by Guy Walker
It’s a new year, you remind yourself. New beginnings, not just for you, but for the country, the world, the hapless gentry of mediocrity that weighs down on you every second of the day. A Democrat is going to be president again, you tell yourself, and although he’s not perfect, and his brain may be rotting like a cauldron of ferment, and he’s maniacally supported every war and measure of incarceration imaginable, he and his historic pick for Vice President are going to get us back to the sweeping indifference of normalcy. There were historic fires last year, as there were the year before that, and the year before that; but we’ll be rejoining the Paris Agreement, so all will soon be well again. And Covid happened, sending us all scurrying back into our dwellings, like meerkats who just saw a hawk pass overhead, huddling behind rotting drywall and crumbling brick, letting the Netflix’s autoplay feature run its numbing course as we simultaneously scroll through this eternal pixelated flip book of tweets and memes and tiktoks and snaps, our necks slouched into these sickly double chins. But the vaccine is on its way.
Let the wet markets continue, as long as we have a vaccine. A 2012 New York Times article, entitled The Ecology of Disease disposed that everything from AIDS, Ebola, West Nile, SARS, and Lyme disease haven’t happened on their own accord—they happen as a result of our tampering with nature. What will come in the following years will be left to the sanguinary gore of our imaginations. There’ll be another vaccine for that. Then the George Floyd killing happened, amongst countless others that have since been swept away from our memories. But we protested for those following days and weeks, and posted black squares on Instagram. There’s mass unemployment. Countless small businesses are closing their doors for good. And we’ve only delayed the inevitable looming tragedy of the economic fallout from the pandemic. And Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are in a race to rocket themselves to the stars, like an ejaculatory falling star of impossible wealth. Soon we’ll all be living in tents, under the freeway overpass, selling baggies of brake dust to drunken foreign tourists to get high. None of it is going to get better. But still, the general consensus is that 2020 was an awful year.
Everywhere you look you’re reminded that 2020 was the worst year in recent history, as if a year were a real thing, a measurable unit of a calendar’s inventory. It seems obligatory to mention in conversation that 2020 was dreadful, as if this mention were part of the usual ailing phlegm of smalltalk, filling the beautiful emptiness with our saliva and noise, blaring through the chorus of trees and tall grasses with our cruel and coarse stanzas about how everything sucked. Can we take a year, like a ball of useless clay, and make something of it? Can we take our events of the year, and improve that, through resolutions and commitments to good habits? Can we be good again, and bathe with frank decency under the quiet stars? I went for a long run on Christmas Day through these remote mountain trails near where my parents live, and sat for awhile somewhere amongst the wild sage covered in frozen dew as it thawed with the eager bits of sun that passed through the soft green pastels of its thicket, and watched the chickadees and towhees flutter purposefully amongst its copses of old growth. This will always be here in a million corners, I assured myself, the unfathomable beneficence of nature in bloom wherever it is. Don’t complicate the serene, because it’s already there. Because once we’re all gone, they will just carry on as normal, in bigger and better numbers, tilting their heads back as they drink single droplets, dragging each side of their miniature beaks across the thin and heavy branches. Commit more time to this sort of thing, I told myself. Spend all our time purposefully, because we’ll be dead soon. Make love on the thick beds of moss, and feel something familiar in each other. But then on New Years Eve night, I was at a repulsively overwrought resort in Mexico, without the woman I should have been with, drinking a bottle of $400 lukewarm and flat champagne alone in the bathtub, jacking off into the squalid froth of a contaminated bubblebath, my own ego-dystonicity at the crossroads of some vague and formless heartache. This was the beginning of a new year, a new me—at least, that’s how it’s supposed to be, that’s the common sentiment anyways. What is the triumph of the stars, that this is what we’ve made? Jacking off alone to an image on a glowing screen.
Look at your own resolutions: drink less, read more, learn how to say no, exercise dutifully and joyfully, write longhand, spend less time on social media, finally get your career started now that you’re in your mid-thirties, find love and don’t fuck it up as you have all the others. Because the older you get, the more a dizzying fury it becomes, as the weight of gravity and disappointment and the mulish insensibility of yourself becomes as obvious as the enormous tits of an old lady who never wore a bra in her life. At this point, if you’re old enough to still be reading a blog on the internet, you’re already rotting with the suddenness of each passing day, trying to hold it together a little longer, moisturizing your glaring shortcomings with whatever feckless new ritual you hear about. Our habits are now engrained as the permanent highways we now travel. I never fully ridded myself of my childhood stutter, and now say ‘uh’ and ‘fuck’ between difficult words to try to mask an embarrassing stumble. I’m likely never going to fix this, because it’s too much work after thirty-three years of hammering this habit into its callow perfection. Lacan’s insistence that there was a jouissance beyond the pleasure principle is the hallmark of why we’ll go nowhere—we’re seeking miniature degrees of orgasm everywhere we go—whether it’s the bright colors on our phones, music and televisions series in the background in order to drown out the hauntingly true thoughts that arise in silence, or the tyranny of our cocks and cunts wiggling between our legs. We’re all alcoholics in some or other way, passively stumbling in and out of AA meetings, dumping several heaping spoonfuls of sugar into your coffee, wiping the reeking perspiration from your forehead with the same old handkerchief you’ve been using during Covid. A couple tumbles off the wagon and you walk off the road for good. A few inevitable mishaps, and your list of resolutions is discarded into the heap of others from every previous year, your notions of self-betterment now just swept up in the gutters of wet confetti from last week’s New Years party, your own soggy nightmare is now a hallmark of masticated glee you wear with enthusiasm. Are we so fortunate to play chess with death?
What will this year bring? And the next. And every year after that until you give up and lay down to die, perhaps thinking your last pointless thoughts about how you spent all that precious time. Most of us try to get through the day so we can just go to bed again, letting a movie or tv show rock us back to sleep. And so collectively, most of us just spend our lives getting by so we can die without much consequence. What do the days’ wordless screams really mean? We are unavoidably and wisely solipsistic beings, and so we think in ways of our year, and how to improve our routines of attention and immersion. The gratifying mirth of spectacle is sometimes all we give ourselves—a few grunts of self-improvement perhaps, a deluded crawl up some nondescript Everest of career and achievement. But mostly just binging and gorging our way through the ephemeral jubilance of youth and old age. This was a bad year for everyone, even if it wasn’t. But it is the best year compared to every year ahead of us. This is a real life tragedy of the absurd—no writer, not even Beckett, could write such a sadly absurd tale as the one we are all living.
Antonin Artaud, Samuel Beckett, Bertolt Brecht—they all saw enough worth in the absurd that perhaps a Theodore Adorno or a Nietzsche would not have. Congenitally, by the works they committed themselves to, they glorified the sometimes awful and mundane, transcending the nihilistic tendency that catapults us to the callous phlegm of apathy. So there is worth in that. Bob Dylan said something about life not being a mission to find yourself, but rather one of creating yourself. So amidst the glamorous torture of last year, and what this year and every following year will bring, we’ll have to create ourselves into each one, the collective years compiling into an archival book of our private selves that will fill the library of our united madness. We are stammering at the brink of collapse; we are somewhere between the midnight rave of unbridled joy and the reality show of our undiagnosed rabies.
I am tired and hungry. We all are. I’m hungover, and my heart still aches from nothing in particular. But the chimera of gardens shining in their morning dew is like the lost archipelagos I read about when I was young. If last year is any indicator whatsoever, we are all losing this race together. And there’s no end in sight. I flew on a loaded plane last evening back to Los Angeles, and as I returned to my seat from the bathroom in the very back, I saw every single person’s screen was turned on to some forgettable dithering thing, some movie that made no sense, some actor in a costume saving the world. At the same time, Trump supporters were storming the Capitol building; a man dressed as Conan the Barbarian and red, white, and blue face paint was trying to take over the capitol of our nation. Because we are a Miltonian tragedy, an epic failure that is somehow still surviving in our torrential wake of waste.
We have always been a mad species, devoted to self-immolation and torment. Beckett said, “That’s the mistake I made…to have wanted a story for myself, whereas life alone is enough.” Maybe that’s the mistake all of us are making—because it’s part of our programming—in that, we’re trying to create some legacy or monument of ourselves that doesn’t need to be built. Maybe we’ve been worthy all along, and just lost sight of it for awhile. Maybe it’s just so hard to be human in an increasingly inhuman world. I don’t know.
I don’t know what I want to achieve this year. I don’t know why that even matters. I can make things up for answers: I want to be in more high end art galleries this year. For reasons that are purely vain. I want to finish and publish all these incomplete stories and plays and poems I’ve only begun and never completed. I want to buy some land, and start building myself a house. I want to drink less, and study more, work on achieving these things now. But it’s ten in the morning now and I’m already working on my third White Russian, so who am I kidding. My fingers are so cold as I write out here in the garden. There are finches and woodpeckers hanging upside down from slender and bowed branches, eating seeds from bursted pomegranates. There is an old retired Indian chief who walks with a cane up the hundred stairs to his house above mine. We talk, and smile, and he tells me stories of Charlie Manson and those equally strange old days. There’s a cluster of huge coastal redwoods in front of his house that he planted from a small pot so many years ago. Is life not enough for them? Or did they all have to write their own story? Or are these trees and these birds and this old Indian chief already enough for themselves? I don’t know.
I’ll make myself some coffee, and hopefully turn things around, start moving in the right direction again. Maybe tidy up the garden, and plant some new things, even though it’s winter. It’ll be easy because things will be silent more. Yes. I’ll make sure there is more silence, and therefore more purposeful thought and action. I see honeybees land ceremoniously on the edges of lily pads in my miniature pond. They drink, and fly away, and others come again. And I sit up from my chair, take a sip from my water glass for the first time all morning, and water the garden for the first time in ten days. After all, it’s a new year.