Apocalypse Cabaret Diary, May 18

Time, for many people, has become a blur. We lose track of where it’s gone and how we’ve spent it. Days and hours pass through each other, leaving no memories that we can hold or build with. It only passes, and we feel spent.

Here’s what I know:

When this is going badly for me, I walk in circles around already well worn paths of thought, cutting the patterns of old hurts and resentments deeper into my brain.

When this is going well, I feel like I am on a journey with a destination: that even if my path is curved, there is a line I can follow, and I am going somewhere. And this takes me into new and undiscovered emotional states where I have never walked before. I leave parts of myself behind, and pick new aspects of myself up as I go.

I keep coming back to the phrase “grow or die.” I don’t think I can survive this by finding a good perch and holding still. However good my perch is, I still have to be on a journey. Even the best holding pattern is a slow poison.

I’ve been going forward, sometimes I’m even impressed with myself, but a cumulative exhaustion is setting in. I lost the ability to read at any length as soon as the pandemic crossed our border. I’ve been slowly clawing that back … I find that if I leave my apartment and take an e-reader outside, I can generally get through a short chapter or two … but it’s hard. Writing is now following. I’ve had slumps and unproductive periods before, but this is different. Then my creative powers were recuperating, deliberately resting so that later they could rise up again. A field lying fallow so that its nutrients would return by the next spring. This time my creative impulses are a flock of birds furiously beating their wings to advance into a hurricane. I began writing this series because I needed my creative powers to scream defiance at the void. Now they are telling me to be quiet so that we can work.

Freud was right that the creative impulses (or at least some kinds of them) spring from the same source as the will to live and love and fuck, and so many of those impulses are now used to keep pushing me on my journey forward, rather than to find beautiful and interesting things to say about it. For the first time, I feel that writing is getting in the way of my life instead of the other way ‘round.

My days are productive and good until suddenly they’re not. A particular kind of exhaustion hits me when I have done either too much or too little in a day: I’m tired, yes, but not sleepy, and it feels as though a pad of steel wool has been inserted into my brain, and any movement my mind takes generates friction against it. I’m still figuring out how to manage this. Sometimes it is a clear signal that I am done for the day. Sometimes it passes.

Sundays are becoming days of full on collapse. I’m not sure why Sundays — though it’s symbolically lovely, and perhaps that’s enough — except that my last few weekends have all been good but intense. I’ve done a lot of art and a lot of socializing the last few Fridays and Saturdays, and perhaps, like a mountain climber who doesn’t realize that the air gets thin, I have strained myself by not realizing how much danger this new environment puts me in.

The first time it happened I felt so hungover and stoned that I decided the only way out was to lean into it, and I spent that night consciously and deliberately getting trashed. It was the first time in quarantine I’d done this by myself. It was the kind of good decision that paves the road to hell, but I enjoyed the night and woke up the next morning with a mind that felt refreshed.

This past Sunday, on the other hand, I simply began to shut down. My mind began falling away, piece by piece. If the beginning of the afterlife is rising through a dark tunnel towards the light, this was an experience of falling down that same tunnel, away from living.

I pulled myself out of that one, but just barely, and I needed help.

I think — I suspect — however, that it wasn’t dangerous. Just … powering … down … involuntarily. I would have risen again. But these are things I don’t want to get too comfortable with.

As I struggle to keep stepping forward on my personal path to survival, the world falls further off it’s. Everyone I talk to is treating the news the way they treat the virus: they must manage their risk of exposure. In small doses, our psychological immune systems can handle it. Too much, and we begin to break down under the assault.

And I think that while finding the best perch we can and hunkering down until the storm passes seems like a strategy, it is no more possible for us collectively than it is for me individually. That we must go on a journey together, feeling each other’s presences even if we are miles apart.

I don’t know what to say about our politics. I used to have advice about things like this. I have been a political commentator, technically I still am, but I have spent a long time turning away from politics and towards art. As in so many things, the pandemic has accelerated a process already underway. And if I am proud of anything I have done in the last two months, it is that I have used art to create experiences that have created these connections in people, at least for a time. The greatest compliment I have received is that my small events fix time again in people’s minds, creating clear reference points of “before” and “after” and “what was done.”

I have no idea how to do this at a mass level, but it can be done on a small one. I don’t know if that’s enough — I no longer have a global perspective. But it is something. In some ways, it is what I have devoted my life to. To be able to say “walk with me through this door, and something magical will happen,” and it does — and it is not a trick.

This is the cabaret in the apocalypse. And why it matters.

What I do not yet understand is why so many friendships that worked so well before the plague are simply not functional in it. There are so many relationships I had before that now just … don’t work. Nothing’s happened, there haven’t been any fights or drama, they just … stop.

This doesn’t need some grand explanation. The stresses we are under cause things to fall apart, and people to burrow as they break. There are some people in my life, who I genuinely love and appreciate, who I find harder to take right now — whose presence I lean away from, or manage to endure when they reach out. And there are people definitely doing that with me.

I’d like there to be a pattern here, a principle at work, and so far I don’t see one. In a crucible, you cannot really predict who will break and who will temper. I don’t even understand why I’m behaving the way I am to some people in my life. What makes them less or more tolerable now? I would like to think that someday we will be able to explain this to each other.

But right now that’s a step too far. Right now I honestly don’t know if I’m going to make it that far. If these recent collapses are signs of things to come as this stretches on, then I’m in deep trouble.

Right now, the best we can do — or at least I can do — is to turn this forced march into a dance. Some steps are an act of freedom even as we are carried forward by the tide of history. Some gestures are an act of love, even as we are pulled apart.

Dance with me.

I’m so tired. But dance with me.

Read more by Benjamin Wachs

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