Apocalypse Cabaret Diary for March 22:

Living in San Francisco, which exists in a climate bubble, I realized that by losing track of the seasons I had lost track of the passage of time. I could honestly step outside and have to concentrate to remember if it was winter or summer.

Living through the plague, I have lost track of time on a more profound level. Though I’ve been isolated in a meaningful way for less than two weeks, I have already lost all sense of how long this has been happening. Conversations from the beginning of this past week seem to have happened a season ago. Time does not pass in the linear fashion of a clock or a calendar. It passes with the peaks and valleys of intense emotions.

The loss of time caused by living in a climate bubble is pleasant, but I have always been suspicious of it, wondering if I was losing more than I realized as the seasons slipped away.

The loss of time I’m experiencing in the plague is dangerous. It is an unmooring from the things we live for, and that keep us alive. It is the pleasant exhaustion that comes over people freezing to death.

It is a sign, coming so quickly, of just how bad this could get. And how real the prospect is that I might not make it out. Not in one piece, maybe not at all.

This could happen. I’ve been thinking about that a lot today. A lot about how, if I do sink under, no one will come for me.

The fact that I’m thinking that at all is also a sign, a reversion to bad habits made newly dangerous. It was only half a year ago that I stopped myself from habitually thinking that way. It seemed like the emerging of a new season in my life. But perhaps time was already not passing, then.

I would not be this depressive if I had been writing this last night. Last night was a good night. The day before it was a good day. Unable to see clearly in this new darkness, I have nevertheless been feeling the ground on my hands and knees, and have been learning its shape and contours.

I have found that the beauty of endless and intimate conversation can bring me comfort, with the right people. This has been proven several times this week.

I have learned that ordinary video calls of friends just hanging out and drinking together do not make me happy. They give me a momentary rush of pleasure, seeing the faces of people I like, and hearing them chatter at once another. But it fades quickly, often leaving me sadder and lonelier than I was before. This will not sustain me.

In fact, I haven’t found a single kind of digital group event thus far that can. But I have created them. I have been able to either commandeer existing group video calls or design such calls around shared experiential art (well, “art” — we’re using the term at its most broad), and these have left me satisfied, happy, and content. I’ve gotten such great feedback from the others involved that I think these exercises are probably worthwhile for everyone.

So I may have to invent the kind of social experiences that can keep me alive during the plague isolation.

This is not a happy thought, but it’s not a depressing one either. It’s a grim reality with the potential for joy.

I’m reminded a lot of Larry, Burning Man’s primary founder and a dear friend who died almost two years ago now. He, too, was a man who had led a deeply alienated life, and discovered that the only way to cut through it was to create the experiences he wished someone could invite him to. There is a kind of bitterness in the knowledge that you have to do this yourself. That you have to build the door you need to knock on, and then let yourself in, along with everyone else. Why does it have to be so complicated? Why do you have to do so much work just to get where everyone else already seems to be?

Except of course that everyone is lonely.

Larry knew it. I struggle to remember it.

“Everyone” is, admittedly, a rough approximation, but it’s a realistically close enough estimate to be used. “Lonely” could also be reasonably replaced with any number of inscrutable longings, our hearts not only having reasons that reason knows not of, but speaking an entirely different language than our sensible heads.

Everyone is alienated, always to some degree but often to an appalling one. Our daily lives are made up of the ways we paper that truth over, and develop workarounds, and — often — suffer silently. Quietly destroying ourselves.

The whole relevance of Karl Marx today is not his writings on economics, but his writings on alienation. Even as everything else crumbled, they remain a fortress museum in which our suffering is exhibited.

The foundational truth of Buddhism is that because we relate to this world incorrectly, we suffer needlessly. Every damn one of us.

And whenever I’ve been asked why God would allow suffering in this world, I remind them of the story of Genesis. Not as a story of the origin of sin, but as a story about how the world is broken.

We may not be able to understand why it is broken — the apple of the tree of knowledge may be a metaphor ultimately too inscrutable to parse — but the story clearly says: it was not supposed to be this way. It was broken. And this is why we suffer.

All of us.

Whatever it is we long for, that our life feels tragically incomplete without, we wish not just to have it but to receive it. To have it given to us, whole and perfect and unearned, as our birthright.

In a just world, it would be our birthright. In a just world, we would be able to simply receive the wishes of our hearts. Some of us have wants and needs that can be approximated by the societies we live in, and so have to search less to find it offered. I have always been jealous of such people. Perhaps unwisely.

But this world is broken. And so while grace is real, it cannot be waited for. To wait on grace to do the work for us is to quietly slip into a coma, with our painfully unfulfilled wishes clinging to us as a blanket.

To do more than wait passively, like Sleeping Beauty for a prince and a kiss to just happen to come along, we must give up the dream of receiving. We all have to build the ship that carries us forward. Or the door that we walk through. Or the city in the desert where we play. Sometimes more than once. That is the essence of the human condition.

God I’m so tired. I’ve pulled the magic trick of creation off so many times. Often poorly, but I’ve done it. I desperately want a break. I desperately want to lie down in the cold snow bank and receive anything that feels like warmth.

But there are going to be so, so, many funerals when this is over. So, so, many memorials. And that won’t even account for the multitude which couldn’t be held during the plague. Forgotten funerals, lost remembrances. A whole industry will spring up to build commemorations to those who never got to have their communities come together and grieve around their bodies.

The world is busy, coping with tragedy.

If I slip away now, no one is coming for me.

This has been true in so much of my life. There were occasions — when I had been kidnapped by gangsters in Turkey, when I was lying violently sick on a hotel bed in Mexico, and years later when I was wounded in Cuba — when it was literally true. No one knew where I was. No one could have possibly followed-up on me in time.

But those times were relatively easy to survive. The will to live kicked in and momentum carried me through.

It’s been far more difficult to cope with the realization that no one is coming for me as a metaphor. As a metaphor, it saps the will to live.

“I am alone” … it is the frostbite of the psyche. Especially when it’s real.

I might not make it. But if I do, it may well be because I was able to make something beautiful. If you cannot have connection, your only alternatives are death or beauty.

Read more by Benjamin Wachs on his Patreon

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