After yesterday’s madness, which to be fair only took thirty five minutes in total, I’m hoping for a bit of a quiet day. Between the extracurriculars of lumps on dogs, having to get phones and glasses, and losing my wallet, it’s been enough. But the dog is doing well.
Lost behind the climax of yesterday’s events, I also had to make a couple of trips out. The first was to pick up some free phone cases, which hadn’t yet arrived, and to swing by 좌동 시장 to pick up 고등어하고 두부하고 고추. Then I had to head back out to get the cases after all that.
좌동 시장은 참 바빴어요. There was a line at my favorite fishstand and two extra workers helping my squid lady – just passing her fish while she did the cutting. But I hardly had to wait. She saw me at the back of the line, called “고등어?” and I was like “네, 하나 주세요” and we were off to the races. But her worker handed her a fish that wasn’t quite up to snuff and she sent it back, and got me a better one. I’m pretty sure that this means that we’re married now.
This shit makes me happy. Not because I get through a line, which, you know, is also fine, but because I’ve had plenty of jobs that involve serving people in lines and my 한국어 might be shit but I’m fluent in rushes and I know what doing that for someone means. It means that I’m a regular, which means that she doesn’t think I’m a total asshole. And I worry about that – about being a total asshole. Having to endure my broken 한국어 cannot be a picnic and I know I’m a bit of a public nuisance.
I like being a regular. Maybe because I’ve always really liked my regulars. And, you should know, the customer doesn’t get to decide that they’re a regular. That shit is up to the staff. You ever find yourself saying “but I’m a regular!” you’re probably not so much a regular as an annoyance, and you can probably just go fuck yourself. A decent fucking regular doesn’t expect, let alone demand, special treatment. Might be why they get it. They make life easy.
That whole regular relationship is one of my favorite human relationships. On either side of it. And I only really ever enjoy working in and frequenting places that have a genuine concept of this relationship. Those frequent flier point type measurements backed with “customer is always right” shopaganda are no substitute for real regulars. A worker needs to be able to tell me to “go fuck myself” for the thing to have any meaning. You just can’t be a regular in a place that won’t just kick you out.
But I probably never should have been shopping at 좌동 시장 yesterday anyway. Too damn busy. Just one of those things where it went how it went. Not proud. Shit happens. At least our case numbers are the lowest they’ve been in a while.
And I’ll take my good feelings where I can get them. Without questioning it too much. Because, like, I just can’t.
Over on his blog, Paul Raven has written movingly and intelligent on despair.
He and I are in somewhat similar circumstances. We both left countries that are currently complete fucking clusterfucks (in his case the UK and, in mine, California) shortly before . . .
Well, I wouldn’t say “before the shit hit the fan.” A lot of shit has been getting fed into a lot of fans for a lot of time but before the spray of shit had hit so many people as a fine aerosol or in droplet sizes. Would that be fair? I’m not sure.
The feeling is somewhat bloodlessly called “survivor guilt.” It’s a technical and accurate term. Accuracy often obscures truth. The feeling, for me, at least, is like sitting on a lifeboat watching a ship go down. You feel like one of those villains who dressed up as a woman to save their own skin. Except they probably feel clever. You just sort of wish you were sinking too, except of course you fucking don’t, and that doesn’t exactly make you feel great either. And, to be completely honest, I do sometimes feel a little clever. I’m not proud of that feeling. It’s there tho.
Mainly, I wish I was in a position to make some sort of difference.
Where I may have a quibble with Paul is in conceiving of despair as a luxury or a thing that can be earned or unearned. Part of this is just because I’m not really against despair. I view it as a cost. Fuck knows, I wouldn’t trust anyone unfamiliar with the feeling. It doesn’t seem so much a luxury to me as it does the price of a conscience.
In terms of it being earned, thus creating the possibility of it being unearned, I’d say that, broadly speaking, anyone born has earned their share of despair.
A bit more specific:
One of the defining things of 2020 seems, to me, to be people with a lot to complain about saying they have nothing to complain about. This sentiment prefaces every complaint – this idea of other people having it worse. That’s not a totally bad thing.
For one thing, one of my favorite genres of pandemic writing is the sponsored post which is all like – “look, we’re not idiots and we know that you have bigger problems right now than wrinkled socks -we get that- but if life ever gets back to normal or you just need some sort of self-soothing distraction from a world on fire, the good people at Smythe’s Sock Dewrinkling Consortium have just released . . .” That shit is hilarious.
For another, self-awareness is a pain in the ass but it can make space for a degree of basic decency.
But, keeping that in mind, the other day, 아내가 spoke to a teacher friend in Cali, who is like, going through the pandemic, had her favorite celebs turn up dead, was under an orange sky, is a black woman in America under a racist president currently trying to steal an election, in a city where cops fighting protesters in the streets and like “the world is havoc but other people have it worse. I’m doing okay and can’t complain . . .”
I get it but damn.
It’s okay to despair. It’s okay to complain. It’s okay to complain about bullshit too. You think people on deathrow don’t complain if they get pimples? Feelings don’t require permission. Most the time, they require forgiveness. We have to be okay about that. We have to let life have its insignificance too. Even now.
And lastly, I’m just naturally wary of hope. I think hope is dangerous.
Like, with the death of RBG, I saw a lot of hopeful posts. A lot of “keep fighting” and that sort of thing. I get it. In my day, I’ve written such things myself.
But you want to know what I really think? I think, if you’re a woman in America or have daughters, I think you should run. Run now. Get out. It will not get easier to run. The sooner the better.
You ever see those horrorshows where you’re like RUN! WHY DON’T THEY LEAVE THE HAUNTED GRAVEYARD? NUKE IT FROM ORBIT!
It’s like that.
It’s run or fight. And if it’s fight, posts on social media are not going to cut it. Likes and memes and thinkpieces, and even elections, will not end fascism in America. You are going to need to fight. You need to put the work into organizing, walk off the job, close whole cities down, and then you need to win. It will get bloody. Look at your despair. That’s what to expect.
These brokers of hope? They’re selling something that feels good and might get you dead or hurt. Despair? That shit feels terrible but that might be the right way to feel. Despair might be the only way to understand the stakes and to find a route to action. Whether running or fighting or running to fight again, despair might just keep you alive.
Despair can be a guide.
Despair might be the only thing that gets survival on the board. Hope? That just gets victory up there. We might not be in an era of victory. The champagne may have to wait a while longer yet.
But we do need something like hope – a sort of compass to show us the way forward. I just don’t see that compass as hope, just compassion. And I just don’t see despair as paralysis. It’s one possible route to compassion.
But where despair gets me and turns to poison is when I find myself not just disgusted with America but with Americans. With all of them/us. And that’s unfair. It’s when I know I need to breathe. Not the nitrous of hope, just some air. Get some perspective. Step back and away.
Even without hope, we can all do better by each other. And we should. What the fuck else is there?