July 1, 2020
This military-industrial network we got to squat for a few beautiful decades no longer welcomes our presence.
(SEPTEMBER 21, 2017 and also: OCTOBER 29, 2018 and also NOVEMBER 15, 2018 and also JUNE 2 2020)
There's a story I have to tell, a friend I need to remember to you.
That is not this story.
I told it, once, in public even, six months after I started this text and six months before I never finished it, at a talk that I gave at a living friend's birthday party that was also a conference. This is a pattern I adore of my strange and beautiful backchannel, born of the internet: a collection of rare people who think what we have in our heads matters enough to share it with each other.
I didn’t know most of the people at that particular event, but there is a special intimacy in a room of filtered strangers who only knew you from the handle you choose. We trust that everyone is there for a reason: we arrived pre-vetted through a shared friendship. This is What-The-Internet-Means-To-Me in human form. I could have put anything on my name badge and it wouldn't have mattered, or rather, it would have been respected - a kind of power granted.
The truth is though I felt safe I barely finished that talk. I cried through it. I felt a strange embarrassment not for the emotion but for the fact that dude, that couldn't have been a very good talk. I think I wasted everyone’s time.
It felt good though, and people responded, and I know I made some mental connections I'd been trying to put together for a while.
I wrote in 2017: “I will share it more broadly someday, once I figure out how. In fact it's sort of this essay, but more coherent.”
But ok, here's this story: what do you do when the commons you hate connects you to the people you need? What do you do when the rituals of mourning don't feel right, but that's all you get?
This is the part of the network we should preserve: our humanity and the meaning we attach to the bits we are permitted to see.
Here's the part of the network that matters.
The network is made of people.
We grant each other power.
"In conditions of digital recall, loss is itself lost."
Here's what I tell my theatre students: the application of computation to storytelling means that we can manipulate things in computational time, which means very fast. In terms of storytelling, that means we can change the scenography, the physical and mental sense of place, at the speed of storytelling. At the speed of thought.
The space we are existing in can be changed as quickly as we can imagine it.
This has profound implications for narrative, but none more than our additional ability to control time: to move us forward and backwards, to overlap reality and memory, to co-exist in more than one place at once.
But while we now have the ability to change our context as quickly as we can imagine it, we do not yet possess (will probably never posses) the inverse: the ability to think as quickly as our ability to switch contexts. We can't really live in this non-linear space, because we don't really exist that way.
This confusing strange loop, this overlap of back-and-forth creates a pseudo-potential, a belief that anything is possible soon, a kind of social-media Gruen transfer, and into this slips despair and want and need and this is, eminently and forever exploitable.
This is the tool that we have built: an anxiety machine. We know that's why the timeline is scrambled, because we built it that way on purpose - to disrupt our natural sense of done-ness that allows us to incorporate the information we're receiving into a logical structure, to corrupt the proper formation of memory and sequence, to wrong-foot us just enough so that the story can be plausibly denied, to slip our sense of agency just enough so that anxiety (and its companion antidotes) can be sold back to us as solutions.
When someone asks, and I say I used to really like social media, and that my last favorite platform was Instagram, because it was quiet, slow and linear, and when I say that I'm upset that the first thing Facebook did when it bought them was to disrupt the timeline - this is what I mean.
I am not complaining about anything less than a fundamental inability to marshal thoughts into memory, and memory into story, and story into history, and history into meaning.
...life continues, but time has somehow stopped. ...21st-century culture is marked by the same anachronism and inertia... But this stasis has been buried, interred behind a superficial frenzy of ‘newness’, of perpetual movement. The ‘jumbling up of time’, the montaging of earlier eras, has ceased to be worthy of comment; it is now so prevalent that is no longer even noticed.
The quotes above are from Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures by Mark Fisher. I had pasted a block of his text at the end of one version of this unfinished essay with the intention of marking a bridge to my own thoughts, a reminder to circle back, once I'd finished reading the book, and then I discovered that Fisher had killed himself.
I have a list and you probably do too: a list of people who wrote or said or sang or painted things that make me feel slightly less alone, like there’s some kind of hope we can weave together to make a rope to anchor us, to help us all through, and who then decided nah… not really.
I miss so many people I’ve never met. I miss people I loved, and I miss people who I’m told I never should have liked. I miss Scott and DFW. I miss Aaron.
I miss, too, works of art that I used to find safety in and have become memorials to moments and reminders of the people I wish I didn’t know so much about. This is what it means to love I think: to risk the bitterest of disappointment when you discover the fort around your heart is only made of blankets.
I haven't been able to finish reading Ghosts of My Life. That timeline just broke. Suicide is an interrupt I haven’t figured out how to recover from, a shear that that slices across realities and rearranges everything.
At a party, a small room full of silly people in various states of drunk, joy and laughter, a glowing memory I keep close. My friend leaned over and murmured “We’re all a little of the same kind of broken, aren’t we?”
Within two years one of us wouldn’t make it. But the rest of us, and me, and you reading this? We’re still here.
And this broken timeline? It's mine, and I'm not yet letting it go before I can properly sequence it.
"Now I know what a ghost is. Unfinished business, that's what"
-The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie