Drifting and writing

It’s hard to write when you’re unmoored. We moved again since the previous page. Now we’re not in Chicago, nor in SoCal, nor in Cleveland. Now we live in Atlanta. I’m supposed to know the place I write from, but often I’m not sure quite what it is. Most of what kept me grounded in a drifting world has slipped away: an academic career, political activism, my former communities of friends, my teachers, every place that ever felt like home, the older generations that now dwindle and vanish. When my father died, my friend William wrote to me, “Losing a parent is like becoming unmoored in the world. The drift is terrifying but also brings much to the surface.” Now I’m writing through that drift.

It’s lightening to give up my old forms of life – so many of which were also burdens, were already exhausting, confining and unacceptable — but it’s also lonely, it’s too weightless, it’s like living in a blank book.

The blank book rapidly gets written on again, mostly by forms of conventional life that I feel ambivalent about: my partner and I own a house now; we work for a living; we look after our children; we negotiate with a series of impossible institutions like insurers and termite exterminators and pediatricians and banks and therapists and schools, and everybody else who makes ordinary life possible, and yet somehow everything is still hanging by a thread. We’re not economically precarious at the moment (there are no guarantees), but we’re perpetually uncertain. Working and caretaking are my everyday life, but are they who I am? Sometimes I feel like I come alive in the gaps in myself, in the tiny moments of joy or dream that glint among the long stretches of exhaustion, obligation and ego depletion.

When I was looking for a job I went back to Chicago for a day, and my friend took me to see their tiny commune — an anarchist space with a joyful kitchen and no privacy and a lot of utopian energy — and for an instant I felt like I had come home again, as if those spaces were what really felt right to me — whereas suburbia is still such a dizzying trap. But I don’t see how I could go live in a commune now; almost no one in my generation does that with kids. I think my friend’s commune fell apart when Covid hit: it was a bad place for a quarantine.

Utopias are temporary while capitalist society still seems so eternal, and everywhere I look is an economy in perpetual transition, the delivery vans, the gig workers, the factories still more numerous than one would imagine, the cacophonous billboards and commercial art, the athleisure bike trails, the charter schools and hipster coworking spaces. These spaces are deeply divided along race and class lines, while patriarchy coexists with new queer spaces. I live in that world — it’s all too tangible — and yet I’m so not rooted in it. I’m not from Atlanta. I just live here. In a way I don’t even work here.

Now I work in software; it’s remote, it’s so remote; my boss lives in Ireland; his boss lives in Toronto; our headquarters is in California. My colleagues at work don’t see me taking estrogen or see my body changing. In its own shadow zones, my life leaves me just a little room for maneuver, for inner rebellion, or at least for writing. Does my writing change anything? Sometimes it feels like escapism. But then, nothing is more central to global capitalism than the experience of getting displaced and uprooted, made to escape, made to be replaced. My dislocation doesn’t make me outside the world: it makes me of it. Although this thought brings me no solace.

Maybe if I’m anchored by anything, it’s the promise of writing: of love in a fragment: of collectivity in spite of shattering. It isn’t about trying to be anchored again: it’s about feeling held by the drift.

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