April: An Apology and a Reflection



By Nicholas A. Tonelli from Pennsylvania, USA (Unfurling) via Wikimedia Commons

“It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,


Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.”

    –Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Spring

I had very grand plans for this month. April is National Poetry Month, and my goal was to publish poems (because, true to this blog’s title, I do actually write poetry) about the current political moment and the movements to resist Trump. I had some drafts of poems ready to go. I had everything organized in a file on my computer…and then my father died. I took a week off to be with my family. I barely checked Facebook or Twitter. I didn’t really respond to email. I was unplugged for a week, mired in the bureaucracy of death, because nothing brings into stark focus just how bureaucratic our lives are like death. There is grief and pain and confusion and there are also mountains of papers to sort out and errands to run and official sorts of people to speak with. My mother, unfortunately, is still dealing with all of that, while I have returned, though not quite the same–never quite the same again–to my life in DC.

Because even in death, life goes on. Time marches on. The projects on my desk at work piled up, as I knew they would, over that week, and when I returned I found myself inundated with a deluge of projects that all had deadlines of now. A move that I’d scheduled weeks ago to a new apartment happened. Some other aspects of my personal life are tumultuous and uncertain. So the drafts continue to sit in a folder on my computer. I still don’t really respond to email. I’ve resurfaced somewhat on Facebook and Twitter. I’m slowly plugging back in, but I’m not really back yet. I’m not sure when I’ll be back, really. I’m tired. I’m depressed. I’m overwhelmed. And I write all of this not out of some desperate cry for pity but more as an apology to any of my friends and comrades who read this blog. I know I’m not myself. I know I’m not around. I know I’m nonresponsive. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Please understand that I’m trying. I want to get back to you all, I’m just not sure how to yet. But when I figure it out, I promise I will.

Anyway, after an unbearably stressful week at work in which I seriously contemplated though never followed through on quitting on the spot, something in my brain just kind of shut off. When I was in college and then later graduate school, I’d reach a point at the end of the semester in which everything became endlessly funny. I physically could not be stressed anymore, so I would become hysterically amused instead. I was sleep-deprived and over caffeinated and constantly listening to German hardcore in an attempt to stimulate myself enough to finish all of my papers, complete my classes and ace my finals. This combination of exhaustion and overstimulation somehow created an attitude of existential absurdity that colored my perception of the world for the final week or so of the semester. Everything was ridiculous in how much it simultaneously didn’t matter at all and mattered all too much. The feeling was unpleasant, but it was also a welcome relief to the unbearable panic and anxiety that would always plague me for the weeks preceding it.

Since graduating, I’ve experienced extreme stress, but it’s always had a different flavor than the end-of-the-semester stress that I learned to expect in school. What I’m feeling now, however, is something very much like that stress I felt in graduate school. I’m unable to sleep, even if I go to bed on time, so I’m always exhausted, but manically so. I’m consuming considerable quantities of caffeine. I’m even rekindling an interest in television shows and movies that I loved when I was in my early 20’s, likely in a fit of escapism to a simpler period of my life. I’m listening to the same songs I’d blast on repeat as I frantically finished papers at 2am, only this time instead of papers, I’m trying to knock out copy for various work projects, which somehow feel even more esoteric than Foucault and Derrida. At least the college papers had rubrics for me to follow. At least they were assigned early on in the semester and I could check in with my professors periodically to have drafts reviewed.

So I find myself on the spiral staircase of life in which I am occupying a space that is both familiar and new. 2017 Me returns to meet 2011 Me, and her resemblance is uncannily recognizable and strange. She is both me and not-me. I am both a negation of her and an off-shoot. She never would have imagined leading campaigns or going to protests every weekend. She barely understood what unions were, though she was even then vaguely anti-capitalist. She resented the men in the geek subcultures she inhabited who viewed her as an outsider, an interloper to their fun who had no real place there, much like I now resent the men on the Left who constantly demand that I prove to them that, yes, I really do belong there. There isn’t much difference between quizzing a girl about Spider-man’s backstory or quizzing her about Marx’s The German Ideology. Both lines of inquiry are a posturing that positions the man as a superior, as knowledgeable, as a gatekeeper. So many men on the Left are no different than the Gamergaters they claim to criticize, but I digress.

It’s both unsettling and comforting to be unexpectedly confronted with 2011 Me. I’m not sure if she’d be happy with me or disappointed. She was a workaholic who planned to build a career for herself and center her life around it. I’m still careening from job to job with no real sense of direction and only knowing that I want time to have fun outside of work. I live in the DC area and work for a nonprofit, which was her plan, but it hasn’t turned out quite the way she envisioned. I think she’d be proud of me for being a socialist, since she was righteously indignant over every form of inequality she learned about though she had no real coherent ideology to productively direct that anger. She never thought of herself as an activist, and she’d probably be disappointed at 2017 Me’s disgust with postmodernism. She liked intellectual puzzles and talking over problems and abstract thought experiments. I’m much more focused on getting real shit done and don’t have time for philosophical musings detached from material reality. She’d be disappointed, I think, that I don’t go out to clubs or concerts more often and that I haven’t traveled as much as she thought I would have by now. She’d be saddened that I don’t write poetry every day anymore and that I’m not even trying to get my writing published. She’d want me to wear fishnets and corsets and interesting hats and short skirts and big chunky boots more often. She’d tell me to start sketching again. But she’d be pleased that I’m more social than she was, and I think she’d understand that her favorite pursuits–writing and drawing–are solitary activities that take me away from other people and make me depressed and lonely, because they made her depressed and lonely. After a certain point, I decided that I’d rather live life than write about it or draw it, and while I’m mostly happy about this decision, I sometimes regret it.

2011 Me supported Barack Obama and the Affordable Care Act, even though she’d prefered Dennis Kucinich in the 2008 primary. She was more politically aware than most of the people around her, yet she barely understood politics. She consumed a lot of media and built her identity around it–she was first and foremost a fan constructed by her various fandoms–so she wrote reams of essays about women’s representation or lack thereof in popular culture. Now I still care deeply about representation but I want representation accompanied by equity. I don’t just want to see more women of color in movies–I also want women of color to receive wages equal to those of white men, and I want paid family leave and a higher minimum wage. Furthermore, unlike 2011 Me, I understand that any attempt to achieve gender equity will require more than just a cultural shift but that it demands an economic and political revolution that fundamentally shifts power from the wealthy to ordinary people. Unlike 2011 Me, I have a sense of urgency about the need to alter our political landscape. In 2011, I had a vague sort of hope that social progress would happen, however slowly, all on its own. While the fear that the US could descend into fascism wasn’t unthinkable to 2011 Me, it wasn’t an idea she took seriously or worried about. If I met 2011 Me now, I’d probably scoff at her and call her a liberal, depending on whether I’d met her before or after working at a Dollar Store and the Occupy movement, two points in my life that significantly shaped my current politics in ways that I only realized in retrospect.

I don’t miss 2011 Me’s lack of political awareness, but I miss her endless potential. She could have become anything. She was hanging suspended on the precipice of life, which demanded that she become something, and she was excited for what she could become. She became me. It’s not a bad thing that she became me. Most of the time I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, but as I find myself confronted by situations of horrifying permanence, whether it’s the finality of my father’s death or the irrevocable harm that the Trump administration is inflicting on people both within the US and abroad, I long for the amorphous nature of potential and uncertainty.

I seek the simplicity of discussing such banal topics as whether the Borg or the the Cybermen are more badass–topics which ultimately don’t matter and have no real bearing on anyone’s lives, unlike debates around US military activity in Syria. I have just as much power over the Borg as I do over US military actions–none–but the former is inconsequential while the latter is deadly serious. The science fiction and fantasy that I obsessed over in 2011 was simple, and the good guys were almost always assured to win. Real life is sadly and frustratingly messy and success is not assured. I can’t stake the bad guys, so I have to go about trying to help other people build social movements with enough clout to vote them out of office instead. And unlike Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I am just a regular human being who needs a solid 7 hours of sleep to function. If I could stay awake all night fighting the bad guys and then jump into real life without even needing to fix my hair, I would. But real life has demands that the characters in television shows can conveniently disregard. (How did Buffy find time to do her make up?)

Ultimately, I went into writing this post with the assumption that my unexpected renewed interest in some of my forgotten, nerdy pursuits that I hadn’t revisited in years was a form of escapism from the crushing reality of my current predicament. It is absolutely escapism. But perhaps it’s not as unproductive an escapism as I assumed. My love for The Lord of the Rings and Star Trek and Star Wars and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and so many other stories has shaped my morals. You always fight the bad guys. You never give up. There are casualties. There are losses. There are setbacks. But you keep going because the alternative–to not do anything at all–is abhorrent. The Ring must be thrown into the fires of Mount Doom because otherwise the world will be destroyed. Tyranny is to be fought. Unfortunately, I don’t know how I can muster the energy to fight it right now, but maybe by going down the rabbit hole of some of these nerdy pursuits I can come out the other side with some renewed vigor and inspiration.

Again, I’m sorry I’ve been AWOL. I’ll try to come back soon.