Is this all that there is?
I wasn’t always a nihilist. I believe I had to level up several times over, the way a chess-master first learns to beat his friends, then his mother, then his father, then an amateur, then a pro. You conquer the trivialities of life’s basic truths. You write them onto a post-it. You hold it in your hand and watch as the wind whisks it away.
It’s hard to smile in these times. “In this economy” now swapped out for “in Trump’s America” — a barren, ghostly dystopia where the screams are drowned out by the eerie silence. It’s morning. And it’s mourning. The buildings are still there, but the people have all gone home or to war. You get the sense that the Millennial generation was hand-drawn to have front-row seats to the end of the world, and god’s great joke was to snicker while he watched them bang their heads against the sides of the planet hoping some last sliver of hope would release itself. Watching the “everybody gets a trophy” generation turn into the “nobody gets a trophy” generation in the span of their young adult years has been a fascinating exercise.
It’s also been exasperating to watch the Millennial generation build Facebook into the coolest hang-out spot since the uptown mall, flee like hell to Snapchat once they realized their notoriously uncool parents had gravitated there, and then got hitched up, popped out a couple kids, and began using Facebook exactly the way their parents did — as a scrapbook for life’s most treasured moments, or, alternatively, as a place to spread fake memes about the links between ISIS and Pizza Hut. Don’t Google that. I’m sure there’s something.
And, so, here we are. Lording over our mini-empires of foolish folly. It’s getting harder and harder to determine what matters. Black Lives do, sure. But All Lives do not. Because we needn’t say so, because it had already been deemed so, by the white men who preceded us. They knew. And when they said “all” they meant “just us, only.” And they were wrong.
But in light of all this outrage and sadness, and tragedy and horror, and futility and failure, I have to ask the question only a man down to his last bottle and wit’s end would dare to ask: Does *life* matter? I mean … does it?
You’re born. You learn a few things. You earn a few dollars or bitcoins. You make a couple things and clean your room a few times, you take a few summer vacations to somewhere relatively convenient, you watch your friends and family marry off and then die off. Maybe you procreate. And then you go. And that’s it. The whole act wraps itself up in a tidy three-quarters-of-a-century — or, just about as long as it’s been between Hitler and Trump. It feels long, because life feels long — but only days are long, years are short.
Years are short. And purpose remains elusive.
Some find theirs through god. But I would rather die without a purpose than worship a god I don’t believe in. I believe that’s backwards.
Some find theirs through community, but I would rather sail a thousand seas than spend my life cooped up in a 300,000-inhabitant box of snowy sadness that voted 57% for Trump in the last election, an icebox that freezes a good chunk of its men into the military or crack or both, and its women marry young without knowing a good chunk of other options like college or feminism or running the goddamned world like the bad-ass women you would want your daughters to be. What you’re born into shouldn’t be the hill you die on.
Some find theirs through family. I haven’t started one. And so I am the lone wolf in sheep’s clothing. Everyone is my family. But they are only so welcoming because they’re waiting to eat me. So I stay running to avoid capture, being caught. On to the next edge of the world.
Some find purpose through work. Deep, meaningful work. I can understand that. But then it’s five-o-clock somewhere, and we’re released into the darkness — biding time until the light, hoping to close our eyes sooner to get the current day over with and the next day started, endlessly and blindly optimistic that the next day’s light will yield a brighter future.
But in that future there’s Trump. Brexit. The Philippine Drug Raids. Putin. Ukraine. Erdogan. There are not enough pictures of Justin Trudeau hugging baby pandas in the world to save us from the proliferation of boogeymen aching to crush us, to bake us on an unsustainable warming planet, starve us into submission, ruin us of our hard-earned blockchain/bitcoin or whatever, keep us separated and fighting in a mushroom cloud of xenophobia, racism, sexism and homophobia. Are we doomed? Is this real life? Is anything working? Test … test … is this thing on?
This is the boat at the end of the world. The show is over. The jig is up. There is no gold at the end of the rainbow. There is no afterlife. There is no final boss to beat. There is no nirvana or paradise or freedom. There is no harmony. There is no permanence. All we are is fleeting, floating specks of space dust in an infinite abyss of nothing. The ruling class knows this. They know we are nothing. Because they know that they are. What is the point of nothing? What is anything multiplied by zero?
There is a scene at the end of the 1998 film The Truman Show which, for all the silliness and hammy posturing leading up to it, is one of the most profoundly sad scenes in all of film.
In it, the protagonist sails a small yacht to the edge of a world that’s been created for him, only to find that the endless horizon is merely a metal wall painted to look like the sky. His face screams, without his mouth saying a word, “This is all that there is.” He climbs a staircase to nowhere, to a door no one could ever find without looking for it, marked “exit.” And he rages against his creator, raging against the universe that’s been created for him, pleading and begging to be understood that he is his own, independent thing and not the star of a manufactured piece of deceit made to please and engage a world he knows nothing of, or cares nothing for. He stares into the blackness. Into the abyss of the “out there.” And he walks away. And people cheer.
I always found this profoundly sad. Because there is no escape. The world out there is no different than the world in here. The cheering masses who root for you are the ones who keep the show on the air. The world in the U.K. is no different than the world in the U.S. The world in Austin is no different than the world in Buffalo. You can never escape the demons outside and the demons within. You can never run away from a universe with walls on all sides. Even should you find the light at the end of the tunnel, there’s a coin-flip’s chance it may or may not be a train. There’s men with guns. Men with nukes. Men with agendas and axes to grind. They’re all out there. Occasionally, they are you. And when you’re a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail.
I do not know where there is left to go. I do not know where the door is. I do not know where the wall is. I do not know where the windows are, or the camera is, or when the machines will rise to wipe us all away. I only know we are here. And that I am walled in. Maybe you aren’t. Maybe you believe in something. Maybe you have someone to hold you, to momentarily shield you from an afterlife of eternal loneliness. And maybe that’s enough — I hope that’s enough.
There’s an alternate world that the world used to believe in. One where love was enough. One where unity was enough. The liberal dream of the late 1960s, of tying yellow ribbons around the old oak tree and putting flowers in your hair if you’re going to San Francisco and of all you need is love, and it flamed out spectacularly. Love more. Love harder. Love wins. Love Trumps Hate. They said. And we would be free. And we would be equal. And we were all wrong. All so very, very wrong.
The world is won by demagogues, movements, big-ass guns, gold, gods and land. It’s always been. From Sparta to the Spanish Inquisition. From the Norman Conquest to the Nazis. From Carthage to Communism. We remember the revolutions. We tell war stories. We’re tested on the depression. And then tested by it once more.
History doesn’t rhyme, it repeats. The world doesn’t grow, it just changes. We are still born. We still die. Life is different now, but not different enough that any of the wars, famine, disease, starvation, racism, rape, inventions, vaccinations, information, media, movements, consumerism, capitalism, communism, liberalism, libel, scripture or gospel has made one damn bit of difference. Hope is not a strategy. Belief is not a truth. Maps are not territories. And beyond the horizon lies another cruel world. Where is left to go?
I do not know the answer to this. I used to ask myself these questions and try to answer them in full public view. Often to a great cacophony of voices complaining that I was saying too much, or making things too much about me, or oversharing. And they were right. Personal essays really are bullshit. The world doesn’t need the voice of another “woke” white Millennial male trying to get to the bottom of a truth that doesn’t exist, to inspire people via words without having ever done a damn inspiring thing. No. Go read Ta-Nehisi Coates. Please. I’m begging you. He writes with nuance, soul and dexterity. And he’s worth listening to. I’m just a man who spends 4,000 words trying to find a 14-word soundbite that ties the whole mess together.
But there is no neat pithy quote that sums up all of life. There are no universal truths to live by. There is no guiding light. There are no answers. There’s the 24 hours in front of you, and the people around you, and your next meal.
So, I don’t know, man … maybe make the most of the time you have left, be kind to the people who decide to cross your path, and enjoy the hell out of some tuna tartare. Because everything else? It’s total bullshit. It’s nothing.
Everything you love will die. And it can end at any time. So if I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening, and goodnight.