In his latest newsletter, L.M. Sacasas writes about the “emotional roulette” of checking social media. “You never quite know what news you’ll encounter and how it will mess with you for the rest of the day.”
Worse is “doomscrolling,” the endless surfing we do “when we give ourselves over to the flood of information and allow it to wash over us.”
Whatever else one may say about doomscrolling, it seems useful to think of it as structurally induced acedia, the sleepless demon unleashed by the upward swipe of the infinite scroll (or the pulldown refresh, if you prefer). Acedia is the medieval term for the vice of listlessness, apathy, and a general incapacity to do what one ought to do; ennui is sometimes thought of as a modern variant. As we scroll, we’re flooded with information and, about the vast majority of it, we can do nothing … except to keep scrolling and posting reaction gifs. So we do, and we get sucked into a paralyzing loop that generates a sense of helplessness and despair.
In his essay about Iago in the The Dyer’s Hand and Other Essays, W.H. Auden makes this life-changing distinction: Instead of asking yourself, “What can I know?” ask yourself, “What, at this moment, am I meant to know?”
I’m usually good at avoiding doomscrolling and the Pavlovian pull and release of refreshing Twitter (ever notice how there’s very rarely anything refreshing about refreshing?), but the election has destroyed most of my willpower. I’ve been busying my hands with The Cube and soothing my brain with the calm of collage, especially “ugly” ones like this one:
Some kind souls on Twitter said, “How do you consider this to be ugly?” The product might not end up ugly, but the process is my attempt to make ugly or “bad” art, which I think is often much more fun and more helpful than trying to make “good” art. (“Every time we make a thing, it’s a tiny triumph.”)
I’ve also been doing a lot of doodling on notepads. (In addition to all my notebooks, I keep one of these little legal pads on my desk for random notes.) Drawing is something to do and it is part of a cure and when you draw the world becomes a little bit more beautiful. (If you need some guidance, try a blind contour drawing or my friend Wendy MacNaughton’s four drawing exercises to help with a hard day.)
Here I’ve combined collage and drawing: I ripped a picture of Abe Lincoln in half, pasted one half in my notebook, and as I was copying the second half, got the idea to make his hair shaggy… and then add a barber? Who knows where these images come from…