Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show, will be stepping down from the show next week. To the public, he’s cited two main reasons for his decision: One, to spend more time with his family; and two, because the endless cycle of political and social insanity in which he’s immersed himself, every week since 1996—coincidentally, about the same time I started writing—has finally worn him down.
As much as I will miss his appearance on the show, I know just how he feels.
Jon Stewart has been devoted to his trade, monitoring and studying the goings-on of the political and social landscape, for a long time. And it’s been clear that, even when he’s made jokes at some politician’s or celebrity’s expense, there has been a measure of pain in him… that he clearly can’t believe the things he has witnessed over the past nineteen years. And though he’s often made light of it, I suspect he’s afraid that too much longer at it will only break his spirit, his belief that this is basically a good world, worthy of a better future.
I often feel the same way, when I witness the goings-on of life in the social, scientific and technological fields: The crazy trends; the unconsidered opinions; the selfish actions; the self-serving rhetoric. And as I frequently see vitriol directed at me—when I try to point out the trends that need changing, the actions that need stopping, the rhetoric that’s self-defeating, and the technology people are afraid of applying—I feel the pain, the frustration of expending energy trying to help people, only to continually bash my head against a brick wall of apathy, resistance and ignorance. Like Jon Stewart, I worry that I may lose myself in fretting about all the insanity, until there’s nothing of my own sanity to keep me going… until I can’t see my family, my friends, my fortunate circumstances, beyond the lunacy of the rest of the world.
I also feel it in my efforts to sell my books, to get noticed, to make a name for myself. After making what efforts I can, and watching other people get ahead with no better books, but better resources, than I, my level of frustration has reached a point where I can’t think about writing, can’t even read a book, without second-guessing every step of the process, over-examining every word and phrase, wondering if there is some way I could still achieve what this or that author has. The joy of reading a fun book is draining out of me, to the extent that if I have a choice… I’d rather just take a nap.
(I’m catching up on a lot of sleep.)
Fortunately for Jon, he’s made a name for himself… so he can move on and find any number of other things he can do, and plenty of people to support him. In that way, I am certainly not like Jon Stewart. In the twenty years that I’ve been writing and promoting science and science fiction, I have achieved none of that success; so if I gave it up tomorrow, I’d have no legion of followers, no emotional well-wishers, no dedicated supporters, no purse-strings handed to me to finance my next project. I would just be… done.
I’ve been looking for the light at the end of the tunnel for quite some time. There’s been this tiny pinprick in there, from the beginning; but it’s been so long that it hasn’t moved, hasn’t brightened, hasn’t grown, that it’s beginning to look like it’s just Wile E. Coyote shining a laser pointer down the tunnel, waiting for me to expend all my energy chasing a light that will never resolve into anything, so he can devour me when I collapse, exhausted and defeated, alone in the dark.
In fact, I’ve already stopped my forward momentum: I just can’t bring myself to chase that light any more; not unless someone can prove to me that it’s more than a laser pointer mocking me from a distance. I’m standing at the mouth of the tunnel, and I can’t will myself to go in.
I wish I could say I have a kindred spirit in Jon Stewart; but I can’t say that in any honesty. True, he had resources behind him that I don’t… but he jumped full in, he bolted down that tunnel, chasing the light. Mine was a half-hearted jog; and when the going got tough, I pulled up short. I may empathize with Jon Stewart, but I am not like him. I never had his support… nor his confidence. I don’t have it now.
Maybe, as Jon’s role as The Daily Show host fades into the sunset, I’ll allow myself to fade into the same shadows. Maybe, like Jon, I’ll take this as a sign to find something new to do with my life… perhaps something in which I can apply more confidence, get more support, and have a better chance at success.
Maybe this is the excuse I need to lose weight. No one else will particularly care… but my doctor will lighten up on me a bit. That’s gotta count for something.