Photo credit: Stella Kalinina
The other day, I was in a coffee shop with a friend of mine, and he said with a casual gesture of his hand like he was waving away a fly, “The world is ending anyway.”
We were talking about the hope for real democracy and better healthcare, the crush of student debt, migrant children detained at the border and in our own states, and of course, impeachment. You know, the things you’re probably talking about right now in coffee shops and at dinner parties and in texts with friends while you wait in line to get your prescriptions filled at CVS.
Yet on this day, in this coffee shop, my highly compassionate, artistic, leftist friend confessed to me that when he lets himself feel hopeful about real change for our country, he wants to cover it with a blanket of apathy. Because the world is ending anyway, ha ha, let’s all go to the bar
. But it was only 10 AM, so instead we just stared into the depths of our coffees.
I asked him gently, “Can you imagine a world in which things are better?”
He told me he was frightened to get his hopes up.
Feel safe enough to imagine.
This worries me. If we are too frightened to even imagine
a better future, much less demand it, then we’ve given over even our wildest fantasies to those who wish to profit from our misery and inaction. I notice it all the time, with increasing frequency: people trying to numb the pain of clear decline with a vision of insurmountable apocalypse.
I get the impulse. But here’s the thing — we don’t need any more visions of dystopia. The world is already scary and violent and unfair, and it didn’t just start being so three years ago — it has been that way for most people for most of human history. What we do need is to sit with the parts of ourselves that want to wave our hands and say, The world is ending anyway
. Under the guise of apathy, that’s just fear. We can mourn, we can rage, and then we must keep going.
How can we remain fiery without crashing and burning? Not by burying our heads in the sand, or by what my New Age friends call “spiritual bypassing,” a term first introduced in early ’80s to refer to “the tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks.” We cannot pretend that everything is fine, sharing posts about the power of manifestation on Instagram while our house burns down around us. To be numbly positive is just as bad as being numbly defeatist.
So, baby, what are we going to do?
* * *
, ecologist, Buddhist, and translator of Rilke
, has said that the world is like our sick mother. And when your mother is sick, do you refuse to go into her house? Do you wave your hand and say, My mother is dying anyway, let’s go to the bar
? No, we sit at her bedside. We work to change the things we can. We imagine her healthy and well. We imagine a future where our mothers, other people’s mothers, and the great mother of our planet are not poisoned, exploited, overtaxed, and unloved. And then we pay very close attention, taking our rests when we need, staying hydrated, and finding joy in small moments. We imagine, we gather, we take action, we rest. And most importantly, we repeat.
To imagine the world as already destroyed is to give away your power. And the world, your beautiful mother — she needs you, very much.
When I tell people that my debut novel, The Seep
, is a utopian science fiction story, they often blink politely at me, then ask, “Dystopian? Did you say dystopian?” Then I repeat myself, "Utopia, but you know, with problems." Because there will always be problems. Conflict is a catalyst for growth, the grit that grows the pearl — I could give you another dozen platitudes. In The Seep
, aliens come to our planet in the form of a disembodied substance, infiltrating the water and land and eventually our own bloodstreams. It’s a very gentle invasion, but paradigm-shifting nonetheless. Hierarchies dissolve and capitalism falls as the fantastical becomes the everyday. Through The Seep, everything is connected. Soon, it’s impossible to harm someone without feeling that hurt keenly oneself. This remakes life as we know it.
begins with a dinner party during an alien invasion, a situation too weird to even be frightening. The party hosts and guests are curious about what will happen, and for that night at least, safe and together. Soon, we learn that it’s impossible to feel fear while connected to The Seep — our characters are drugged, in a way, into trust for the unknown. And while their invasion does make the world a better place, it is still a deeply complicated place to be a human, to get older, to love and be loved. There are no guarantees, not even in a utopia. Nothing lasts forever; change is all we have.
* * *
Here is a recipe for you. It’s a magic spell, of sorts. A blessing for the future, and for the present.
HOW TO THROW A DINNER PARTY WHEN THE WORLD IS ON FIRE
Sit with yourself.
Remind your body: You are alive. You are a miracle. You have made it this far.
Take some deep breaths.
Take no action through fear. We’re here to show up, take up room, and pay attention.
Clean your space
Imagine as you clean that you are cleaning up the ocean, the sky, the earth, your own lungs.
Clean your body.
Say nice things as you scrub. Your supple flesh, your perfect toes. Your body who is your animal home. Reassure your body. You are safe to imagine here.
Decide to make something nourishing and simple, like a hearty vegetable soup.
Beans and grains are great additions. Chop vegetables. Make each addition a blessing. Onion to wake us up, garlic to motivate us to keep going. Root vegetables remind us to be strong, sweet, and hearty. Lentils ground us in the present moment, so we can examine our problems clearly. Greens, like spinach, chard, or kale, remind us of renewal, of spring. Carrots and celery are blessings from our ancestors. As you make this soup, realize that we are ancestors to our future. We are living in critical times. We are here for a reason. We have all the tools available. We have everything we need to make this world a blessing for our children, and their children, to all the animal beings who live here.
Gather your loved ones around a table.
Eat and drink. Again feel safe enough to imagine.
Not another war in the name of peace.
We dream a future that is gentle and life-affirming for all. We demand a future that is gentle and life-affirming for all. We create a future which is gentle and life-affirming for all.
I want to make 2020 a year of great leaps into a better world of our collective dreaming. Let us take this dreaming out of our homes, out of our apartments, into the great wide world with our considered actions. But before we can do any of it, my loves, we must imagine that it is possible.
We imagine, we gather, we take action, we rest. We imagine, we gather, we take action, we rest. We imagine, we gather, we take action, we rest.
Wishing you a 2020 filled with the fiery light of hope, of community, of imagination.
÷ ÷ ÷
is a writer living in Brooklyn. The Seep
is her first novel.