I was on page 272 of The Handmaid’s Tale, reading by a warm yellow car reading light, wrapped up in the kind of quiet suburban darkness that makes you feel alone to the core — when I became oversaturated with thoughts and feelings. All my feeling receptors were overloaded. I was only able to comprehend that I was feeling. Unable to sort through the feelings. Anger, Hopelessness, Fear? I don’t know — just
Maybe it was this line: “Humanity is so adaptable. Truly amazing, what people can get used to, as long as there are a few compensations.” Perhaps that was when the gap between fiction and reality closed, and the dystopia painted in the novel did not seem so far away. If a handful of corporations already control all the media we watch, why not make it entirely false propaganda? If women are only valued for their associated reproductive organs, why not create an entire class of breeders? If we already consume ridiculous amounts of militant, warfare-like sports games and brutalized images of Black and Brown bodies, why not just have public actions of violence against the “undesired”?
We know what our world is capable of.
Sexual assault and victim blaming. Deep blue bruises hidden under long sleeves on hot summer days. “There is nothing I would want more in this world than for my father to not exist.” Strong, terrible silences around deaths. Parents working in sweatshops. A single set of acceptable “girl” clothes, tucked away in the corner of their dresser and saved for their visits home. Self-destructive habits tied to a desire to love and be loved. A futile attempt to outrun a mother’s careless words. Daily emotional beatings.
And yet we still continue to exist, and some would even say, thrive. Usually I look upon these struggles as a mark of human resilience — of our collective power and potential. But for some reason, today, all I see is our silence and passive existence. The ability to continue surviving under these conditions without rebellion, without revolt, without retaliation, without uprooting it all. Especially in the light of larger society’s cool, calm complacency around Mike Brown’s murder, I wonder if we will ever be upset enough, hurt enough, angry enough to rise up. Or if we’re just simply too accustomed to the pain to even know the threshold of our own tolerance.
We are so adaptable – and so forgetful. I fear that everything today has become “as usual,” in the way that The Handmaid’s Tale notes: “Whatever is going on is as usual. Even this [dystopia] is as usual, now.” Everything has become so deeply seeped into our lives that we know nothing else. We do not remember a time without a nationwide fear of (Brown) terrorism, before NSA government surveillance, before murders of Black boys, before obligatory YouTube commercials, before a constant waging of war for “freedom” and “democracy.” And if we don’t know something before the “usual,” then can we ever imagine anything beyond this?
The hope of something more is usually what keeps me going; I sought to someday put it into practice and create that better world with my own hands. But now, I am beginning to wonder if the dystopia is more of a reality than my idea of a better world ever was. I’m not sure I even know what I want – just not this, right now. I wish I hadn’t fated myself into this constant state of wanting.
If not this, then what?
It’s the question that keeps me up at night.