I Ain’t No Good Man
I know it’s hard. I know how hard it is. And I know how easy it would be not to try, because that’s the way the world is built: for you not to try. For you to give up. The world will always give you a million reasons not to try, and they’re not bad reasons. They’re not just excuses or justifications. They’re really good reasons to just not bother. Plenty of other people — most other people — don’t try, and a lot of them even get rewarded for it. No matter how many stories you get told, you’ll learn that you can keep on trying forever and still fail. That is a hard lesson. And there is really no earthly reason to keep on trying, except the tiny possibility that the act of trying itself might elevate you; that even if you struggle and fall, there will have been something in the struggle that made you feel different, that made you feel good, that made it seem worthwhile somehow.
I know you get angry. Christ, I know how angry you get. You get so fucking angry, and still nobody responds to your anger, and then you feel like you should do what is so tempting: make your anger real and permanent for someone, just to show them (them, them, there is always a them) that you were serious, that you weren’t fucking around, that they shouldn’t have ignored you and your needs, which are as real as any of theirs. And the anger can just settle and fester and stink so that you can’t even see anything else but shades of your anger, even though you know that to exercise it will only make things worse, that it can never solve your problem. But that doesn’t matter to them; why should it matter to you? There’s not a goddamned reason it should. There’s no one has the right to judge you, and if you get punished, you’ll just be one more person who gets punished while someone else gets away with it. And that is a hard lesson. And there is really no earthly reason not to do violence on others as they have done it on you, except the faint little recognition that if you don’t, there is a little less suffering in the world than there would otherwise have been, that one less person will cry themselves to sleep at night, that you, if only you, didn’t shove one more log on the bonfire of misery.
I know how small you feel. I know that burning resentment that flares up when someone tells you that your emotions, your feelings, your pain and your suffering don’t matter. How you were born at the top of some constructed pyramid of privilege, and because of where you emerged, you will always be considered a threat to someone when you wouldn’t harm them for the world, you will always be considered an oppressor to someone when you never held them down, you will always be considered fortunate to someone no matter how late you are on last month’s rent. You hate that your size makes you a menace, your age makes you a joke, your skin makes you an enemy. It is so easy to just embrace those roles, to decide you might as well be what everyone thinks you are anyway. It’s a problem that came with the facts of your existence, and you can literally never change it, no more than you can change who your parents were or the year you were born. And that is a hard lesson. And there is really no earthly reason to give a shit what other people think of you, or to even try to be an exception to a bunch of rules that you had no say in writing, except the brutally difficult realization that there are words like “valorization” and “intersectionalism” and “kyriarchy”, and they’re not just words that someone made up to sound smart — oh, it’s easy, so easy, and funny, and so fucking easy to believe that — but they are complicated words for complicated ideas that someone sat down and figured out to make sense out of a complicated world, and if you figure them out too, and you live according to the ideas that are encompassed in those words, you might change; not the world itself, but you, and you are a part of the world, aren’t you?
I know how it is to lose hope. I have lost sight of it so long I sometimes wonder if I ever had it at all. You can work very hard to master your art, and still not be that good. You can work hard all your life and still be poor. The people you fall in love may never love you as much, or at all. Your friends will fall away, or move, or die. The things you counted on will not come to pass. The world will fall into the hands of villains. No one will care about the things you care about. You will get old, and everything, every bloody frustrating little thing, every thought and every physical action, will get harder. And someday you will die, and it’s very likely that the world will barely notice that you were ever there in the first place. And those are staggeringly, devastatingly, ruinously hard lessons. And there is really no earthly reason to go on hoping, except for the minuscule glittering beads of glass on that vast shoreline of empty despair: that art is its own reward, that poverty does not need to equal misery, that there is the slenderest hope that someone will love you, that you had friends in the first place, that life can constantly surprise you, that even one year left alive can be full of unspeakable beauty, of astonishing adventure, of intense thought and feeling and you dare not miss a second of it.
And most of all I know how frustrating it is that there is no reward. There is no prize for becoming a better person, no committee of decency who will visit you on your deathbed and pin a lapel to your breast for being less of an asshole than you were when you started. Like Cutty Wise found out when he was cutting grass to stay out of jail, there’s no great payoff at the end; there’s just more grass to be cut, and the only endgame of staying out of jail is being out of jail. Even if you dedicate your every waking moment to becoming a better person than you were the day before, there are people who will spurn you and scorn you; there are people who will hate you for no good reason — or very good reasons; and worst of all, there are billions of people who will simply ignore you. The world is under no obligation to take notice of your attempts at self-improvement, and that’s even if you manage to get it right and become a better person, and not just fuck it up and become a blowhard who talks a big game about being decent when they’re really the same shitbird they were before they came to Jesus or Buddha or Noam Chomsky. And that is the hardest lesson of all. And there is really no earthly reason to even make the attempt, because no one will praise you or thank you — no one but yourself. And that is the reason to try — try to be good, try to be better, try to be less bad, just try: because even if you don’t succeed in being a good person for anyone else; even if life never puts you in the position to make someone else’s life more endurable, or even less miserable; you may still get a chance to make the world better for the one person whose company you must endure from birth until death. That’s the place I have to live, and I’m tired of tearing it apart. I may only keep it clean for me, but I’m the only one who has to stay.