is this depression?

it’s anticipatory grief

it’s the loss of a future

it’s here-and-now grief

it’s a pandemic

it’s anger for having seen this coming

it’s despair for our chances of surviving

it’s regret for all i couldn’t do 

it’s fear for my loved ones

it’s deep ambivalence about being alive

it’s exhaustion like a thirst in my bones

it’s numbness

it’s a muting of life

it’s an iron veil

it’s a yoke around my neck

it’s amorphous

it’s inescapable

it’s my new normal

it’s all i got 

 

 

 

i want to talk a bit about love and what it means to me on this day for lovers.

love, to me, is inherent to the structure of this universe. hell, even the multiverse potentially, but this universe for sure. i say this because we are able to exist here. the laws of physics arranged themselves into a ruleset that allows the formation of complex life. to my mind that is evidence that our universe is at least capable of love, if not composed of it entirely. and if we are made of the same stuff as the stars, as the universe, are we not also meant to love and be loved by each other? are we not also meant to link ourselves together into constellations of care?

love is the dark matter that holds us together. evil is that which turns us away from love, away from each other. there is no epic battle between anthropomorphized god-creatures that we must choose sides in. there is only the choice to come together and love each other or embrace the systems that are keeping us apart.

when i look at the world as it is currently constructed, i feel a deep sense of mourning. we have been forced so far away from the truth of love. the truth that we are here because we are loved. these systems that we live under—capitalism, white supremacy, colonialism, ableism, imperialism, cisheteropatriarchy—are designed to institutionalize evil, to make us forget we are born loved. to make us hate each other and ourselves. they convince us that we must learn to love ourselves despite all odds, or that we must seek love from a partner or a friend, and that we are only worthy of that love if we’ve attained a certain level of social acceptability or popularity or enlightenment. but universal love is accessible to all of us, all the time. it is in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the plants and animals we consume for food. we are here because this universe loved us enough to shape itself into something we can inhabit.

in my own spiritual practice i call the universe god, and in a sense that is correct. the universe is so much more powerful than i am, so much more intricate and unknowable, that it might as well be a god. but what i am really invoking with my reference to deity is the idea that love is a force, that the universe itself is a force, and that if we can tap into its love energy we can make magic happen. when we organize together and dream together and work every day at loving each other we are making magic happen. we are counteracting the forces of evil that drive us into our silos of individualism and achievement.

it is from those same silos of individualism and achievement that we are encouraged to love ourselves. self-love is a capitalist substitute for universal love. it is impossible to feel loved consistently in a world built to separate our souls from our minds and bodies, but self-love tells you that you must somehow overcome all the structures set up to separate you from your ability to tap into divinity on your own. that if you only love yourself enough none of it will matter, and if you cannot love yourself you must spend the rest of your life learning how. but universal love tells you that this is all wrong. universal love reminds you that what prevents you from loving is not your flawed psyche, or a lack of will, but the systems of oppression that were constructed to keep you mired in hate.

universal love asks you to look at the earth, at your mere existence on it, and use this as evidence that you are loved.

this philosophy is not dependent on a belief in divinity or magic. if you aren’t about the woo, i understand. but you are reading this, and you are alive. outside of all the bullshit of the human world, life is a gift. it is a result of a specific set of circumstances that may or may not have occurred outside of our universe. i choose to see this confluence of randomness as evidence of love in action.

i believe love is the strongest force in the universe, stronger than gravity or nuclear attraction or even change. when we are tapped into a sense of universal love we are capable of so much. we are capable of dismantling capitalism and colonialism, halting climate change, transforming the world into a place where we can all feel loved and cared for. we can articulate our needs and support others in getting their own met, without shame and bitterness. we can see beyond our immediate crises and into a future where we aren’t making decisions based on the lesser of two evils.

my own magic is centered on harnessing universal love, on bringing people into a mental space where they can realize their divinity and go forward knowing they are loved. and most importantly, knowing they are capable of focusing that love into a transformative force for social change.

on this day of commercial romance and beyond, i encourage you to root yourself in such love. with every single breath.

like all journeys in life, the path to becoming is never linear. bumps in the road can make me shrink to protect against their impact. but here, near the end of the decade, i am leaning into the largeness of myself. i am remembering that vulnerability and authenticity are also protective.

#

this decade began for me with a small death. the marriage i was in ended after nearly ten years, and i had been laid off the year before. with long-term unemployment made feasible due to the governmental generosity extended after the housing crisis, i had time to think and fornicate and make little moves towards becoming myself more fully. i became a writer-writer, you know, the kind that gets paid. i spent summers on the beach sunning my fat body, celebrating my gloriousness, loving queer friends and femmes, going to conferences and parties. i could visualize my future from there: writing a book, touring the west coast, visiting friends in the east and touring there, dedicating the rest of my life to doing nothing but what i was born to do.

but instead–or rather, first–i had to dedicate my life to recovering my self.

i began withdrawing from all my psychiatric medications in the second year of the decade, a process that would take the next six years. during that time i dated a bunch, got another job, went back to college, met my current partner, saw my first article in print, lost another job, got pregnant and incredibly sick and had my first abortion, had the house we were staying in go into foreclosure, moved into a new apartment, grew my own food for a year, became more disabled, became more radical, and became more of my artist self. and somehow, i did all that while weathering the severe emotional and cognitive shifts that came with removing those substances from my neurochemistry.

in the last year of the decade, i graduated from ucla with a degree in sociology. i’ve been unemployed ever since. it has been trying, but it has also afforded me the reflection time necessary to finish the transformation that began in 2010.

#

the last two years of this decade were the first i’ve spent without psychiatric medication influencing my neurochemistry in 23 years. i feel whole, a strange sensation for someone whose self has been so defined by the places where it was broken. i might still be a little broken, but i am not lost.

part of coming into my wholeness has been recognizing the places where i have cut myself away to become more acceptable to someone else, and reclaiming those parts. my marriage ended because our way of being together hadn’t been truly satisfying for years, in part because i cut away too much of myself. its ending opened the door for me to understand why i had allowed that destruction of self to occur. the journey towards understanding it has taken me backward through childhood and adolescent trauma i thought had been resolved and forward into ceaselessly advocating for my whole ass, grown human being intimacy needs. i have told my partner some really scary, really vulnerable things about my gender and my sexuality and my trauma and how all those things are wrapped up, things that i feared might end our relationship. i have leaped forward in asking for changes in our relationship structure with nothing but my faith in his love–and in my ability to be okay alone if i need to be–to guide me.

i am surely being rewarded for the pain i endured at the hands of men, for the universe to send me this man as a gift, this human so kind and open in heart, so willing to shift and grow and change with me.

#

out of necessity, this decade i’ve cultivated an ongoing practice of radical self-love and ferociously transformative justice-making, and i have been reborn in the process. my tether to the divine has been strengthened. i am re-infused with purpose, reconnected to my sensuality. i am so excited for 2020, for my fortieth birthday and beyond, for writing books and touring and fucking and loving on all the magnificence in the universe. for building something durable and rich with my partner. for growing and learning and spending time with plants and animals and feral people. for magick. for letting go of every single thing that doesn’t serve the divine, everything that pushes us further away from loving each other and ourselves and the universe.

happy 2020 y’all! it’s gonna be amazing, you’ll see.

i am on a makeshift writer’s retreat at our out-of-town friends’ home in the mountains of glendale, california. last night, wind gusted against the house, kept me up half-wondering if someone was trying to break in. this afternoon, the rain stopped, and tonight, the wind has calmed down some, but it is still freezing. 50 degrees and breezy. blessedly, they have central heat, which i have cranked up past the point of financial/environmental sustainability because they love me and i know they would want me to be warm, and i love myself and i know that one night with one house doing the most as far as emitting co2 isn’t going to tip the planet past the point of no return. i mean, we’re probably there already.

not as much physical writing has been accomplished as i might have liked, but so much psychic writing has been accomplished. reflection and solitude are crucial for me to access the sacredness within myself that allows me to create. i love our home, but it is small, and it requires care, so it can sometimes be difficult to cultivate long periods of time in which i can just sit and reflect and journal and then write about what i have learned, or translate that lesson into art. particularly when i am depressed or vulnerable to become it, i need hours and hours of consecutive, simultaneous alone and quiet time before the emotions and experiences that trouble me can be documented and moved through. that’s pretty hard to come by, so i am eternally grateful to our friends for lending me their home, and i am eternally grateful to my partner for taking care of the chores at ours and handling the eventual clean-up here.

this ritual is an oldie but a goodie, dressed up with some oils or herbs. use whatever you have available to make it smell good, cultivate the appropriate energies, and/or attract beneficent entities. the plant helpers you select should promote psychic healing, connecting to spirit/divine, clearing unhelpful energy, and accessing your intuition.

you will need:

paper (preferably brown but i used white printer paper cause they ain’t got brown)
pen/pencil
essential oils or herbs (they have the fancy doterra essential oils here so i used those cause luxury lent with love has got to attract abundance)
the oils i used were star anise oil, lavender oil, cinnamon bark oil, rosemary oil, and sandalwood oil.

for 2020, let go of twenty attitudes, beliefs, practices, and/or values that no longer serve you, or that never did.

write each item down on a slip of paper. fold them up and throw them into a bowl. drip essential oils on them until you concoct a fragrance to your liking. (mine was heavy on the cinnamon, lavender, and anise.) use a spoon and stir it up so the oil gets on all the paper. if you’re working with whole or ground herbs, shake the bowl a bit.

take the bowl outside and dump the contents onto a pyre or other firesafe surface/receptacle. light that motherfucker up.

as it burns, imagine yourself lighter. imagine each of those beliefs, values, practices, behaviors, etc. vanishing into the welcoming and forgiving vacuum of space, once again becoming part of the universe. a part of the universe far, far away from you.

remind yourself of your power. remind yourself you are loved, you are love. promise yourself you will reach for the heavens and never settle for the earth alone. but also promise yourself you will stay grounded. that you will press bare feet into the dirt even as your head floats among the clouds.

gather the ashes and bury them in the earth.

thank your body, thank the land, thank your ancestors, thank the divine. Ă se, amen. peace.

may your 2020 be heavy with prosperity, community, and joy. and may you find something of value in whatever darkness comes.

i was going to write about all the difficult lessons i’m learning this scorpio season about fluid boundaries and respecting others’ wholeness at the same time as you respect your own. but then i crashed back into depression after turning my attention to financial matters again. so instead i’m going to tell you about the darkness, because it teaches us something too.

i have tried to end my life actively twice and passively an uncountable number of times. 6/7 days of the week, give or take, i am in an intentional practice of finding reasons to live. in a world where new reasons not to live manifest on a daily basis, this requires a good deal of my energy and focus. there are nearby things that are reasons to die and far away things that are reasons to die: nearby, financial instability, hunger, and unemployment; far away, climate catastrophe, ableist white supremacist fascism, capitalist ruin. all these things and more weigh on my mind, weigh down my mind so that depression becomes inevitable.

when i look back at each moment i can remember making serious plans to kill myself or actually trying to kill myself i think about whether or not i would regret it if i had died then, if i had missed out on all the events in my life that followed. the answer is invariably no. not because i don’t love the people in my life dearly. not because i haven’t had good times since. the thing is, i don’t think being alive in and of itself is worth anything. i think being alive is worth something if you love your life. i don’t love my life a lot of the time. sometimes it feels like i’m always miserable. but i know depression fucks with my sense of balance in that way, so i don’t use my proportion of good days to bad when i’m doing the calculus of whether or not my life is worth it. what i do is think about the proportion of struggle to reward. for me. i’m sure other people get something out of me being alive, because out of necessity i have shaped myself into a person that others would enjoy being around. but for me, life is also often way more struggle than reward.

of course things might turn around at some point if i stay alive but the way things are looking now in the context of my life history thus far doesn’t bode well for the kinds of extraordinary developments that would have to occur for this to reverse course. plus, i don’t have a lot of life left in me. i have multiple disabilities and i am multiply marginalized. every day a new study comes out telling me this or that trait is a risk factor for early death. being Black, being mentally ill, being queer, being fat, being in chronic pain. all these things wear on my bodymind. and accessing the things i need to counteract them is contingent on me having the money to do that. if i can’t make or raise money, i am on a path towards death anyway, regardless of if i want it or not.

so i am presented with a choice: use my spoons on trying to keep on top of finances/fundraise OR look for a job OR find a reason to live. because at this point i don’t have the spoons for all three. and since i can’t always generate reasons to live for myself i am falling into depression way more often. and i am afraid–no, i am not afraid, not anymore. i have accepted the inevitability that if this continues, if i cannot find some kind of work, at some point i will fall in and be unable to pull myself out. i don’t want to hurt the people i love, but i cannot control the world. i can only do what is within my capacity.

this is what is real for me right now. nothing else takes up so much space in my life. the specter of death. the futility of trying to find a reason to live as a suicidal person when every day brings your involuntary negation closer. i am angry when i think about how i’ve fought to survive for so long and i might just die because capitalism. because i fell for a lie, when so many others fall for the same lie and are rewarded.

this is what is real for me right now. i say optimistic things on social media but i don’t believe them. i don’t really believe the world won’t just let me die. i don’t believe i have the ability to survive. i am scared and hurt and angry and i feel abandoned and betrayed and bitter.

this is what is real for me right now. people die every day. people are abandoned by their families and communities and societies every day. if there is a god they do not discriminate when distributing suffering among the marginalized and oppressed. if there is a god they seem to favor the rich, the white, the depraved. at least in this realm.

(god, please tell me there is a place where this is made right. please tell me this pain isn’t for nothing. please help me understand.)

this is what’s real. i don’t know how i am going to get through the rest of today, or the rest of the week, or the rest of the month. i have nothing to guide me but a shaky faith in myself as a part of the divine and in the divine themselves. i constantly shift between deep, bone-crushing despair and butterfly-wing-beat-hopefulness. i constantly delude myself to keep going and that’s okay. when consensus reality is too harsh sometimes you have to exist in your own.

this is what’s real. i can’t promise to stay alive because that’s not entirely up to me. the world has the ultimate say in my survival. but i promise that i will keep fighting. i promise that i will stare down the darkness until it has said what it needs to say. and if i survive, i promise that i will teach you everything it taught me.

this isn’t about anything, i just need to get some shit down.

still don’t have a job/income. i’m in a “hiring process” rn for this remote writing job and i’ve been putting a lot of my energies towards manifesting that. but it is taking waaaay longer than i think i have the stamina for. i had to turn in a writing sample yesterday and now i’m waiting on the results. i want to believe that i will get the job, but i’m so used to being disappointed i can’t let myself think it’s REALLY going to happen. i can’t visualize myself past this point in my life anymore. i’m so tired. i was manic for a week or two and that powered me through the first part of this “hiring process” but i’ve been just kind of numb for a few days and now i think i’m moving into legit depression. but even in the mania i wasn’t ecstatic or anything. it was more just energy but not the good feeling with it.

my sex drive is nonexistent because to desire sex i would have to feel with my whole self and that isn’t something i’m equipped to do rn. plus i’m having a lot of pain in my back and legs and head and guts and it’s hard to focus on anything else going on in my body. it’s just too much. i’m so exhausted of this world and how hard it is to live in it, and with how many people in it truly believe that this is the way it should be. and i know there is so little i can do to change it. and i have to fight my mind and body and the world and it’s just… why. for what?

oh yeah, this is depression.

i haven’t even been able to do more social media fundraising because i just don’t have the spoons. and if anyone ever tries to tell you that “digital panhandling” is an easy way to make money, punch them in the mouth. just even working up the nerve to say anything about how fucked you are in the first place is labor. and then you have to keep updating totals, reviving the post, making new posts, new stories, all dedicated to how dire your finances are like you didn’t already have that in the back or front of your mind at all times. it’s just a lot. especially when you’re already going through some shit, which you clearly are because you’re out here asking for help. anyway. i am very thankful for my friends, who have continued to share and boost even though i’m not pushing it as much as i probably should.

i’m just fatigued, burned out, done. i’ve had to let go of so many things to be “okay” with where i am now, and a lot of that has been really freeing but a lot of it has been more out of necessity than desire. for example, i’ve let go of my need to look a certain way because i don’t have the money to achieve that look. but it’s to the point where some things i let go are actively making my mood worse, like rn my hair is super fucked because i can’t retwist it myself anymore due to shoulder/neck pain so i “decided” to just let it freeform but that led to it getting super tangly and painful so i kept putting my hands in it when it was dry, trying to pull stray hairs out of locs that were like on the other side of my head. and now it’s SO wack looking, it makes me want to cry. but i can’t get it fixed because no money. other shit that impacts my health that i can’t fix because no money: our 15 year old mattress is fucking up our backs and hips and shoulders, my desk chair/dining chair is in no way ergonomic and gives me a migraine if i sit in it too long, and the chair i sit in to “relax” is pushing my spine into awful contortions and fucking with my hips/knees.

and part of that stuff is my fault because when we had/have money i don’t wanna spend it on boring shit like a mattress or getting my hair fixed or whatever. i wanna buy plants and tattoos and good food and cute stuff. but like, if i had enough money in the first place there wouldn’t be this feast or famine mentality over here. i mean, i’m gonna die one day (probably soon, tbh), why shouldn’t i enjoy my life and be surrounded and covered in magnificence? it’s super hard to convince my mad depressive brain that buying a mattress is gonna make me happier than getting more tats. and like, the fact that good mattresses are so expensive yet getting a better night’s sleep puts you at an advantage in life sends me down an anger spiral. same with ergonomic chairs and what not. the folks who can afford all that shit aren’t the ones who really need it.

anyway, i digress.

universe, i need this job. i need something unequivocally good to happen, not some shit that i had to make good by spinning it round and round and extracting some lesson out of it. i’m tired of turning lemons into lemonade, tired of finding a silver lining, tired of trying to stay motivated and upbeat in the face of an unrelenting stream of garbage. just let me have this, please. i don’t think i have it in me to overcome any more.

TL;DR: Support my work on Patreon.

This isn’t going to be anywhere near as coherent as my last little update on post-graduation life, but that’s okay. Everything in me would rather not write again until things get better, so just getting these thoughts translated into words is enough right now.

Last time around I said I was going to try to write full-time and I did. For about a week. Turns out I can’t take the anxiety, my heart beating out of my chest all day every day. The first day wasn’t so bad. I wrote and polished four pitches and started sending them out. I did a little work on my website and Patreon and I tweeted and such to build platform. I felt positive. But after a few rejections I started second-guessing whether or not what I was pitching was even marketable. The time spent on social media, supposedly “platform building”, didn’t help my anxiety either. By Wednesday of the first week I was in the previously mentioned condition: tachycardia, high BP, whatever. I was hyperaware of my heartbeat and all its seeming inconsistencies. It didn’t help that I was drinking black tea every morning to try to be productive and not getting enough sleep because I had to push myself so hard to work eight hours each day.

After that fiasco of a week I decided to start looking for a part-time job again. What I really want and what I have always needed to be creative is stability and it’s silly of me to think that at damn near forty and in such a fucked-up time in my life and the planet’s that I’d be able to change something so essential about myself. I shut down when money gets funny. Periodt. I can’t generate anything when I’m worried about how we’re gonna get groceries. I was just trying to make myself feel better about not being able to find a job. This is just a mutation of “if I’m exceptional enough I can succeed”. Like I think that oh, I can’t find a job so I’ll just make a job. When in my whole life has that ever worked? Folks are even less likely to pay me if it’s me, you know what I mean? Like, people will give me money to survive and I love them so deeply for that, don’t get me wrong. I absolutely do and I don’t mean to insult anyone who has supported me financially when I was desperate, or seem ungrateful. I am eternally grateful for your support to support me in this moment (and I know not everyone has the long-term stability to offer more than that). But it feels like most folks–whether it’s readers or editors–aren’t interested in paying for my work, which would truly sustain me past this moment. I know my writing has changed a lot since 2010, but I do wish that what I’m offering now was considered valuable. Oh well.

(The good femme Shannon Barber wrote about her own experiences with $$$ and feeling like she isn’t folks’ cup of tea and I feel it so immensely. You should read it here, here, and here.)

Anyway, I have so little energy, so few spoons, it doesn’t make sense in my mind to spend them on things that have a low likelihood of success. Freelance writing, especially as a disabled person whose disabilities are exacerbated by uncertainty, instability, and rejection, does not have a high likelihood of success. And the types of shits I think to write about are profoundly unmarketable (by me). And to be honest the kind of writing I want to do right now is not that. So I stopped. If nobody’s gonna read my shit anyway I might as well only write what I want, when I want.

But the job search doesn’t seem to have a high likelihood of success either.

Since June I’ve been on three interviews and all of them advertised as part time jobs but ended up preferring someone who would work full-time now or in the future. I don’t want to work full time because I want to have energy to write and if I earned the same wage I did BEFORE I WENT TO COLLEGE I really wouldn’t need to work full time. Irony of ironies, it seems like I’m gonna be making significantly less than I did before I went back to school to make more money/have more stability. I am so, so, so salty about this shit, y’all. Like, the salt is f e r m e n t i n g the longer I sit here with a college degree and no job.

(And I know I knew it was a scam while I was in it but it just sucks so so bad being in it.)

I can’t count how many jobs I’ve applied to and never heard anything, not even an interview request. Right now I’m playing phone tag with a manager at a call center where I applied to be a rep and it’s been so long that I’m suspicious she’s somehow figured out I’m Black and is trying to avoid ever actually talking to me. Last Friday I drove for UberEATS for about three hours and made $26. NO ONE tipped. My broke ass makes sure we tip every single time we order anything delivered and I feel guilty because I only do 20% but we don’t even have that. I was so mad. Driving gives me migraines especially when there’s an additional stress (like time or making money) added to the experience, so I would have liked to make more for three hours of one of my least favorite activities. I might do it again one day this week to see if Friday is just a day assholes tend to order but I am 99.9% sure it’s not gonna be a viable source of income. Especially since it really fucked my energy levels over the weekend.

There are so many things I’m amazing at, but I’m in the exact same position right now I was before I went to school: I don’t have “legit” experience doing those things, or I don’t have the right degree, or I don’t have the money to start doing them as a business because you need licenses and other garbage. I’m stuck hoping one of these places I’m applying to realizes how amazing I am and offers me a job. It doesn’t seem like it’s gonna happen any time soon, and paradoxically the longer it takes the less motivation I feel to keep trying. That is alarming since our financial situation worsens with each day that goes by where I’m not earning money.

The thing is, of course, that I don’t really want to work. I want money so I can eat and medicate and buy plants and get tattoos and stuff, but I don’t want to have to go into an office every day or write something marketable or deliver food or whatever capitalism has decided is worth getting paid for. I want to do the work in that I want to make art, struggle towards liberation, build community, spend time with my loved ones, worship god, and enjoy my place in nature. Those are some of the most important things in the world, but they don’t bring in the cash. Which is why, every day, I question why the fuck I stick around this godforsaken planet.
.
.
.
I’m still here, though.

image showing degree conferral from UCLA: bachelor of arts, sociology, magna cum laudeSociety—other people, systems, institutions, culture—has so much more power over our lives than the average person gives it credit for. Acknowledging its outsized influence is devastating at first, incompatible as it is with a vision of the individual as master of their own destiny, culpable in failure and deserving in success. But there is a freedom in relinquishing our illusions of control. If I am not charge of my destiny, if my class or race or assigned gender or national origin are stronger determinants of my fate than my individual decisions, it matters less what choices I make. I can make the choices society prescribes for me, or I can choose a different path.

A little less than six years ago, I fled back to school hoping that when I finished, I would be able to avoid the stress and disappointment of looking for a job without a college degree. I had just been laid off from my job as a technical support specialist and was already attending community college part time, so it seemed fortuitous, especially since my partner and were talking about me quitting my job and going back to school full time once he found a teaching job. I made the leap and enrolled in a full load of classes at my local community college.

(Society told me going back to school was a respectable choice, the right choice. I should have graduated from college a long time ago, according to chrononormative* standards, anyway, and won’t a college degree give you a leg up in the job market? They can never take your degree away from you, they say, and promise it will all be worth it, all the struggling and debt and biting your tongue.)

There was no way for me to know five years ago that I would be graduating into a job market even more unfriendly to folks like me than I had avoided by entering college in the first place. No way for me to know that I would be made more disabled by my time in academia; definitely no way for me to know that the world as I understood it would effectively be ending in slow motion, that overt and aggressive fascism and white supremacy would be in power all over the world, that the naively hopeful environmental trajectory I thought we were on would be replaced by dire warnings of our dwindling opportunity to halt the inevitable collapse.

But—this is actually an okay place to be, for me. Even if it doesn’t always feel like it. Even if sometimes it hurts so bad I wish I could sink into the molten outer core of the earth. Systems are failing, nakedly, obviously. That means there is no way for me to blame myself. There is no way for me to be exceptional enough to overcome an actual apocalypse. If I learned anything from studying sociology, I learned that.

At last, finally, and in the end, I understand: It’s not me, it’s society.

###

I once believed that higher education was a refuge for the bookish and bright. Being the kind of learner that prefers to absorb a subject through obsessively researching as much as I can on it, I found only misery in elementary and high school. I felt trapped, forced to learn in a regimented way, forced to adhere to conventions set by long-dead colonizers and bootlickers and other types interested in turning children into compliant cogs in a surplus-generating machine. College, I thought, would be different, would be more open to the kaleidoscope of brains humanity contains. Despite having attended college on and off since I was sixteen, I didn’t have enough long-term experience with it to dispel my idealistic beliefs. I was always too crazy to attend class regularly, always withdrawing mid-semester to deal with some emotional upheaval, some mental collapse. And I was so drugged up and indoctrinated into various mainstream viewpoints that I probably wouldn’t have noticed the reality of it all even if I had managed to spend any length of time at school.

This time around, though, I noticed. I noticed all the ways higher education operates to exclude folks like me, all the ways it demands exceptionalism in the face of its own mediocrity, all the ways it perpetuates a status quo of ableism, capitalism, cisheteropatriarchy, white supremacy, colonialism, and imperialism. And as I got further into my upper division major work—sociology—I noticed even more. It became too much to bear too many times to count. The small ironies piled up like so much oppressive detritus, my daily commute a recounting of historical and present-day trauma, my thoughts a running tally of injustices: I am currently driving on a freeway system built by displacing poor people of color, past houses big enough to hold every single houseless person I meet on the way, to a campus more concerned with the appearance of diversity than materially improving the lives of its Black or disabled or queer or immigrant students, to learn about the impact of housing discrimination on intergenerational wealth in whites versus Black folks.

I channeled my anger, my outrage and existential despair, let it flavor impassioned papers and pointed presentations, but it felt hollow, was hollow. It meant nothing, and I knew it. I had to endure the slights, had to make do when my disability accommodations were phased out, had to push myself beyond the point of burnout to finish my degree. Because in my mind, if I didn’t, I’d just spent five years and however many tens of thousands of dollars to have my dreams crushed without even getting a receipt. As much as I wanted to be the kind of bitch that says you know what, I’m good and forges their own degreeless path in life—as much as I had effectively been that bitch for the first part of my adult life out of necessity—I felt obligated to finish, not only for myself but for the loved ones who were sacrificing to help me get through school.

To stay motivated, I told myself that I’d find a job quickly once I finished school. I knew this was a fiction, but it was a necessary one—more than once, the specter of graduating and still being unable to find a job almost convinced me to drop out. I pretended as if this degree really would allow me to navigate the job market with ease, picking and choosing from a panoply of well-paying jobs with full benefits, leapfrogging over my un-degreed competition. But even if that were the case, I was using every last bit of my energetic reserves to reach a finish line that had shifted since I started the race, leaving me in no condition to leapfrog over anything. I spent the first few weeks after graduation pretending it was just another summer, trying to recharge a little before I started my job search.

A manic episode lent me the optimism to apply for a dozen or so jobs and write sparkling cover letters to each. The inevitable fibro flare and depression that followed forced me to acknowledge the truth of 2019’s job market hellscape. Several of the $15/hr-and-under positions I applied to expected me to do free labor in the form of aptitude tests and their ilk. (For some jobs, I did these, because I felt the position/salary would be worth it, and the tests weren’t too egregious. On others, I declined.) Out of the positions to which I applied, only one has even opened my resume—I’ve received no response from that employer at the time of writing, two weeks later. One job I was particularly excited about, one whose qualifications I greatly exceeded and whose hours and duties perfectly matched my needs, had over a thousand applicants at last update. A few jobs have “moved to the next stage in their hiring process” without my resume even being acknowledged.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to be jobless for a while, if traditional employment is the way I insist on making my living. I can write about it now, find the silver lining in my misfortune, because it’s been a couple weeks and I’m high as fuck. But realizing that I just spent five years under some of the most extreme stress of my life to basically end up worse off than I started broke me for about a week. My always-tenuous commitment to staying in corporeal form dwindled to nonexistence more than once, but I happily do not own anything capable of killing me in a guaranteed manner, so I’m still here.

(Kidding, kind of. As long as the people who love me are here on this planet, I’m staying in solidarity. But things did get pretty pale in my head.)

I cannot Black excellence my way out of being on earth as worlds crumble around me. I cannot young, Black, and gifted my way into insulating myself from climate collapse, into financial security, into overcoming a system built to oppress and exploit folks like me before leaving us to become casualties of their disregard for life. All I can be is open to learning how to live in different ways, how to ride the waves of change such that I can keep my head above water, keep what’s important in sight. And if I can’t keep my head above water, I can learn to take bigger breaths before I go under.

If I could travel through time, I would impart this wisdom to 34-year-old me on the eve of their decision to go back to school. I would whisper in her ear: Do not give in to fear. Leap. You will find you have wings. I don’t know that I would fly, that things would turn out any better if I threw myself into professional writing in 2014 instead of seeking the comfort of official validation, but I might have avoided destroying my health in order to get it. I really thought I needed the legitimacy of a degree. I didn’t. Turns out what I needed was to finally internalize the idea that it’s not me, it’s society. For accomplishing that, at least, perhaps going back to school was worth it. For what it did to my emotional and physical well-being, decidedly, it was not.

###

It’s the end of the world—at least, it’s the beginning of the end of a way of living based in colonialism, ableism, white supremacy, capitalism, imperialism, and cisheteropatriarchy—and that means we don’t have to do things the same way anymore. We never did, but we have even less incentive now that doing things the way we were told to do them has been so starkly revealed as a path to destruction and separation from god, god being that spark of the divine we each hold within us, the glue that binds us to each other and the planet and all beings across the universe. The way of living that tells me that I must depend on a boss or a landlord or a mayor or a president to manage my work, my housing, my community, my people, is the same way of living that has cleaved Indigenous land from Indigenous humans, the same way of living that is rendering the planet uninhabitable for large human populations, the same way of living that I will reject every single day until it has been banished from this earth.

We must reject ways of living that perpetuate systems of oppression if we are to have hope of humanity surviving the catastrophic change that is underway. But since systems of oppression also shape the ways of living we have available to us, this rejection will come with pain and sacrifice, especially for those of us who are subjugated under the same systems. I know this, I been known this, been known revolutionary change is full of what we are taught to perceive as negative emotions and experiences, but that there is growth contained within them. If a little pain, a little discomfort on my part, on our part, could propagate through the system all the way up to the institutional level, could destabilize the systems that oppress us, wouldn’t it be worth it? Especially when—in my experience, at least—pain can be a catalyst for awakening, and a pleasure unto itself.

For me, the desire to be traditionally employed is partially rooted in a genuine concern that my disability might prevent me from being able to manage freelance or self-employed life. Putting the responsibility for finding streams of income on myself and not on some professional who ostensibly knows what they’re doing is a terrifying prospect when I consider how few days out of a month I feel well enough to work on projects. At the same time, I do get shit done despite how I feel. I don’t have to feel good about something in the moment for it to be worthwhile. In fact, the most worthwhile things I’ve done have often been ordeals to get through.

That’s not to say that everything worthwhile must be painful, or that suffering is necessarily productive—I would never endorse that idea. Sometimes, though, the only way we get out of a destructive situation is for it to become untenable, uncomfortable, painful. Sometimes pain is a friend nudging you: Are you safe here?  Is this what you really need? I’ve been trying to understand what this pain is trying to tell me, this discomfiting space I’m in where I don’t know when I’ll find work, how I’m going to support myself, where I’m going in life when it comes to career.

Before I got my sociology degree, I might have blamed myself for my inability to find a job. I might have taken the metaphorical whip to my own back, expected that I would be able to make up the gap between economic expectation and reality by hustling, killing myself to meet a capitalist ideal of productivity and employability. Now, I know. It’s not me, it’s society. Trying to be middle class, trying to live up to hegemonic ideals of success, is destructive. What I am feeling is in part the shame of not being able to consume the same disproportionate amount of resources as my parents did, the anguish of believing hard work gets you anywhere, the guilt of having held that ideology against the poor and the houseless and other unfortunate souls I probably thought myself better than, the humiliation of having that ideology thrown back in my face when I cannot succeed under the same terms.

(And when I say I, I mean we. None of us are safe here, and this is the opposite of what we need.)

This job market, this disappointment post-graduation, is painful for me to confront. It’s a bit of the same pain I felt when I came to understand that higher education was not a great equalizer but merely a mechanism to perpetuate the status quo, the same pain I feel when I hear people defend throwing families in cages because they violated some law, the same pain I feel when I see folks saying we can’t take radical action on climate change or abolish prisons or dismantle capitalism because it will cost too much or be unfair to folks who paid off their loans or their debt to society or whatever milquetoast excuse the centrists are offering that day. We insist on adhering to the tenets of a way of life that is killing us. I adhered to them by going back to school, even though I had literally no reason to, was receiving no real benefit besides the false sense of security that comes from doing the right thing. If we just work hard enough. If we get a degree. If we are exceptional. If we go high when they go low, if we open a business in a disadvantaged community for three years, if we are silent as the waves of change crash upon us, as the inexorable tide of exploitation pulls us under, we might become one of the lucky ones.

The past is the past. I made my choice, I went back to school, I graduated. But now, I intend to break away, take a different path than the one society prescribes for me. A scarier path, but maybe a more realistic path. A path that I forge myself, with guidance from others who have navigated this chaos longer than I have, successfully. I want to write full-time, or as full-time as my bodymind allows. It isn’t my first choice to make writing my primary source of income—it is partially a function of the reality of the job market—and I may end up needing to find part-time work to supplement my income after all. The more I think about it, though, the more I believe that making writing my full-time job is at least something worthwhile for me to attempt. Writing is where I see myself doing the most good on this planet, and despite the awful state of publishing, I think I have a chance—however tiny—at my version of success. It will be hard. It will involve a lot of rejection and crying jags and questioning whether I ought to just peace myself out and avoid all the misery. It could also be the most amazing thing I’ve ever done. The way I find community. The way I build community and leave a legacy of work for the folks who live after I’m gone. I have nothing to lose, anyway. We have nothing to lose but a world that would see us in chains again.

It’s not you, it’s society. And society is in shambles. What would you do if there was nothing holding you back, if you had nothing left to lose, if everything you thought you knew turned out to be a lie? What will you do now, at the beginning of the end of this world?


* Elizabeth Freeman, Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories. Duke University Press. 2010.

everything from then on out was going through the motions.
everything from going to work every day to saving for the future to breathing was
a charade performed as defense against the inevitable
a tired eye closed to the light of the oncoming train
a battered heart numb to the cries of the victimized child
a weary soul creaking under the weight of the world
and choosing the path of least resistance.
yet we could not cease going through the motions,
could not stop the motion of the machine grinding towards us
with the threat of growling bellies and chattering teeth.
a few of us figured out that we could stop the motion of the earth
blot out the sun with the moon
compel every human into the street
if we imagined it together.
but most of us were too tired from work
to work on aligning the stars for revolution.
so we waited,
and plotted,
and planned B
all the while praying
for the rest to get as tired
as we were.

    Excerpt from journal of an anonymous Appendage of the Queer Disabled Black Femme Tactical Liberation Body, Third Division (Western Turtle Island). [Archival comments: ….. So, this is written ten years BEFORE the Reckoning. Quantum-temporal collective manifestation or visionary madness? We still don’t understand exactly what the QDBFTLB harnessed to bring us this world, no matter what we might like to think. This begs further research. – taf]

It’s been pretty somber in the Fierce household this fall and winter. I would say I’m approaching burnout, but I know that boundary was crossed long ago. I’m fueled by sunk-cost fallacy at this point. I don’t want to be in school anymore, haven’t wanted to be for some time. Me doing something I absolutely loathe, day in and day out, can’t help but set the tone for how my partner feels, the household aura poisoned by my thinly veiled rage.

I’d already decided by the end of last academic year that I didn’t want to get a Ph. D. in sociology because of my inability to reconcile the exclusionary nature of academia with my belief in divesting as much as possible from structures that produce and perpetuate inequality. For a while I planned on getting an MFA so I could spend the next few years writing and not having to deal with the shambles of my finances. (I went back to school full-time after having been laid off in 2014, and I have a bunch of credit card debt that I haven’t been paying because we don’t have the money for both of us to have good credit.) But I don’t need to go to school to write, and I don’t need to buy further in to the lie that higher education is a means to break down structural barriers. Why go further into undischargeable debt? So I can assimilate into a system that would much rather I not participate in the first place, a system that will put up innumerable obstacles to ensure I only make it if I’ve proven myself exceptional? Nah. Being exceptional is the opposite of being free. (I still gotta convince my anxiety of this.)

Over the hot, depressed, miserable summer I even considered leaving UCLA without finishing my bachelor’s. After agonizing over it, taking into account how much work and sacrifice went into me being here not only on my part but on my family’s, I finally settled on just not giving a shit about grades anymore. I figured GPA means nothing when I’m 99.9999% sure I’m never going to want to set foot on a university campus again once I’m done with this degree. As a result, I’ve pulled back a lot when it comes to studying and reading. That freed up some time for me, but I’m so broke or anxious or depressed or exhausted or achy that I can’t enjoy it. Whenever I do something I want to do, something that would normally bring me joy, there’s this buzzing in the back of my head reminding me that I should be reading or working on some paper or whatever for school. Right now I have two final projects I need to start, and I’m writing this. Oops.

I tell myself that it is participating in a system I no longer believe in that is driving my mood instability, my fibro flares, my chronic IBS issues. But there’s a deeper truth that I elide with this narrative, the truth that the world–at least the man-made part of it–is in itself a system I no longer believe in. I still haven’t figured out how to live with that in a generative way, but I am looking forward to spending the rest of my life working on it. I still think things will get better for me once I get out of school. I also know there will be new struggles and obstacles to overcome.

person with locks and light skin in blue and purple dragon pajamas
I’ve been wearing this dragon onesie all fall/winter. Yes, even outside.

In other news, I’ve been writing poetry and fiction, trying to improve so I can one day produce something publishable at the pro level. I have a lot of self-doubt about my writing skill. I’ve gotten over it to a certain extent when it comes to nonfiction, which I (inaccurately) see as “not creative”. When it comes to “creative writing”, though, I falter. I know good writing when I read it, but my feelings on my own writing are tied up in my doubt. Not to mention the mindfuck that is grandiosity in mania and self-loathing in depression. Meaning, when I read my writing while manic, I think it’s amazing, but when I read it while depressed, I think it’s straight trash. I’ve had walking depression for like, a year, so it’s been hard to accurately judge my work during that time. I’m trying to be generous and not force myself to write when I’m so depressed I hate everything I’ve ever produced, especially since I have to save some energy for my schoolwork.

On the theme of saving energy, I deleted all the social media apps from my phone, so if you’ve been trying to get my attention on Facebook or Instagram, I apologize (but I doubt my absence has been greatly missed since I wasn’t active much to begin with!). I can’t help looking at web Twitter every now and then, though. Hey, I also deleted the news app, so I gotta go somewhere to keep up with the latest political fuckery and the dankest memes.

Spiritually I haven’t had energy to do all the work I’d like to; I’ve mainly just been celebrating full moons and pulling tarot cards when I need direct messages from god. I haven’t been able to keep up with my studies on that front since I transferred from community college, to be quite honest. Haven’t been able to move my body regularly or eat the way I want to either. I’m sure the lack of psychic and physical nourishment is contributing to this pervasive feeling I have that I’m dying. Being in chronic pain doesn’t help that either! My “rational” mind tells me I’m not dying any faster than I was before I started school, but the way my body feels… it’s hard to dispel that belief. The fact that I’ve felt like I’m dying for the past year and I haven’t died yet is probably an indication that whatever I’m feeling, it’s not a result of my body being riddled with cancer or something. I am really looking forward to going back to my old doctors once I get a job with some decent insurance, though. (I’m especially looking forward to going back to acupuncture once I have a job.) I don’t have the energy to deal with all the obstacles Medi-Cal puts up to getting good care, but I do need to spend some time working through my issues with someone who is paid enough to act like they want to find a solution.

Anyway, this has gotten long and disjointed, and as I said, I should be working on finals. Will probably be on radio silence until spring break. Stay strong during this Mercury retrograde & assorted upheaval, y’all.

P.S. Happy tropical Aries, sidereal Pisces season in advance–my 39th birthday is in twenty days.