Barbarism

Alphabet Meditations II: B


I’m having one of those skin crawly days, where every interaction I have with another person feels like an act of relationship preservation, of soothing misunderstandings, clearing air. There’s no coffee bold enough to slough off my fatigue, and I’m on day 2.5 of solo parenting my two lovely but spirited toddlers. Kudos to all the single parents out there—parenting is w o r k.

I eat a large strawberry over the kitchen sink. The eye-watering tartness makes an admirable attempt to keep me in the moment. It fails spectacularly, as I’m listening to a depressing podcast about Ukraine’s grain, and my general blah-ness opens me up to metaphysical wandering.

Did you know we are temporary snarls of lint caught on the vast tapestry of existence? Did you know everyone you love will crumble into motes of dust you can never reassemble? Did you know that across the globe at this very moment, unspeakable evil and heartstopping kindness are happening in tandem, in volumes that would crush your spirit if you could feel it all at once?

I have pretty much everything, my life has exceeded all my wildest dreams. Ironically the gratitude comes clearest when I’m having a bad brain day. It’s most crystalline when I am doing something simple, like eating a red strawberry over my clean kitchen sink.

Our modern promise is better than ever: a good life full of accessible necessities and amusing doo-dads, full of art and fun. How many systems and how much care went into growing and delivering me that single strawberry, which I will consume in less than a minute and forget about next week? I’m basically Dowager Empress.

But it’s just a promise, available to precious few. While I’m safe in my kitchen, there is a land war chugging along across the globe, innocent children being murdered, entire diasporas displaced who have to start over with nothing.

We still live in a time of barbarism. These things keep happening, and we haven’t evolved to stop them. We are still in a process of self-destruction, of keeping our young hands from touching the stove of chaos. I want to touch the shiny red coil. Just this once, it will not hurt me.

As I nibble the last edge of flesh from the stem, I consider that some safe, privileged 13th century monk surely considered the same thing, eating a well-seasoned cube of tofu. Wow. Someone grew these soybeans, which were dried, soaked, crushed, then boiled. How amazing I am enjoying this tiny slice of heaven, how many things had to come together for this moment? What ingenuity surrounds me. Meanwhile, Genghis Khan set half the continent on fire. The Crusades dragged on. People died from cuts and colds.

I get it. Imagining 2022 as same shit different day’ feels a little hopeless. It invites us to consider ourselves the losers in a marathon against societal ills. Can we beat evil before we destroy the ozone layer? Lol, check out what we’ve done in X,000 years.

Frustrating. We have vaccines and agriculture, we have literal rocket science. Why aren’t we farther along?

Maybe it’s defeatist, but I find it helpful to consider our barbarism. Not as an excuse to give up and do less, god no, but more as a balm. I’m sure lily-handed scholars in 1280CE decried the modern condition just like we do. I don’t believe that having a glass paned phone made us bigger sickos than our ancestors, or any more inherently capable. If your great great grandmother was born when you were, she’d turn out just like someone you know. You know what a man like Genghis Khan would do with Twitter, with the Internet. It requires no imagination, it already happened.

I’m a great lover of time travel stories, but I’m trying my best to remain here in the present. No mourning the future, no romanticizing the past (though as an Asian American, some rosy 1800s dream isn’t really available anyway). I want to confront our barbarism with open eyes.

It’s always been like this, and it doesn’t have to be like this. The technology will change, but it won’t guarantee we are better.

Tomorrow will go smoother for me, and this portal will close to a hairline fracture as I busy myself with writing dialog and slide templates. Until next time, I’ll have the one thing we all have: presence in the human body fate has put me in.

I throw my stem in the compost, where instead of rotting in the landfill, it will be made into soil. I like to imagine that it will be shoveled into a busy street median and wildflowers will grow come spring.


June 9, 2022
life     alphabet meditations    


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