All we want is something that never existed

Is that too much to ask?

“It's there to be admired. It's there to be.”

—Neil Gaiman

Remember when 2020 turned into 2021 and everybody was doing write-ups and recaps. The description I saw most often was something like: 2020, an Absolute Dumpster Fire of a Year.

2020 was weird but when have things not been weird?

They haven't been global pandemic weird in my lifetime, ever, but my lifetime is not that long. And "things" have never, ever been stable, normal, predictable, or anything less than always changing and quite chaotic. We keep looking at each other and saying shit like, "Everything is so strange," and "What weird times," but, hey, listen: The Times Have Always Been Weird.

Normal is not a thing that exists. Come on, you know that, I know that, everybody knows that. We want something that never existed. We talk about the past as if it weren't also full of upheaval and drama and bullshit. We establish 'norms' but they never apply to any true majority: a few people fit the norms, and the majority goes along because it's too much trouble to argue about all the things all the time. We need some baselines for civilization etc. or else we'll be back in the ages of constant violent warfare, when we all divided into tribes and fought each other over arbitrary things as if our survival depended on it.

Oh.

Oops.

Anyway, the end of 2020 was a weirder-than-usual time for me, personally, and I guess that's what matters: the comparison. How weird is today, for me compared to the weirdness of yesterday or last month or a couple of years ago?

I wrote in my journal about having gratitude and hope but also I wrote a lot about feeling confused and uncertain and scared and hurt. There were also multiple pages covered in eloquent expressions like fuck fuck fuck fuck it fuck it all what the fuck aaaahhh fuck how the fuck what is this ugh fuuuuuuuuuuuuck.

The problem is how quickly the emotional pain of the past fades. It's like childbirth. Who in their right mind would go through childbirth voluntarily more than once? Nobody, probably, if the actual pain of childbirth stayed all fresh and clear in our minds. But it doesn't. It fades. And we look back and think about it and think we remember it and think we are assessing the experience but really we are assessing our memory of the experience, which is not the same thing at all.

That's where the weirdness-normality comparisons are inevitably screwed. Because we can't time travel to, say, December 31, 1999 and recall how very very weird it was, how many intelligent people thought that civilization would collapse when the computers clicked into 2000 and everything stopped working. So when we're sitting at December 31, 2020, we look back on our immediate past and think: Wow. What a dumpster fire. Nothing has every been like this in the history of all the experiences I can think of, personally. Truly it is unprecedented.

When we say unprecedented what we really mean is something like None of my memories of traumatic events are nearly as awful as the actual experience of this traumatic event.

Maybe this particular experience, whether that’s the pandemic or whatever-other-thing-it-is, truly is the weirdest or worst of your life. Who knows? I don't. But maybe, also, it's simply the experience you're in right now, and in a few years you'll be in the middle of some other weird experience, saying something inane like Oh my god can you believe what is happening and looking back on this moment as a memory, one that can no longer hurt you or define you or keep you from moving forward into new experiences of both weirdness and glory.

🔗 San Holo has a nice way of saying “Nah” to duality. And here’s a 5-part poor-quality special on how to prepare your family for y2k which you should probably watch. I’m not going to. But you should. Definitely.