By a beach bat
It’s a foggy morning in the Inner Sunset, where I’m perched on a stool in my sister’s kitchen. The light in the kitchen is gray and flat, and somehow the city feels vague, impossible to make words out of. For a few seconds at a time, though, weak sunlight will filter through the big windows, which are partially blocked by hanging pots of ferns and string-of-pearls. In those moments, the flat light becomes rounder and softer, glowing with a tinge of green. It is in the green light that words come to me, all in a rush. I try to get them down before the next cloud covers the sky. It’s late October, 2023.
The genocide in Palestine seems to be reaching its final stages. On a Tuesday, a hospital in Gaza is bombed and a thousand people die, and then on a Wednesday, Biden is sending $14 billion in aid to Israel. I’m wondering what it might take to get us out of our simulation of normalcy. Here, in the US, we have developed quick and efficient methods of processing this kind of news. It’s hard to grieve through a screen; sometimes the best we can manage is a fleeting anger and outrage towards the state. “Disbelief” is no longer the right word, because it’s all so routine—even literal funding and propaganda for genocide makes sense within this state.
Maybe it’s good that we expect these things to happen, that we have a complete lack of faith in our government achieving anything beyond violent colonialism. But at the same time, I wonder about our desensitization to death, which maybe is caused by our desensitization to life. In other words, would we have a different response to mass death caused by colonialism if we could read our own lives in sharper focus? I don’t want to write an article about Palestinian liberation because I’m not an authority on Palestinian liberation. I know that liberation from any system of oppression only works if it is led by those who are the most oppressed by that system, through any means necessary. But I also know that no one is free until everyone is free, and that our complicity in the US empire not only fuels ethnic cleansing, death and destruction—it also makes our lives duller. It limits our intelligence, shrinks our autonomy, and diminishes our sense of awe and wonder towards life.
We should care about what’s happening in Palestine—yet another apocalypse for people of color—not only because humans should care about each other, but also because their crisis is intrinsically tied to our own, even if the two cannot be equated. While some of us have no idea what it’s like to live through apocalypse (yet), our self-perpetuated oppression—this commitment we have to living under this state—kind of devalues what it means to be alive in the first place.
It reminds me of this quote I heard in an interview with Ruth Wilson Gilmore, who was talking about the prison industrial complex and our detrimental eye-for-an-eye approach to criminal justice. She said, “where life is precious, life is precious.” She was referring to the paradox of throwing one life away in an attempt to help heal another (i.e. putting someone in prison because they have harmed another person). If society doesn’t treat all life as precious, we can hardly expect it to treat any life as precious. And if we don’t treat our own lives as precious, if we don’t deeply care about what it means to be living, I don’t think we are going to care as much about all the ways the state can dole out death—from air strikes and concrete cells to the slower killers, nine-to-fives and unaffordable housing…
I feel this sense of relief when I go to the San Rafael dump. It’s similar to the feeling I get when it starts raining. At the dump, it’s loud and big and chaotic, and the towering piles of trash make you feel like you’re in a dystopian sci-fi movie. For some reason, they have peacocks there. You go to the dump expecting it to be a chore, the least glamorous part of fixing up your backyard, and instead you end up in another world for half an hour.
Like when I saw that solar eclipse in 2017. We were in this huge cornfield in Independence, Oregon. There were a bunch of posters taped up around town that read “INDIE GOES DARK!” I’ll never forget how it felt to be sitting there on the roof of our car, my world familiar and true, and then watch the moon pass over the sun. The sky went black in the middle of the day and the birds stopped singing and we saw stars. Someone nearby howled, and I started laughing and crying at the same time. You think life is one way. The job you have and what time your alarm goes off in the morning. The sprawling clocks and calendars inside your mind. The decisions your fucked up president makes on a regular tuesday, and the momentary disgust you feel before you keep scrolling on instagram. But then you go to the dump and there’s peacocks there, or you wake up in your new apartment and on your way to the corner store it’s just pouring rain. You think life is one way until you’re watching an eclipse and everything inverts upon itself and you realize the darkness was there the whole time. For a few minutes, for half an hour, you’re not a citizen of any state. You’re just a creature, autonomous and alive. For half-hours at a time, life becomes precious.
Increasingly, I have found myself living for those moments. Nothing makes sense to me anymore: the way we structure our time, the concept of working, of saving money or spending it. Ambitions and “dreams,” purpose, talent, fate. All the weighty labels, the abstractions of who we are — I can now see that they’ve always been, at least in some ways, tied up in what the system requires of us. I used to think I was very smart, and that there would be a place in society for me to use my skills and do something important. I had faith that there was a clear path to follow, and that following this path was the way to right wrongs, to solve injustices, and to have purpose. The disillusionment has been creeping up on me for a long time, but I guess it recently wormed its way to my core.
I look around bleakly from where I stand, at twenty-two, and I’m not sure what to make of the view. The sun doesn’t seem particularly warm, but it isn’t cold either. There are people on the street; some of them walking quickly with their heads down, others talking to the road signs or yelling at the sky. And there are coffee shops and abandoned houses and office buildings. Billboards and parking lots. I’m not sure where it’s all headed. Where I’m headed within it. My eyes always seem to rest on the fences. Maybe that’s my own problem. Society all sprawled out in front of me, and all I can see are the artificial barriers. All I can imagine myself doing is buying a pair of bolt cutters.
We are taught to believe it’s all part of the masterplan: people sleeping on streets, colonial states dropping bombs, supreme court rulings, elections, job interviews, getting engaged. Ingrained within us is this false notion that there is a point behind it all — that the path we are on has a destination. But what kind of masterplan is it if it does not honor life? If it has no problem killing thousands of children along the way? We don’t need to wait and see if things will work out. Things did not work out. Are we really holding out for nothing more than a better president, a less miserable job? Is that the best we can dream up — the most accurate amalgamations of our beautiful and messy reserves of desire?
When you live within a failed experiment, life knows no boundaries. There’s only one thing that we shouldn’t be doing, and that is continuing to follow the obsolete plot. Yeah, the plot was compelling for a while. And maybe when it stopped being compelling, it became comforting. But I think it might be time to follow something else, now.
I think I’m going to follow the look you’re giving me from your balcony on a friday night, as the stars rise low over west oakland and tires screech from the road beneath us. I’m going to follow the feeling I get from playing pool in the rain at Eli’s, or reading the last page of Josh’s zine, or sexually harassing cops that have the nerve to walk around my neighborhood. I’m going to follow heartbeats and fingertips and flirtatious eye-rolls, and the tears I cry for you and the tears you cry for me. I’ll follow the impulse to fight when I want to fight, and run when it’s better to run, and be quiet and listen when it’s time to take instructions — I’ll follow rage, and tenderness, and I’ll follow the warmth I feel when the light softens in my sister’s kitchen…
I guess that’s why it took me so long to write this: I kept waiting for the light to tinge with green. For my surroundings to tip just a few degrees into the abnormal, and for my brain to process it as the extraordinary. In those moments I feel the weight of my life, all tied up in the weight of your life, and the weight of death.
It sounds like a heavy burden to carry, but somehow it’s so much lighter than the dullness I felt in that flat light.