Friday, March 20, 2009


Mike, a British office chum who sits across from me, is not given to hyperbole or sophisticated whining. He is just someone who keeps on keepin' on -- does what needs to be done and listens more than he talks. He is unfailingly polite. He is unfailingly circumspect with his words. He is unfailingly even-tempered. So last night, in the midst of an unbelievable amount of work, it was notable to me that he should say that the newspaper office had become "a nightmare."

Everyone is being pushed and pushed and pushed some more. More and more work ... work that people are often incapable of performing. The nightmarishness lies partly in the fact that there is little or no time for the training that would allow people to assume new responsibilities. But the push continues. Just do it. Hurry up and learn what you may not be capable of learning ... never mind whether you want to learn it or not. Someone wants the money and we are the means of fulfilling that need. We, for our part, need to support families or lifestyles or whatever all else and consent to a nightmare of someone else's choosing.

Together with the strain, there is a kind of ghoulish fascination. It is like former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's son -- the one who used to feed real or imagined enemies into a wood chipper ... alive: You just can't believe such cruelty could exist and yet the universe says, "Believe it!" And it is hard to avert the eyes even though every pore in your body longs to puke and begs for escape. Believe it!

Nightmares are nothing special. Everyone has them. Everyone is wracked by them. Everyone is overcome by them. Maybe this is part of the reason it sounds so self-centered when one person or group lays claim to the most horrid nightmare of of all: My nightmare, my wood-chipper, is more horrible than your nightmare, your wood-chipper. And maybe it is so ... but that doesn't make it so.

Part of the horror of a nightmare is that no one else can share it, let alone relieve it. Not God, not a shrink, not your mother or father or beloved friend. No one. Somehow the unfairness of a nightmare is compounded by the fact that it is my nightmare. Experience cannot be shared and this fact is somehow a nightmare within a nightmare.

In "The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment," author Thaddeus Golas wrote, "When you learn to love hell, you will be in heaven." On the one hand, this is a nifty or irritating fortune cookie nostrum -- slick as Vaseline on a thermometer.

On the other hand, it is just the truth.

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