The Wallflowers’ 6th Ave Heartache played through the speakers at an assertive volume, and the sound drowned out the incoming cell phone ring emanating from the coffee table in front of me. The simple sign-up form for the world’s largest social network blared at me from the screen of the computer sitting on my lap like a pet. I swallowed and reluctantly began filling in the form. First name…last na…no. Not again. I used a pseudonym, instead. First name. Last name. Business email. And I stopped again, at the password. Something inside of me screamed, “No!” To continue, I would have to ignore that scream, then suppress it. But I listened. I wondered how many other people had that same scream inside of them. How many other people actually heard it. How many of them listened, and acted accordingly. I wondered whether I would join the ranks of such people. I feel weary, without strength. Either choice ends in failure.
The music stopped. I stared at the page with a dry mouth. The light on the cell phone blinked on and off at eager intervals of five seconds. I can’t continue moving in the wrong direction if I want to live. [In this moment, I wanted to write, “I can’t move in the wrong direction if I want to continue living,” but rejected that sentence as dishonest. I can’t continue living, no matter how much I want to. I reserve such an honor for people who have lived already at some point in their life, and who wish to continue doing so.]
With that realization, my efforts unraveled like a heavy ball of yarn wound with string so thin and fragile it disappears completely in its unentangled form, breaks and blows away with the slightest breeze.
I stared at the password field again, willing myself to move through the cognitive dissonance. Instead, tears formed in my eyes, forcing me to remember the potential of a life lived without compromise. Without sacrificing the chain to save the link. Life gives us opportunity without guarantee or warranty. Many of us view those terms as unacceptable. It defines a significant part of our captivity. The way back, to sink further into the domestication I seek to escape, resembles — might lead to — suicide, except for one crucial detail: Death never infringes upon the absence of life. The way back provides the comfort of a deathless existence, at the price of a lifeless promise.
I have a choice in this specious moment, and I feel the pressure of stagnation while I weigh my options as a kind of regression. Only I can know the way forward for myself. I know the general direction, and it scares and excites me. I think it scares my friends and family, too, by the mixed messages I receive when I reveal my thoughts on the matter. In the least, it strikes us all with an acute sense of confusion and discomfort. Backward, forward, stagnation. Only one of these choices will result in the opportunity to live whatever time I have left of my life. I have neither the strength nor the responsibility to pull others with me. In my heart, I want to reserve what little strength I do have for the responsibility of helping others find their own way forward, when I can. When our paths cross.
I stare up from the screen. The light on the cell phone will continue to blink until the battery runs dry. I try nervously to ignore it. Down the street, people watch PrimeTime television. I can see the large flatscreens out my window, projecting moving pictures from multiple camera angles at a frantic pace, bouncing off walls, bleeding out windows and underneath the cracks of doors into the night. I imagined the flicker and glow of the television screens reflecting off the face of each audience member. Not all people watch TV in dimly-lit rooms. When we do, it renders our darkest skin a cold, clammy pale and drowns the colors of our unblinking eyes in blue-white light, just as this computer screen does to my face as I type. I wonder whether our subtle difference in focus matters more than the acute absence of anaesthesia that carried the subtle difference to term.
The stream of electrons embodied in radio waves and semi-conductors buzzed and hummed around me with silent intensity. Some of them stared back at me expectantly from their place on the screen, seemingly at my beck and call, begging me to continue taming them into symbols representing words, forming phrases and sentences and stories. Nothing I write on these machines will bring back the ecosystems and biodiversity we destroy in their manufacture and operation. Nothing I write will undo the alienation that drives a wedge between humanity and the rest of the natural world, forcing us falsely to choose between the one or the other. No combination of symbols that I can create with the 101 keys at my disposal will free my desperate vessel from the technology of desire. I cannot use the computer without the computer using and changing me, realigning my muscle memory and mind with a myth to enshrine and smother and prevent life at its experiential origins, the ghost of market demand, decisions made in slave-driven strip mines and factories far away in anticipation of my compromised desire to communicate and interact with and experience the world, and my willingness to do so on the encompassing terms and through the filtering lens of a myth I no longer want to believe or participate in.
Backwards, forwards, stagnation. I start to see the range of options in front of me narrow, as those that stand in the way of living my life break and crumble into a heap of uncomfortable lies and half-truths, stripped of the mask that made them seem real to me in the past. My waking nightmare. My dream. My life. I wonder how many other people have this horrific dream. How many others wake suddenly from the same, day or night, in a sea of shock? I wonder what options they see, what choices they make when they face the myth naked and vulnerable as it lurks and looms like a shadow in the depths. When we stare down the myth beneath us and realize that it stares back at us from the hidden void, and it does not blink. It does not flinch. It does not cry. It desires only to consume life, with or without the anaesthesia of alienation to comfort and numb us while we watch our souls slowly slip and disappear down its giant maw, swallowed whole in a long steady drink of devastation. We wait patiently for miracles and company during this process of devouring, then digestion, that leaves behind empty, compliant husks of humanity and habitat.
The light on the cell phone blinks at me with its persistent five-second urgency, and the phone roars to life. Another call rings out above the deafening silence, and then stops. The red light blinks off. I count to five again, but this time it stays dark.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”
— Henry David Thoreau