It’s one of those days when I can taste despair blowing in the dusty desert wind. I don’t think I’m alone in this.
Do I still have any loyal readers who’ve been with me long enough to remember that this little bog used to be called “Stories of Survival?” How my early years here were so focused on just trying to get by as a single-mom, to make the ends stretch a little further, to stay alive to write about another day, to put the pieces of my shattered self back together?
And then one day I didn’t want to be branded as Survivor, I wanted to thrive, to live.
Bare with me, these threads will come together!
I don’t have much time to write these days. I’m halfway through my first semester of grad school. And it’s tough. The ends of myself are never quite long enough to tie together. I have better support now than I did. And that helps, a lot. And there’s this human I love deeply who’s very, very far away but does so much to hold me up and hold me together. So much of making it is defined by our relationships, by the webs of human connections that hold us and sustain us.
So I’m in grad school. And I love it. And it’s really, really hard to keep it all together. See, I’m not studying something safe and sane and easy. Not me, that’s not my way. Oh, I didn’t tell you what I study? American Studies. Every.single.day the failures of the liberal political project (classic liberalism as in the Constitution, the Founding Fathers, Enlightenment philosophers, etc.), the exclusions and power structures of colonialism, imperialism, racism, sexism, capitalism are right in my face. There is no safe place for me to tune it out and stick my head in the sand. If you need a friend to take the fun out of anything, call me. Every movies has problematic representations, every product has a backstory (there is no ethical consumption under capitalism!), every sport/hobby/escapist activity has a history. Even a walk in the woods is a classist and racist assumption about who can access the woods, who can pay the park fee, who has a car (global warming!) to get to the woods. Nothing is safe from my ability killjoy skills.
Not too long ago we had a class discussion that brushed on the topic of hope and hopelessness. And what comes after hopelessness? Survival. But I don’t want to survive.
Yes, when you’re one of the disposable people who’s supposed to conveniently die off surviving is damn radical. Living to tell the tale is, after all, what I do best. So far I’ve succeeded in that endeavor every day for more than 35 years. Refusing to go away quietly is rather inconvenient for those who want us to go away quietly.
BUT SURVIVING CANNOT BE ALL THAT DEFINES US! And so I disagree with that answer. Yes, survival comes after hopelessness. After hope is gone and we try to reimagine the possibilities without the crutch of hope. But I don’t want to survive. Victims die. Survivors remain scarred and defined by the act of surviving. I want to thrive, to live. And to do that I have to constantly find something way more solid than the nebulous promises of hope. Hope is a lace-eye in the boots on our backs. As long as we have hope we’re still betting on business-as-usual getting better, we’re still believing a narrative in which history bends towards justice.
It doesn’t. The arc of history bends towards power. The few times it’s swerved a little toward justice have been the moments power has slipped a little, the moments people have come together to name and claim their power. And usually this is followed be a reorganization of power which conscripts justice into some fuzzy concept of diversity which can be marketed by athletic shoe companies. A political project built on exclusions and consolidated power is not going to ever function in the favor of the excluded.
So, just as a thought-experiment, what if we let go of hope and move into hopelessness and see what happens? Hope is the last thing to lose. What happens when we have nothing left to lose? That’s a position of frightening power, a place from which everything is to gain. A place where we can imagine a project where the category of human is broad enough that no one can be written out of it, where exclusion is no longer the basis of freedom, where freedom can be defined not as an opposition to slavery but as a facet of being alive.
Hopelessness doesn’t have to result in merely surviving. There are other possibilities. It does not require a binary decision to either give up and die or simply survive. Perhaps hope is the last illusion which prohibits us from collectively imaging a true freedom which emphasizes not liberty and justice but FOR ALL. Because that’s what I really want. I can’t thrive while people I love suffer.
Thriving is a relational space. It’s a space where no supreme court confirmation, no electoral collage, no weapons deals disguised as aid packages, no whiny white boys, no famines or environmental disasters can tear us apart or break us down. We can only thrive when we reimagine and reconfigure ourselves and our relationships in such a way that it’s always about us. All of us. Because that’s both where the real power is and where the real love is. We can reconfigure our whole world if where willing to let go of the illusion of hope that this is all there is and there’s only two ways to change it (violently by force or at a snail’s pace by votes and protests which seem to have mushy results) and it’s going to slowly get better. Without eyes clouded by hope the possibilities are endless. Hope is a revolution which merely redistributes power to a few more people. Moving through hopelessness and beyond is a reconfiguration where power is no longer the name of the game, where we can play a new game entirely. Or even better, where there is no game, where no one is hunted as game or devoured for sport. What does that world look like, that one where we have no need of hope, where life is not merely surviving? That world where all our energy goes to thriving, to building, growing, creating, loving?