I’ve never wanted to kill myself, but I’ve long been scared I might one day want to die. This makes for a capricious dance. When my mother beat me as a kid, I ran away from home. When pursuing a media career made me feel helpless, I left media. And when a year of the pandemic hollowed me out, I moved to New Zealand. I’m less concerned that suicidal urges will overtake me than I am that modern life will erode my will to live. So if death steps forward, I take one step back.
My relationship to staying alive is sensual rather than logical. I visualize death wishes like Thomas Cole’s thunderhead in “The Oxbow.” I don’t think too much about them. But when clouds mass on the horizon and I smell water on the wind, I grab my bags and go.
Something changed last year, though. I stopped blaming myself for this fear and accepted our capitalist state can just make you want to die sometimes. Preserving the will to live is dynamic. In Remember This House, James Baldwin wrote “the people cannot bear too much reality.” He was partially condemning white moderates for refusing to accept the American government’s illegitimacy (which remains a problem.) But I think the quote is slightly sympathetic, too.
Last year revealed how terrible things are, and the American government revealed it’ll extinguish us for trying to make them better. Pandemic? Make sure you die after your shift. Protest? Prepare to see jail or a rubber bullet. Climate change? Buy a good air filter! It’s no wonder people deal with stuff by ignoring it. The mind can only bear so much. But that poses another difficult question: If we can’t bear too much reality, how do we handle it when it bears down on us?
I don’t know the answer. But I think part of it involves asserting our right to live. A few days ago, writer Evan Kleekamp tweeted “I’m trying to enjoy what I feel will be a 3- to 6-month window where things will slightly reopen before a new, horrifying form of capitalist social relations will present itself. The blockchain stuff was just a preamble, the pandemic the opening scene.” I think Evan’s right. The ruling class seized financial and psychological ground last year. One of the new “capitalist social relations” we’ll be expected to endure is that Biden, Harris, and Bezos think they can sacrifice us for profit now. And because we need their money to live, I think lots of us will accede to these terms at great psychological cost.
But anticipating the state will assault my will to live makes me that much more determined to protect it. So I’m going to write a newsletter that does just that. It won’t be pre-professional, because monetizing everything makes me want to die. It’ll just cover things that rattle around my head and that I think I have smart thoughts on. I hope those thoughts will interest you, too.
I’ll post a piece this week on why Ziwe’s new show fascinates and irritates me. Other posts will cover Hilma af Klint’s abstract paintings, Albert Frey’s desert modernism, and noticeable differences between New Zealanders’ and Americans’ faith in the social contract. I’ll post one piece per week to Twitter for the next four weeks, and you’re welcome to sign up for the email list as well.
Thanks for reading this far, and I hope you enjoy.