I have been known to dig up some of the front yard, pull out the rocks, and knead the clay into something my kids can play with. It takes some work and water, but boom. Next thing you know you they made a play dinner set, or a play person, or a ball, and I created plausible deniability for my own play. Best yet: the mess stays mostly outside.
I want my kids to play with raw materials because I worry about truncating their imagination. I feel my own atrophying, as life gave me VERY SPECIFIC THINGS TO ACCOMPLISH to take place of the aimless wondering childhood affords. To the extent parenting is trying to protect your children from your own bad experiences, here I am. Each year brings more questions than facts. And the vision I had in front of me of what the world could be starts slowly aligning more and more with what is, instead of the hopeful vision un-moored and un-anchored to reality that I had not even seven years ago.
When I cannot consider the possibility of something, when it seems too scary, it is holding something too true, to frightening to accept.
Am I cynical?
No! Of course not!
Oh no. I don’t like that label.
Like the label carried more of a stigma than the actions that earn it. (I think most people are at that place with racism and sexism). Listen: I recoil any time someone suggests some facet of me doesn’t conform to some ideal-type of humanity, because of course I don’t. No one does. No living person is the realized ideal of humanity. Humanity is the empirical fact of humans.
Here, there was some discourse asking us to trade-in skepticism for action. I saw more than a couple places decrying reticence to join, reticence to act as cynicism, using the term as yet another label to file someone under “Bad Person” and it can feel like we have an awful lot of scarlet letters being embroidered, just waiting to be pinned. I am pretty aware of that dynamic, and am trying to keep some distance from it.
I am a skeptical person. I am a policy and data wonk. I need to know the limits of what I know. Some of what I heard described as “cynicism” felt like a really personal attack, because it appeared to be attacking those traits of mine. Usually I’ll just be like, “Fine, pin the scarlet letter on me, and go fuck yourself.” Here, I was like, “no no no no no… of course not…” It’s so threatening to how I consider myself, I could not consider the mere idea.
Another: cynicism as a form of cowardice. Man. Being accused of cowardice is too personal. I consider myself a reasonably brave person, I do stuff that scares me and makes me uncomfortable a lot. The truth is also that I likely have more anxiety than the average bear, requiring bravery to function normally. Whatever. It works for me.
Another: cynicism as a defense mechanism against disappointment. Oh. Uh, that one is a thing I do. I’ve tried to teaching myself reflexively not to want stuff, especially fancy stuff, because not wanting is easier than coping unrequited desire. (I’ve actually only recently really given in to that. Moderation can be harder than abstention.) It haunts my world. Despite my current circumstance being a very happy marriage, I can show you the scars from previous unrequited love. Despite having enough resources to ensure that not only I, but the two little humans in my care, are materially comfortable, I am still haunted by the anxiety of times when my resources were insufficient. So that was when cynicism sounded real to me, and I sensed that the rest of my reactions may have been defensive ones because the truth was too real for me to like.
But still! Cynicism is something I understood as a pessimism. Am I pessimistic? Did I become that way without even realizing it? Have I traded in hopefulness for reality? Am I sticking to what’s made, forgetting to imagine a better future because I am too afraid of the likely possibilities?
I was telling a friend that I do not know. And he told me that cynicism is like anything else in that you’re never 100% of what the trait-ideal is. That was comforting, because perfection is something I cannot do. Staring at cynical traits? Sure. I can do that.
My family is really into this guy’s channel on YouTube where he, as a hobby, makes stuff like huts and forges entirely from materials in the earth around him, his hands, and his knowledge. (Check him out, his stuff is enthralling – Primitive Technology.) We all did, at some point. Human beings creating our world with what is in front of us, but what shows up in front of us is beyond our control. Sometimes it is nourishing, and sometimes we need to protect ourselves from it. I think about this every single day. He’s really creative. I see ground and he sees a forge that can smelt iron. I admire that trait. To take what is in front of you and create something better when it is really, really difficult, that is admirable.
I want to be able to assess what is around me with more certainty than exists. The seductive simplicity of just using what I can make, relying on only myself, is limiting at best and a mirage at worse. How to stay brave enough to let myself be vulnerable in the pursuit of a better society? So far all of my bravery is that I know I have the support of friends, loved ones, and a supportive community. May I support them as much as they buoy me.