We are so Obsessed With Becoming we Forgot how to be
What if we stopped seeing exhaustion as a badge of honor and started looking at it as a symptom of capitalism instead? Living in a culture that always encourages us to covet more means dissatisfaction is rampant. Instead of enjoying and being grateful for what we already have, many of us squander the certainty of the present moment hungering for a future that is never guaranteed.
A year ago, I shelved my American life to come back to Europe and be by my parents’ side. They have been dealing with stage 4 cancer since September 2018 and every time I go away for a few days, I come back to find my stepmom a little more diminished.
At the moment, her friend of 50 years is on her death bed with only a few more hours, perhaps days, to live. Needless to say, the atmosphere around my parents’ home is so heavy and tense it is frequently unbearable. My father alternates between goofy and snippy, my stepmom is trying to balance her broken heart with bracing for more oncology news tomorrow.
When a news report reminds me I’ve lived below the poverty line — be it the American or the French one — for well over a year now, I cannot find it in me to care. I probably should because I’ve been on the verge of collapse for months and my last day off happened in May. Regardless of where I am, I’m never not working and my exhaustion levels are becoming a little concerning.
Last spring, I chopped off a bit of my finger with child-proof scissors and didn’t even realize anything had happened until I saw blood everywhere. I’ve gotten too unsteady on my feet to cycle, too, which is problematic in the Netherlands. But a wobbly human on a heavy heap of metal in motion becomes a danger to everyone, not least myself. After I kept falling and my legs ended up covered in bruises in the summer, I had to stop. I’m too weak to keep up the pace but I can thankfully still walk miles without any issue so I do.
As a freelancer, I take whatever work comes my way; sometimes I get paid, sometimes I don’t. For some obscure reason I could never fathom, there’s no shortage of media outlets and clients expecting us to work for free.
Because I lost five years of my life to major depressive disorder and my writing voice for the duration, I also have a huge gap on my resume.
Thankfully, vocation was the one thing illness didn’t erase so I’ve been using it to rebuild a life word by word since July 2018. Back when I got started, I had no idea whether I’d be able to keep going or for how long; depressives have a bad rap as unreliable people who can’t stick with things. So instead of relying on my resume and embracing aggressive self-marketing, I chose to show what I could do while hoping I could still do it.
Even when applying the ethos of writing as service that has always guided me, personal essays are a world away from journalism. Out of necessity, I turned the pen on myself, albeit with great reluctance, and started using the material I had to report on my experience of being a human in the world.
Quite literally, too, as I have been living out a suitcase in motion for an entire year.
The portability and scheduling flexibility of writing and editing mean I can work from anywhere at any time. And I do, even when on a high-speed train, a plane, and even a crowded bus once. It was a little nausea-inducing but the essay needed finishing so, well, I finished it. Being in another time zone has been hugely helpful. I can have a day attending oncology appointments in Paris and then start another day working US West Coast hours within the same 24-hour period.
This is how I’ve been able to remain present for my family in Europe while supporting myself in a very modest way. And for 2019, being by my parents’ side was my full-time job; writing and editing was my full-time job, too.
A year later, I’m not coming back, even though I immigrated to the US in 2013 with the intention of putting down roots and even became a citizen.
But alienation is becoming unmanageable. Unscrupulous politicians promise everyone a seat at the table while using their time in office to line their pockets. Unscrupulous bloggers sell mirages of success based on dreaming big dreams and signing up for their newsletter for $250 a year. Many people fall for it again and again and again; it is generally the most desperate and the poorest who end up footing the bill.
And those are but two of the many symptoms of a society so entrenched in individualism it has lost the ability to come together for the common good.
Even the tools designed to connect us have been hijacked by greed and reclaiming them from the grabby mitts of assorted hucksters who are too busy building their personal mythology is a tall order. And many of those who point the finger at tech giants are the very same people who misuse social media for profiteering rather than connectedness.
Social media has no personality; it can connect us or it can divide us, depending on whether we’ve made it our business to build walls or bridges with words. Blaming it for all our societal ills is a simplistic as blaming a hammer for a broken finger; depending on how we use it, a hammer either fixes or destroys.
You can’t sell solidarity any more than you can sell a conscience to those who will always be determined to take more than they need and pretend to be someone they’re not. But we can try to use the internet to write up a more equitable world rather than yet another greed playbook.
But will we? The time is now.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.