Be As Weird As You Can

Just before falling asleep a few nights ago, I suddenly thought that maybe the coronavirus pandemic could result in a blogging renaissance. I miss old school blogs, where people would share little musings or life updates. I know that people are still sharing this stuff on social media, but it’s more polished now, or it’s image-forward, or it’s not a blog it’s a newsletter, hidden behind a paywall. It’s not the same.

With people social distancing all over the country, I thought maybe classic blogs could have a resurgence. Wouldn’t we all like to read a weekly or daily update on one another’s lives? I would.

I woke up the morning after this thought resolved to write an old school blog post. Then the day’s news overwhelmed me, and it wasn’t yet 7am. The coronavirus is one thing, but the news that got me that morning was the other thing, the economic thing, the thing they’re saying is going to rival the Great Depression.

I graduated from college in 2010, when unemployment was still in the double digits throughout most of the country. The 2008 recession colored everything about my post-college decisions, lent an air of panic to every student loan payment that came due, made me take and keep for far too long a job based solely on salary and not at all on my personal interests or skill set.  To see the news that our current downturn exceeds 2008 levels brought back all of my barely-suppressed economic angst.

During the last recession, there was a desperation that permeated my workplace, and every one of my coworkers fell prey to it, even those with long careers behind them. I worked so hard to keep that job, to suppress any parts of my identity that did not align with my work, to demonstrate that I was a valuable employee above everything.

It might seem like a small thing, but creating a public blog last year felt like heaving off the last vestige of that trauma. It felt bold to admit to a circle of people, some of whom I know through work, that my 8-5 isn’t all that I am. It still feels a little radical to mention that there are parts of me that are separate and apart from the marketplace, to admit that I might like to carve out a small space for myself that isn’t about earning money or optimizing.

Today I got the news that a friend lost her job because of the market downturn. She isn’t the first one and I know she won’t be the last. The news chilled me. I felt terrible for her, of course. Mostly, though, I was sad. I remember this, how bad it got before, how I contorted myself for years because of how lucky I felt to have a job at all. How grateful I felt for a job that made me miserable.

I don’t want it again. I remember that low-down, ever-present panic so well from a decade ago. I certainly don’t want the panic on top of the many deaths this county is projected to face due to coronavirus. It’s too much.

If you haven’t read the 1619 Project yet, you should. As the news unfolded over the past few days, I went back to this essay on the particular brutality of American capitalism, and it hit me in new ways. The fact that so many people are in positions that dictate they be more concerned with whether they’ll be able to collect a paycheck than whether they’ll survive the pandemic is a truly grotesque example of everything this essay posits. And, for those of us lucky enough not to be in that position yet, the market downturn may soon change that, like it did for my friend.

Back when I was still imagining the blogging renaissance, I briefly considered trying to write about more universally appealing things. No more weird, long-winded rants about capitalism, Emma. Time to create content that sparks engagement. Build a platform. Ride this blog pipe dream straight to the top.

It is so hard to just let something be under capitalism, isn’t it?  Even in my dreams, I’m still thinking about how to subvert my actual interests in favor of the marketplace.  How can I excise that thinking from my creative pursuits, I wonder? Can I learn how to keep some things, or even just one goddamn thing, weird and human and honest?

Most people I know are reacting to this terrifying period in one of two ways: denial or futurism. The futurists are dreaming about some better world after all of this passes, when we’re more collective, or more compassionate, or write more blogs. The denialists are planning birthday parties for a couple weeks from now. Neither group is actually facing the reality of the present because it’s too frightening and painful.

I’m a futurist, and I was a mostly happy one until recently. Maybe I can get there again. But I worry now that the future, after all of this, is just 2008 all over again. A slow climb out of a deep, deep recession, plus a lot of grief and survivor’s guilt, if we’re lucky enough to be around for it.

What scares me most, beyond a full reckoning with what the coming weeks and months mean for me and the people I care about, is that the humanity, or the art, or whatever we call those important things that aren’t geared toward the market, already exist on the far edges. In a recession, those edges get narrower, or disappear entirely. What happens to the art then? Had do I or any of us keep the humanity going under economic conditions that aren’t conducive to even basic survival? How do we do that on top of a global pandemic?

That’s why the videos from Italy, of the people singing on their balconies, are so striking. There it is, that thing we all know—if not on a conscious level then deeply, at the bone–to be so important. It is still there, even in the midst of all this. And isn’t it beautiful?

It’s here too, I promise. Less beautifully, more obstinately, sillier, but here. I’m continuing to write my half-formed thoughts about things, despite the plague, despite the market crash, certainly despite reader feedback or interest. That’s the goddamn human spirit for you. Indomitable and against all reason.

If you’re reading this, please keep doing your things, too, whatever they are. Resist capitalism’s encroachment into every facet of your life. Take care of your family and neighbors over anything. Make the art. Be as weird as you can. Survive this and then do a lot more of that with me, in person.  I love you. Stay healthy.

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