"Everything is reversible"
Five life updates, disguised as meditations
Two nights ago, at 2am, my agent sent me an email just “checking in” on my progress. I’m writing this on the weekend after reading week, and as you can imagine, I’ve done very little reading. This week has mostly been one of small errands and long bus rides, putting out fires real and imagined, making minor edits. I’ve set big goals for myself and yet most of my day-to-day involves imagining how I’ll pay back debts I’ve incurred through my own hubris or forgetfulness.
This is the part of a literary “career” that is oddly both loudly lamented and highly valorized: the doldrums, the bad days, the hungry months, the uninspired or unsatisfying stretches where we’re just trying to make good on what once seemed like a great idea. So I wanted to write about that: I wanted to write about the things we do alongside or instead of writing, the unrefined thoughts that come up when we have to think about Our Futures or Our Plans, the half-baked concepts that never make it into complete drafts but feel worthy enough of wrangling into a sentence or two. So here they are: five life updates, disguised as meditations, which are really pleas for good luck and well wishes. Afterwards, I’ll add a couple links, including a new article of mine out this week in The Outline. I hope you like them.
I recently got my second tattoo — a purple rose with delicate green leaves, on my left middle finger, where one might put a ring. I’ve wanted a finger tattoo for as long as I can remember, but in the spirit of a true neurotic Jew, I stressed about the prospect for months before eventually picking this one completely on a whim. Tattoos are funny things in that they supposedly stay with you forever, albeit in the way that nothing ever really does, so I wanted to choose right (“Everything is reversible” is what I told myself to goad me into starting hormones; the same principles apply). My new tattoo is beautiful and meaningless, exquisitely ornamental, and that’s what I love about it. A friend of mine once commented that transitioning is mostly about becoming hot and looking cool. We make ourselves into ourselves, but we also just make ourselves beautiful. You could call it shallow, but I think she’s onto something. She’s covered in tattoos; maybe one day, I will be as well.
I met my friend Connor for dinner two days after he returned from a hectic trip to New York City. When I asked him about his trip, his first sentence was “Men are insane.” Isn’t this always how it goes? When we travel, the friends and lovers we encounter are the highlights, and the scenery is somewhat secondary. No one really remembers the view, outside of what’s been preserved online. Maybe things were different back in the day, with different technology, but here we are at the end of the world, and the more I see of it, the more I find myself forgetting even as it fades from view. Travelling is such a funny exercise; the backdrop changes, but the characters always manage to tell us something we already knew. I went to New York around mid-summer, during the height of Cancer season, and I would agree with his assessment, although at that time I found the insanity to be part of the appeal (I’ve written about a bit here but in more depth in an essay that I’m assuming will never see the light of day, though I’ve already been paid for it, so who am I to complain?). But both of us are Cancers, ruled by a sticky sort of flagrancy and emotionality. Even after affirming each other’s feelings and venting, we agreed that men were still fascinating and exhilarating creatures, despite their immense shortcomings in virtually every sense it matters. “I should write about this more,” I said to him, and he agreed. But I think I just did: and the more I dwell on it, the more I realize that this is perhaps all I have to say on the subject. My frustration with men stems from my love for them. Isn’t that sad?
Speaking of men and speaking of love: My boyfriend and I recently celebrated our third anniversary. To some, this is small potatoes. To others, it’s a huge accomplishment. I agree with the latter, and I intend to celebrate it persistently and obnoxiously all year long, until our fourth (and maybe even afterwards). One of the unfortunate facts of gay life is that many people are in relationships that are doomed from the start; in just the past several months, I’ve seen promising partnerships crumble and new beginnings trail off into sour ends. It’s always breakup season in Toronto, this beautiful and dreadfully unromantic city. In earlier days, I used to feel the weight of each fallen item reverberate along the long hallways of my mind for weeks afterward. Now, I shrug them off. I hope my good luck charms and Good Eyes are strong enough to say that I have incredible hope for my future. It is a different relationship than it was one or two years ago, or even earlier this year. I am in love, and every day it keeps getting better.
Writing is soul-crushing, obviously. Even worse, reading has lost its appeal. I went back to school for my MA because I love learning; I still do, but I’ve found the whole process of this degree to be endlessly disruptive, and the more generous I’ve been with my time, the less I’ve had to show for it. In the three-ish years between the end of my undergraduate degree and the start of my graduate one, I forced myself to acclimatize to a 9-to-5 lifestyle, although with some long interruptions of “freelancing” (read: unemployment). Part-time schooling felt like a way to go back and enjoy learning again, but maintain some semblance of a normal, employable life. It has been the exact opposite. I am constantly overwhelmed, I have no job or prospects, and my part-time status effectively excludes me from all grants, bursaries, or awards. At best, I can soothe myself with the quality of my work, which has improved substantially since starting classes in September 2018. But as always happens with academic life, there is malaise; the fatigue and frustration of doing so much and yet doing what feels like absolutely nothing. I wanted to make the world a better place, but in practice, I’m just another privileged white person talking and reading about Big Problems, throwing money and energy at them when they come up, and then hiding in bed or the library until the worst seems to blow over. Ironically, it is when I ignore my deadlines and assignments, the kind of intellectual work I once imagined to be my contribution to the bettering of this world, that I am actually contributing to its betterment: in these instances, I am making space for friends and community members, thinking and working together with comrades and colleagues, not Thinking with a capital-T but just Being. If this is what it takes to make community and collaboration happen, then what was I in school for? Academia is a dead end, and digital media is already dead. These paths felt suddenly, obviously, embarrassingly unsustainable, not only in their failures to materialize as careers but in their complete incapacity to really help anyone. I felt — I feel — stuck.
Over the past several months, I’ve found myself in conversations with friends and activists facing seemingly insurmountable barriers — problems that they were simply unable to solve on their own, and opponents absolutely unwilling to listen. One was my friend PJ, who among other things, was struggling with his landlord. Toronto landlords, though I’m sure not any worse than landlords anywhere else, are unmatched in their devilry and cruelty; PJ’s was no different, and he was making my friend’s life a living hell. And then, in came a hero, a young and not-gay-but-still-agreeable (you know what I mean?) lawyer at the local legal clinic. Suddenly, things started turning around. This was an ally, someone who could figure out who to talk to and what to say to them, and how to make exploitative authority figures stop and think for long enough for my friend to catch his breath and get some rest. Over the next few weeks and months, I kept hearing more stories like this — legal teams of activist-minded individuals who stepped in and devoted their time, money, and energy to stopping deportations, reducing sentences, challenging legislation, and chastising powerful institutions. After hearing the latest story, I took a long walk, smoked half a joint with my boyfriend, and talked about our future. Soon after, I applied to law school. I’m sharing this not to tempt the Evil Eye, god forbid, nor to raise up the law as an answer to the world’s injustices or my personal fears of fixedness. Rather, I’m saying that I’ve shifted my priorities, and recognized something important in myself, which is that all I really want to do is to help people. I’ve tried to do so one way, and maybe even done some good. But there are other ways. And once I opened myself up to them, they presented themselves with all the monstrosity and intensity of Ezekiel’s angels. I hope I’ve interpreted correctly.
I’m tired of celebrating cis men who date trans women / Alex Verman, The Outline
If, even among those with the best intentions, the view that is offered of trans womanhood is one centred around male partners and their sexual practices, perhaps it is not surprising that trans women so frequently find themselves trapped in situations where a partner is willing and able to break down their sense of selves. Perhaps this is less an accident than an expression of the material interests of the men who abuse us. Men don’t seem to mind harming women, and if the evidence offered by the cases of Yoba and Willoughby tell us anything, it’s that the wider world doesn’t mind much either. In fact, they’ll likely just be celebrated by our “allies” for liking us at all. Maybe the issue isn’t that men feel too much shame; perhaps, they don’t feel enough.
The climate case for working less / Anna Bianca Roach, Briarpatch Magazine
Given that most people are barely scraping by while working 40 hours a week, it is no surprise that the idea of working less is terrifying. In reducing the amount of labour necessary for production, job automation – the very process which, for Keynes, made a leisure society possible – means work is increasingly seen as a privilege, while unemployment (which could be leisure) is equivalent to poverty.
The utopian – yet widespread – prediction that technology would make human life easier has materialized for very few; certainly not for workers, whose work conditions have been steadily worsening in recent years.
The argument for a reduced work week asks: why do we work to produce so much more than we can possibly use? Why not work less, waste less, distribute better, and enjoy the age of abundance that we’ve been promised?
Moses Speaks Spanglish / Daniel José Camacho, The Revealer
The Pharaoh in Moses’ story approached the Hebrew people as dangerous invaders in spite of the fact that they had been there for generations. It didn’t matter that they had originally arrived in Egypt as refugees during a famine or had helped build up the kingdom. Similarly, although cheap Latinx labor has been used to build and maintain the United States, Latinx immigrants have become scapegoats for everything that’s wrong in society. How or why we ended up here remains an afterthought.