When Your Life Becomes News It’s Miserable

A photo from better times, when we had fuel to not be in our house

I keep opening browser tabs like tabs of Xanax. I do it for sedation but I just end up more aggravated. Everything is shit, everywhere. Reading anything is like fiddling with a canker sore. Checking if the pain is still there. It is.

The worst is when the news spills out of the browser. I can see it in the eyes of everyone on the street. I hear it when I talk to the security guard, who’s still making $4 a day while the cost of food has tripled. He’s got two kids at home. I’ll bring them something tomorrow. The whole fucking country has collapsed. It’s not news, it’s life. It’s eminently, terribly visible.

I sit down at the bus stand and the same homeless lady is still there from yesterday. She says she hasn’t eaten dinner and asks for a coffee. I go get her some coffee and short eats and we talk. She tells me about the President and his American family doing fine which is true. She asks about the protestors and I say they’re good people. She asks me how many are demons and I say I dunno, 20%. I don’t even think demons are bad. It’s economists I’m worried about. I let a few buses pass but eventually I’ve got to go.

But I don’t have anywhere to go. Just open more browser tabs and try to fall into another world. Cricket highlights. Cooking shows. It all feels like science fiction now. Reality has deviated from the past so much that watching it feels absurd. So many TV shows just ignore the pandemic now, like it never happened, though it’s still going on. The only thing that feels normal is fiction. Reality is bizarre.

There has always been this weight of suffering that makes up the news—that somehow sells soap and shoes—but now it’s knocking at my door. Suffering has always been the heart of drama (watching people have a terrible time from Rama to Breaking Bad), but it’s different when it’s next door. I close the doors but the feeling still comes through. There’s no amount of browser windows I can escape through. Those windows just open to Palestine, or America, or Senegal, and they’re also screwed.

Part of the thrill of the news was the fact that you could learn about peril but that it wasn’t happening to you. A bit of the sublime, the feeling you get looking over a cliff but not falling over. Like rubber-necking past an accident. Or watching a cock-fight. This is what’s distilled into drama, which is generally watching people having a terrible time and finding that a pleasant way to spend a few hours. I remember watching Breaking Bad and having all of my problems pale in comparison. Now I watch TV and I’m like “shit, at least they have gas. That must be fun.”

It’s dismal, I know, but why are you reading this? It’s not for productivity tips. I’ve been so depressed that I haven’t done anything all day, besides feel like I should be doing something. And don’t worry about me, it’s not depression if your country is literally in a depression. Then it’s just normal. It’s not a mental health issue if public health and everything else is actually collapsing. Then it’s just the necessary pain you feel after a fall.

I know this’ll be a story later, like the crazy stories I heard from old timers, but somehow my generation thought we were immune from that. Of all the things Boomers defrauded us out of—a planet, a house, non-inherited wealth—the hope we were raised with feels the worst to have taken away now. Wars, plagues, famines, those were all in the history books, and we had arrived at the end of history. We were the lucky ones. Well, that was wrong.

I’m not going anywhere with this. I’ll just reach some word count and stop. What do words count for anyways? There is no conclusion here, just a contusion, that’s all I’m trying to get across. My head hurts. It’s been hurting for three years now and it’s only getting worse. When the news starts spilling into view it’s a curse. When the drama becomes daily it’s too much.

I think we’re all opening browser tabs to self-soothe ourselves and it doesn’t work but we can’t stop. Some of my friends are just doing Xanax and I understand now. We open browser windows to get some air but everything’s on fire, more and more smoke just comes in.

Even reading me must seem futile at some point, but people are still doing it. What are you learning here? How we’re fucked, in greater and greater precision? What does one do with this information? Not much, but God I have to keep writing and I guess you keep reading. It’s all the thrill of a murder mystery, except we’re the dead bodies. I can’t say I don’t enjoy it but, you know, mixed feelings. This is over 800 words and it’s a stream of consciousness anyways. Here it’s ending.

If you’d like to do something for Sri Lanka Dr. Ahilan Kadirgamar, who I know and vouch for, is extending his work with farming and fishing families to not only give them income but also produce the food we need. You can donate here.