an unfiltered reflection on trying to find & create meaning in the awfulness that has been 2016

(sorry for the lack of capitalization and probably instances of poor punctuation and grammar. i know it’s hard to read sometimes but for whatever reason it’s how i write when i’m not writing something formal, and i tried to edit this as little as possible. bear with me.)

“i want truth in beauty, i want to love something simply.” – hop along
“i put it down on paper and then the ghost does not ache so much.” – sandra cisneros


i want to write something meaningful. i want to be a curator of beauty, someone who captures precious moments and turns them into something long-lasting. but i can never get a sentence or two into a journal entry, blog post, or what-have-you, without feeling like my words are somehow cheap, corny, or have already been said in a better combination of words by someone else. maybe it’s imposter syndrome or maybe it’s the truth. i constantly get overwhelmed by how much art exists, how much journalism, how much reflection. are we trying to find meaning in things that are much simpler than we make them out to be? or is every moment truly meaningful, and all of the things in the world being written about really do warrant the time that we give to them? it’s hard to say. more than any other year, 2016 has been a year when i believe strongly in something and then hear a compelling argument for the exact opposite point of view and start to question everything. i try to stay firm in my beliefs without being stubbornly blind to reality or my own shortcomings, but it’s hard. i find myself doubting everything and anything that passes before me or sneaks its way into my life. i dedicate my life to things that sometimes i’m not even sure about. it’s scary. this world is scary. that’s another thing that has become painfully clear in 2016. my anxiety has told me for years that the world is scary, that there are things to fear out in the “real world,” that my capacity for hurting and being hurt is vast. and this year seems to confirm those fears rather than appease them. much of anxiety is fear over things that will never actually happen, time spent worrying over potential catastrophes that don’t play out in reality. yet this year has been catastrophic. not just the trump presidency, because things were going poorly even before that. the continued trampling of native rights. ignoring the needs of america’s poor, especially poor communities of color. disastrous war and human rights violations in syria, iraq, and beyond. i can’t even list everything without oversimplifying the immensity of these tragedies.

and yes, i know that there have been good things too. in every single one of these cases there have been astonishing displays of resilience, of struggle, of solidarity and helping hands.

but i can’t help but wish that there weren’t a need for this kind of thing in the first place.

seeing people come together to struggle for a common cause is a beautiful thing. when attending protests or rallies, i often find myself being moved to tears. the strength displayed by those fighting at the front lines for their lives and livelihoods is like nothing else i’ve ever seen. but these people shouldn’t have to fight so hard just to live. they shouldn’t have to assert their inherent dignity and rights over, and over, and over, and over. we should have moved past this by now. so much of the suffering of the world is unnecessary and caused by other humans. it’s senseless, and i can’t wrap my head around it.

there is no simple set of words in which i can sufficiently encapsulate everything that has happened this year, in my own life and in the world. this is not an attempt to summarize my year, to give final remarks, or to say anything monumental. i’m just writing. because there is this need in me to write, to express myself, and i don’t know what to do with it. i really don’t. i’ve sent hundreds of emails to myself, written paragraphs in the “notes” section of my phone, kept journals on pieces of scrap paper and various notebooks scattered across the multiple places i call home. when i do share any of my writing with the world, i feel instant pangs of discomfort, and usually, regret. i post a link to my blog on my facebook, delete it, and post it again. i edit and re-edit simple sentences that had nothing wrong with them in the first place. i write a multi-tweet rant and then delete the entire thread, deeming my words too controversial, too overdone, too privileged, too this-or-that. i feel tides of passion flowing in and out of my being, enthusiasm for a cause ebbing and flowing with my wavering moods. hope and hopelessness fight for a space inside my head, with little room for compromise, for a realistic look at the world that expresses the multiplicities of humanity and existence.

reality terrifies me. i don’t know when this transformation occurred, but right now suffering is the lens through which i see the world. i am living in one of the poorest cities in the united states, and it manifests itself in ways big and small. i come into contact with dozens of people who act as if everything is a-ok, but it’s an easy facade to see through. yet every time i think too long about the indignities these individuals and communities suffer on a daily basis, i remind myself to not reduce their lived experiences to nothing but their poverty. i know that joy exists despite suffering, but i think it has just bothered me so much for so long to hear so many well-intentioned people say things such as “they’re so happy even though they have so little” that acknowledging their joy feels like i am erasing their suffering. but again, i know that within these people lie multiplicities, complex and dynamic lives that cannot be articulated in one concrete or finalized way. and they are not abstract concepts about which to talk, reflect, or write academic papers on. yet as i write these words i know there is an irony, a hypocrisy to what i’m saying. i feel the need to talk about all of these, the things i feel and experience, the ways in which it all causes me distress. yet these lives aren’t mine. these lives aren’t mine. i am in need of constant reminders to not stray to one extreme or another in my ways of thinking. but in a world that functions by categorizing as many things as possible, it’s hard to avoid black-and-white, zero-sum, this-or-that thinking. it requires constant vigilance to acknowledge complexities, and constant vigilance is tiring. i am tired.

one of the things i’ve wavered most on this year is social justice. its definition, its tactics, its purpose. throughout my 4 years in college, social justice became a part of my identity. something i was so passionate about that it felt inextricable from who i am as a person. that is not to say that i am the most committed to social justice of anyone i know, because that is not true in the slightest. i spent most of my 4 years in college battling my own demons, unable to take action on behalf of bigger causes than my own survival. that is also not to say that i am morally or intellectually superior to anyone in any way, or even that the fact that i define myself so strongly in terms of my passion for social justice is necessarily a good thing. it is simply the reality of my lived experience and the transformations that have occurred within me since graduating high school. and now i’m a college graduate not only grappling with what to do with the rest of my life, but also with how to best spend the time that i have right now.
a lot of it is spent sleeping. and watching tv or movies. and knitting scarves. and wishing my life away.

but some of it is spent in makeshift meeting places, talking about how to best protect vulnerable populations from the impending presidency. planning, organizing, doing outreach. some of it is spent working with my clients, advocating for them, searching for opportunities that might help them take small steps out of poverty. but it doesn’t feel like enough. it never feels like enough.

i wish i didn’t feel like i always had to be fighting. against the powers that be, the greed that has seeped into this world and spreads faster than the deadliest virus. against apathy, that of the people around me but most especially my own. there was a time in my life when i believed that all that mattered was kindness. lending a helping hand, doing small things with great love. and i still think these things are important. over the weekend my roommate’s van got stuck in the slushy snow, and the only reason we were able to get it unstuck was because of a random stranger with a snow plow who saw us struggling and decided to help us out. i think the world would literally collapse if little acts of kindness like this were to stop altogether. and thankfully these occur everywhere, every single day. but, to me, it doesn’t feel like enough anymore. kindness is not going to stop racism. it is not going to prevent global capitalism from destroying the earth and the living beings inhabiting it. the world spins on, hurtling toward almost certain future destruction. it’s horrifying. and i hate that i can’t get past wishing that things weren’t this way. that there weren’t so much work to do, work that is often thankless and ineffective. work that involves more failures than successes, where being knocked down for trying to stand up for what you believe in feels like a near-everyday occurrence.

2016 is ending, and i am tired. this is not an exhaustion that a good night’s sleep can fix, or even a week’s break from work. but i must continue to endure it. and i must keep working. giving up just isn’t an option. so here i am. i will keep going, i will keep fighting. or at the very least, in my lowest moments, i’ll keep surviving. and i’ll just have to hold on to the hope that along the way a spark within me will relight, that i will learn to once again see the good in the world, to see love as the driving force of humanity.
until then, here’s a picture of my beautiful baby nephew nehemiah john. would you just look at that smile?