Make up your own mind.
Woman Leaving the Psychoanalyst (1960) by Remedios Varo
What happens when I don’t want to tell you anything, when you don’t feel like a friend at all, when I’m not grateful, when my takeaway is that no one gets it, and I just want to protect myself, stay hidden, rise above this sodden decomposing world like a glint of sunlight in the trees? What happens when I grow tired of fumbling pooh bears and basic bitch boys and empty headed dolts, with their narrow minds and short attention spans and incomplete memories?
Give me an army of former confused children with minds like sharpened sticks, whose parents told them one thing and did another, made one thing and broke another, built one thing and destroyed another. We grow obsessed and strange, we bend and tangle with ourselves, we make odd rules and honor imaginary codes, we run long and digress and double back and second guess, we require good listeners, we need to see a taste for complexity and grandiosity in your eyes, we grow impatient with your reductive dogmatic conclusions.
But we’re also ridiculous, twisted up and high strung, strings of lights tangled in branches then bursting into flames. We seem out of touch with reality, but no one will admit that it makes simple sense, that reality disappoints us for good reasons. Honoring our own invented codes isn’t grift, it’s not careerist, how could it be? We take back roads and shortcuts, refuse to nod along, choose to be unpopular if it means making something that doesn’t feel pointless and flimsy and wrong like almost everything else that’s here. We risk loneliness and insolvency to become a person who doesn’t have to turn every symphony into a jingle for the sake of some impatient, empty audience.
If you weren’t an intense child, we might not have anything to say to each other. If the world doesn’t seem absurd and fucked to you, we can’t throw back a drink together and pretend it’s beautiful. It’s funny that you think people who opt out must be unhappy. It’s funny that you don’t understand what you’re hearing or seeing, that rumble lower than a bass line, that glint in the trees, that pressurized longing that floats in on a warm wind, the remnants of tornados that ripped a wide path from Arkansas to Ohio, a memo from a wrathful god who’s not finished with his redecorating project yet.
Most commercial creations are designed to make us feel better about doing nothing. Most institutions have a way of framing discovery and delight as if they’re onerous and punitive. Most people look past each other or avoid each other or project their insecurities and fears onto each other. Imagine having the strength and courage of conviction to become a worshipful apprentice, to surrender to your heroes, to miss the joke, to miss the party, just so you can wrestle this jingle into a symphony.
We require that kind of intense focus and devotion now. Disappointment has become part of the landscape. We hoped for the best when the pandemic started, now we pray to avoid the worst. Our leaders told us one thing and did another, made one thing and broke another, built one thing and destroyed another. We grew obsessed and strange, we bent and tangled with ourselves, we slipped out of each other’s grasps and got lost inside our heads.
Two months ago there was a stampede at the mall. Two weeks ago three people were shot there. Now no one goes to the mall anymore. Everything arrives in packages. Three days ago I received broken glass in a box with no bubble wrap and no note. I don’t know who to thank or to blame. I’m not sure how to fix this or anything else. There will be delays and mishaps, they say, and there’s nothing anyone can do.
The principal at the middle school was led out in handcuffs and no one will explain why. The principal at the high school broke his wrist trying to stop a fight between students and now he’s relocating to a different school across the state. One kid at the middle school was handing out her parents’ cash to other kids, large dollar amounts. We got an email requesting that kids bring back those tall stacks of cash, no questions asked. We got an email from the high school telling us that some kids took “a foreign substance” and ended up in the emergency room. Parents were asked to discuss “foreign substances” with their kids. “It’s hard to have a conversation about a substance if you don’t know what it is,” I wrote to the principal with the broken wrist who will only be at his job for another week now. In response I received a form letter about the importance of respecting the privacy of kids who take foreign substances.
Mad respect to those kids. They’re also ridiculous, twisted up and high strung, strings of lights tangled in branches then bursting into flames. They seem out of touch with reality, but no one will admit that it makes simple sense, that reality disappoints them for good reasons. Honoring their own invented codes isn’t aberrant, how could it be? They take back roads and shortcuts, refuse to nod along, choose to be unpopular if it means experiencing one day that doesn’t feel pointless and flimsy and wrong like almost everything else that’s here.
Trying something new can be good for you. Imports are slow but when they arrive and they aren’t broken, they might be just want you needed to beat a new path out of this thicket, to evade the stultifying, the empty, the disastrously ill-considered, to sidestep the stampede. Here is a tower of currency. Here are the domestically produced edibles falsely characterized as foreign. Here is a day unlike any other.
Don’t let them drag you down into their empty nouns and passive verbs, every word an excuse for doing nothing. Sit with me and watch the stars fall into the compost pile. I’ll tell you everything, the world is ending, you’re my friend, things will probably get worse, I’m grateful you’re here. The past sharpened us to a point, let’s use it to cut through this slow sinking feeling, let’s organize this chaos, let’s become obsessed with the tiny things we can control, let’s throw ourselves at what we love, it’s a battle not a dance, swear fealty to these decomposing stars, protect whatever inchoate instinct you have, make them roll their eyes, put yourself in a bubble, a rogue agent, a foreign substance, alight and absorbent, lofting debris 30,000 feet into the atmosphere, embracing the inevitable, enjoying what you are.