A day or two ago, I was driving along the highway enroute to visit Nicholas, my young man who lives in a truly cozy and pleasant care home. Nick is 24 and has severe cerebral palsy as well as a myriad of other complicated medical conditions. He is blessed with fantastic nursing care to keep him safe as well as family and friends who love him. Nick moved out of our home last year and we are all still finding our way to being comfortable with this new way of living.
So as I was saying, I was driving along, listening to the radio - an interview with a certain Christy Wampole who had written an opinion piece for the New York Times that seemed to be getting a lot of attention in cyberspace. The title of Dr. Wampole’s article was “How to Live Without Irony”. I began to listen intently and almost missed my turn. I sat in the parking lot when I arrived at Nick’s just to catch the last bit and since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about irony.
Dr. Wampole is a professor, so she’s in the company of young people a great deal of the time. It’s ‘hipsters’ she skewers in her article - young people who prize cynicism and disguise it as wit. Here is Wampole’s description of a hipster:
The hipster is a scholar of social forms, a student of cool. He studies relentlessly, foraging for what has yet to be found by the mainstream. He is a walking citation; his clothes refer to much more than themselves. He tries to negotiate the age-old problem of individuality, not with concepts, but with material things.
I found out during the interview that Wampole had received some 200 emails in the first 24 hours after the blog publication and in a mere three days, garnered almost 800 online comments. Clearly, the armor of irony is important to lots of people. Here’s another nugget from the article:
Ironic living is a first-world problem. For the relatively well educated and financially secure, irony functions as a kind of credit card you never have to pay back. In other words, the hipster can frivolously invest in sham social capital without ever paying back one sincere dime. He doesn’t own anything he possesses.
Wampole paints an accurate picture of young people who scour vintage shops to find clothes that look geeky. They adorn themselves with styles that are a comment on a comment.
As I listened, I remembered something I had heard the neurologist/author Oliver Sachs say years ago: “People with disabilities are condemned to always being themselves”. Yes, I thought, it’s impossible for Nicholas to be a hipster, or for me to be one for that matter. It’s not to say that I don’t love irony as a form of humour, especially British wit. But I am rubbish at pretending it’s a pillar of my personality, and I’m betting that’s true of every other caregiver too.
This is what Wampole says about the likes of us:
Nonironic models include very young children, elderly people, deeply religious people, people with severe mental or physical disabilities, people who have suffered, and those from economically or politically challenged places where seriousness is the governing state of mind. My friend Robert Pogue Harrison put it this way in a recent conversation: “Wherever the real imposes itself, it tends to dissipate the fogs of irony.”
Sometimes caregiving feels like love and sometimes it feels like war. But it's always, always real.