June 25

The Quiet Desperation


The Quiet Desperation

The onset of my sixties is not eminent but is certainly visible on the horizon. It will be here soon enough. With it will come one of those deca-pauses. Retrospection for things accomplished. Anticipation of things to come, both bad and good. This post is not designed to feel sorry or overly introspective. Maybe just to give vent and recognize that it is totally normal to occasionally pause and consider. But sometimes you can’t help but feel a sense of being alone like Gloria Swanson in the movie Sunset Boulevard.

The Quiet Desperation

In the movie, set in mid-century Hollywood, Swanson plays fading movie star Norma Desmond. Desmond, who was once a leading lady and beauty of the silent age of movies, is no longer offered plum roles. In reality almost no roles. Filled with a sense of abandonment and isolation, Desmond now lives as a recluse in her mansion, surrounded by pictures, movie premiere posters and mementos of her glory days along with her memories, good and bad, of her best, past days. The walls of her relevance are closing in around her. But she is not alone. Indeed throughout literature, there is a constant, ever recurring theme of aging accompanied by questions of purpose and the slow intuition that one’s reason for being is an ever dwindling resource.

The quiet desperation affects us all in some way. Nature makes it easier for many, often decreasing our ambition and drive while increasing peace and contentment with each new decade. But for others it’s like being stranded on an island in the middle of life’s ocean. While the island could be a paradise, they can’t help but watch the hustle and bustle of ships, freighters, boats and planes above that represent the lives of other people, driving toward their appointed destiny and not feel a sense of being left behind.


Society today can be a very isolating place. Children increasingly grow up as latch-key kids. Teens willingly lock themselves into the jail cells of social media—rarely interacting with their flesh and blood peers. Adults find their best years sapped in the pursuit of relationships, marriage, parenting, work, accomplishment and building a successful retirement. Retirement arrives with some measure of ease but also …Norma Desmond. Didn’t Thomas Jefferson pen that famous sentence about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”? On the website for the Campaign to End Loneliness, I found a reference to a study from 2010, where the authors, Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Timothy B. Smith and J. Bradley Layton concluded that loneliness and isolation is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

So what is the answer? I’m not so sure I know. Writing allows my characters to speak thoughts, take actions or make choices that might not be available to me. It gives relevance to my thoughts. Other people find their own unique way to be relevant. Gardening. Restoring a car or old building. Making furniture. Travel. Animal rescue. Taking a garbage sack and picking up litter along the side of the road closest to their home (by the way if you do this, be prepared to pick up a lot of cigarette butts). Serving on a local city board. Charity work. But my sense is that the more engaged with people we can be, the less time we have to dwell on ourselves. The past seems less invasive. The future less frightening. Focus on today …and don’t be Norma.

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About the Author

Storyteller... weaving a tapestry of imagination through the lens of our collective humanity. What does this mean? Everyone is on the road of life with different experiences or narratives. Each of us has a story. What's yours?

Jack Bethel

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