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Spinning on its Axis

By Chris Colcord

Fort Wayne Reader

2016-03-04


The greatest test of my self-discipline happens every time I'm within earshot of anyone who drops the phrase "the feels" in their everyday conversation. The challenge is to make sure I don't become homicidal; hearing the phrase provokes an instant, Pavlovian rage in me, and my first instinct is for wanton violence. I've learned, through time, to control my impulses, and I've become such a Zen master that now I don't even utter a vicious response to the speaker; it's been months since the phrase "you pathetic, inarticulate ---" has crossed my lips. As anybody in recovery will tell you, though, there's no time to get cocky; you let your guard down once, and bam! all your hard work is for naught. So I keep it: one day at a time.

And while I'm well aware that the modern world is going to continue to evolve into new customs and language without waiting (or caring) for my approval or understanding, I'm certain that my fury against "the feels" is fully justified. When was the law enacted that said we're only allowed five words? I know that I have a perverse fascination with language and the construction of it, but I thought the whole point of existence was gaining knowledge and understanding. Which means that as we mature, our vocabulary will (theoretically) grow, not shrink. I know this will be the most obvious sentence that I will ever write, but there are better words to describe feeling melancholy, homesick, or joyous that just "the feels." Words like, oh, I don't know, melancholy, homesick, joyous. Mystics once believed that uttering the right incantation of words and phrases had a magical power; ascertaining language was considered an almost holy (often dark) art. Now it's considered, like, you know, stupid.

I had a recent acquaintance listen to one of my similar diatribes and after a silence he asked, quite sensibly, Why do you get so angry about these things? I had no real answer for this; better to ask the sun why it shines or the trees why they give up their leaves. There are simply a lot of things like "the feels" that bring out an elemental angst in me, and I'd like to think that it's beyond comprehension. If I wanted to examine my responses more thoroughly and be completely honest with myself something I hate to do, by the way I'd probably have to admit the real reason is something I alluded to earlier: I hate that the world continues to change without asking for my blessing.

And of course the world isn't changing for the benefit of old guys; it can't, shouldn't, won't. I know that this is simply the way it goes in this country, in this world the more you age, the more you slip into cultural irrelevancy. I was startled to discover that both NPR's "All Things Considered" and "Morning Edition" programs and The New Yorker magazine two of my favorite cultural touchstones--are both created by and geared for a notably younger demographic. I thought, arrogantly, that I was the target audience, now and forever. But some of the voices creeping into my radio news programs sound like 10 year olds to me; the voices are too bouncy, the reporters too eager; when they strive for that mildly-ironic tone that NPR specializes in, they sound ridiculous. I'm sure that time and experience will beat that exuberance out of their voices, but not it sounds like the interns are running the show, and I'd prefer the old NPR, which always seemed to blandly assure everyone that adults were in charge.

Similarly, The New Yorker magazine which, from my youth, has been the portal into the glittering, cosmopolitan world of big-city sophistication now feels directly aimed at a generation that's twenty years younger and about ten times as wealthy. And it's not just the featured articles on freshly-minted EDM celebrities who I'm glad can express themselves with music because they certainly can't talk or the continuous, all-knowing updating of the coolest restaurants and hippest bars; it's actually the news reporting that feels so young to me. Of course, being The New Yorker, it's all well-written and interesting, but there's a decided social justice angle to many of the news stories that seem obviously aimed at millennials. It's like a deeper examination of the points Bernie Sanders brings up in his political rallies. Many of these articles are certainly topical and important but every once in a while you want to read something that's not trying to incite you to action. It's like having a campus-activist roommate, who, though you agree with his causes and applaud his fervency, you just wish would shut the hell up sometime.

I'm haunted by a scene from No Country for Old Men that has nothing to do with the disturbing killing machine that the villain employed, or the pervasive sense of dread that seems to surround every frame. It was actually a conversation between the Sheriff and his Uncle Ellis. The older uncle listens patiently to the Sheriff describing his feelings of being "over matched" by the mean new world, and then the uncle tells him, quietly, forcefully: "They ain't waitin' for you." Meaning the world. "That's vanity, the uncle concludes. I have to admit, that scene really knocked me for a loop when I first saw it. It seemed to reach right into my psyche and explore all my hidden thoughts and anxieties. I felt scared, lonesome, resigned, desperate, wise, beleaguered. Bitterly hopeful. I felt repelled, I felt affinity. I guess I felt all the feels with that one.

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