My ex-wife used to say sex was either easy or impossible. There was no in-between. That was quite a declaration coming from a sex-therapist who helped people work through buried assumptions and emotional obstacles to healthy sexual relationships. I’m thinking the same principle applies to writing. It’s either real or it wanders off into strange and strained territory to become something else, like a mannequin, needing more and more layers of make-up to appear real, when actually, contrivance can never replace the spark of life. Even so, breaking through contrivance to live in reality requires more than a wish.
So it is with living nowadays as well, apparently. As the unraveling around us continues, the despair deepening and the warnings arising from diverse quarters, I spend another restless night processing the turbulence of the day in dreams, sensations, and images. I awaken without words to frame new (or ongoing) feelings, rising with aches and pains, old and new. I, like everyone else I suppose, continue to ride the rising tide of challenge and increasingly complex and fraught sense-making going on everywhere. In fact, it seems we’re all being continuously triggered and probably don’t even realize how vulnerable we’ve become.
I can’t look at anything anymore, food or energy prices, the tsunami of waste, the latest manifestations of systemic racism, nihilistic political agendas, vacuous declarations of so-called experts on cable TV, the creeping security state, looming mass evictions, the arrogance of empire giving oxygen to old tropes, the economic puppet show, the building wave of global (and domestic) refugees, the deepening divide over vaccination and especially the accelerating frequency of extreme weather events without looking at everything. Earth has a fever—we are all under its sway —and our behavior is approaching delirium.
I am unable to keep the blinders on or act unaffected. More and more comes packed into less and less, such that even the smallest encounters, like a simple hello, are loaded with import. If I applied the original adage to my current circumstance, I’d have to say with civic dialogue descending into chaos and governance hanging by a thread, with most everything we take for granted in upheaval, that life is approaching impossible. And it’s impossible to look away. If there is an answer, it’s to meet our vulnerabilities with unflagging courage, not retreat into a cocoon of falsehoods, to permit ourselves to be exposed, just as any sex therapist would suggest, remembering that hastily following impulses is a dangerous path and that love is stronger than fear.
But honestly, tell me you can look into the eyes of stranger or even someone you know intimately without having this experience. Maybe not all the time, but with rising frequency. What do you see? A desperate search for signposts or guidance or truth or any modicum of trust? Knowing we’re all undergoing a something in common, everywhere from your bedroom to your community to every place beyond, we are thirsting for the sparks of life breaking through the mirrors, the robotic or performative nonsense, and we are drawn to them instantly.
Amidst all the talk and the growing awareness of our predicament, I wonder if what I am feeling (and seeing) is the true nature of collapse. I can’t imagine how you are metabolizing this ongoing trauma overtaking us, but it’s become a pandemic in its own right. Not only are our primal rhythms under assault, but water cycles, growing seasons, the jet stream, soil viability, ocean currents, all are wavering and fueling increasing damage and desperate grasping for stability. All the boundaries that define us, most of which are enactments of coloniality, are blurring in a storm of converging data from biology, neuroscience, psychology, and spirituality, not to mention political ecology.
We are trying to birth ourselves into an as-yet-undefined world beyond right and wrong—or at least we’d better be– because nearly everything previously defined by the sham religion of modernity as right and wrong is part of the prison in which we are all held. Right and wrong are being brutalized, stripped of meaning, contorted, ignored, rendered inert by capitalism and the nation-state, shuttled off to a state-run home for advanced cases of moral equivocation. No wonder the maps are blurring and there’s extreme behavior all around us.
Are we seeking something new or are we reclaiming something as old as earth itself? Are we diverging of converging–or both? As a white person living in a (formerly?) white dominated world built on the bones and ashes of non-white cultures, where do I look for guidance? The world I grew up in, when the polarities seemed clear, when it was easy to say which side I was on, is dissolving. How we think, how easily we are triggered, the default psychic frameworks we relied upon are under reconstruction. Justice and injustice. Racism and so-called equality. Authoritarianism and so-called democracy. Sexism and so-called gender equity. Even war and peace wear rhetorical masks mocking their convergence. We can’t not notice that virtually every principle we once thought clear, activism, the definitions of problems and especially solutions all exist within the framework of modernity now under challenge. That template, with its innate violence, exclusion and systems of control, arbitrarily drawn international borders, sacred systems of law, language, commerce, faith, ritual violence and spirituality is just not working anymore.
Where are the signs of life coming from? Who knows better than anyone about the malignant appeal and tenacious grip of modernity? Who stands in starkest contrast to whiteness as the standard of humanity? Who embodies the visceral legacy of enslavement, throwing white privilege into high relief, and gives voice to the necessity of becoming a fugitive from the hegemonies of western culture? What happens to our bodies as conflict rises, as we perceive deeper layers of conditioning, peering past the constrictions of cultural and linguistic structures to a multi-colored coat of a new way? Even if I declare a tenuous independence, that my body is not for sale, to be occupied or even subtly directed, that my body cannot be taken or its treasures plumbed as just another profit center, I don’t yet fully know what that means. I only know that going deeper into the sensations of change with a willingness to notice and feel everything is required.
Very little is easy anymore, not even hello, but we have yet to arrive at a new functional baseline. But one thing is crystal clear: the impossibility of modernity, which has taken 500 years to realize, externalizes more and more and offers only faux benefits increasingly removed from lived experience. Quo bene, as they say. Who still benefits from that ongoing construction? Only a vanishingly small minority.