Not beyond pain: Emily Dickinson, "Presentiment — is that long Shadow — on the Lawn" (764)
There are days of disappointment.
Rebecca Jennings, "What YouTube hustle gurus are really selling you"
Rebecca Jennings reports on the current plague of male social media gurus (h/t my brother). Previously, she wrote on "Launch House," an attempt to put young, tech savvy entrepreneurs in collaboration, highlighting the abuse involved. Now she wonders again about masculinity going to extremes, as the gurus present themselves as optimal. In Jennings' words:
Hustle gurus encourage their followers not only to become unfathomably wealthy, but also to maximize time spent “bettering themselves,” by which they often mean intense exercise routines, extreme restrictive diets, or refraining from porn and masturbation. They are inherently mistrustful of any institution or intellectual movement that is not solely about the pursuit of money and quantitative gain.
I imagine the people obsessed with this sort of stuff are worried about not being ambitious enough. We should talk a bit about ambition. The Federalist uses it to mean both the sort of person who will do great things for the nation and greedy bastards who could get us all killed. That is a reformulation of the classical problem, found both in Socratic interlocutors and Machiavelli's teachings. You can't directly tell people who believe they have the right to act (i.e. seize what they want) that they don't have that right. They won't listen. You have to indulge them, then point toward moderation of some sort (learning a virtue, learning through consequences). But there's also this idea floating around that if there's progress or betterment, the "ambitious," generally speaking, get it for us.
I feel, with the hustle gurus, we're looking at unchecked ambition. Jennings points out that "hustle culture" is coming from an older crop of self-improvement gurus, who also sold skepticism of government and the idea "you can have it all." It isn't immediately clear what would moderate the toxic masculinity, terrible politics, and outright grift of this new crop of overambitious men. The older ones needed to be moderated themselves.
Emily Dickinson, "Presentiment — is that long Shadow — on the Lawn" (764)
There are days of disappointment.
Sometimes you get into a fight. You don't quite know why it happened, but you had to defend yourself. And then you feel a bit empty, as if a trust was betrayed.
More recently, I was thinking about someone only to realize I was never a consideration. That was numbing, too. I did the usual and absorbed myself into the phone, watching various news feeds update.
But in the past—I do remember a time before ubiquitous internet—I would have stared out a window into the yard. And I might have taken notice of what Dickinson conjures: "that long Shadow — on the Lawn — / Indicative — that Suns go down."
I'd stare at that shadow, with two different but related thoughts ongoing. Maybe someone who wants to talk to me will appear. Also: I'd like this day to end already.
"Presentiment — is that long Shadow — on the Lawn" (764) Emily Dickinson Presentiment — is that long Shadow — on the Lawn — Indicative that Suns go down — The Notice to the startled Grass That Darkness — is about to pass —
Dickinson's poem, to be sure, is not just about a "long Shadow." It is a definition of "Presentiment." "Presentiment," specifically, is that "long Shadow" on the "Lawn."
Pre-sentiment, I say.
A feeling before the feeling. A feeling about the future, an omen (Vendler 23).
A feeling before the feeling.
In a way, I was like the grass of the poem, residing within the shadow. The grass receiving "Notice." "The Notice to the startled Grass / That Darkness — is about to pass." I didn't have a formal feeling at hand. Just a sense a part of my life was about to close. How was I supposed to feel about that sense? Does it matter that the sun will go down, the day will end, and things have changed already?
Dickinson's little lyric does not give enough to answer these questions. It introduces "Presentiment," presenting the problem of a mess of feelings resolving into yet another emotion.
It makes us wonder whether closure happens with or without our permission.
Regarding closure, I'm reminded of Anne Alder Walsh's poem "House Grief:"
House Grief (h/t to the author, on Twitter) Anne Alder Walsh I must have ordered the house grief. That full bodied red. Tastes like rust, is cheap and everywhere.
Grief and disappointment don't disappear. They make a wine of the worst aspects of age. They remind us of "rust" and reinforce our paralyzed lives. Going back to Dickinson, I believe a reason she focuses on "Presentiment" is that her mess of feelings isn't quite resolving, despite the shadow so clearly saying what is happening.
In general, we live in a pushy culture. One in which people are told to "get over" trauma or are burdened with unrealistic expectations. A sentiment not unlike the title How to Win Friends and Influence People pervades everything, including matters of craft. We are awash in uninhibited and constant content creation. If you spam others, you will get attention. It is an ironic joy to read these two lyrics which speak to a specific audience. What do grief and disappointment mean? Why don't you just "get over" them? I ultimately feel the poems have to be short, because these questions are ours to answer.
Vendler, Helen. Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries. Cambridge: Harvard, 2010. 23.