I have had what most people would consider an intense life. I didn’t know it for a long time. For much of my youth, I often thought about how boring my life was, how I should jetset more, have more love affairs, do more extreme sports. And, truth be told, I haven’t done much traveling, sleeping around, or BASE jumping. The intensity in my life has been emotional.
I’ve known the abject fear of living under the threat of deportation, of crossing the border undocumented, of living with a mercurial parent, of subsisting hand-to-mouth. I’ve faced financial ruin through a contentious divorce, and have felt daunted by the prospect of raising kids and taking care of a house alone. I’ve dated on crazy websites and tried nutty things in search of love.
But here’s what I’ve learned recently: much of the intensity in my life has been self-created. I have chosen to go back to partners whom I knew would hurt me, again and again. I have cut it close. I have thrown caution to the wind, and then yelped at the inevitable circumstances. From the chaos of a childhood I could not wait to escape I developed a habit for feeling extreme feelings, for chasing the saddest stories, for going after the wrongest man.
I’ve been thinking about this lately because of what’s going on politically in our country. Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, these last three years have been intense. It’s become something of an obsession for me, constantly monitoring events, delving deep into research on arcane constitutional matters, researching biographies and campaign law, and otherwise racking my brain to figure out what the heck is going to happen in the end, and how the wheels come off this whole, crazy thing. The inability to determine what’s coming has been engrossing… and intense.
My hyper-focus on current events takes up an inordinate amount of my time. I listen to political podcasts any time I’m in the car, or the latest tell-all on Audible. (I’ve got Woodward’s Fear on pre-order). I keep the news on on mute much of the time so I can scan headlines. I read a selection of publications each morning (I try to get a smattering of respectable conservative views, too, like the National Review), and I Google burning questions throughout the day, and often in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep. I almost can’t remember what I did before this. (I have vague memories of Real Housewives marathons).
This morning, with the topic of intensity front of mind, I wondered, “What is it going to be like once Trump is gone?” He’s like the unreliable but fun-as-hell boyfriend you know you have to get away from but somehow keep falling back in with. (Except, you know, with nuclear weapons and a ton of racism). Love him or hate him, it’s almost impossible not to watch him, a character of Shakespearean proportions, complex villain, hero with the massive tragic flaw who is sucking us all into his vortex. In some twisted way, we are all giving him exactly what he wants: constant attention. Like the child who would rather be hit than ignored, he baits us and we indulge him, raining op-eds and hate-tweets at him so that the light of our attention is on him at all times. And, like the children for whom hope springs eternal that maybe this time Dad won’t hurt us, we let ourselves be injured anew at each of his outrages.
It can’t last. It can’t last for him, or for us. And then what?
I think of my own intensity-seeking tendencies, and how I’ve worked, in the second half of my life, to see its destructive qualities, and to seek out steadier ways to meet my needs. I’m better, but not entirely cured. I’ll always choose an intense movie over a mindless one, a tearjerker over a comedy. But in my life, I am trying to mindfully cultivate the pleasures in steadiness and dependability. It’s not intuitive, but I think it’s healthier in the end.
The task will remain for us as a country to do the same, to ratchet down the rhetoric, to not have knee-jerk reactions about people from opposite sides of the aisle. To not howl for scalps at the first sign of trouble, but to let measured investigations play out. To look for the common cause we have with most everyone in our country – our children, our prosperity, our security – and remember that there’s satisfaction in these steady and dependable things, away from rallies and hateful chants, away from the scathing snark of superiority of many of us on the progressive side.
Can we do it? I hope so, because this intensity is exhausting.