Letters from Somnolescent December 21, 2021

How to Reconcile Your Friends at the End of the World

by mariteaux

I often think of Somnolescent as an island, but we’re a rather interconnected bunch. We span the United States through Eastern Europe, and so, what goes on in a big chunk of the world is likely to affect at least one of us. Given the past two years, it goes without saying that Somnolescent didn’t make it out unscathed, though better than most, thankfully.

Though the world’s in a weird, precarious, unstable spot right now, given the 20th marked three years of Somnolescent (I wasn’t able to get this done in time, but I started it in time at least…), I figured I would write about a bit of an epiphany I had, and something of a silver lining while everyone heals: how social stress can cause good friendships to sour, and how pushing forward with that in mind can help mitigate the damage.

The Shot: Instability, Impatience, and Irritation

Somnolescent has existed for longer in the post-lockdown West than it has before it. The past two years have been an exercise in the blind leading the blind, governments with shaky science, and a media preying on people’s concerns and trying to keep the state of emergency going as long as possible. It’s on purpose. Fear and instability make people obedient, though only in the short term.

Othering rhetoric has become common, even laudable, in the past two years. Everyone seems to have the group they blame for all the evils in the world, though never the people who actually have the ability to ruin lives. Instead, it’s their neighbors, local business owners, family, even friends. In 2020, we were saber-rattling at the selfish Karens who didn’t want to be “inconvenienced”. In 2021, it became the unvaccinated who were the threat to society. Now, we’re looking at the goalposts moving again to those who haven’t had a booster shot. Folks hold the line adamantly, even laughing when one of the othered dies as, well, they deserved it, apparently.

Where Somnolescent comes in is how that othering and isolation trickles down into our personal lives. Even when the topic isn’t coronavirus, business restrictions, or a flagging economy, stress in one part of our lives causes stress everywhere else in our lives. Uniquely, unlike any other time in human history, people have had a lot of time to sit idly and overthink things–and Somnolescent, more than anyone, overthinks things.

I felt mostly fine in 2020, but in 2021, my resolve sank. Life was on hold indefinitely. I started to become aggressive with just about everyone who wasn’t my Caby, even when I thought I felt fine. I had less desire to do much of anything that didn’t involve laying in bed. Momentous occasions like inviting Devon into the group–someone who thinks like us, likes a lot of what we like, and can chat for hours with us–turned very, very sour, very quickly.

Inviting a new person into a tight-knit group like ours is hard at the best of times, but when we’re all on edge? Innocent mistakes and stuff we keep from one another out of awkward politeness becomes a pointed stab at our group. In the end, I felt like I’d put my group in harm’s way for this corrosive stranger, because that’s honestly what I thought I was seeing. Really, what I was seeing was somebody as stressed as I was. It hasn’t just been Devon–we’ve all misread each other at a few points this year, very much for worse.

I remember having to read The Wave twice in school. The Wave is a classic “school” novel, loosely based on a high school teacher’s experiment in the 60’s to simulate Third Reich conditions in his classroom by promoting a sense of obedience and unity in his students. By the end of the experiment, kids were policing each other with an iron fist, ostracizing those who failed to comply with the rules and even occasionally beating the shit out of each other.

At the end of the experiment, the teacher made his point: it’s remarkably simple to take advantage of good people to get them to do very bad things. To be clear, the Third Wave was not made up of racist shack dwellers. it happened in Palo Alto, California, resistance to the Vietnam War was high there (and was curiously part of why students supported the Third Wave, as there was a promise of a third anti-Vietnam War political party to spring up under the Third Wave banner), and when the Civil Rights Movement came to prominence shortly after, the student body readily supported it.

These were good kids who were misled at a strange, stressful point in their lives. Boys were looking to be shipped off to a shitty, unwinnable war before they could even vote. Girls were looking to lose the boys in their lives over it. If any of them regretted it, I can’t say, but you can just about guarantee it’s stuck with them 54 years and counting onwards.

The Chaser: Release, Relief, and Reconciliation

For a group like Somnolescent, here’s the silver lining to the whole thing.

  1. All pressure eventually releases. Whether that’s from rupture or something more gentle depends on the situation, but all misery ceases sometime.
  2. Knowledge is power. Once you know you’re stressed out (and believe me, it comes without you noticing sometimes), you can figure out why and keep it peaceful for yourself.
  3. Every single friend I’ve had worth having has eventually come back to me, regardless of what makes them leave in the first place.

Once you have the epiphany that I did, you start to go back and question how you pegged people, how you thought of them, and whether that’s truly right or fair. You gain this sudden perspective about everything that’s happened and you correct course, but most importantly, you want to try again. Thankfully, I got that chance, and I like to think more often than not, most people do. The second time around, if you’re smart about it, you’re more patient, accommodating, aware of the pitfalls. Most importantly, though, you’re just in a place where you can have fun again.

And that’s something I haven’t discussed. Fun. In times of great discomfort, fun and stress relief often become difficult in of themselves. People are too caught up in the worry to have fun, and it compounds the beating their health, physical and mental, often take. This was the entire point of Somnolescent, to be an oasis away from the kinds of people who’d have you believe that every single celebration, every single joyous occasion, needs to have the escape taken out of the escapism–and even we forgot it for a bit.

It’s been a nightmare to write this post in something resembling a coherent structure, but more than anything, I want next year to feel smaller. I want to spend more time with the people I love, and the people I luckily still have contact with, and less time trying to gain the appreciation of internet strangers in some community where I only ever meet one or two people, at that. Thankfully, I feel it. It makes it harder to write blog posts, but it makes it a lot easier to spend lots of time on MSN Messenger, chatting up the group. (By the way, all of you–log in.)

I’ve been one of the lucky ones. Like I said, everyone who I’ve ever wanted to talk to and has made a real difference in my life, or just plain been a positive presence in it, has always returned in the end. Whether I have to reach out or they come and test the waters or sheer chance brings us together again, it’s always happened. Devon’s back in the fold, talking to us daily now. We have a new friend who might very well join Somnolescent at some point next year. You can’t keep a good bulb dark forever.

That doesn’t happen for everyone. People have lost good friends to the fear and division, people they know are bright, but people who get caught up trying to protect themselves. It’s a miserable place to be in, sometimes an unavoidable place, but thankfully, things have a funny way of working out in the end.

For anyone who’s not in the Somnol orbit: just be careful about who you consider your enemy. Sometimes, they’re on your side and you just don’t see it that way. Hippie-dippie, yes, but that’s what I’m here for. Given that Christmas is only a few short days away, consider this a message of coming together with the people you want to be with. That’s when the celebrating feels the least arbitrary, I can say from experience.

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About mariteaux

Somnolescent's webmaster with way too much to write about and a stack of CDs he'll never finish.

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