Demi Moore, Hunter College 2019
(Essay Contestant Semi-Finalist)
ON EMAILING MY WAY THROUGH THE RECKONING
“That things ‘just go on’ is the catastrophe."
—Walter Benjamin, Central Park
I’d much prefer to not be making history. Perhaps we fantasize about setting records or coming in first under vastly different circumstances. Or, shattered glass ceilings instead of dreams. I can barely remember what day it is half of the time, but I will never forget the year.
The weight of trying to feign a sense of normalcy, however, is leaden with care. There were plenty of days before we went on lockdown, when I’d felt less pressure to perform, or so explicitly convey, a kind of thoughtfulness around uncertainty. When you look at the word greetings long enough, it begins to sound like it hardly belongs to the moment. I could not have imagined that thank you kindly, best, yours, cheers, sincerely, and warmly could keep me up at night, pondering the word. To be frank, I’m struggling with language that feels outmoded; the kind of language that’s a lot like sand trying to escape the bridge of your fingers and the center of your palm. Perhaps I’ve set my sights on something too trivial, like signatures and intros. That’s because it’s easier to fret over what you say at the end of an email as opposed to what you say at the end of the world.
Pushing back against a culture that actively renews itself in profits over people—which essentially translates as death over life—may be as simple as fighting the impulse to begin a message with “all is well.” Or, as difficult as trying to inhabit the world as you did before the pandemic pulled the curtain back on the ill-fated machinations of power. Before now, however you went about signing off was not so much a prompt for self-reflection, but rather a farewell to whatever came before it. And, that was the extent of it. The monotony of daily life amid a reckoning is enough to give you pause— poiesis you’re less likely to seek out otherwise. We’re all watching the flame go out on the old life we lived and a new flame arise on one that presages that we live in the present-past. It makes sense that we engage in the activity of translation when the chyron, newscasters, and headlines fall short: “People are not setting buildings ablaze, but attempting to burn down the institution of racial capitalism.” As we learn what it means to build a new politics of relationality across digital time and space, I am learning what it means to write in a register that is imbued with a sensibility that reflects the moment of the movement, and to read as if angled toward a new kind of futurity. I am watching the intrinsic badness of end times and the unapparent goodness of the end of the world (as we know it) converge.
Dionne Brand reminds us that “these hymns we’ve heard, these enticements to something called the normal, gesture us toward complicity.” As such, we should make no mistake that “business as usual” is what got us here in the first place. Before we ask those clamoring for bad times to end to simmer down, we should make no mistake that the end of the world won’t come for our makeshift charcuterie boards, weekend-long Netflix binges, or early morning walks on the beach. But it will come for our inability to effectively and poetically respond to the all-encompassing aspect of ruin. And, it will rightfully ask that we find alternative ways of being that revive instead of deprive us.
I’m realizing the extent to which language need not fail us. Tell me, what word, phrase, or sentence is capacious enough to hold what we once knew and what we may come to know, together and all at once? Tell me, again, and in that same breath, why the pursuit is not at all worth my time or yours?
For now, I’m prioritizing an openness that radically reimagines the constraints of the present. If that means I glance at, think about, or sweat over an email, so be it. What it means is that language has and will continue to break it all open.