I do this every year. I indulge in the game of time and I reflect on the previous 365 (or 366) days. I don’t think a new year is something to celebrate. For me, it’s a time to reflect.
2016 has been being called a terrible year by many people in my circles—a lot of death, a lot of loss in other forms, what seems like an increase in violence and destruction in the world, a baffling presidential election in my country.
In darker moments, I fear what is to come. I spend too much time thinking about the consequences of capitalism, about war, about bias, about how often it seems people misperceive the shared world around them. I tend to use my intellectual fascination with the ugly aspects of humanity to shield myself in numbness, but in my bleaker moments, I feel that fear and frustration deep down in the pit of my stomach. I fear I’m running out of time.
I wonder sometimes if I live in the same world as other people. I wonder if it’s not the condition of alienation that comes with capitalism, with being defined as a woman, with being a philosophical thinker, but something else. Something active, sinister. I’ve been ignored and silenced and not taken seriously for most of my life, partly by my own doing, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Sometimes screaming into the void is all I can do.
But it doesn’t help. So I feel like I’ve started to disappear.
Way back in college, a friend of mine—from a different country, a different culture—told me that statistically I don’t exist, because I’m not like most Americans. And he was right. I’m not. When I was a kid, a teenager, a college student, a graduate student, people used to call me weird all the time.
I never really minded the adjective. But the funny thing is, I never felt like I was weird until recently.
I identify mostly as nothing. A lot of a-, anti-, and nihil- prefixes populate how I see myself and how I see the world. Sometimes this matters a lot to me, sometimes I want to be recognized, my views understood. But ultimately, all I am is a series of memories that don’t mean anything to anyone but me.
That’s what we all are, isn’t it? And yet.
Hannah Arendt in The Human Condition wrote about the difference between immortality and eternity. We used to want eternity, she said. We used to want to ascend. To become one with all things. To lose ourselves. But somewhere, somewhen, somehow that changed, and now we seek immortality. To live on after we die, through our legacies, our work, our children.
But most of us don’t. Most of us fade into memories and then exist as a line in a census record, if at all. I’ve always been fascinated by the immortal, with vampires and the undead. My own desire to live forever means that I obsess over big ideas and ways to get them heard. To no avail.
I am an observer of people, a watcher. I see myself in the tired faces, in the bodies of people I will never know. Every old woman stooped over, shopping alone in a grocery store, pushing a cart that has nothing in it but a loaf of bread and cans of soup—I see myself, what I might become.
In virtue of being human, I am in everyone. But I am nothing. And sometimes I want to shout at people that they are nothing, too.
When it comes down to it, I am a series of songs lyrics written by someone else, by Jeff Tweedy, by Conor Oberst. I am a character in a Murakami novel—Oshima, maybe. I am a product.
I’m happy just because
I found out I am really no one
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I can help. How I can make this world seem less hostile. The thing that often holds me back is that I honestly believe it’s futile. I believe in power, in institutions. I believe that capitalism is an avalanche that won’t stop until all but a few are buried under it.
But in my heart, I confess, I’m an absurdist.
I don’t know where meaning is. I don’t know where hope is. I don’t even know what needs to be changed. I just know that I want to live in a different world. I want to live in one where I’m not afraid, where I’m not invisible up until I’m a target or a genre, where I don’t feel like an alien in my body, where I’m not treated as if I don’t have autonomy.
I want to live in a world where I don’t find myself rolling my eyes, getting angry, and saying “I hate men” at least once a day.
I can’t do much. I can’t smash the patriarchy. I can’t redistribute wealth. I honestly can’t even imagine what a non-patriarchal world would look like. But I like to end these posts with something to think about, something to do in the year ahead that fits into my version of “better.” So this year, the one thing I’m going to do more of is to do whatever I can to promote, support, and empower women.
I don’t know what else to do, but it feels right to take back what I’ve been reduced to.