It’s fun just to say it: I don’t care, I don’t care, I just don’t care, I just don’t care anymore, I really, really don’t care anymore. Say it and emphasize each word, or try emphasizing one or two chosen words (I like saying it with the heaviest emphasis on the “don’t” and slightly less on “care,” and holding on the “a” in “care” for a few beats longer than normal).
Lately I’ve caught myself saying an emphatic “I don’t care” (no particular word stress, just general emphasis) more than usual. I thought, what kind of person have I become? One of those flip, insouciant wretches who can’t see the magic and value of life experiences? Or one of those petty suburbanites so convinced of their realities and lack of time that truly caring about something escapes them entirely? I’m aging; maybe all this is the beginning of an intractable belligerence that will catch up with me when I’m lonely and dying in some horrific medical establishment, and they’ll have to sedate me just to get me to shut up and die.
That last bit I do care about: how to be at peace at the time of death. I sometimes practice what I call the Deathbed Meditation. I made it up in 2004 to help me get through what was a very difficult year. All it means is that I’d try to ponder intensely about death, the moment of it, how I’d like to feel, what I will most remember about others, my life, and myself. This “practice” did not always help me, especially if I was in the throes of the problem. But often it helped me a little bit; in the end, after the Dark Year had passed, practicing the “practice” allowed me to naturally think this way a little bit, all the time. Other big challenges followed that one in 2004, and they were hard, too, but they were also manageable.
Author Alain de Botton, in How Proust Can Change Your Life, phrases a similar preoccupation this way: “Feeling suddenly attached to life when we realize the imminence of death suggests that it was perhaps not life itself which we had lost the taste for so long as there was no end in sight, but our quotidian version of it, that our dissatisfactions were more the result of a certain way of living than of anything irrevocably morose about human experience.”
Botton’s book is labeled a self-help book, and the sentiment reproduced above is Botton on his way to making a point about Proust’s own reflections about death and his untimely (though predicted) death.
The declarative sentence “I don’t care” has a sandpapery quality to it. It’s usually said flippantly, exasperatedly (and it carries judgment), or to express neutrality. (“Do you want vanilla or chocolate ice cream?” “I don’t care.”) I don’t think it’s often uttered to express self-conscious detachment, though in at least two of my own recent, emphatic utterances of it, I felt a certain peace when saying it, a certain depth. It wasn’t “I don’t care” with the subtext “everyone else or everything else can take a hike” or “I don’t have time for this crap” or “please shut up before I crawl in a box and intentionally suffocate myself” or “give me whatever flavor ice cream you want.” It was an “I don’t care” with the subtext “I now understand that I cannot change the foundation of this problem, so I’m not going to pretend that I can, or get angry because I can’t, or even allow it to be something to be thought of as ill-founded or unfair.” It was uttered as emphatic disinterest.
How freeing. Now it’s not just the emphasis I might choose to place on one or more words of the sentence “I don’t care” but a conceptual shift in the emphasis of that entire sentence.
One can now conceptualize, in theory, a life-altering situation where the number of “I don’t care” utterances is inversely proportional to the number of things one truly cares about. That is, the more I choose to “not care” about things that life, in all of its emphaticness, will insist that I care about, the more space I make to really care for the few things that actually do matter. This is more than just a logistical time-related shift—it’s a profound psychological adjustment, and most people who bother to try it have to work at it literally every hour of every day.
At least, this is what I’m going to say to myself. Because I care.