Everything is instantly outdated, including me and you.
A Mrs. Radcliffe Called Today (1944) by Dorothea Tanning
My younger daughter, who’s about to turn 12, spends a lot of time on TikTok. In normal non-pandemic times, I’d have some objections to this. But the pandemic makes my before-times parenting brain look like an archaic tool from the distant past — a dusty typewriter or a metal bucket full of old flip phones.
TikTok also has a way of making my existing social media habits feel outdated – as in haunted mine outdated. After a few minutes with the rapid-fire wizards of TikTok, typing a witty tweet feels like trying to milk a laugh out of some dead sea scrolls. I find myself snagged on questions like, “Who could possibly care?” and “What else could I be doing right now?”
As it turns out, TikTok has a lot of very helpful suggestions for what else I could be doing. Watch enough footage of industrious young people whose bedrooms are a wonderland of delights – healthy plants, cool stationery, vintage posters of birds, Totoro plushies – and soon, you don’t just crave cottagecore and Ikea pegboards and cool shades of highlighters. You also want to optimize your morning routine and cook Korean comfort foods and rearrange your furniture and search for interesting make up online.
Apparently, people who hang out on TikTok also do things like teach their dogs to communicate using buttons that say words like outside and walk and also help and ugh. So now I can’t stop thinking about giving my dogs buttons that say things like I’m depressed and The struggle is real and Fuck the attention economy.
I need buttons for myself, so I can make those sounds in the privacy of my own home instead of tweeting them. I did tweet about the talking dog yesterday, only to discover that most people have known about Bunny for months now. For someone who’s been jacked into this pitiless matrix for decades, I’m pretty slow on the uptake. And while I’ve been on Twitter, arguing about that one article that none of us actually read, the rest of the world has been making matcha brownies, repotting their succulents, and talking to their dogs in the past-perfect tense about abstract art they saw in a book two weeks ago.
But it’s hard to keep up in a world that’s somehow both paused indefinitely and speeding forward faster by the day.
Last night, I had a Very Pandemic dream that was like Snowpiercer meets Frances Ha meets Top Hat. I was walking and then sort of sashaying through a dark, crowded train that was actually a narrow, moving bar, packed with people in tuxes and gowns, clinking glasses and smoking out of cigarette holders. Then I started dancing and leaping through the bar. I raised my arms into the air and discovered that I was wearing long white satin gloves and a light blue strapless chiffon gown.
To be clear, I don’t normally dream about bars or trains or what I’m wearing. But it felt so good to be packed in, yet still moving. It felt so good to be all dressed up and going somewhere. We were finally, legitimately all in this together: all laughing in the dark, all showered and presentable, all secure in the knowledge that good things were happening and would continue to happen. The scenery was constantly changing. No one was optimizing anything. No one was telling anyone else they’d been wrong about everything all along.
No one was trapped in their beautiful rooms. No one was telling anyone to go outside and take a walk. No one was talking to their dog about the walk they just took or the article they didn’t read or the walk they’d take tomorrow or the article they wouldn’t read, maybe the same one, maybe the same thing every single day until the end of time. The future didn’t match the present and the past. In my dream, I had a sense that this collective blur of smiling faces, soft fabrics, and clinking glassware could melt into anything. The past was intimate and seductive. The present was electric. The future was limitless.
A magazine editor told me yesterday that The Velveteen Rabbit was a reference no one would recognize, so we should just delete it. I wrote back, “It’s a classic. I’ll add a link.” I always wanted to understand older people’s references when I was young, but I didn’t have the internet to fill me in. Now we can link to anything under the sun, yet somehow the past is encountered as irrelevant or disposable. That one meme everyone has been passing around on Twitter for two hours is more significant than a book that’s sold 1.5 million copies over the course of almost 100 years.
Lately it feels like we’re all references that no one will recognize a few hours from now. Let’s delete this. Who could possibly care?
The struggle is real.
On Sunday, I watched the Super Bowl and felt nothing. Then I got on Twitter, just to fill the time, and left again quickly. Nothing seemed fun. My head was a bucket full of old flip phones. Yesterday I put on some red lipstick and I figured I should document such a rare moment of glowing up or whatever, so I took a very bad selfie in some very bad light. I studied it. Who could possibly care? I deleted it.
Last week, I was asked to write about women who’ve reinvented their careers at mid-life. The assignment itself felt condescending. Why is it always the women who have to reinvent themselves, while the men just jack it in the same exact key for decades on end and get praised to high heaven for it? I think I’ve reinvented myself enough. I’m not taking assignments that repeatedly circle my age when men never even write that shit once. Why does my age define me if theirs doesn’t? I’d rather make kimchi fried rice and color with my new markers.
Fuck the attention economy.
It’s a lonely time. But trying to take a brand new shape just to court relevance and keep a firm grip on whatever influence you have feels like a loser’s game. Even writing about the neat tricks other women have pulled off, in order to magically remain in the public eye in spite of oldness, feels like stabbing my own hand with a pocket knife. Why play along with such a doomed fable?
Instead, I want to do whatever it takes to conjure that speeding Covidpiercer bar train from my dream. I want a life that’s communal and satisfying, all forward motion and shared belief, all dancing and laughing and feeling sure-footed in spite of the fact that the ground keeps moving under our feet. Imagine being together, effortlessly, without masks and distance and so many years and miles between us, without anxious boredom throbbing in our ears, without knowing that you’ll forget me and move on, then everyone will forget you and move on, in turn. Imagine believing in forever again, the way you did when you were little.
Imagine feeling your long arms, reaching up into the dark, knowing that this world is bursting with life and you are bursting with life and it’s not over yet, not by a long shot.
Thank you for being here! Forever will return someday. In the meantime, slip your best friend some Molly: