Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Seeking Sympathy in Strange Times

Everyone I know, it seems, has been through a series of strange and unlikely events in the last few weeks. I have not escaped this trend myself. As I write this, I am sitting with a dog who is recovering from surgery. The sequence of events that brought about the dog’s illness is hard to explain and hard to believe. By itself, this would be just one of the random events in life, but it comes on top of unexpected turns in other areas of my life leaving me in doubt about which way things will go next around my home, in the printing of my next book, and in other areas of my life that are too important to ignore.

Yet I cannot expect too much immediate sympathy from my friends about the sudden uncertainties in my life. At least ten of my closest friends have even stranger and more vexing stories to tell from the same time period. When one friend has a medical emergency, another works for a company whose future is suddenly in doubt, and two others may unexpectedly have to move this month, the uncertainties of my own life are not so serious. For example, if the current problems prevent my latest book from being printed this month, then most likely that just means it will be printed next month. This is the kind of uncertainty that could form the subject of a group discussion in normal times, but it won’t rise to that level of attention right now.

Based on my unscientific read of headlines and Twitter, this trend is not limited to my immediate social circle. A lot of strange things are happening in a lot of different places. Quite possibly, these are strange times in some general sense.

Everyone has a different set of strategies for seeking social recognition, and times like these hit some people harder than others. Surely for some people, the level of sympathy and attention they get from the people around them when strange things happen is their key gauge of their personal social value. Surely somewhere in the world this week there is an author whose new e-book is a big hit on an e-book site and is then withdrawn by the site without explanation. That anguished moment for the author may become twice as anguishing when friends and family members are not able to offer much immediate sympathy because someone’s airplane flight was canceled leaving them stuck in Mexico City and someone else’s irrigation system is broken, putting the whole year of crops at risk. And this is a story that may be repeated a million times in a million different forms. If the unbelievable things that are happening to you don’t seem to rate much attention right now, it’s not you. It’s the times.