Everything is broken
“Everyday takes figuring out all over again how to fucking live “
Calamity Jane, Deadwood
This is attempt number 4 at this.
There’s a career politician running around Canada saying “Canada is broken” ignoring the fact it was during his long stay in politics things got so broken. but what stands out, aside from his promise he’s the cure for this broken-ness he helped birth is how firmly the sentiment lands with everyone right now.
We, it seems, intuit something is really off in everything and it feels kinda terrifying for most people.
In the previous 3 drafts of this letter I’ve been scouring my insides trying to identify the source of a now longstanding malaise in myself and through writing to you understand what is off inside me.
When not writing and throwing it all away I’ve been reading a lot.1
Letting other minds lead my mind into new places.2 Letting other voices set points in the gloaming hoping upon hope their ideas like beacons would pull my own mind to make a connection, allowing this broken-ness to heal.
that didn’t happen for me and it isn’t going to happen for us because of what we’ve forgotten, and what we’re now coming to remember.
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for a time we were lulled by relative peace. relative prosperity. relative good health and we were able in the most earnest way to gaze upon our own navels. This birthed social media. it birthed hustle culture. it birthed a sense that our problems were problems of action. Perhaps a lack of action or poorly executed action—which these 5 listicle points can immediately fix—and maybe, just maybe, we got overly comfortable with comfort.
anything we wanted was just a click away and while we were reading reviews trying to decide exactly what we wanted the veil was pierced revealing what was always there but we’d forgotten.
everything is broken.
was always broken. what you feel as crushing is the momentary illusion that things weren’t broken now breaking.
There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in - L. Cohen
you’re going to need to sit with that fact a good long while before you get to the other side in any workable way.
Everything being broken is essential to our beings in the same way every single one of us dying is. the brevity our lives are what enrich each moment with value and meaning and the glimmering light of those few parts of the universe not broken enrich each of us by their contrast to the natural state of life.
we still, it seems, need the sweet and the sour. but we’ve been so drunk on the sweet for so long now our natural states feel alien. There is not now, nor ever, a surety. no certainty beyond the illusion of certainty. no entitlement to easy or calm and the sooner we get back to remembering this the sooner things can get better.
we’ve grown weak and flabby sucking hard on the teet of those who profit off our attentions. we’ve forgotten depth and all it’s complexities while we watch idiots dance on tik tok.
we want everything summarized because it’s too much work to read the whole thing. really stop for a second and think about that.
we’ve lost all sense of what is actually hard and whenever humans do this to themselves the world eventually finds ways to remind us that the weak, the lazy, the self indulgent and the apathetic will be culled one way or other.
For me, remembering this thing that I used to have as my guiding principle in life at once unlocked everything. epiphany. revelation. whatever you want to call it. I want to call it a state transition where the mind has to run a lot of checks against itself about what it thinks it knows and in the process you get this deeply expansive feeling because of the mind’s own uncertainty.
when everything is uncertain anything, again, is briefly possible.
this all came in lock step with several other reminders all showing up exactly when I needed them, or more truthfully, when I allowed myself to be open to them.
I’m reminded that the goal of everything we do is the mental/emotional states we create by doing them.
The goal is never the thing we’re doing nor it’s products rather it’s the states that arise within us while doing them or having done them how they changed us. Life must pass through us, changing us as it passes.
Everything you do generates some state inside you. your work. your pleasures. your hobbies. your passions. It becomes terribly easy to forget to monitor what states your actions are creating because you are often taking the actions for what the world will give you for taking them. Pushing. grinding. hustling. binging. self care. hiding from the world because you’ve had too much (or at least too much of the wrong things).
I don’t make photos for instagram. I don’t make prints for customers. I don’t write this for you. I do them because I learnt mostly through happy accidents that doing those things puts me in a state of mind that resonates with me.
Chasing beauty against the raging sea of banality resonates with me. Devoting myself to light and dark and forcing myself to really see the world resonates with me. making prints, oh the fucking horror of making prints, connects me so deeply to time and space it’s almost a horrific kind of very expensive meditation.
And when I moan and carry on. When I buck at the bit and feel most lost is when I forget the states of being are the thing that matters. Not the colors. nor the contents. not the likes, or trappings. Not sensors the size of the palm of my hand nor even the softness of the light.
The only thing that means anything is finding yourself in those states, whatever they are for you, as often and for as long as you can. Those moments where you feel yourself expanding into the chaos and brevity of life, and are freed by the uncertainty rather than crippled by it.
We collect the unbroken shards of light scattered amongst the wreckage and when we do we change ourselves. we grow. we expand. we open and we matter. however fleeting.
The actions. the work. the production. the external responses. they are simply tools to foster and encourage states. they are no more absolute than you are. yesterday it might have been watching swirls of gravel dust against the setting sun, tomorrow it may be spending time really tending to your plants or something you’ve never even done before.
When the tools stop working, when the growth slows. when the contractions begin. It’s time to dig deep back into the broken-ness all around you. To remember that’s the natural state of things without you, or me, or us, trying against all logic to bring order to the disordered. trying to bring meaning to the sprawling meaningless.
if you want a way out of this it won’t be by fixing the world. It will be by fixing the states you put yourself to. one decision at a time.
Reading right now: Bittersweet by Susan Cain https://susancain.net/book/bittersweet/
Why Veteran Artists Don’t Quit - Van Neistat