Look, I’ma level with you. On Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Monday, I wrote just one thing every day. I suppose that’s better than nothing.
Trouble is … I still have four more things I gotta write by tomorrow. I’m not making up ground … I’m losing it.
It ain’t like this ish is hard. Nothing on deck would take me longer than two hours in a vacuum. I keep trying self-care-type things to snap me out of it.
1. 22 days ago, I took my last drink.
2. 22 days ago, I smoked my last smoke.
3. In 15 of the past 22 days, I’ve run 3+ miles outside.
4. I mostly stopped ordering takeout and started cooking my own healthy meals.
5. I am in therapy.
6. Every night, between 8 and 9 p.m., I meditate. Often times, with ketamine.
7. I have at least one phone call with one friend for at least 30 minutes each day, usually a couple.
8. I’ve rearranged my furniture.
9. I clean, militantly, every day.
10. I’ve been getting 8+ hours per sleep, nearly nightly, for the first time in God knows how long.
11. I still do my Ketamine infusions and micro-doses.
12. I’ve created zoom co-working meetings with friends (but just end up talking to people).
13. I started drinking more coffee than usual for energy.
14. I drink three full liters of water every day.
15. I now shower and change into real clothes like I’m going to the office.
Still, every time I sit down at the computer to write — for work, or for fun — I get sleepy. I get sad. I get anxious. I go lay down in bed, wishing I could nap. (Sometimes I do.) I just sit there and say, to myself (and my cat), matter-of-factly, “I don’t have it.”
Part of this, I think, is because my brain is telling me a story: that if I’m not giving people words, I’m of no value. That the reason people know me, love me, want me around, is because of the content I can offer them — whether they’re paying me or not. (I’m excluding my family from this narrative largely because I don’t actually want to hear from them right now. This is for everyone else.)
I can’t tell you how many times I hear from people and they’re like “hey!” And I get all excited, like they want me, and they’re like, “can you proofread this wedding program,” or “can you send me your Ketamine column,” or “do you know who edits OneZero?” or “can I send you a draft?” Or “any ETA on that thing?” And like what if I just want to talk about you.
That’s not to throw other people under the bus. As we all know, I’m first-class at placing blame firmly in my own camp. There’s clearly something, lately, I’ve been doing that’s causing me to suddenly feel as though I’ve diminished in value to zero aside from the words I wrangle.
Or, maybe there isn’t. Maybe it’s just the way American social and economic dynamics work. We invite people into our lives who add value. I harbor no illusions as to what mine are. It’s not like you keep me around for my radiant positivity and dashing good looks.
Anyway, it’s like, Jesus Christ … I’m cultivating as many healthy habits as possible. I’m losing weight and my mood is stabilized (and good, as long as I’m not thinking of writing — I feel like an ace pitcher with the yips).
I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do. I’m desperate for answers beyond “be kind to yourself” and “trust the process” and “everything is working out as it should.” I have to eat and pay rent. If this keeps going on, it’s going to stop me from doing that, torpedo my relationships, and napalm my solopreneurship. And, in this time especially, I can’t have that.
In short, I have problems. And yet I’m not really sure what they are, or if those problems are even mine. What I do know, is, where now I just think, I used to have dreams.
Everything Is Actual Hell, Especially in the US
I think about Europe a lot. About how I should be there. About how it’s getting back on with the business of being “normal.” About how I would fit in better, with its slower, gentler way of life.
But when I think about Europe, I realize it’s just shorthand for thinking about the two things I believe all humans strive for: satisfaction and belonging. Ho-hum words, both … yet the measuring sticks for life well-lived.
I think about them because it continues to become blindingly obvious that those two things are hardly possible here, now. They are fever-dreams. Illusions.
Here, now, in the US, we are actively torpedoing the capacity for anyone (at least, among those of us lucky to live through the COVID-19 pandemic, which is no sure thing) to be satisfied or feel like they belong. The barrier-to-entry is now far too high, and the bar for decency set too damn low.
Industrial-scale humanity is also immoral. Our economies are collapsing to the degree that they were artificial and inhumane. Surplus is anathema to value. Read that again … Slowly.
A break in the clouds would be nice. As the world — and nation, in which I am now stuck for the foreseeable future — has descended into other chaos, and I’ve been coming to grips with my best-laid plans to leave being blown to smithereens, laid up in an unbroken dread-fever.
Look, I’m a sensitive guy. Not like easily angered — no, the only human ever to anger me has been be — but I just *feel* the world. And it’s an odd look for a man, tbh. No matter how much we claim to want our men to feel their feelings, men who are natural empaths are still, largely, cast off as undesirable … At least in a professional, social and romantic sense.
And so I channel that sensitivity to art. My brain arranges the words, but it’s my heart and my soul that gives me the language to harness them. I feel the terrain, and then I describe it. It is the root of whatever greatness lies within me, yet it is also the great saboteur when I am not aligned with what I feel or believe in my bones.
It also keeps me surprisingly adaptable. I know how to change to suit the needs of the populace. I know how to satisfy. I know how to listen. It’s when my head starts calling the shots with shoulds and should nots that I get in the way. A bit solipsistic of a thought during the most visceral collective tragedy our lifetimes have ever faced, but what’s individual becomes the universal.
When You’re Catching Hell, Keep Catching It
The loneliness we feel right now is tough. It’s not fair. It’s not what we are wired to be. I do not appreciate this loneliness, because I used to not actually be lonely. I could always find people to meet and enjoy. Except now. Nothing hits the way I want it to.
It’s no secret I’ve been a much different person over the past 2+ years, but this pandemic has throw me back into the survival mode I used to inhabit back when I was mad and broke and homeless and at a spiritual dead-end — where I don’t thrive, and I’m not sure many of us do. I want to live, flourish, love.
While we’re all in the Grand Pause in the human symphony, it’s natural for many of us to think, “I should be ______”, or “What if I never ______?”. Even before that, there were ways in which society, peers, bosses, partners, family, friends and our selves would put pressure on us to act or do.
Truth is: you don’t really get to decide your course, only small bits of it to the extent that you can. (Obviously, your mileage will vary, given certain privileges afforded to you, and copious amounts of luck.)
As long as you’re a net-positive influence on those around you and the environs that contain you, you do not need to run yourself into the ground believing you can be more, greater, or what’s expected or demanded. Most of those dreams are, by now, or perhaps always were, impossible. I suppose all that’s left to say, now, is “be good to you,” … if you can.
The pause is a time, if you can do it — and many don’t have that luxury — to take inventory and ask yourself the big questions.
- Are my beliefs correct?
- Am I living in alignment with them?
- Do I have what I need?
- Am I doing what I wish to be doing?
You might feel stuck right now. This may surprise you, yet, we all are, in our own way. Ain’t no sense in rushing through. You ain’t gonna get to the end faster. All you gotta do for now is put off the end as long as possible.
The Many Questions I’ve Asked Myself Yielded the Same Answer
As for me, my own questions cascade:
- what late-blooming writer doesn’t edit?
- what asthmatic marathoner smokes?
- why do I fritter and waste once-in-a-lifetime opportunities?
- why am I on medium and not on a bookshelf?
- why don’t I ask for help? Favors? Anything?
- why do I apologize for promoting myself?
- why do I have *everything* except *exactly* what I want?
A god-like voice (so, Jackée in 227) beamed down from heaven: “You’re afraid of greatness because you feel guilty it’s been given to, of all people, you.”
I felt the urge to cry and scream from the top of a mountain. That feeling — like all feelings in the time of Corona — lasted about 30 seconds before being paved over in catatonic melancholia.
A Pandemic Status Update
I’m now 140 days deep into my own personal self-quarantine during the pandemic. I can’t see anyone until the number of new cases per day in my metro area drops to a seven-day rolling average of less than 10. Honestly. That’s my bar. It’s gonna be a while.
I have two rules for Coronapalooza:
- Don’t die.
- 2. Set myself up for a successful reentry into the world.
The former is easy: stay home and don’t see anyone. The latter is dicier, always. We’re building the plane in the air.
Due to my immune system, I’ve had to be even more socially distant than most, and so that’s made this stretch positively brutal. I wonder how long it’ll go on and how agoraphobic I will become. It’s been bad, but hopefully I won’t net out not too bad when this all subsides, however it does. I have a lot on the horizon I want to do.
Most days, my beard makes me look like I’m about a month away from a walking stick and a metal detector on a beach. Up until the hot Texas summer, my olive skin faded into translucence. But despite the isolation and deterioration, I have rebounded from a dark period into a slightly brighter one.
I perform well in crisis, to the extent that I can get things done when my back is against the wall and the only way out is through. The ambiguity of this unique crisis point has sabotaged some aspects of my crisis navigation skill sets.
So Many Other People Are Hurting
Last month, I watched someone run up onto the overpass where the Texas Route 45 toll road meets Insterstate-35 here in Austin, and thought about jumping. He was, eventually, mercifully, talked down.
I suspect this will become the norm. I’ve been thinking about a quote a lot lately: “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
When there’s an epidemic of mental illness, it doesn’t mean people are getting weaker or softer. It means society is getting crueler and harder. Take a good look around. Which feels more true to you?
Until we’re able to talk about, destigmatize and stop shaming people for feeling their feelings, particularly in *this* social climate — particularly amongst men who all genders continue to shun when they’re not being steely, stoic immovable rocks — the suicidal ideation will continue and increase exponentially as the economy and society crumbles.
- Stop saying “your feelings are valid” and ask validating questions of people.
- Stop posting the suicide hotline and start offering your number.
- Stop saying “you are loved” and start loving people.
- Stop praying for people and start talking to them.
The writing I’ve done here has — not to toot my own horn, or anything, but I think in this context, it’s warranted — saved the lives of strangers just by having conversations with people. You hold that power, too. Imagine what you can do for people you love.
Until we get through this and put a new social contract in place, we’re going to have to look out for each other. Almost nobody’s problems are small enough to solve themselves. Nobody’s coming to save us or take care of us, and a lot of us are going to be up on that overpass, thinking things over. Could be someone you know. Could be you.
Death by Doomscroll
Humans were not wired to be this connected to each other or to affairs at large, nor to be this overburdened and overworked. We are chained to our screens to ease the loneliness of isolated quarantine, and to continue working, and yet those same screens and wires connect us directly to the hell unfolding before us, without end, without reprieve, without respite.
I can’t keep watching the horror-show. With every new video, slice of breaking news, or personal story, my Facebook feed (and I suppose all of ours, on some level) has devolved into a terrifying snuff film — a real-time apocalyptic doom-scroll. One that not only never ends, but gets orders of magnitude worse, seemingly by the hour. Each day lasts a week. Each month lasts a year.
I miss my friends and family, sure, but I also miss whatever semblance of sanity that still existed in this godforsaken land. I miss the analogue world. I miss joy. I miss truth. I miss goals and dreams, successes and rooting interests. It’s now just pitch-black terror, illuminated by the soft LED glow of a laptop or smartphone. It’s all-encompassing and all-consuming.
I left Facebook for the month of June. I came back, thinking I could make it all the way to my usual end-of-season run of mid-October. I lasted 17 days. I can’t stay here. I’m not sure I can stay anywhere. My self-preservation mechanisms are kicking in again, and I need to protect my soul and psyche against the harsh light of hell.
Sure, it’s a privilege to be able to “check out” of all this, but its one I need to exercise again. This place is a public health hazard, an anxiety-inducing free-fall into the abyss. Not even the care I take in cultivating an intelligent, empathetic social circle is insulation enough. The imagery, the non-stop thermonuclear headlines leave me panic-stricken. I must again bow out at close-of-business today. I don’t know when I’ll be back.
When we were born, we had all the potential and possibility ahead of us. We were sold a litany of ideas and ideals. They did not come true. Nothing did. We were led, without our consent or help, to a slaughter. In some cases literally to death and demise, in most cases merely an all-out assault on our hope and sanity.
This techno-dystopia is no life at all. I wonder what life is like somewhere life exists. I miss what we had, even if it was the deep flaws contained within it that led us to our current disruptive state of affairs. I miss the non-linear march towards something grander, sweeter and richer. It never flourished.
Instead, life exists inside these bezels, an unrelenting hellscape that’s no life at all, an unyielding window into death, destruction, doom, devastation, decimation and deviance.
Humans we’re not wired to be as wired, wirelessly, as we are. We now exist in split realms: the virtual and the physical. The amount of time spent in the former directly affects are interactions in the latter.
I am, forever and always, reminded of the perfect, prescient final paragraph from Jia Tolentino’s End-of-2016 recap for The New Yorker (appropriately titled “Worst Year Ever, Until Next Year”).
“There is no limit to the amount of misfortune a person can take in via the Internet, and there’s no easy way to properly calibrate it — no guidebook for how to expand your heart to accommodate these simultaneous scales of human experience; no way to train your heart to separate the banal from the profound. Our ability to change things is not increasing at the same rate as our ability to know about them. No, [this] is not the worst year ever, but it’s the year I started feeling like the Internet would only ever induce the sense of powerlessness that comes when the sphere of what a person can influence remains static, while the sphere of what can influence us seems to expand without limit, allowing no respite at all.”
If there’s something better out there, I’m going off in search of it. It sure as hell ain’t in here … I’m only left to wonder if such a thing exists at all.
What’s Left to Live For?
Why do we live? We live to have our hearts broken, our dreams shattered, our bodies broken, our minds lied to, and our souls crushed. These are natural processes of aging, the results of learning the endless optimism of our youths were naivete. If that sounds depressing, I encourage you to keep reading.
There’s two reasons to keep grinding: one is because you expect big things, the other is to avoid catastrophe. I was always motivated by the latter. It kept me doing just enough to have a passable life. Then I got to an age where passable just wasn’t enough.
Thing is, catastrophe always comes — whether you try to avoid it or not. Look at 21st Century America, for example. The 2000 Election, 9/11, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, The 2008 recession, Occupy, The Tea Party, Police Brutality, Trump, #MeToo, COVID. To name a few. It’s unjust. But what to do?
I posit it’s in our best interest to protect ourselves against the inevitable by doing our best to cultivate an environment that prevents catastrophe, and drowns it out with the good in our own hearts.
We do this when we keep grinding, because we expect big things, and demand better of ourselves and our communities. We do this when we unleash our best selves and better angels to win out against self-destruction and our worst impulses.
Those who think life is full of bullshit so wait for bullshit to arrive and confirm their worst suspicions. Those who think a better life and world are worth fighting for will work their ass off to make it so. The bullshit is merely the cost of doing business.
Debt carries interest. So does wealth. Deposit as much as you can into your life and the world around you, and when the bill arrives, we will be to absorb the hit we take. That’s as a message to me as it is to you.
We’ll leave our hearts broken, our dreams shattered, our bodies broken, our minds lied to, and our souls crushed. But we’ll arrive with something better: a better life than we ever dreamed, a better world than we had before. We transcend cynicism through learning, love, courage and effort. That’s the life lesson. When things go wrong, you do right.
How Do We Ever Recover?
We are now, cosmically, at a critical point in our Civilizational experiment. Lives are being lost. Livelihoods are being lost. Whole societies are imploding from within. That we have our wirelessness, yes, makes it tenable, but it was this quest to intermesh ourselves with our Lord and Savior Technological Progress that masked the fact we’d forgotten how to progress in other areas — to the degree that we ever knew.
I think — and this scales far higher than as individuals — we must really ask ourselves, “what kind of civilization doesn’t take care of it’s own?” Why must the human fabric enslave itself to things like shareholder value, student loans and status quo? Why aren’t we reimagining the way in which we live?
Truth is: without debt there is no wealth. And without wealth there is no inherent power. That’s why black folx talk, rightly, of reparations. Wealth was plundered, and must be rebalanced. Wealth is surplus. Surplus is valued, yet has no value. It just sits there. Earning interest.
Meanwhile, lives and livelihoods are lost. Societies implode. Flowers turn to bone. We’ll read about it on our phones. Our ancestors disapprove. We just lost the moon.
The world is a feedback loop. We transmit our truths. Others receive them and it informs them. Within and apart from those truths are emotions. We are all facing the toughest of both our truths and emotions we ever have. I thrive in chaos only after I’ve had a chance to receive it and process it. Otherwise, I’m a tornado. I was that tornado, gaining force for weeks. The funnel cloud is gone for now.
If you’re hurting … Just hurt. Go on and hurt. Tell people you hurt. And don’t settle for “you are loved” bullshit or advice from other hurting people. Just hurt. And keep hurting. Your problems are bigger than you alone are going to be able to solve.
It’s Hard to Write Self-Help Right Now
Some time ago, summer 2017, specifically, when I was really off the rails, I started using Medium as an outlet to document my travels and trials and triumphs, shining through the lens of self-help. (Even if it was dressed up in anti-self-help.)
Along the way, we went to many countries, many cities, many coasts. We helped normalize public talk about depression, dystopia, sex, psychedelics and so much more. I got to take you with me, and that was cool.
People here seemed to like it. I got a lot of messages from around the world saying things like, “I resonate with this so much,” or “❤️” or something — and that was great, and I always had new places to go, new thoughts to think, new endeavors upon which to embark. They were fun. They were everything, until they weren’t. Now, the adventures are no longer possible.
I write a lot, but at the end of the day, it is my craft … It is not me. John Gorman the storyteller just ain’t John Gorman the human. Never has been. Never was.
Even if I’m one of the best yarn-spinners on Earth (debatable, still), that doesn’t mean I want to do that 24x7. Now, in the absence of human contact, and with no end to this quarantine in sight, I feel like that’s all I have left to do. Spin yarns.
I would just rather not. My words are not my worth. Whatever it is you do, remember it’s not your worth, either. I have nothing new to say. No new thoughts to think. No new places to go. No new people to meet.
Sure, I could be doing this forever, here, recycling my same tired talking points of “the world’s a mess,” and “y’all are doing the best you can with the information you have available to you,” and “people just want to be satisfied with their lives and belong somewhere.” In some new form. But I’m tired.
Mostly, I’m tired of screens. I’m tired of my phone and my laptop. Tired of reading, and really, really tired of writing. Most of that writing initially came from a dark place. Not just in how I see the world, but in how I saw myself.
Truth be told, until about late-2017, I didn’t see myself as much. Then the booze left and the words flowed better. Those words did something nothing else I ever made ever did: they made a difference. That meant I made a difference. Call me naive, but I didn’t see that coming. Until then, I assumed I’d work a corporate job forever, and maybe earn my way into management.
Anyway, after about a decade of being an amateur-hack impersonating an essayist, I felt good and vindicated. The victories were surreal and myriad. But it was my life apart from the work that really took off.
I’ve always told stories. But over the course of the past year, as I look over the parts of my life that were truly awe-inspiring and brought me the most joy, none of them had to do with words spilled here.
Long ago, I reached a point where I felt my value was directly tied to the shit I had to say. If I didn’t say anything, or say it the best, then I’d be forgotten. And that’s just not how I value myself anymore. 85% of the time, I’m happy as a clam. At peace. That’s a B grade. I’ll take that just like I took it in college.
All that self-help-y writing is a holdover from a period of my life that was several shades darker. As one friend pointed out recently, “I can tell when you’re going to get depressed, because you start posting a lot.” It’s me trying to slam all the buttons on the keyboard to unfreeze my CPU. I don’t really need to do that anymore. I can just unplug and plug it back in.
Writing is a line of work for me. Yes, it comes from my soul (even the branding bullshit), but I — and I am very grateful for this — turned my soul into a career. Yet, my soul is different now, and I’d be lying if I told you I, or you, could self-help my way out of this mess. My problems are too big for me alone to solve.
Mostly, I miss being able to casually talk shit, make jokes, converse. I know damn well I ain’t gotta write one more damned public diary entry or lengthy sociopolitical screed to know I’m valued for being a regular-ass decent dude … One who just happens to have a pretty dope day-job doing whatever the hell I want.
I mean, that shit is cool. Not everyone has that, and that’s something I appreciate and never take for granted. But when I thought about the last piece that was missing in my life, it was … Just … Being normal AF in normal AF places. Extra is exhausting. I’d rather just be here.
When I get back out into the wild, I want to do more non-word shit: half-marathons, golf outings, mountain hikes, dinner parties, speaking on stages, singing on stages (maybe), wandering around the world. Might even fall in love. Who knows? Loose cannon over here.
But one thing I know I’m not is I’m just not that perpetually sad and pathetic anymore … at least, on the inside. I’ve now merely internalized the pathetic sadness of the world “out there.”
I’m desperate, lonely, in survival mode, and marking an indefinite amount of time, holed up in a city and country I’m not supposed to be in, as a pandemic accelerates the speed of social collapse around me.
How could I not be? I’m more concerned about the folks in the US who can look at all this and not get depressed or anxious.
I’d rather make dad-jokes and talk about the triangle offense, or power-rank shit like culinary spices, or comb through my 800-page NASA coffee-table book, or play guitar.
Still, We Must Continue to Press Onward
Despair is something I feel, often. Lately, it’s been all-consuming. It makes it hard to work, hard to talk, hard to sleep, hard to breathe, hard to dream. I’ve become reclusive and nearly mute. I find no joy in even the smallest things, beyond a very select few that are completely divorced from everything I enjoyed up until about a month ago. I wonder how long it’ll be like this, or if it’ll get better, or if it’ll only get worse.
A year ago, I had a hand in organizing, and the honor of MC’ing, a protest/vigil at the TX Capitol. At the time, the US govt was operating inhumane detainment camps at the border. I know it’s been drowned out by (*gestures at everything*) all this, but … Well … they still are.
It was, of course, an important night for our Austin community, and a fairly monumental one for me, as I’d never once even attended a protest before … I do my best work at a laptop and not a podium.
And yet, it’s hard not to see the work of a year ago as an ominous harbinger of the hell to come, and not the start of fortuitous turnaround. After all, life here got exponentially worse and not only did we not solve for grievances aired that evening, we slammed our way into infinite new crises or an exacerbation of those that existed already.
It’s hard not to look around at the mess and remain enthusiastic about cleaning it up, when there’s industrial-strength sociopaths further trashing the place, when you realize just about everything you learned or want to believe is a lie, or when you realize those who haven’t become desensitized to mass death are actively aided it and cheering it on.
How sad this place is, and how bitter and caustic. How apathetic and antipathic. How hard it is to live here, alone, isolated, in a nation that fundamentally discourages compassion, progress, innovation, love, free thought, joy and the pursuit of ideals.
Still, I press onward, burnt out on bad news, burning the candle at six ends, biting off more than I can chew in the hopes that maybe there is yet something of a society that’s able to be salvaged. I have reservations, as I always do. Because, no matter how much I share my feelings … It’s ultimately not about my feelings.
I suppose if I could offer any word of hope to anyone, or everyone, or whatever, it’s this: it won’t be like this long. Sure, it may keep getting unfathomably worse, yet at this rate it really cannot for much longer. At some point, either it collapses completely or there’s reversal momentum too strong to hold back.
And if I could offer you a little something else, it’s this: whatever your goals or hopes or dreams were before this, may I suggest pivoting toward the course of “ending this bullshit.” Whatever you can do, really, about any of the myriad five-alarm fires blazing here. Collective action is kinda the only bullet we’ve got left if we want to be able to realistically have goals or hopes or dreams again.
When there’s a raging forest fire, and you’re equipped with just one hose, you might think, “well, what the hell am I going to put out with this?” My answer is always: one tree. Just point it at one tree. And maybe you can put it out, and once that’s done, just move onto the next one. Enough people do that, to enough trees, and the forest stops burning.
But in the meantime, maybe try and hug your kids, make love to your partner, go outside, enjoy the taste of your food, learn something new, listen to your favorite playlists, and be kind to strangers. Try and laugh or make your friends laugh. Give something of yourself every day, to someone or something good.
This is an incalculable amount of suffering. Truly. You have to be able, in the midst of it all, remember that your life still counts for something and the clock hasn’t stopped on it. Joy and purpose, compassion and learning, these things are ultimately why life is so precious and needs to be so fiercely fought for.
Ultimately, that’s what your life is: it may not make a big difference grand scheme, yet if you spend your time on the right things, say what you mean, share your gifts, and support other people, and you do it a for the right reasons, that’s about the best you can do.
The rest is up to people and forces you can’t control. Someone once told me “you shouldn’t worry about what you can’t control.” Well … I worry, anyway. I don’t know if you should, but you’d better be worried about what you can do to curb the demons outside of your control … Remember: One hose, one tree.
This place is burning. The fire brigade is spraying jet fuel instead of water. It’s up to us to put out the flames. Till then, I suppose all that’s left to ask of you is to try to take care of yourselves, spend your time wisely and be good to people. The world is a fragile place and civilization is a wafer-thin protective coating.
Yes, It Really Is This Bad
Long ago, I imagined I reentered the world, and left the country.
Yet the world I want to re-enter is not safe. It’s, as I predicted long ago, radically and irrevocably altered from the one I decided to leave. It’s bad all-around, and getting exponentially worse by the day, and I wish folks would stop telling me to cheer up, or think positive, or remember that the universe has your back and everything happens for a reason. Sometimes that reason is just pathological self-interest at scale.
A friend of mine once said, “real talk doesn’t make for good small talk.” And I’ve always tried to be real with you here. For the past decade, I’ve been torpedoed by the “good vibes only” and “gratitude” crowds for being too bleak, but in retrospect, perhaps I wasn’t bleak enough. Life unequivocally sucks at the civilizational level … Even if individually, everybody’s mileage will vary.
As for me (not that you asked), I’m great. I’m productive again, I’m as healthy as I’ve ever been, I’ve got food and water, shelter, some money in the bank, and I have a supportive and altruistic series of social support systems locally and globally. That global part is prescient, and I feel an intense tinge of sadness when I think about it.
This was supposed to be my last year in Austin, and in the US. Over the winter, I worked toward getting a work visa to the EU, where I was to end up in Lisbon, Portugal. The pandemic came, the world shut down, and the process remains incomplete, with plans on indefinite hold. Maybe I’ll get there someday. Maybe that’s champagne problems.
Thing is … I can’t think of a worse place to be trapped right now. We’re a sinking ghost ship, a stem-rot hell-hole of a kleptocratic authoritarian technodystopia. And I saw this coming. And I waited a season too long to make my escape. The saving grace of being here — a thriving community I can see at any time, doesn’t really exist. Everyone’s a world away … Buried under a Zoompocalypse of conference calls, texts and a lack of physical touch.
And yet, under the socially distant dystopian clouds, I did take a two-hour hike on a gorgeous day, here in home of Austin, Texas. I’m appropriately tuckered out. I saw a turtle, and I like turtles.
Life goes on, as we sit in the endless suspension of not knowing what’s next, not knowing when it’ll end, not knowing if and when our imagined futures become reality or impossible pasts.
But, more often than not, when I turn off the screens and turn off my brain that’s endlessly churning creative ideas drummed up from the darkest of days and demons, the sun still shines, the brooks still babble, and home is wherever we find peace.
Existence is short and fragile, timeless and priceless. You can’t control 99.9% of it at the level you’d like to, but you can put a vice grip on that 0.1% and protect it with all the love and care of life itself. And, should you find yourself the opportunity to take a walk in the woods … Take it. This place is pretty nice. It’s the other people, generally, who’ll ruin it for you.
All That’s Left to Do
Everyone’s quarantine has been different, yet I think the one thing our time here in the COVID era holds in common is what I am calling “tonal whiplash.” I’ve felt, at various moments: outraged, tranquil, depressed, lethargic, joyous, proud, frustrated, exhausted, anxious, hopeful, fitful, nostalgic, empathetic, dark, sweet and adrift … among other things.
These feelings seem to shuffle, with great irregularity and intensity, either provoked or unprovoked, seemingly daily, or hourly. My best moments have come in small moments: connecting with nature or other people, doing good or doing what I love (not that these are binaries).
Truth is: being alive still beats the alternative. In an era of traumatizing mass death, profound loss, and a kind of righteous reckoning over mass, longitudinal trauma, I would be foolish to consider taking my own life. In fact, in all my hemming and hawing over just how bleak and tragic it all is, I feel more resigned to my own, and our mutual, survival than ever before.
In fact, I feel empowered to radically transform. I just don’t have a strong desire to reemerge from this cocoon the same caterpillar I was before. I don’t want to think the same, feel the same, be the same or do the same.
Not that I was bad before … I wasn’t. And not that anyone who’s known me a long time thinks, “I mean … He ain’t changed a bit.” Of course I have, and we all have, and are changing still. I just think there’s something better out there. Not for me (but for me), but for everyone.
There’s new stories to tell, but before we can scamper off to the horizon in search of the next chapter, we gotta clean up the loose ends. We gotta get so iron-clad in our resilience that when the shockwaves come, the boat holds fast. I think I just mixed a metaphor.
Anyway, look, here’s the point: we’re all doing the best we can, and we’re doing it in the face of tremendous lies and trauma at every turn, from birth to death and all points in between, disbursed inequitably among a myriad of factors. It’s hard to find truth, joy, health and community in a place like this.
But we can fix that, so long as we are willing to radically transform, to be curious, to be resilient, to be the flowers that bloom in the wild and not at the hands of the gardener, to preserve hope, value life and protect the fragile little world that holds us all.
I’d be an idiot to tell you when this will end, or when life will get better, or what a *normal* will look like when we are done with all this, and when that moment will arrive. We’re stuck here awhile, and while the trendlines will zig-zag and daily horrors will multiply, and your plans and the social climate will be vigorously upended without your consent, there’s one thing you can count on: yourself.
Because whether quarantined or not, oppressed or privileged, you cannot escape yourself, and you’ve been stuck in your body since the day you were born. Far longer than the 140+ days since this began, and your time could expire at any date.
You’ll feel a lot while you’re here … It’s what lets you know you’re still alive. It’s what makes the small moments stand out. It’s what makes the fight for survival important. It’s what makes you matter — you alter the very nature of reality via your very presence within it, and once we’re gone, reality ceases to be.
I saw a nice sunset the other day. I’ve already forgotten which day it was; I suppose it doesn’t really much matter. Every sunset is another day counted, another win in the battle against death, another reminder that every day’s important and we’re all just marking time in our own small ways against the vast expanse of the cosmos.
Wear a mask. Stay the hell home. Be kind. Err on the side of justice. But, please, remember to take some time to appreciate your life. We each only get one, the ride can stop without warning, and that’s the whole damned reason it’s worth protecting and preserving.
A Final Thought, In Case We’re Doomed
A while back, I resigned myself to the possibility that [*gestures at everything*] all this will never get better.
That this virus will be the catastrophe that acts as the catalyst for societal implosion, that we don’t ever rid ourselves here, in the US, of the virus, that I am stuck, here, in quarantine, in Austin, in the US, for all my remaining days. Unable to see anyone.
Sick thought experiment, right? A few months ago, that felt unthinkable, right? And the truth is … I had to make peace with it, because until I do, I’ll be flailing in all directions, holding onto hope that never arrives, and gazing into the impossibility of an imagined future.
Well then I asked myself … how would I live? What kind of person would I be? Well … I’ve thought about it. And it’s oddly liberating.
And I’m starting to realize that what I thought I couldn’t do without, I can. And what I wanted to do, I didn’t really want to do. And what constitutes happiness isn’t really that. And I’m learning at light-speed that maybe I’m different than I thought I was.
I think, if we’re being real, only three things matter:
1. Surrounding myself [virtually, in this case] with a few good people and nurturing those relationships, and finding and falling in love with someone I can see and touch.
2. Eating good food and drinking enough water and trying my best to move around and break a sweat, maybe brush my teeth and shower and tidy up.
3. Spending your time doing what you love in a meaningful way, and aiming to leave a net-positive impact on the world in my remaining days, all without running out of money.
I may not see any more of this beautiful world than I have already, I may not ever do the things I’m quote-unquote supposed to do. I may die before my time.
But I’ll make it a point to laugh often, love deeply, work towards providing hope for myself and other people, take care of myself and whoever I can, be intentional about what I devote my time and energy to, and leave all the words out in the wild as I possibly can, in the hopes that someone, someday will find them. Maybe I won’t write self-help, but I can find ways to help myself.
Maybe that’s all too bleak and heavy for you. But ask yourself, really, isn’t it possible that this is it?
If you think about it, we’re all in quarantine, always. That’s what life is — a temporary state of suffering, with pockets of joy, and a fleeting chance to transcend the vessels of blood and bone in which our souls reside.
Isn’t that what life really is, anyway? We all gotta die. We all have an indefinite future. Things can always go off the rails, even if it’s already off the rails.
And so we need to all, really critically, take a good look inside ourselves and ask … let’s say we’re stuck here? (We are. We’re marooned in the universe on an orb of space-rock.) Let’s say this is all we get? (It is. It always was.)
How will you live? Who will you become?
The answer will be different for everyone. Yet, I still choose, forever, the pursuits of health, happiness, peace, purpose, community, wisdom and freedom.
Those seven noble pursuits don’t die, either in a pandemic or a social collapse. Your dreams may change, the means and the conditions may change, but the ends are always the same: sail closer to the light within yourself every day, and the world around you shall never unravel the world within you, no matter how stormy the seas, nor how dark the skies.
The skies are dark as night now. The only light left is whatever shines within you, should you refuse to give in to the darkness around you.
Keep shining. That’s … about as much self-help as I’ve got left to give.