How to Live Happily in a Dystopian Novel

[Written on my phone when I should have been sleeping]

The world is crumbling, and I have never cared more or less than at this moment. 

Languishing? Yes, thank you, how are you? Don’t worry about me—I, like many of you, am feeling the walls caving in. (The air seems a bit thin.)

We just need to stay strong and keep breathing.

Yes, there will always be coups and despots and predatory countries and battles for sovereignty—and as I write, Russia is doing what we thought it would do, what we hoped it wouldn’t do amid these trying times. And these times are not new. The strong do what they can; the weak suffer—Realism in a nutshell. Life too. (But this doesn’t make it right. This does not make it right, yet I stand here at a loss for what to do.)

And there will be plagues, war, disaster, and all the other plights Revelations and Yeats warned us of:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world

“The Second Coming” – William Butler Yeats

(And so it goes…)

I used to care more about these things, or so I think. And it’s not that I don’t care, just that situations change. It’s difficult to scrounge up energy when depleted. It’s difficult to climb a fraying rope. And I’d like to believe many of us are at this point, looking over the edge and wondering how we arrived. Or how the world seems suffocatingly enormous. It is grand. It is pressing against us, closing in.

A bruise I keep pressing—that’s what this all feels like. A deep ache we can’t pull away from or escape, and maybe that’s what happens when we live for so long in a state of uncertainty. 

Things are challenging. Simple things are challenging. I have an unfinished list of 22 things I want to do in 2022, but I’m stuck at 15—half of which I can’t conjure the will to bother doing, less think of even doing at the moment. I told myself I’d try yoga, write 50 blog entries, and make macarons (God help my hubris). I’m supposed to edit my manuscript too, but I’m fretting over lines that most will skim over thoughtlessly. Maybe I’m thinking too molecularly. Maybe I’m treating editing like dusting baseboards: the only person who will notice is me.

I know none of this matters. I am selfishly brooding over first-world issues, my Western comforts. I saw a picture of a woman in Ukraine caked in blood, an aircraft crippled with fifteen killed. Man-portable air defense system (MANPADS) suspected. But my office is freezing. I need more coffee. I have tasted dust fearing the gravity of a mortar strike. I can bother. I can care. I am broken and conflicted. I am still here, still breathing. I will endure.

Languishing. That’s what they’re saying this is. It’s beautifully dark, the word. I love how the L rolls off the back of your teeth, how it crashes and ebbs, how it rolls. It makes me think of the ocean.

It is heavy. A great wide open.

This is our present, this heaviness. We are living the plot of a dystopian novel, and we are telling ourselves this is fine, that we will persist. Sometimes I believe this.

The world is on fire, and I can barely find the will to skim the latest disaster—and this dissonance staggers me: I am supposed to be mired in it, throwing myself on some proverbial sword, but I am paralyzed.

I care less about things but incredibly more. I have a child, barely two, that I am trying to determine how to give him the life he deserves amid all this. And the world isn’t ending, though it feels that way often, but I am unnaturally terrified for reasons I cannot fathom. This is what they fail to tell you of parenting: how you swing between extremes, how this will never be enough, how the world can be falling apart, and you feel so numb to it all yet so shattered.

And we struggle to live as if nothing is wrong, and we are wondering why our resilience is failing as we toss another problem on a mounting stack. But this is fine, of course. We will paint on our smiles and slog helplessly beneath the crises we cannot fix. And we will tell ourselves we can weather these trials. (Am I the only one exhausted from being “strong”?)

Years ago, I dreamed I stood on the shore and gazed toward a dishwater sky. The ocean lapped at my feet and hissed as it receded. Like a word. Like a feeling.

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