschylus’ The Oresteia and Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice – right through to this not-so-sunny day. The message is always the same: we’re just not that great.A similar malaise permeates my novel, My Bad Side. No matter how much we have – and that’s the goal, isn’t it? – we’re still stuck with the knowledge that we’re just not worth that much. As Crystal states: I drink too much. I have a problem with it. But so fucking what? Everyone’s got something. Everyone’s dragged down by something. There isn’t much of anything in this life but pain and tears. The Greeks said it. Shakespeare said it. Salinger said it. Fucking everyone. That’s just what we have in this life, Anne-Lynn, a few moments of happiness and the rest is suffering and death. That’s life.
Uh…yeah, well, maybe we should just forget all of that for now. Everything’s cool., right? And it’s Friday! Time to party.