There have been moments when I’ve fancied myself a writer. It wasn’t always that way. I crept into it slowly, writing casually for entertainment, correspondence or popular appeal. Certainly, there were moments of personal disclosure when I would be navigating complex feeling, intention, memory and association. I didn’t particularly seek those moments, but neither did I avoid them. Along the way, I found a groove, enacting devices to engage, provoke or inspire. Writing arrived with the glib pouring forth of words to describe a travel experience or when I was either so angry or sad that I didn’t have to think what to write next. Or else I fancied myself at least a passable expository writer who could present a detailed subject with some clarity.
But I am no longer traveling, and my outrage button has become exhausted, replaced by disgust at the extreme performative nature of public dialogue and a nagging resignation about the future. It all resides in a cavern of helplessness that seems to have numberless rooms to explore, places to get lost, where scant light ever ventures. If you’ve ever been in a vast cave, lit only by the artificial kind, you might already know how boring it can quickly become, especially if you tire of being reminded, everywhere you look, of how small you are in the great unwinding of time in silent darkness.
As far as expository writing is concerned, I must finally admit it’s too barren. It cannot come close to communicating the diversity and complexity of the real lives we are living in this time of the great unraveling—or how we are being lived by events and each other, by the warming oceans disrupting the primary currents, the disappearing ice. It’s thus just plain boring. I’m not journalist. It’s not my job to bring you the news in that familiar way and it’s about time to stop trying instead of using volumes of words to defend vague ideas in an impersonal way.
But where does this place me? I must learn something new all over again. Maybe I’ve been that journalist, that academic, that remote observer, that pretender to some ivory tower. But now, deciding what kind of writer I am not is not the same as becoming the kind of writer I will be. Because, really, when we get down to it, we’re talking about what kind of person I will be, how I imagine myself, how I am connecting (or not) to the world. And right now, it’s the ‘not’ connecting that’s haranguing me from the back rows, which is to say, I have wandered off from the campfire. I’m roaming in the dark, placing myself at the mercy of beasts of the night, divorced from camaraderie, landmarks, scents, ancestors, teachers, children, the whirling firmament and the community of souls that brought me here.
I haven’t been a storyteller. I’m not sure I ever set out to become a storyteller or if I even knew what it really is to tell a story. And that right there is the story, the poverty of my course, the dubious credentials I’ve claimed so far. Telling the story is not solely about someone as it is about a time, a place, a multi-dimensional thread of events creeping in from all directions and from distant peoples and times. It’s about the teachers we would not normally recognize. It’s the sensory, the cognitive, the relational, the mysterious and the unseen coming together in dynamic play, in evolutionary unfolding, in paradoxical awakenings, in pregnancies delivered just in time. Because that’s the nature of the lives we are living. Nothing will ever be straight again.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that nothing was ever straight to begin with, even though we clung to a biased fantasy of some narrow empiricism, the exclusion and violence at the heart of coloniality, the subtle catechism of modernity that all things have a place and must stay in their place as they are defined by science, religion and politics. We’ve been walking through these things as if in a hall of mirrors, wishing to see ourselves reflected back, confirming the ‘way things are.’ The entire enterprise resides in a fixed epistemology that always yields the same conclusion—the muting of nature and the supremacy of the (white) human and western ways of knowing. There, we never have to worry about the entire deck being thrown up into the air—as it is now—all the time.
When the way seems blocked, it’s time to break the mirrors. All bets are off. Empire is the Anthropocene monster eating its own tail, an exhausted enterprise shedding all but its most desperately loyal supplicants. The more they cling, the more they deny and pit themselves against the relentless and now accelerating de-westernization occurring throughout the global south and Asia, the greater the danger to us all. This beast of a nation will surely, under an authoritarian president, start an(other) entirely cynical and thoroughly corrupt (forever) war to reclaim its fantasy of supremacy, dragging a generation into hot conflict, brutalizing all dissent along the way, distracting from the rot within and the advancing consequences of its own extravagance. This will be the death throe of America—an economically and ideologically cornered giant drunk on its own self-dealing delusions and doubling down on its primary addictions.
The stage is set and the time for pretension is so over; the time to own up to my own pretensions is long past. Perhaps that’s why I am feeling so lost. Perhaps that’s why my recent gestures toward expression have felt so stale, so limited, and uninspired. Maybe it’s because the fire of my own truth burns as a small ember. I have retreated into my own incarceration. I am the jailer and the jailed. I am forgetting what I belong to. I am the sole party to the severance of my dependencies, my alliances, my symbiosis with the world. It’s time for oxygen, a return to (dare I say it) authentic spontaneity, time for a jailbreak, to explore the green glimmers of foreign and still hardy epistemologies, biding their time, and if it’s not too much of a cliche, breaking through the concrete of the dying order, revealing our true nature to ourselves and to each other.