Dear Fuck Up: How Do I Figure Out What I Want in Life When Every Day Feels the Same? (Jezebel)
That these are sad times and it feels bad to live in them is hardly insightful, but lately I’ve been wondering if it’s not so much the sadness but the sameness. Watching wicked people prosper over and over, having the same conversations about powerful men and the consequences they will never face, witnessing suffering that was easily anticipated and avoided, asking again and again what can be done about it and being told again and again, essentially, “nothing.” For a moment, early on in this present calamity, it felt like perhaps this could be a real rupture, but by now it’s clear our response will be more asking and more answering with “nothing,” more suffering, more pointless conversations, more prospering for a few of the expense of the rest.
The vast majority of people have jobs that are boring, at best. I recommend cultivating a healthy resentment toward your work. Put in just enough effort to keep your job and no more. The fantasy that an exciting career is enough to sustain a life is one of the most harmful of the modern age—you were never going to find meaning there.
I don’t think we really find meaning at all. We build it, most often with others. The only real antidote I’ve found to a sense of ever-present sameness is to attend to things that grow and change: living things. Care for something alive—start with something small and pitiful like a plant, if you want. A cat; a friend; a neighbor. Be wasteful and unproductive in your pursuits.
Jess Zimmerman: This Is All My Fault (Electric Literature)
I can't stop thinking about a sci-fi novel where a woman has to choose between personal and global ruin.
What if I, like Patricia, was at some point unwittingly asked to choose between my own contentment and global peace? If that happened, it’s clear which one I went for, and it’s ultimately no surprise; personal comfort over the greater good is a calculation I make again and again. If the question were posed again explicitly, I don’t even trust myself to choose a different way. I want all this to be over, to be better, for everyone; I want wrongs righted that I didn’t even realize were wrong six years ago, or that I understood were wrong but didn’t really think about because I didn’t have to. But would I give up everything good in my own life? Would I give up my partner, our home together, whatever I’ve made of my career? I want to say yes, but no.
In reality, of course, that question is purely academic. I couldn’t fix everything with one grand sacrifice, even if I wanted to. I couldn’t even fix it with a lifetime of smaller ones. Most of the world’s ills are created from the top down, and can only be truly addressed from the top down. We tend to overestimate the role that individual choices can play, partly because that overestimation gives us an opportunity to be self-important or scoldy, but mostly because people like to feel as if it matters what they do. Tip well, call your senators, eat less meat, buy reusable replacements for your single-use papers and plastics; these efforts make us feel helpful, and they are helpful, to a point. At the same time, though, they will always be eclipsed by the inaction of the people who could really make a difference: the policymakers protecting the corporations and the corporations protecting themselves. You can’t flatten that curve on your own.
I’m not cruel, but I’m privileged and weak, and that’s enough to add up. And so when I think “this is all my fault,” I am wrong in every reasonable way except the one that matters.
It would be such a comfort to fully dismiss this self-blame as self-delusion. I obviously did not directly and single-handedly cause a pandemic, or global warming, or Fox News. Trump didn’t get elected because I didn’t knock on enough doors. But he might have gotten elected because everybody didn’t knock on enough doors, and one of those people was me. I stayed home when I should have been canvassing, emailed when I should have been calling, donated $25 when I could have afforded $50, said I would look for a volunteer gig and did not. And I’ve been given chance after chance to reconsider, disaster after disaster that could have shocked me from complacency into sacrifice, and every time I have chosen the easy way, and every time it gets worse.
The fantasy of being wholly to blame for everything is also a fantasy about being able to make it stop. Most of us will never get that chance—to choose the peaceful timeline or the content one, to make the brave sacrifice that saves the world, to warn the public in time or make a million bucks on insider trading. This is the purview of protagonists and villains. My purview is sitting inside, being more scared than I have a right to be, sending Venmos that will never be enough, watching people die anyway and not ever knowing whether it might otherwise have been just a tiny bit worse.
An essay about mental health by musician James Blake, from ‘It’s Not OK to Feel Blue (And other lies).’
When the delusional mental force field of whiteness finally popped (the ‘psychosis’ of whiteness, as Kehinde Andrews puts it, which most white people are still experiencing – I was still able to reap the now obvious benefits of being white, straight and male but without the subconscious ability to ignore my responsibility to the marginalized), I started having the uncomfortable but rational thought that my struggle was actually comparatively tiny, and that any person of colour or member of the LGBTQ+ community could feasibly have been through exactly the same thing and then much, much more on top of that. A plate stacked until it was almost unmanageable. For me it became embarrassing to mention my child’s portion of trauma and sadness.
Combining that thought with the normalized stigmatization of male musicians’ emotional expression in the media, I felt like I must be the ‘Sadboy Prince and the Pea’.
But my girlfriend verbally slapped some sense into me, saying it does not help anybody, least of all oneself, to compare pain. And that was good advice to hear from someone who’d been through what she has. I can only imagine how frustrating it was for this Pakistani woman to watch me – with all my advantages in life – self-sabotage and complain like I have. Fuck.
I believe it is psychologically dangerous for our egos to be built up as much as they are; for the importance of success to be so great; for the world to open its doors more to us than to others (most of us wilfully ignore that those advantages exist, though we feel them deep down, and subconsciously know that it is unfair and that we must capitalize on them).
I believe we’re entitled to no more than anybody else, which at this point requires a lot of listening and rebalancing. I also believe everybody is entitled to pain, no matter how perceptibly or relatively small that pain is. I don’t want the shame around depression and anxiety in privileged people to become worse any more than I want it for the marginalized. Because without addressing that pain we end up with more cis-gendered white male egomaniacs who bleed their shit on to everybody (and some of them will write albums about it).
Sarah Miller: The world is going to hell. Here's how I'm coping as California burns around me. (Insider)
Despite what the library industrial complex tells us, reading is not the only avenue to the kind of self-surprise that gives you reasons to go on. You could learn how to make your own whisky and hand it out to your neighbors, or move to Washington like Jane Fonda, with the goal of getting arrested as much as possible. You could help stop traffic for the kids who are climate striking so the kids can concentrate on yelling, or go stand with workers at one of the many strikes taking place right now in many sectors of the economy, quite possibly near you.
Dear Fuck-Up: How do you live when everything sucks?
Mental illness is a very much a matter of physiology and not one of will. Anyone who tells you to just try yoga or change your diet or think happier thoughts should have their teeth turn to ashes in their mouth. And I understand the importance of destigmatizing mental illness by rendering it within a medical framework. For too long we have viewed it as a moral indictment, to disastrous effect.
However, I also think this tends to throw a certain responsibility back onto those of us who struggle with it. Yes, my own personal brain chemistry is something I must reckon with, but doing so while navigating a cruel health care system, with the goal of remaining healthy enough to face a laughably uncertain financial future, all in service to surviving a world that is everywhere immiserating, hardly seems a good way to answer “how do I live.”
The best answer I’ve managed to come up with is that you live with intention of making that question easier for other people to answer. For me, the worst aspect of chronic depression (besides the boredom of it all) is the urge to be alone. If you’ve read my previous columns, you’ll notice that I almost always find a way to bring up our beholdenness to others. This is because I’m a lazy writer, but also because the fact of mutual obligation is what gives me the motivation to write at all. It’s also what animates any politics worth having.
Pokémon Go probably isn't going to change the world or anything, but for the brief period of time it is in the cultural zeitgeist, it is changing my small part of it. It is a reason to leave the hovel I call home. It is a reason to go places I haven't been before. It’s a reason to see all those friends I love and miss so much. Because of Pokémon Go, I have been able to meet and pet a lot of cute dogs and if nothing else, I am grateful for that. I texted my friend, Fontaine, about this game and told her that I’m so happy to finally have my Pokémon adventure. She called the game a dream come true — and it is. It’s a childhood dream fulfilled, it’s a rope to lift you out of that hole, it’s a small joy in a world of great terrors, and I cherish the ability to see the world with fresh eyes.
It has been a long goddamn winter. (At least it has here on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, i.e. the center of the known universe.) If you and your people are anything like me and mine, all your conversations over the past few months have tended towards serious discussions of the end times—which, for the naturally melancholic among us, can be a strange comfort. "Finally," you may have thought, "people get it! I'm not alone!" But now the sun has started to come out, and today you looked around and saw all the people smiling and frolicking, and the birds were singing about how much they want to have sex with each other, and you were like, "Oh, goddammit. Why do I still feel like garbage?"