Listen to Neil’s story below. It was originally performed at The Arrow, a production of The Neo-Futurists.
I am in tears — the ugliest crier you’ve ever seen — reading an essay by Stephanie Wittels about suffering and her daughter’s hearing loss and her brother Harris’ death and a split-second later I am doubled over in laughter because someone has put the lips from that exasperated guy meme on a picture of MLK in response to Donald Fuckface’s tweets about John Lewis. In front of me are seven open browser tabs: on the Gmail tab, three open drafts. In one, a song I’ve been working on for months with a dead-end chorus that I can’t seem to figure out or fix; another that will eventually be a mostly-preaching-to-the-choir longform Facebook status update; the third, this essay. Fifty yards from the table where I type — in a small park in the middle of a Midwestern city of 2.7 million people — there is a coyote standing watch at the foot of the stadium bleachers.
The philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe theorized that existential angst in humanity is the result of an overly evolved intellect, that we’re born with an overdeveloped skill of understanding and self-knowledge which doesn’t fit into nature’s design — that our craving for justification on matters such as life and death cannot be satisfied. Humanity has a need that nature cannot satisfy.
If you’re hurt, it means there is something alive at stake.
I finally got rid of my shoes. The ones I had been wearing for the past 15 years. What happened was, one of the higher-ups at New Balance made a statement about how “things are going to move in the right direction” under Trump, and then the Daily Stormer — a white supremacist website — caught wind of that and declared New Balance “the official brand of the Trump Revolution” and by the time the company went into damage control mode by offering a disappointingly generic blanket statement about “opposing bigotry,” people across the country were throwing away or burning or donating their sneakers. I put mine in one of those parking lot donation boxes for organizations you’ve never heard of and which may or may not even exist. It didn’t feel like an act of triumph or resistance. It didn’t feel like anything — it just felt like I had to find a new kind of shoe to like. It was never even about brand loyalty — though the fact that they had my initials on them was kind of cool — it was just convenient to be able to order a new pair whenever I needed them and be sure that they would fit well and look good. But everything is interwoven and my shoes have politics now.
If you’re hurt, it means there is something alive at stake. My friend Lily wrote that. I watch her saying this, seated on a chair atop a block next to a ladder and I click repeat and I click repeat and I click repeat and I wonder if Lily is the most insightful person I know. She wrote something about Lucas that was so funny and true it made me spit coffee at my phone. I don’t know if she’s an animal person, but I think she would care about the coyotes if I told her how much I care.
I wonder if my friends think I’m losing my mind. I sometimes wonder if I am, alternating between reading firsthand accounts of life in internment camps for potential preparatory purposes and tweeting at a sitting president asking if I can fuck his proposed border wall and whether or not it will have glory holes. This doesn’t feel like my usual paranoia.
You’re allowed joy but it will always come with a guilty conscience. There is a low-grade nausea that will remain in the pit of your stomach at all times. You will live with it. This is your condition now. You will sit in a room — a room forever populated with artful, creative, kind people in a diverse, progressive city and your friend will talk about waste and wildlife and what can be done to save the planet and why it’s maybe not the best idea to eat at the meatiest, greasiest, styrofoamiest places and even those diverse, progressive people — the people in that audience in that room in that city will shrug their shoulders and avoid eye contact and say “I unno” and you will feel more hopeless. Don’t wait for it to improve. Don’t expect it to. There will be no moment when they’ll finally get it. They always got it. It was never a scam or a trick. No one was fooled. They knew what it was and they got what they wanted.
This doesn’t feel like my usual paranoia.
Zapffe’s theory sits squarely at the cross of pessimism and nihilism. He offers no apologies for this, but he does note that, through stylistic or artistic gifts, the pain of living can at times be converted into valuable experiences. Sublimation. Creating digs you out. To remember that there are things inside of ourselves — small seeds eager to be born. And that’s why you walk every plank and teeter on every edge and jump off every cliff. Not for the thrill or because the risk is worth anything. But because you might already be dead anyways and what else is there to do.
To keep failing. To have faith in failure. It’s the only thing worth believing in. To make bad things, learn to love making bad things. Out loud, in front of crowds and without honor or battle scars. Without underdog’s pride. Local entrepreneur Jim Coudal says to run a creative enterprise that fails before the age of 30 is a privilege and a goal. 50 Cent says go ‘head switch the style up and if they hate, let ‘em hate and watch the money pile up. And I think and I think about perfectionism and how everything I create must be a masterpiece and it feels paralyzing, but it’s really not, right, because I’ve continued to create and I have yet to create a masterpiece and I probably never will. The drafts remain open and the cursor bar flashes at 60 beats per minute and the coyote rises from the foot of the steel bleachers, crossing over the crushed-asphalt track and onto the grassy field, moving to do what it will do with its day.
Something alive is at stake.
Neil Bhandari – Generalist. Working, building, thinking and making in and around Chicago, Illinois, since 1981. Writer, singer, husband, brother, ocean lover, pizza maker, #2 hitter, storyteller, world traveler, satisfied dinner guest. Seeking thrills, honing skills, paying bills.