My essay on regret is now free to read!

You know you need 15 minutes' escape from everything; why not read about my regrets and contemplate the value of your own?

The good people at The Hedgehog Review have opened up their current issue to all readers, which means my essay on the value of regret, “Je Regrette Tout,” is now available to read and share. I hope you enjoy it.

I gather that the issue will be open for two weeks, so click while you can. There is a lot of good work in this issue, as always. I’ve already enjoyed Tara Isabella Burton on modern mythical monsters and Phil Christman on Richard Nixon.

By the way, Phil has a book coming out soon, Midwest Futures, that is going to be really good. I recommend his earlier Hedgehog essay, “On Being Midwestern.” If you like it (you will), you can order the book. (David Brooks gave the essay one of his end-of-year Sidney Awards in 2017.)

The current coronavirus shutdown of so much of our public lives has me thinking about how we might one day reorder our society around something other than paid employment. I’m thinking once again about Jonathan Lear’s excellent book, Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation, which is about forging new moral values after a culture’s framework of meaning collapses. (It would make a great Kindle or audiobook read/listen right about now.) Lear writes about how our cultures are built on little more than the wish that they are valid: “It is as though, without our insistence that our outlook is correct, the outlook itself might collapse.”

I think we’re seeing how flimsy that insistence is. This moment feels terrible in a hundred different ways, and it is filled with legitimate fear, with suffering, and with death. For the most part, we don’t have a semblance of a common life right now (though I have been impressed by efforts to maintain social solidarity even amid isolation). But without so many ordinary obligations (and with the recognition that many people’s obligations have only grown in the last few weeks), the quarantine feels like a blank slate. Every routine is just gone. If ever there was a time to reorient society toward what we truly love, this is it.

I asked people on Twitter a taboo question: is anything about your life better now than it was, you know, before? I didn’t expect much of a response. I expected parents to say it was much worse. But I got a surprisingly large response, and many parents said they were glad to have extra time with their kids. (I know, I had to go back to Twitter, but it was worth it; the answers I got were illuminating.)

If you want to share any positive experiences with the quarantine, I’d love to hear them. I am planning to include some of these stories in my book, or possibly in a short article. If you want to be anonymous in any publication, that’s OK. (Several of you graciously responded to an earlier query I sent out about burnout more generally, and I have not replied. Don’t despair! I will be in touch soon.)

Here, once again, is the regret essay. For more on the possible collapse of the culture we have built around work, here is my previous Hedgehog essay, “When Work and Meaning Part Ways.” Thanks for reading.

Jon