The dream about running and not getting anywhere has escaped the night. We are living it.
Full Show Notes: https://www.thejaymo.net/2021/12/12/301-2147-urgent-anxiety/
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The other morning within minutes of waking I looked at my phone. 20 mins later I became aware of what I was doing. Like a hot potato I dropped my phone to the bedside floor with a clunk in disgust.
I lay there with my hand on my chest. Staring at the ceiling. I felt strange.
For 10mins I just breathed. What was I feeling? A tingling in my gut, a tightness across my shoulders, slight tension in the psoas – the list went on.
The hard part was naming the feeling I was feeling. When have I felt like this before? What was the name of the feeling I had felt? I described this process back in Episode 21-24 Big Feelings Are Like Beads in a Bowl.
My eyes traced the coving where the ceiling meets the wall.
Holding up a mental spot colour book of swatches containing previous emotions. Like a pantone guide to one’s inner life.
Eventually an orbit word (see episode 21-14) emerged. One that seemed to fit the bill.
“Urgent Anxiety” I said out loud to the empty bedroom.
Somewhere between these two words in poetic juxtaposition described the strangeness I was feeling.
Urgency. What is it? Where is it located? Where is it coming from?
The world of course can’t ever have a noun like quality like urgency. The world is a verb. Active and unfolding, the sun goes up, the sun goes down.
The urgency out in the world arises from the abstract. Social media, news, politics, the stock market, quarterly reports, and daily standups. Now is the obsession of the age.
The right now. A constant stream from the live blog in Westminster. The media’s petty minutiae of our political soap opera. All meaningless. Tweet’s from wherever and whomever, the hot takes and the ‘I don’t know who needs to hear this’.
Looking at Twitter before 8am had been a mistake. I had slept so well but now my day was ruined.
The urgency out there was now in here – in the room with me. Projected from a square of darkglass and silicon. For 20mins I was like Guliver looming at a window watching little people. In my hand were friends, politicians, brands, and nation states all flattened, made small and the same.
Social media is the opposite of the cinema. I don’t sit immobile in front of a massive screen letting my imagination run wild. Instead I stare unmoving at a small square of dark glass, and disengage my mind. Run away from the now, the urge to swipe down to load a little more.
It is the dream about running and not getting anywhere. And it has escaped the night. We are living it.
My anxiety arises from this ineffectual urgency. Our culture reckoning collectively with evil and merciless forces that cannot be reasoned with.
My year has been dominated by a quiet brooding. Desperate to shake off the deep malaise of this waking dream..
In the first Episode of 2021 I said We can’t assume that anything expected *just* over the horizon will arrive on time or even in the right place. I realise now I was describing the running dream. The harder you run the further the horizon.
How does a society react when it wakes up from this kind of dream? What do you do when you become aware of urgent anxiety?
We live in an anxious culture, and it has its effects. Clive Martin writing Face Magazine says “we are living through an age of great aggravation”.
2008 and austerity have made all options zero sum. Punch ups on forecourts, mass brawls on beaches, 2.5 month waiting times to see the doctor. Cartoon violence on every corner. Drivers vs cyclists, the storming of Wembley. A man shouts and lamps the self service checkout in Sainsbury’s. Just below the surface of our everyday dream seethes the possibility of casual and excessive violence.
Huw Lemmey recently wrote about the use of the Cry-Laugh Emoji in British Culture. The “thin tissue that covers the real emotion: rage”. The cry-laugh emoji is the perfect mask for urgent anxiety. Instead of aggravation under the surface, it is worn proudly. A symbol not of apathy, but of an active uncaring. An anxious bravado.
The 60s were angry but optimistic, the 80s were nihilistic and experimental, the 2020’s will be defined by urgent anxiety.
Social media of course isn’t to blame for everything. It is both the symptom of, and the product of forces that cannot be reasoned with.
It was supposed to bring down governments. The Arab Spring, Tahrir Square. This was what web 2 promised, but you can’t monetise a revolution. Instead they built a cage. As Gordon White puts it an ‘all you can eat prison buffet’.
Urgent anxiety is both in here and out there. We are trapped inside culture’s cage. Look around at the fellow patrons at the buffet and they are all looking at you – spoiling for a cage fight. Those that thrive bray and cheer as they crowd around a hate ratio. Like spectators to a blood sport.
Forget bitcoin, the true currency of the internet is The Lulz.
I will talk about this more next week I’m sure, but 2021 has been a terrible year. Psychically far worse in almost all respects than 2020.
Thankfully of course, naming something puts a scaffolding around it. A platform from which the runner in the dream can see that they are dreaming.
The script above is the original script I wrote for the episode. It may differ from what ended up in the audio due to time constraints.
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