On Writer’s Block, OR Being a solider in the army against the apocalypse

selfie style image of a white woman with brown hair and green eyes who has given up on plucking her eyebrows, looking to the side, with large Brussel sprout growing in the background

I write every day. I keep a journal which is part “day in the life” and part “holy shit, I was inadvertently really clever back there I should write more about that.” Writing that has not been just a re-cap of my daily life has been a total struggle for the last month and a half. My blog turned one [wooo! congratulations to me for publishing 25 things that I wrote that after careful review don’t make me mostly regret having written them] but I didn’t really know how to feel about that. I didn’t write about it. It’s possible that I was not able to write about it because I have been struggling with the “why” of this whole thing. And by “this whole thing” I don’t think I mean the blog, or writing generally, but maybe like everything. Why struggle with just one thing when you can struggle totally? It is probably more efficient.

This morning, writing for the events of yesterday, I began, “I think I might not be very happy.” What follows is basically the rest of the journal entry for the day, with some edits for clarity or to omit other people’s personal details. It’s not, not depressing, but also, stick with it because there is a point.

I think I might not be very happy. Part of me thinks that this is both incredibly obvious and not strictly true. My life is ok, I get paid “lots” of money, I have a nice house, I enjoy my kids and my partner and our general lifestyle. I hate my job and feel unsafe there, but ultimately it has made very clear to me that jobs generally are a terrible idea for everyone. I’ll never feel great about having to have a job again. They are dehumanizing, exploitative and in most cases largely pointless. But because I like not being homeless and not starving and having healthcare, I keep going to mine because I am afraid of what happens to my life if I don’t go to work everyday. It strikes me that this isn’t exactly freedom it’s more like risk mitigation. Also, like the world is on fire – literally – or under water – literally – and it’s perfectly fine to do everything you can to not protect vulnerable people [avoiding vaccines and masks and making it hard or impossible for people who want them to have them and the Taliban!] but not ok to not protect vulnerable people [Texas’s new abortion law and all the new ones getting written right now because the Supreme Court is 5-4 on giving a shit about Americans].

I have to live in this world. I have to raise my innocent children in this world and listen to my son tell me about his 12 year old friend who recounted to him having to endure another classmate asking her what her pussy tastes like. I have to explain to him why this sort of thing happens on the second day of 7th grade after he has worn a mask all day and I have “done” my stupid job all day. “Why are people so terrible, mom? Why? How come she didn’t stand up for herself?” How to tell him that she already knows that if a strange person is going to ask you what your pussy tastes like, you don’t make any sudden moves. You know they are dangerous and you are vulnerable. Now my kid knows that this has happened to every woman ever and will happen to every girl. Thanks, terrible world.

So yeah, I think I am not happy, generally. I don’t know what sort of person can be happy in this kind of situation, really. And at the same time I’m not exactly depressed about it either, maybe numb? Maybe numb is the right word. I read about the Texas abortion ban that is now in effect and I think how horrible this is, how part of me wants the vigilante reporting site to get flooded with reports of how Governor Abbot and the Republican controlled legislature of Texas are actually responsible for all the abortions in Texas. It is their terrible anti-life policies that make it untenable for any woman to carry a pregnancy to term in that state. They make choosing life a hostile and unthinkable choice. They are responsible. But then I do not do anything, because I can’t do anything. Posting something outrageous on the internet is not doing something, the scrolling makes me exhausted because I know that I am easily outraged by everything, because everything is fucking outrageous. A million people without power in new Orleans, 9 people dead in the Bronx from Ida and only like 3 of several hundred news broadcasts about the storm can connect the dots and even say the words ‘climate change’? That’s fucking outrageous. How strange it must be to be a person who casually watches the news to understand what is happening and think, “what is going on? everything is so crazy and chaotic and there is no reason for it, no connection?” Even knowing the reasons for why everything is so broken does not help me know what the fuck to do about it, and I’m not sure that knowing the why of things has a lot of real value. I can’t tell.

I keep thinking back to our year of no plastic where I decided that we needed to buy the toothpaste with fluoride even though it was in plastic because you can’t fight the heteropatriarchy with your teeth rotting out of your head. This is true. I cannot fight if everything I see all the time is diverting my energy from the fight. But, I don’t even know where the fight is. I sort of feel like we are all Don Quixote and jousting at NYT articles about Joe Rogan getting covid and taking ivermectin seems like the right thing to do, but it isn’t. But also it isn’t not [fuck Joe Rogan], because there is no right thing to do. There are barely even neutral things to do. I don’t want to say, “fuck it” because there is still enough civilization left that if I throw up my hands now then I lose my house and my car and my health insurance and my stupid ex-husband gets my kids. The time to say “fuck it,” should be now, should have been 2016 or maybe even 1999, but the sweet spot for “fuck it” it is some point in the future that I can’t see yet. Because if I don’t keep up the charade of all the still socially acceptable things then I have no leisure and no luxury for the fight. Except in keeping up this charade I have no time or energy for the fight. No reserve to even understand what it is or where it is. 

Screenshot of New York Time thumbnail announcing Joe Rogan has covid and text message that reads "Alas, he does not appear to be near death. I wasted a NYT article for nothing."
Actual accidental screenshot I took of my friend group text with my comment, theirs redacted for privacy [but they were hilarious]. I should probably just pay for a NYT subscription

So I still am not able to tell where I draw the line for myself. And that means that I do my job, and I sign the field trip permissions slips, and I say to my kid’s teacher, “what we really want for her this year is for her to feel like she has a friend,” and tell my kid that we will try to get her violin lessons this year, and consider getting her a bunny for her 10th birthday trying not to think about what the world is going to be like by her 15th birthday. It’s a fun exercise: where do I cut and run because I know that civilization is ending? How do I walk the line between being a mild mannered, suburban working mother of two, and a soldier in the army against the apocalypse? I already know that I can’t have it all – I’m a woman – so trying and failing to have these two things is something I need to learn to accept.

Every thinking person I know feels this way, like cognitive dissonance zombies trying not to succumb to the lull of the emotional disinformation machine and the apathy. It’s a bleak time to be alive. And fantastically, an amazing time to be alive, though that is easier to forget. My kid gets in the car now without having to be asked to grab a mask because she was always the kid who didn’t need to be asked to put on her shoes, or get her lunch since those were normal parts of being responsible. Yesterday the older kid forgot not only to grab a mask before school but that there was a backup mask in his bag, so he got a mask from the office when he walked in. He is always getting to be so oblivious to these things and wasting my time and making me worry about how he’s going to remember to pay his electric bill as an adult, and hoping that he doesn’t find some woman he won’t appreciate to do it for him. As I was driving the second kid to her school open house I took the time to say to her, “thank you for being so responsible. I don’t thank you enough because when people do the things that they are supposed to do it’s easy to forget that your life has been made easier by their behavior. Generally we only notice when people make things worse.” There I go caring about my kid’s emotional development as if she isn’t going to be helping her toddlers mine through landfills for plastic jugs so that they can all walk to the spring for potable drinking water. What the hell is she going to need self-esteem for then?

Maybe I would enjoy this slow motion apocalypse more if I were like those people who have already decided it is

  • all too much, better just take drugs [anti-depressants or tranquilizers or something stronger like heroin or Fox News – not a knock on people seeking mental heathcare, I promise – but fuck Fox News and The Sackler family]
  • not coming for them because personal Jesus [but fuck everyone else]. God is good! Amen
  • unavoidable so now is the time to get as many resources as possible [and fuck everyone else].

Maybe it is time to double down on denial or fear and greed because hope for a better world is probably not going to save anyone. Am I the last person still on the fence about this? Did everyone already get all the stuff?

It was really hard to do my work yesterday, and get on my soap box to my Project Manager about how our division really needs a systematic documentation policy or filling system or any functional knowledge of the principles of information science. No we don’t. We just need to pay out all our unemployment money as UBI and stop acting like this bureaucratic nonsense has any other purpose. Probably we don’t need to worry about licensing nurses or dermatologists because what is science anymore? Building inspections? Those just limit the freedoms of people to not know that they are building unsafe buildings. We wouldn’t want them to think they are shitty engineers just to protect some people from an industrial fire or something.

It’s really hard to find joy in the little things at the beginning of the end of the world. I failed to cross five things off my to do list that I like super desperately needed to do at work. I will do them today! I know that Brene Brown has a new book coming out that I should pre-order so I can remind myself that it is ok that I am not perfect. I tried to call the orthopedist to contest the last x-ray that they charged us for, because the kid didn’t need it, but it’s only $70 and what is $70 when I am already paying them $1500 for all the other procedures the kids both had for their broken limbs this spring? I can afford to pay $1500 anyway. Does it matter that the office manager is indignant that I should have any right to complain that they told us x-rays were going to be included in fracture care and they just aren’t? Does it matter that my bill is past due because they sent it to my old address even though I proactively updated my address and they never made that change in their billing software [I can probably fix that business process for them]? Does it matter that I have already paid enough in insurance premiums and taxes that if I lived 400 miles from here in Canada I would not even have a $1500 bill for this? Does it matter that if I were a gig worker I would probably be paying more than twice as much for the same procedures here in this country? I feel like if I don’t contest the bill then the terrorists [for-profit healthcare] will win. But who am I kidding: they win anyway.

I know I am not supposed to be so distracted by every little injustice in the world because it wears me down and takes away my ability to do anything. But I don’t know how to prioritize which horrible injustices to focus my time on. Are we caring about service dogs that were not actually abandoned in Afghanistan? Or is it 14 year old child brides in Texas who can’t get a legal abortion if they’re raped? Or is it people of color in the south who are systematically disenfranchised while being exposed to a deadly disease that they can’t get time off work to get vaccinated from? Or is it me, a white lady at a desk with several thousand dollars in the bank and pretty much everything she ever wanted?

I know that compassion is not a zero sum game, there is enough to go around, but the actual work of making things better is a zero sum game. Time is finite and so is the energy to do work. We need fewer investment bankers and mid level bureaucrats who work from home and more people out on the street corner helping homeless people. But the good work doesn’t pay, does it? You don’t pull down six figures shooting homeless vets with Narcan. No one tells their kids to go to college to be a social worker. We have made a world where to take care of yourself you have to fuck over someone else. And we didn’t have to have made that world, but since we have we can’t just unmake it. I mean, I can’t on my own.

And I took a great selfie because my hair looks amazing, but I don’t know what to do with that. This is a great look for the end of the world.

selfie style image of a white woman with brown hair and green eyes who has given up on plucking her eyebrows, looking to the side, with large Brussel sprout growing in the background
Portrait of author with [rare] good hair and Brussel sprout at a time just before the end of the world

OMG I do not feel better now.

And then I get back on the internet to mindlessly doom scroll, which is so not doing the work I need to do and see that Rebecca Solnit has shared Sean Thomas Dougherty’s words:

Why Bother?

Because right now, there is someone

out there with

a wound in the exact shape

of your words.

Yeah… I don’t really “like” poetry. I mean I try, but I am never in the mood for it. It never feels more valuable than, say, scrubbing the toilet or deleting accidental screenshots from my camera roll. It doesn’t matter.

Right through the heart with this one.

That’s what writing is for, isn’t it? And I found that shit on the internet, didn’t I? Right there with all the memes spreading dysinformation [sic] and the ads for stuff I already bought. Oh that’s right, most things are not just all good or all evil. Thanks, Internet [and Poetry].

The point is that that I often [OFTEN] do not know what my writing is for. It can feel like work, or obligation, or luxury, or guilty pleasure, or transcendently freeing, or mundane, or only clear from the remove of the near future. But it might never be a waste of time. No more a waste of time than reading a book, or watching a movie/show. That person who wrote that book or movie/show is putting their not-knowingness about their own writing out into the world in a tiny capsule just for me, and the other me-stand-ins the world is full of. Sometimes I do have a wound in the shape of their words which means they might have one in the shape of mine.

So happy belated birthday, stupid blog, you continue to be a thing. I don’t know exactly why, but someone else might. And so, though it may be messy and not very good, I am going to try to write through this block I have been having so I can get to the other side.

One thought on “On Writer’s Block, OR Being a solider in the army against the apocalypse

  1. Your blog may be messy … so is my printmaking studio. You say it’s not very good. I believe you believe that, Jemma. And: I think it’s good. So good that I read every one of your posts. Sometimes more than once or twice. Thank you for ploughing through.

    Liked by 1 person

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