I was taught to always squeeze my toothpaste from the bottom of the tube to ensure that every drop goes to the top. Somehow, once you’re left with nothing but a gooey cap screwed to a flattened piece of plastic or metal, you find that you can still use it. Just squeeze a little harder, you’ll get some out. You can do it again and again almost indefinitely, as though all you ever needed was this magic reserve hiding in the tip.
These days a voice inside me is convinced that I am finished. I am empty. I have nothing left to give apart from the bare minimum required to stay alive. But in order to make decisions, to communicate with people, to create art – to do anything beyond just surviving, one needs more than that. One must be present, and to be truly present requires the certain energy that I feel I’ve used up.
I remain always in an altered state; slightly removed, distracted, quietly distanced from reality. Yes, I know this is a result of trauma but that knowledge alone makes no difference. How do I change it? How do I begin to feel safe or trust again? Because as much as I’ve grown used to living in my own head, the life that I could be living is passing me by. I’m a writer who doesn’t publish. I’m a singer who doesn’t share her music. I’ve reduced myself to only thought. Endless swirling thought creating a crushing, merciless inaction.
It doesn’t help that I’m wired to listen for alarm bells which now seem to be going off constantly and from all directions. Yet I look around and see that we’re still expected to go about our lives like everything is normal.
Fun feels empty. Celebratory gatherings feel not only perfunctory but tone deaf. Like insisting on having one last dance on a sinking ship. A sinking ship that’s on fire.
But I believe in celebrations. As a recovering cynic, who once conflated optimism with naivete, I used to wonder, how could one be joyful in a world that’s falling apart? How could one be so ignorant? So foolish?
I’ve since come to the realization that being joyful is the ultimate rebellion. I love seeing people relish the good moments in life, however small they might be. We must welcome whimsy whenever possible. If we can still dance and sing and laugh, then there is something to live for. Especially in a time when being earnest or hopeful is so often met with the predictable eye rolling or backlash from contrarian trolls. That is when we must double down in our debauchery.
On July 4th this year, the dread I normally feel about these types of events was suddenly shared by millions. While within my own bubble I don’t know anyone who would call themselves ‘patriotic,’ this particular year invoked a fierce rejection of the holiday like I’d never witnessed before. “Fuck the fourth,” was the circulating catchphrase. And yet… I got to see something beautiful unfold.
I was visiting my sister who lives upstate in an apartment complex facing the Hudson river, and as the sun set behind the mountains, I watched families slowly gather along the shore. They set up lawn chairs and picnic blankets, some just sat on the roofs of their cars. Dogs chased each other through the grass, fathers tossed their toddlers in the air, strangers sat beside one another and laughed together. In this quiet suburban town one never sees so many people outside at once; everyone is either tucked away in their homes or driving down the highway to some sad strip mall. But on this night, hundreds and hundreds of people appeared as though out of the ether. Why? Because we wanted to see some fireworks. Not for their symbol but for their spectacle. Nothing more. What they’re meant to represent really doesn’t matter.
Our governments are systematically taking everything away from us – we can’t afford homes, or educations, or healthcare, even things like gas and groceries are becoming unmanageable strains on our pockets. What we’re left with is each other. We are our most vital resource, and what better way to strengthen that resource than to gather with one another? Celebrate birthdays, babies, weddings, graduations – hell, celebrate Tuesday! For most of us, these celebrations will never be ‘extravagant.’ But they don’t need to be. Besides, with all due shade to the Kardashians, floor-to-ceiling florals are tacky and wasteful, and any cake that costs thousands of dollars because you want it to look like a fucking sneaker is also tacky and wasteful. I’ll take Entenmann’s over food grade playdough any day. Although I am a sucker for a nice ice sculpture… okay, I digress.
Community is what we need and we need it now. If we can break bread together we can take arms together.
Part of what makes hopelessness feel all the more potent is loneliness. I try to remember that such feelings are a spell, brought about by isolation. Writing this essay, writing a song, even just sending a text to a friend – feel like impossible tasks, but they’re fueled by that tiny bit of energy that I’ve managed to squeeze from my hidden reserve. I don’t know if or when it will finally run out, but for now I’m grateful that it’s still there.
“I don’t wanna hear about the future
I don’t wanna mourn the human race
I don’t wanna read another feature
Telling me to find another place
But it’s closing in on me…”
~ lyrics from ‘Closing In On Me,’ by Bryn Eva (me)