My daughter is perturbed. She is 12. At the moment she seems to think we are about to get nuked. I make her a cheese sandwich and say "everything's going to be fine" but my voice goes a bit squeaky. I'm not sure that speaking an octave higher than usual is terribly reassuring.
It's at moments like these that I wish I had some sort of religion to offer. As a child we used to go to St Peter's Cathedral in Hamilton every Sunday. I read somewhere this church - austere, windswept - was the inspiration for the gothic bits in Richard O'Brien's Rocky Horror Picture Show. It was cold and scary and I was relieved when my parents (inevitably) fell out with the church hierarchy. But I wonder whether religion didn't take partly because my tummy was rumbling and I was always thinking about macaroni cheese for Sunday lunch. Now, I wish I'd paid more attention.
If so, I might have made my children pray every night at bedtime, rather than reading them Hitchhiker's Guide, playing them spa music and giving them roundie-pats. I wonder if it's too late. (Thank you in advance to the devout folks who sometimes send me long letters in spidery biro offering to save my ratty soul). Maybe I've failed my kids because all I've given them to believe in is Harry Potter.
Or maybe not. In her book Help Thanks Wow, Anne Lamott says it doesn't matter what you call God. Some people call him Howard. "Our father, who art in heaven, Howard be thy name." Whereas she calls him Phil. "Make peace with your god, whatever you conceive him to be - hairy thunderer or cosmic muffin."
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David Foster Wallace said in the day to day trenches of adult life, there is no such thing as atheism. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. "If you worship money and things...then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough...Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly." Put another way, Bob Dylan said you gotta serve somebody. But who?
And what beliefs are there to hang on to in a week when the President of the United States is increasingly indistinguishable from mad cow-infested gun-wrangling Denny Crane? I used to think Denny Crane, a character on the show Boston Legal, whose catchphrase was "locked and loaded" was funny. Um, not laughing now.
It's terrifying and I'm not sure I have much to offer in way of solace. I asked my kids what they believed in. My nine-year-old son stuck his head out from under the table - he hides there, I hope it's not a nuke-related thing - and said he still believes in Christmas. My daughter says she is a nihilist, but could she have some penne pasta?
She did point me towards her favourite show, Rick and Morty. "Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. We're all going to die. Come watch TV." Which might be as good a unifying theory as any. Pretty much anything you worship will disillusion you. It will eat you alive. Whatever your idol, you will eventually be disappointed.
In his new book (deep breath) The Gospel According to David Foster Wallace: boredom and addiction in an age of distraction, Adam Miller argues that this being let down, this inversion of faith, is a feature not a bug. "The spell of transcendence will break, and with that break, you'll lose your religion. You'll give up. You'll have a mid-life crisis. You'll get divorced. You'll wonder what it all means. You'll stop buying new clothes or going to church or wanting to impress people or reading the Bible or believing in the magic of television. You'll be sad. This sadness is risky. It's risky because it threatens to obscure the urgent revelation shining at the heart of your loss: the revelation that the end of worship was, all along immanence and that, though your head may invent a thousand ways of escaping this world, the point...is to return you to it." (I had to look up "immanence" - it is defined as where a god is said to be fully present in the physical world).
The trick is keeping that awareness up front in day to day life. A few days ago getting ready for school, my daughter who was meant to be brushing her teeth, nagged me to go outside and look at a tree with her. I was grumpy but I did. And I really looked. The bare winter branches of the tree were sparkling with raindrops which looked like shining icicles in the sun. It was beautiful. Maybe, when the world feels extra crazy, and there are zealots scrapping in the streets, we need to be just as zesty in worshipping our own little bits of goodness.
Because we do have something to believe in. It's libraries and nightswimming and coloured pencils and birds and spending all day in your jarmies and eating cheese. A lot of cheese. Not really a manifesto or a belief system that is going to save the world I know. But it might do for us for now.