This e-mail took me a week to write
I’m feeling impatient for spring, but also simultaneously hating the passing of time. Like, is 2021 actually just going to happen? It feels rude to be launched into the future — particularly one so anxiety-inducing — so quickly, without pleasant milestones of human progress to cheer us along the way.
My emails over the last year haven’t been exclusively cheery, but I think there was an undercurrent of optimism to them — a hint of forward momentum. I’m not feeling that right now. I don’t think many people are. Irritability is a natural response to people are arguing about handwashing on the timeline, and your family Whatsapp being saturated with hoax-y folk tales about home remedies for the virus. All of the therapists and spiritual teachers on my fav self-help podcasts say that anger is information. I believe it. I’m just not sure what to do with the information.
I am really angry right now. I’m angry about the flouting of Indigenous law and police aggression towards Wet’suwet’en camps and protestors across the country. I’m doubly angered by how plainly we’re seeing colonial and neoliberal value systems violently enacted at the expense of reconciliation and climate justice for all. U.S. electoral politics is also irritating as shit in the way it seems explicitly designed to divide people. And I’m truly disgusted by Hindu chauvinism in India and how furtively Islamophobic violence is buried into my cultural history. I don’t know how else to be in the world right now except weighed down by sheer frustration.
“I have begun to wonder why fascism—although it is by no means the same everywhere—is so recognisable across histories and cultures. It’s not just the fascists that are recognisable—the strong man, the ideological army … the fawning businessmen and film stars, the fear of intellectuals … and the hate-fuelled zombie population. It’s also the rest of us—the exhausted, quarrelling opposition, the vain, nit-picking Left, the equivocating liberals. And, of course, the wolves who ignored the decent folks’ counsel of moderation and sloped off into the wilderness to howl unceasingly, futilely—and, if they were female, then “shrilly” and “hysterically”—at the terrifying, misshapen moon. All of us are recognisable.”
So what to do with this basic-ass self-piteous anger that I’m feeling? I don’t want to bury it. I mean, I can’t. I’ll allow it to tag along as I go about my work day, spend time with friends and family, stop into a fully-stocked and bustling grocery store, chat briefly with an Uber driver, or participate in all of the other social rituals that have not yet been put on pause despite all the chaos. I’m not trying to be a mope, and I’m not saying panic. Really, it’s just infuriating having to move through the world as though everything is fine; that I have to capitulate to the whole project of normalcy required as part of the social contract.
I’d apologize for this morose letter, but I imagine that those who can’t handle it have clicked away by now. So, to the rest of you, here is where I land. Not for optimism’s sake, but as an act of love for the people in my life who are relying on me to help keep us together. Re: dread, we’ve been here before. Re: anger — On a good day? When the sun is shining? The anger reminds me that I am truly alive. In 2015, reminiscing on the re-election of George W. Bush in 2005, Toni Morrison wrote:
I am staring out of the window in an extremely dark mood, feeling helpless. Then a friend, a fellow artist, calls to wish me happy holidays. He asks, “How are you?” And instead of “Oh, fine—and you?”, I blurt out the truth: “Not well. Not only am I depressed, I can’t seem to work, to write; it’s as though I am paralyzed, unable to write anything more in the novel I’ve begun. I’ve never felt this way before, but the election….” I am about to explain with further detail when he interrupts, shouting: “No! No, no, no! This is precisely the time when artists go to work—not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job!”
I’m reminded that this newsletter is about nothing more than how to keep going.
Thanks to novelist Adnan Khan for joining me on the latest episode of Burn Out. I’m grateful to be in constant conversation with writers and other artists who help me feel through all of these extreme sensitivities!!! In this episode we talk about how to actually write a book, the high school teachers that helped and (maybe?) hindered us, and the impossible project of writing about ‘toxic masculinity.’ LISTEN:
Thanks for sticking with this one.
Lots of love,
ICYMI: I reviewed the new Grimes album, Miss Anthropocene, for Pitchfork.
GIVE: To the Unist’ot’en Legal Fund. Support Indigenous land defenders engaging with the Canadian legal system, which favours well-resourced corporations and industry.
SAY HI: Tonight (March 4) at the AGO, where I’ll be hosting a free talk with photographer Othello Grey.