Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Action over despair

I try my best to be a Stoic.

No one is a true Stoic, at least not as outlined in the Enchiridion of Epictetus. Being a true, complete, Stoic would be to renounce joy and happiness (in addition to the more negative emotions), which would also mean rejecting everything, outside work, that makes life meaningful and enjoyable. Even when I first read the Enchiridion, decades ago, I realized this… and realized that Stoicism is best employed as a practice, and not as a goal.

That practice, which has brought me great relief throughout my life, is summed up best as this:  “There are things within your control, and things outside your control. Things within your control, you may exert your power over. Things outside your control, you should let go.” Applied well, this can be awfully soothing. Plus, productive. It counsels correct action, and relieves frustration.

After a glorious 18 days off — from any kind of work, from even thinking about anything troubling, as I went to Spain to see the world’s actual greatest rock band and also to New Jersey (twice) to visit my birth family, and even from writing anything in any form — this week I found myself clenching my jaw and my shoulder muscles as I bore witness to the presidential impeachment “trial” unfolding. So far, the result isn’t any different from what I thought it’d be, but its lack of suspense doesn’t drain me of my dread and outrage; a country in which, evidently, anything a sitting president might do to ensure his own re-election is permissible surely isn’t the country the Founders conceived, nor is it the one I thought I lived in. Tonight, after the Senate voted 51-49 not to hear from witnesses (and after more than one of the GOP Senators voting against witnesses said they believed that the Democratic House managers had proved their case — but they still didn’t care), I decided to come home, grill a big steak, drink an entire bottle of red wine, and watch something distracting on Netflix. Because what they had done was infuriating, but it was outside my control.

That’s what Stoicism does for you — it helps you question what you can affect, and what you can’t, and constantly raises for you the question of what, if anything, you could do.

I grilled my ginormous tomahawk steak (freshly purchased from Ralph’s on a WooHoo! deal) outside, cracked open a bottle of Spanish red wine, and sat out there enjoying both, while occasionally throwing a piece of the steak to my two dogs and petting them to our mutual satisfaction. It was pretty good.

Except — I was still seething.

So I went on ActBlue and donated a shit ton of money against those GOP assholes in the Senate running for re-election, and against Mitch McConnell in particular, because y’know what? It may not seem very Stoic, but  THAT was within my control.

So now I’m thinking: Just watch what the 58% of us who hate all this are going to get up to in the next 10 months. There are millions of us. And that action is within our control, too.

3 Responses to “Action over despair”

  1. Dan Says:

    I can relate to all you say, but my pessimism grows. And grows.

    You got any of that Steak left?

  2. Jim Markley Says:

    Glad you had good trips. Forgive my ignorance, but Stoicism sounds a lot the AA prayer of help me accept the things I cannot change, courage to change what I can and the wisdom to know the difference. As far as politics, I thought you were fond of saying you were neutral and tried not to favor just one side? 58% of who? There are millions on both sides. Talk about knowing what you can’t change!

  3. Lee Wochner Says:

    Yes, there are millions on both sides. I was referencing the (at-the-time) 58% in every poll who are opposed to Trump. At the moment, the number is, worryingly, only 51%. Re AA, which I don’t know much about, and re other forms of wisdom and guidance, I imagine there are a lot of systems predicated upon this sort of knowledge and acceptance — however infrequently they are followed.

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