Nowadays, every moment of my life is done in honor of xiao (“little”) Helen. I think about all the things she wanted to accomplish, to experience, and I open my heart to give her all the fun, kindness, and compassion she wasn’t able to receive when she was younger. Something something, healing my inner child? Acts of self-care have become so much more than adopting the quick-fix-treat-myself mentality (although I’ve learned that summertime watermelon does this, definitively, for me …) and instead are blanketed with intentionality: I asked myself where joy comes from, where it can blossom and unravel in the most contagious of ways, and I quickly learned how the majority of it stems from the fleeting moments of unfiltered curiosity I held as a small child, i.e. before the crushing spirit of capitalism came charging in. Every day, I am endlessly indebted to this way of life, to take things less seriously and nourish the parts of myself that are not tied to #productivity and becoming #thatgirl. And every day, I see how it makes me a better person.

Some days, it’s the willingness to say yes to a new activity my friends suggest. Other times, it’s the lack of anger and embarrassment that comes with perpetually losing while playing video games. And other days, it’s being able to make a celebration out of anything just to be able to hang out with my friends. It’s small, but it allows me to spend my days with a sense of pride and awe. It’s like if you were to go back in time and give someone in Mesopotamia a Dorito chip, but instead of villagers from the oldest civilization in the world and lots of spices, it’s me and the love that comes with community and belonging and meaning. Xiao Helen would’ve never believed she would have gotten to live a life like this.

But there is a weird place that exists in between the immense gratitude that I have for life and the grief that I carry for the past. It is dusty and dilapidated and riddled with a cold air that can only be pushed in by a deep mourning. In this space, contradictions come alive. It is empty, like a box that never got to be filled with outgrown toys and just-embarrassing-enough-to-also-be-nostalgic tween memories. At the same time, it is full, heavy with a kind of claustrophobia that comes from adolescent anxiety and an unspoken, messy trauma shedding its hair everywhere. It is dark, tinted with the strongest of desires to escape, and it is bright, blinding. It is emotional, yet it is numb. It is noisy, and silent. Aggressive, and scared. In this space, shame lives. Turns out, In-The-Middle-Helen never quite felt like she deserved to live a life like this.

There is a degree of paralysis that comes with confronting your lived experiences. It can be overwhelming and world-shattering, a kind of fog that cloaks almost everything in your line of sight. For me, the future was too blurry, just a distant gossamer too far to materialize concretely. The present, meanwhile, was too out-of-focus; like I was wearing glasses that were way too strong for me, not only was I unable to see clearly, I perpetually had a headache (not-so-fun-fact: I have chronic migraines, and I used to get like 20 migraines a month. I’m like 99% sure this is largely due to trauma). The only thing I could see was my past, Xiao Helen sitting in the corner of the room all by herself. But in the same way that after you stare at a painting for too long, or say a word too many times, I stopped being able to recognize anything, everything just slightly off. Xiao Helen was no longer my past, but a vestigial marker of my resentment and my pity all bundled in one. I stopped being able to remember the actual experiences I had, my mind a blank slate on the who, what, when, where, and why, but flooded instead with the well-this-is-what-I-felt. And so Xiao Helen grew up and became In-The-Middle Helen, trying to navigate these complex, lost emotions in the midst of everything else that makes the human condition so complicated.

In-The-Middle Helen was a nightmare. It was a volatile time, and that made me a volatile person: I would cry all the time, until I wouldn’t be, and then I would feel embarrassed enough about crying that I would cry again. I built my personality around empathy and kindness, but never reflect deep enough to identify that as a projection of my own desires. And every now and then, the anger that Xiao Helen had bottled up would seep through like toxic sludge, burning everything in my path. It wasn’t until recently that I started to understand where In-The-Middle Helen was coming from. Because if you box off the different parts of your life, sever them from the flows that birthed them and fed them, you never get the whole picture. Xiao Helen was cute and curious. In-The-Middle Helen was chaotic, confused, but simultaneously, very comfortable.

Just as there is a paralysis in trauma, there is also a weight to being well. Toni Cade Bambara states in The Salt Eaters:

“Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well?… Just so’s you’re sure, sweetheart, and ready to be healed, cause wholeness is no trifling matter. A lot of weight when you’re well.”

Acknowledging the harms done to Xiao Helen allowed me to extend a warped version of compassion to myself: pity, disguised as sympathy. I could spend hours talking with my friends trauma-bonding and reveling over who had the most fucked up experiences growing up. I wore my sufferings like badges, because in In-The-Middle Helen’s world, that became a way to brand my survival. But life changes, and it changes so quickly that my badges started to collect dust: the same violences I saw happen to Xiao Helen slowly started to fade away as I went to college. I was no longer living at home, no longer working under an education system that pushed me to get into a prestigious university (instead, just an adjacent education system that pushed me to get a prestigious job …), no longer around the same people I had been for the majority of my life. New violences were happening—the false hope of identity politics, amplified racism (not to be isolated from rampant Sinophobia), more explicit sexism, capitalism—but as those developed, I was simply not equipped to be well. To be honest, I’m not even sure I wanted to be well.

There is a phenomenon that my friends and I talk about a lot about these days, a kind of suburban-sitcom dynamic that occurs to people who were fed a version of life through cheesy TV shows and Disney-ified romcoms … so, most people. (It doesn’t help that the US government literally funds Marvel movies!) And for the longest time, I fell victim to it. I made myself the main character, desperately awaiting new recurring characters to be added and new plotlines to make life interesting. I watched HIMYM enough to become the top rated person on HQ Trivia (I had to Google what this app was called because it literally is so meaningless to me now! Nice! We love growth!) in my region, but also enough to crave the kind of monotonous insurance that comes with having a glorified sitcom-esque life.

After a childhood filled with lots of pain and tumultuous changes, I wanted to magically enter a sitcom and stay there, scripted lines and all; it would have been all the wellness I needed. I don’t blame myself. I see now that In-The-Middle Helen simply wanted some kind of stability. But for a really long time, In-The-Middle Helen was, as the kids say, so fucking cringe (derogatory). So it became exceptionally difficult to warrant compassion for myself. Why be nice to myself when I’m the one that is crying too much and making everyone else annoyed? Why be patient with myself when I’ve continuously managed to screw up my relationships? Why be understanding with myself when I’m the reason so many bad things are happening to me? Why be kind with In-The-Middle Helen when she’s all over the fucking place when she should have just been cute and curious like Xiao Helen?

A few years ago, I started to learn about Marxism. (If you’ve been reading my little blogs/newsletters, this is not a surprise to you!) By no means was it an attempt to improve my mental health, but it has led me to understand that to have compassion for yourself is to have compassion for all versions of yourself and realize that you are inexplicably interwoven into the web of capitalism. Marxism is not just about philosophy, or political economy; it is about the very real, material world we live in and all its various appendages that impact, quite literally, everything. I’ve been reading and researching and learning for years that the weight of wellness no longer feels so heavy; I’ve started to understand why things are the way they are, and I know that asking when is equally as important as asking why. But sometimes, life does feel particularly heavy because if not for the weight of wellness, there is the weight of capitalism. Reading and researching and learning does not necessarily mean internalizing.

As I grow up, it seems that there is a collective realization that adulthood is nothing like we imagined as children, and we feel somewhat motivated to make changes. There is a version of this kind of self-care that exists in the seams of social media, capitalizing off of this collective desire to be as carefree and untethered, unfiltered and easygoing. It teaches us to reconsider a work-dominant lifestyle; it teaches us to travel the world and explore; it teaches us to build out hobbies so we can continue to fuel our passions; it teaches us to be introspective as a means to build a better path for our future interpersonal relationships. But it also teaches us in a vacuum, never shedding light onto what this version could look like without a deep, deep dependency on financial stability and all that it's tied to. Absolving yourself of a work-dominant lifestyle can mean trading in a 9-5 for freelance work, but that suddenly means you’re technically on the clock all the time. Exploring the world not only requires a lot of money, but it probably means you need to be in a position where you hold a remote-friendly job. Hobbies are wonderful, but they’ve become grated to a version that only exists as the fun things you do to sandwich the time in which you’re exploited for your labor. Even building relationships and working on yourself becomes complicated, as you start to question where your motivations come from and what influences you’ve been consistently exposed to. Capitalism teaches us how to build our own graves and convinces us that we're actually in a spa.

A month into 2022 and the eve of the Lunar New Year, I’m so grateful to remember that I am a real person. I am not a company in the midst of some marketing campaign hoping to rebrand with pretty colors and a more modern, appealing-to-the-masses look. I am a person with desires, connected to a set of flows that do not reduce me to a character in a TV show but instead honor my dynamism and fluidity as I live under capitalism. I am a real person that is thankful to recognize that the very factors that are contributing to violently shutting down Xiao Helen are the very ones I am combating today.

And so one year later and twenty-something pages away from finishing Deleuze & Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, I can so confidently say that it has changed everything. Like the outro to a cheesy, cliché coming-of-age movie, their words have stuck with me in the most visceral of ways. Cue the indie-pop music that fades out as the montage of blurry pictures flurries by, but instead it’s a new framework that makes life all the more interesting and worthwhile. They write, “Revolutionaries often forget, or do not like to recognize, that one wants and makes revolution out of desire, not duty”. Revolution is not just about the Struggle™, but about desire, love, and a kind of action that can only come from agency. They continue, “To confess, to whine, to complain, to commiserate, always demands a toll. To sing it doesn’t cost you a penny. Not only does it cost nothing—you actually enrich others instead of infecting them.” They remind me so delicately that I hold an incredible power in myself, and to only view myself as Xiao Helen, In-The-Middle Helen, and In-The-Present Helen as three categorical, flattened versions of myself is the biggest violence I could self-inflict.

Yes, Xiao Helen deserves the world, but in reality, Xiao Helen is a bait. She is 4-year-old Helen wandering the streets of Suzhou with her grandfather just as much as she is 17-year-old Helen anxiously awaiting her first day of college. She is 23-year-old Helen pondering just what life will become in the middle of a global pandemic, but also Yesterday Helen. Xiao Helen is not what is written in my Twitter or Instagram bio, or the introduction I always give during corporate ice breakers. I am a real person with revolutionary desires, and I am always changing, always absorbing. Xiao Helen is a desiring-machine, and machines break down all the time. But then they can redirect, try again, become something else, take a long break. They can build and distort and sing and push and pull and pause and persevere.

As Deleuze and Guattari say, “Desire is in itself not a desire to love, but a force to love, a virtue that gives and produces, that engineers.” Xiao Helen is a fucking force, and I hope you can look at Xiao you & remember that you are too.

When I was younger, my mother used to tell me that time moves faster the older you get. She did not mean it in a philosophical, life-is-actually-plagued-by-capitalism-and-alienation type of way (in fact, she believes it in a science-is-magic-conspiracy-theory type of way), but it is a feeling that has become so familiar to me. In large part, this is because there are large chunks of my life that I do not remember. Things fade in and out, leaving me with small slivers of snapshots and fractions of feelings. Do I only remember something because I saw a photo of it? Do I only find it in my memory because someone else told me a story about it? Where do I keep these recollections in my body? How can I release them? How can I honor them?

My childhood felt like the slowest burn because there was nothing to ground myself in, only a yearning that has since found a different form. Every day was about growing up, or leaving, or some combination of the two because the life I had—while still extremely fortunate—was still one filled with dread. A quicksand that took almost 18 years to swallow me because I had no agency, no power, living in a household with parents who were coping and projecting their own insecurities onto me. The days were always about the tomorrows, so I lost sight of the todays. To this day, I am still trying to learn a new way of living where I can stand in the present long enough that I can remember it. I don’t mean to sound extra emo, trying to imply that my experiences as Little Helen were unlivable and terrifying (especially because I do, of course, have extremely fond memories), but I think there is power in saying that I did live … that I did survive, but I shouldn’t have had to come out a survivor, hardened and all. I should have just been a kid that got to grow up with agency and autonomy. I used to blame it on cultural differences, or the extremely ambiguous and vague connotations that are attached to the diaspora, or the ever-present Daddy-and-Mommy issues™ … but of course, life is more complicated than that.

Deleuze and Guattari, in Anti-Oedipus, i.e. the most life-changing book I have ever decided to start reading, critique this notion of Oedipalization, this hinging onto the nuclear family structure that we collectively demonstrate under capitalism. Just think about literally any Disney movie ever made. But they do not necessarily mean to negate the impact and influence that parents have; rather, they provide a more critical look at the damning effect of psychoanalytic reduction to “Of course, it’s because of your relationship with your parents,” and provide you a foundation to live a life free from these large, seemingly-immovable blocks that have been inscribed into your brain. D&G write, “Yes, it’s the mother, the father, but also the ironing board, the clock, Mao Zedong, Barbara Walters, etc.,” and while that might not make a whole lot of sense without the rest of the book for context, I hope it can be as liberating for you as it was for me. We are constantly changing, constantly becoming, constantly breaking down and starting back up, constantly receiving flows from others and creating new ones from ourselves. Life is more than the structure of the nuclear family because what is a family? What is a mother, a father, a sister, a brother? Who are we under capitalism? Who were we before capitalism? Who could we be under something new? Maybe … someone with more memories, someone with the ability to slow down time.

On the other hand, though, I do find that time is moving slower—each day becoming more and more the same, each week becoming more and more replications of the previous. There is a resistance that I place into my day-to-days to ensure it does not turn into yet another replaying of exercise, then work, then relaxation (or, maybe a better word is distraction?). My time has become rationed into the weekend the days of PTO I have; purchases become broken down into how neatly they fit into the space between my paycheck and my personal budget. Sundays are a time of mourning, sometimes a grief that comes from a nostalgic look back at my two days of freedom, but sometimes an anxiety that comes from the anticipation of the upcoming week. Perhaps the most destabilizing thing has been COVID (of course, if you peel back the layers, it’s not just COVID, it’s capitalism and climate catastrophe and billionaires and cops and racism and misogyny and the absolute mania that comes with social media and consumerism). In the blink of an eye, I went from barely getting my bearings as someone not even one year out of college to someone entering their mid-20s, living in their third apartment, somehow on my third job. My internal clock feels broken, like it is still ticking but not moving. Or is it just moving so fast that I cannot see?

Lorde recently came out with an album, and the lyrics to her song “Mood Ring” are swirling through my brain like a dance I am trying to remember. She sings:

Now all of my oceans have riptides Can't seem to find what's wrong The whole world is lettin' me down Don't you think the early 2000's seem so far away?

Ladies, begin your sun salutations Transcendental in your meditations Love, and light You can burn sage, and I'll cleanse the crystals We can get high, but only if the wind blows Just right

I can't feel a thing I keep lookin' at my mood ring Tell me how I'm feelin' Floatin' away, floatin' away

Disregarding the musicality of the album completely (something something I will never stop listening to “Ribs”), this album is special to me because Lorde and I are the same age, and there is something so gratifying about hearing someone else verbalize the same musings I have had circling through my brain. Of course, that is just me projecting onto her words, but then again, what isn’t? We are all just projecting machines, after all. “Mood Ring” stuck out to me not just because the music video is green (I love green!), but because her satirical exploration of self-care is able to identify something so particular about my experience as a woman in her mid-20s. The wellness industry, full of stolen, commodified, and bastardized rituals (@ Gwyneth Paltrow, @ the resurgence of astrology and tarot, @ therapy puppies during finals week) is almost exclusively targeted to feminine energy. And while I love a good incense-and-journaling session (e.g. right now, basically), it functions to numb us. She sits with her homies, beautiful as ever, in what seems to represent something like a cult. To me, this is a cult of capitalism; this is the grasp that it has over us guiding us around so we lose our power to feel, so we lose our power to know. Instead, look at your phone and learn from the vast world of the Internet. I’ve lost count of the number of times my friends and I have told each other, almost embarrassingly, about this new thing we learned from TikTok. Is it embarrassing because we were not able to come to these conclusions ourselves … or, it is a damning declaration on the society we live in that we don’t have the tools to unpack what is happening around us, what is happening in our brains, in the world dictated by capital and power? How can we become our own mood rings?

I’m turning 24 today. How strange, I tell myself—my relationship with the passage of time has become so blurred, so muted, that sometimes weeks feel like days and sometimes days feel like minutes. Seconds have dragged out for months, and months have passed so quickly I feel dizzy from all that has and hasn’t happened. I find myself desperate to slow down, to find equilibrium to the vertigo that comes with life zooming around me (and not even just my own life! Everyone else’s lives too!) and the sleepiness of having to exploit my labor for survival.

I’ve recently realized that time is not linear and that the best I can do to slow down a bit is to celebrate that. Of course, I have been alive for 24 years, but what does 24 mean? What about 25? What about 18? And 46? Growing up, I had a very specific notion of what adulthood was; I did not understand the grueling monotony that capitalism would bring but I definitely had a version of what was “right,” what was expected and therefore an aspiration. But I’m realizing now that 24 is about being able to go back to Little Helen and give her the exploration and freedom she has always deserved. 24, for me, is about being able to create the very memories that I wish I could hold in my body from when I was younger. Sometimes, this looks like being able to play Smash until 1 AM, and other times, this looks like being able to literally lay in bed and not move my body until I feel like getting up (fuck the 5AM morning routines and listen to your body!). Some days, this is about being able to doodle—albeit permanently—on my body (s/o to all the people that said I would look good with a fun tattoo sleeve, as it is slowly but surely manifesting…), and other days this is about being able to order mac ‘n’ cheese as a comfort food when I’m feeling gloomy. Today, this is about writing and sharing these thoughts with the world … the void? Myself? Either way, nothing really matters, but not in a devastating-I-want-to-give-up kind of way, but in a way that frees me from the shackles of the structures that have been placed upon me from capitalism.

24 is just the beginning of unraveling this tightly wrapped knot that has told me for years you-should-you-need-and-you-have-to.

I currently have an extreme case of FOMO. One month after a big promotion and a subsequent wave of mental reassurance that I would have financial security, I found myself unemployed for the first time since early high school. Alas, about one week ago, I was laid off from my job.

This past Monday, I took the train to Chinatown, fully equipped with my grocery cart and the “freedom” to run errands during business hours. The first thing I noticed was how much emptier the subway was. This feeling lingered, following me into an almost crowd-less Hong Kong Supermarket; there was no awkward snaking around others with my cart, no trying to identify the back of the check-out line, no frustrating sighs caused by low inventory. So convenient, but just off-putting enough to send me into a downward spiral. There I was, on the ride home, sitting face-to-face with the realization that I was actually so lonely. It was FOMO, this time not for social gatherings and hangouts with the homies, but for ... work.

In Byung-Chul Han's book, The Burnout Society, he writes, “The capitalist economy absolutizes survival. It is not concerned with the good life. It is sustained by the illusion that more capital produces more life, which means a greater capacity for living. The rigid, rigorous separation between life and death casts a spell of ghostly stiffness over life itself. Concern about living the good life yields to the hysteria of surviving ... [we] are too alive to die, and too dead to live.” My FOMO for working is not rooted in some kind of overwhelming desire to participate in this mass exploitation because I enjoy it, but because it has been heavily and aggressively coded into me that working is normal when in reality, it is a means to survival. It is a FOMO for health insurance, for financial security, for avoiding the anxiety-inducing questions from my parents, for being able to pay rent, for being able to feed myself.

I haven't told too many people yet, but the first thing that most of my friends say to me, after a series of sympathies and well wishes, is that, hey, at least I can take some time to rest now. Enjoy my severance and just let myself exist for a small while, the next time an opportunity like this arises may very well be when I retire. While the very phenomenon of the-silver-lining-of-being-laid-off-is-being-able-to-rest is already quite revealing re: the consequences of capitalism, perhaps the most alarming thing is that I have no idea how to actually rest.

Bung-Chul Han talks about how we no longer live in a disciplinary society but an achievement society. While “disciplinary society is a society of negativity ... defined by the negativity of prohibition” and governed by No-You-May-Not and You-Should-Do-This we operate under extreme, toxic positivity. There is an unlimited reservoir of Yes-We-Can that highlights out the power of neoliberalism and its ability to turn everything into a #girlboss #thegrindneverstops culture. Whether it's the side of TikTok romanticizing the shit out of morning routines or the endless scroll of LinkedIn posts, it has been massively engrained into us that we can, and every second we aren't, we are missing out. FOMO, right?

Even when I'm “resting,” I'm only doing so with the intention of having more time and energy to be more productive, to be a better version of myself without first acknowledging that self-improvement and self-maintenance does not require constant labor; self-improvement can actually be to do nothing. Are you sleeping in because you are trying to compensate for your ridiculous sleep deficit? Are you treating yourself because you spend so long pushing yourself too hard? How much of your—and my—version of rest is built on giving yourself the crumbs of care to make up for the absolute wrecking ball that comes with over-consumption, over-production, over-positivity, over-Yes-If-That-Girl-Wakes-Up-At-5AM-And-Goes-On-A-Run-I-Can-Too? What I found particularly interesting in The Burnout Society is that Han does the work of delineating between tiredness of positive potency versus tiredness of negative potency, a difference that took me way too long to understand. He says that “the tiredness of exhaustion is the tiredness of positive potency. It makes one incapable of doing something. Tiredness that inspire is tiredness of negative potency, namely of “not-to”.

Not only do I not know what it means to rest, my perception of tiredness is so skewed by capitalism too; tired becomes redefined as we collectively push ourselves harder and harder, and for what? It isn't until we have hit our wall, our rock bottom, that we find ourselves in the depressive episode that sinks into our psyches like anchors. We are so tired that we literally cannot do anything. Here I am, with two months of severance (which I am so grateful for), but antsy as fuck—I can't seem to stay still, even to lay on the couch and relax is an entryway to feelings of guilt and self-depreciation. And to nap ... well, power to the homies that can't nap because they're too anxious they won't wake up in time for their next obligation and therefore never actually fall asleep. My understanding of tiredness has been so deeply ingrained in this exhaustive incompetence that I forgot there was a tiredness not tied to my production. Tiredness, at once, was a reward: a sign that I ran around and played so well with my friends that we stumble onto the couch and chug a bottle of cold water, a symbol of my diligence that pushed me into being able to finally reorganize my room the way I wanted to. Tiredness was a kind of closure that came from achieving for myself and my friends, rather than for my (now nonexistent) boss.

Even in my time off, when I'm doing my own personal projects, working on things that have been in the back burner for months too long, there is a small part of my brain that tells me to keep checking in on LinkedIn every few hours, to keep checking my email in case someone replied to me. Working burnt me out, but not working has as well. The conditions that I (we) live under pushes us to always be on the clock, even when the clock was literally ripped away from you by a company that can let you go at literally any moment.

I was 14 years old when I first starting learning about depression, about this complex thing called mental health. Scrolling through Tumblr and watching Skins (UK), while also so damaging for other reasons (God, I wanted to be Effy so badly. And Freddie? Holy shit.), were the channels that pushed me to start reckoning with the trauma and experiences I carry on my shoulders. So much of my introduction to mental health centered around this validation: being depressed doesn't mean that you're being selfish or ungrateful, it is a direct confrontation with the fact that you are coping with emotional weight. That was such a powerful concept, especially as I battled my parents and defended myself from their attacks of, “How can you be depressed? You have everything. We gave you everything!” and “Your entire generation is so weak.” 14-year-old me flooded with rage and sadness, trying to weave together the words to articulate that depression is a serious thing, that mental health should be taken seriously. But what 14-year-old me did not understand was just how interlaced mental health is with capitalism and this world that pushes us to endlessly go, go, go.

Depression is not sadness, but one small section of the ecosystem that comes with capitalism. It erupts at the moment when the “achievement-subject is no longer able to be able. First and foremost, depression is creative fatigue and exhausted ability ... the complaint of the depressive individual, 'Nothing is possible,' can only occur in a society that thinks, 'Nothing is impossible.'”

For the past week, I have been floating in a delirium that feels like a heat mirage on humid summer day. Admittedly, this is partially due to me being outside 80% of the day where it was literally 92 degrees in sticky, sweaty NYC ... but I close my eyes and barely remember what has been going on. The structure that came with the suburban-upper-middle-class childhood to college to new grad working life to young adult working life was ripped from underneath me, and the cocktail of emotions I had are still swirling in the digestive system of my brain. I find myself thinking the worst, catastrophizing because, simply, it's so easy to do. Over half of all Americans are one medical emergency away from financial ruin—suddenly, catastrophizing doesn't sound a whole lot like catastrophizing, but just like the violent circumstances of life under capitalism. But on top of all that, I am also finding myself practicing gratitude, a thankfulness for savings, for friends, for the fact that I did indeed have the structure that came with suburban-upper-middle-class childhood to college to new grad working life to young adult working life in the first place.

A few nights ago, I played Super Smash Bros. Melee with some friends. This is not to be confused with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate that I've previously written about. This is, in fact, so much fucking harder (but also better!). There were 4 of us, so we played Around The World: everyone starts at one corner, and if you win, you get to advance to the next character. The goal is to win enough games that you're the first person to cycle through all the characters. It was exhausting, but coming out of it was like an all-time exercise high. Endorphins shooting out like I just ran 5 miles under a bright, breezy sky. A concentration that pushed me to remember the roots of a healthy tiredness. Timothy Gallwey's book, The Inner Game of Tennis, speak about this—”Concentration is not staring hard at something. It is not trying to concentrate; it is not thinking hard about something. Concentration is fascination of mind. When there is love present, the mind is drawn irresistibly toward the object of love. It is effortless and relaxed, not tense and purposeful.” This isn't to (just) say that I love playing Smash, but more so to say that, capitalism undeniably builds a relationship between the tiredness we experience with sinister ulterior motives. There is monetization of hobbies, which leads to a tiredness that is built on the pillars of hustling and grinding all day, everyday. Gallwey continues to write about how it is very difficult to have fun or achieve concentration “when your ego is engaged in a life-and-death struggle”. You will never be allowed to express spontaneity and excellence when there's always a part of your brain playing some heavy ulterior game involving your self-image, your (literal financial) self-worth.

I used to squeeze these healthy moments of tiredness in between my perpetual state of Tiredness that came from being a working adult. 48 hours of weekend time, of degeneracy, of time to let loose and play video games and do things that aren't staring at spreadsheets and building out automation for a beep boop company. And while I very much hope to be employed soon enough, I am taking this time to (re)build this new life for myself. I'm not sure what's going to happen in the next few weeks. I will likely still continue to neurotically check my email and LinkedIn for any kind of notification, and I will absolutely still make uncomfortable-semi-hysterical jokes about how I suddenly have a bunch of “free time”.

On top of all of that, though, I will (re)learn what it means to really rest and what it means to actually be tired—that is, (re)learn what it means to be a person wholly deserving of love, care, calm, and kindness.

I do not want your sad reacts and your heart emojis. I do not want your pity or your thoughts and prayers. I want to change the concrete conditions that leads to violence in the first place.

I started college completely enamored with Asian American identity politics. I spent my days thinking about media representation, about the stereotypes flung at me constantly, about feeling extremely out of place in lots of public spaces. My entire day was filled with the complicated sorrow of diaspora and loss—loss of my mother tongue, loss of a community I once knew when growing up in China, loss of what could have been had I been more “Chinese” with my parents. I was sad almost all the time. And every time someone threw a racial slur at me or joked about my culture, I grew more and more defeated; I spiraled into a state of utter confusion and anger. “How could people be so mean?,” I would ask myself constantly. My goal in life was to prove that I was not the flattened down Asian they pieced together based on racist depictions in movies. Suddenly, my loudness, my bad-at-math-ness, my I-actually-say-y'all-ness became weapons I would wield just to prove a point. A defense, as I flung my metaphorical sword into the void. It was so fucking exhausting, not because it was part of this grand, admirable fight against white supremacy but because identity politics is not a productive way to fight against racism to begin with.

I originally greeted this idea with a lot of resistance. I felt hurt, invalidated, and completely betrayed. My entire life, I have lived with the weight of being an Asian American, and now I am faced with the confrontation that centering my identity as such can be a hindrance to solving the very problems I was trying to defeat? My trauma, the violences that I had lived through, the hours I had spent sobbing to myself because of racism, they screamed back so loudly until I finally pieced together (with the help of numerous people, numerous books, numerous reflections) that liberalism is a wasteland for revolutionary politics. If I was truly interested in changing my material conditions—those factors and circumstances in life that immediately and viscerally impact my (and other's) lives—I started to understand that I could not rely on subtle asian traits and trauma porn to make a direct impact.

This realization came slowly, but there were many parts that actively contributed to it:

1) I reevaluated my goals. I think that spending time thinking about identity, culture, and heritage is important; in the world we live in now, people are massively alienated, lonely, and lost. Capitalism does not provide a framework where we feel confident in who we are (re: our strong attraction to personality tests, to the emotional attachments we form with fictional television characters, to coming-of-age stories that romanticize and Disney-ify our experiences). So to spend dedicated time and to be intentional about reflecting can be life-changing and life-giving. For a very long time, I conflated my goals to simply learn more about my life and myself with goals to dismantle racism. There are definitely parts that overlap but they are not at all the same.

2) I was introduced to the idea that race is not real, but racism is. This doesn't mean that I completely ignore race and everything that comes with it; it doesn't mean that my “Asianness” is suddenly inconsequential. Rather, it shifts the framework with how I perceive the world to one that is built on racialization. Race is a social construct: we see this in the way that race has changed definitions multiple times legally, the ways in which race was used to brutalize populations of people, how race science was done in order to justify the continued promotion of white supremacy, and so on. People don't call me a chink because I am Asian—there is nothing natural about my skin color or my genes or my biology that attracts and forces people to yell out slurs at me. People call me a chink because of the way they racialize me, because of the racism that has been deeply embedded in so many systems our society operates under.

3) I had patient, kind friends who would help me throughout this process. It's so fucking confusing. They would consistently support me, answer my questions, share resources with me, and bully me (tough love!). None of us are free until all of us are free.

4) I realized that all I was doing was complaining. I had no solutions in mind, no alternative future, no foundation to even begin brainstorming what that would look like. I feel moved by Kwame Ture's words, which I learned through Mariame Kaba's newest book, We Do This 'Til We Free Us—”When you see people call themselves revolutionary, always talking about destroying, destroying, destroying, but never talking about building or creating, they're not revolutionary. They do not understand the first thing about revolution. It's creating.” Racism is so fucking horrific: to complain is oftentimes to heal, to grow, to process. But in order to make true change and minimize (and eventually eliminate) the harms it causes, to be revolutionary, I started thinking about what world I wanted to create and orchestrating the beginnings of actually executing that in my life.

5) The cracks of identity politics started getting bigger and bigger as I questioned what even is the Asian community. At first, I found so much power in calling myself an Asian American. But it soon started to wear off, as I wanted to acknowledge unique experiences in my life . . . so I started to find power in calling myself a Chinese American. But alas! I grew up in the South, and my material conditions lended me a different life than other Chinese Americans from California, or Kansas, or Texas, or even three hours away also in Georgia. So, Chinese American became Chinese American from the South. And slowly, but surely, Chinese American from the South became Chinese American woman from the South because it was (and is) impossible to separate my gender from my race (or, in other words, the ways in which I'm racialized from the ways in which I'm gendered). But the more specific I got with my identity, the more I started to feel detached from the “Asian experience” and the “Asian community” that was so widely touted online, through media, through essentializing stories. If I don't know how to play mahjong, does that somehow mean I'm any less Asian? If my parents actually don't care that much about wearing shoes inside the house, does that invalidate my entire cultural upbringing? The more Asian was defined, the more not-Asian was defined. This was not my liberation.

6) I learned about communism! This is an ongoing process. But learning about the intricate relationship between capitalism and racism helped dramatically. In Fred Hampton's speech, Power Anywhere Where There's People, he states, “We've got to face the fact that some people say you fight fire best with fire, but we say you put fire out best with water. We say you don't fight racism with racism. We're gonna fight racism with solidarity. We say you don't fight capitalism with no Black capitalism; you fight capitalism with socialism. We ain't gonna fight no reactionary pigs who run up and down the street being reactionary; we're gonna organize and dedicate ourselves to revolutionary political power and teach ourselves the specific needs of resisting the power structure, arm ourselves, and we're gonna fight reactionary pigs with international proletarian revolution. That's what it has to be.” I started to understand how capitalism UPHOLDS racism—because the boot-licking mentality of just-work-really-hard-and-accept-failure-as-a-reflection-of-the-self-rather-than-literally-everything-else is a direct cause of poverty, of homelessness, of incarceration, of exploitation. So to dismantle racism also means to dismantle capitalism, to fight for communism. The western empire does not want that; in fact, it has a vested interest in shutting down communist movements (for a very thorough review of how this happens and where, read Killing Hope by William Blum).

7) I started practicing patience with myself (and then, with others). It was very easy for me to feel guilty, or even angry, for not having had these “radical” ideas earlier, or for not recognizing the violence that the United States promotes more clearly. But, this is expected! The American education system did absolutely nothing to teach us history in a way that doesn't promote a very specific vision of the world. Virtually almost everything I've consumed growing up subscribes to maintaining a status quo that promotes the United States rather than critically challenging what this country has done and continues to do.

8) I started reading so much. (Let me know if you'd ever like to read something together!)

All of this is to say, yesterday really pushed me to my fucking limits. I spent the majority of the day chatting with friends and having not-super-close-but-well-intentioned friends reach out to me to check in on me. In between those conversations, I doom-scrolled through all my apps and felt so much anger. I see articles from the NYT questioning why there is so much anti-Asian hate right next to their endless stream of articles that paint China to be evil and scary. I see Instagram infographics being shared all throughout social media calling to #StopAsianHate, completely divorcing the “hate” from ongoing destruction of Asian people organized by the US military and its appendages. I see people talking about the increase in Asian hate crimes without acknowledging that the outcome of hate crimes typically involves a criminalization, incarceration, and the maintenance of the “justice” system that has caused the very problems people are trying to flee. Rest in power Yang Song.

These incidents do not exist in a vacuum. This did not happen only because the shooter was having a “bad day,” but ALSO because the shooter was socialized into a society that is committed to the destruction of communism, a society that has decades and decades of racism woven into its history (re: literally all of Asian American history), a society that hypersexualizes Asian women. There are so many moving parts to the power that the western empire holds.

No part of the shooting is a coincidence. It's not just a random occurrence that the majority of the victims were Asian women. It's not just a random occurrence that the shooter was a white male who vocally and proudly shared his beliefs that Chinese people were to blame for COVID. It's not whatsoever a random occurrence that the shooter made an automatic assumption that the massage parlor was representative of a “temptation he wanted to eliminate”. Esther K of Red Canary Song shared yesterday, “The women are de facto being seen as sex workers and being scapegoated as such. Removing the anti-sex-work component really removes the crux of what this specific kind of racism is about: the fetishization of Asian women’s bodies, the objectification of their bodies and the assumption that Asian women are obviously going to be providing sexual services at massage parlors. The conflation of massage parlors and sex workers without any nuance is very specific to anti-Asian racism against Asian women.”

Talk to raging-liberal-identity-politics-believing-past-me, and she would have been so utterly broken, in a way that revolved around questions of, “How could this have happened?” and “I can't believe this is something that did happen in my lifetime.” Talk to me now, and I will tell you that I am devastated, so heartbroken. But I feel extremely empowered by my ability to say, “I know exactly why this happened” & “This has happened long before my lifetime and will continue past my lifetime if we do not address its concrete origins.” Mark Tseng-Putterman tweeted yesterday about this in words better than I can string together. He wrote, “It is US imperialism which frames Asian women as open to militarized sexual conquest. The US military remains a central purveyor of sexual violence in Asia.” Given the large history of sexual assault, military violence, and power dynamics enacted by the West onto the countries they were actively fighting, this incident is no longer lost in the abstraction that liberalism offers. It is clear as day to why it happened, but that means that once we see that, we are one step closer to being able to destroy it. The society we live in was not created inherently with racism, with white supremacy, with capitalism, with misogyny; all of those things were constructed, so all of those things can be torn to shreds.

I understand the pain that comes with living in this current world. I am so fucking sad. I am so fucking angry. But I refuse to reduce violence to something I will mourn without action. I refuse to hear about Delaina Ashley Yaun, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Julie Park, Hyeon Jeong Park, and Paul Andre Michels and repost on my social media just to shake my head in disbelief and move on. Noname recently tweeted, “folks ask me why i post 'sad shit' 24/7 and i always wonder why they're not more curious about why so much sad shit exists? or how we can change it? i know it can be triggering but how can we address/eliminate it if folks refuse to see it? not trying to antagonize, just curious”.

I know that there is so much pain and suffering in this world; I hope we can all take whatever actions we need to process, heal, and comfort ourselves. Sometimes it is best to decompress, to unplug and reflect in the way that brings the most peace. Sometimes, that means not engaging. That's okay, but I hope whenever we're ready to take that next step (which does happen at different times for everyone!), it means the looking at the sad shit and doing whatever is necessary to to make sure it doesn't exist anymore. To me, this week, the sad shit is the baggage and weight that comes with being racialized as an Asian woman (and more so, as an Asian SWer). And to me, this week, the way to START making sure that baggage and weight doesn't exist anymore is to remember that identity politics cannot save us. People power and the continuous commitment to changing material conditions can.

Living in an alienated world of instant gratification means that I don't even have the patience to watch a new TV show anymore. If I do choose to watch a show, I end up picking something I've already seen. I can easily scrub through scenes and turn a 45-minute show into something that'll only take me 20 minutes to consume. I can easily turn off the show because I'm not on the edge of my seat trying to learn what happens next. I'm safe, I tell myself, from the black hole of binging. If I only have a few hours every single day that are truly mine, spending even one of those hours to watch one (1) episode already feels like too much of a commitment. But I fall into a different trap—putting on something I've already seen sometimes turns into a cacophony of different media: all while the show plays in the background, I pull out my phone and doom-scroll through all the different apps on repeat (I am proud to say, though, that I am no longer on TikTok. The level of joy I felt when I heard my roommates talk about a trend I had no knowledge on.), all while messaging my friends—sometimes talking to the same people on different platforms.

Because of capitalism, every corner of my life has become an opportunity for content to fill my brain with noise, with desire, with joy, with resentment. There is no more mundane, no more white noise, because it's completely swallowed by the stimulus that cyberspace has to offer us. Look at Big Screen™, look at Little Screen™. No matter what screen, look at ads, at curated content, at small snapshots of people's lives that only barely cultivate a feeling of intimacy and visibility into the reality of actual life. And now we're at the point where trips to the restroom become stand-ins for genuine breaks. The swift movement of grabbing your phone as you head to the toilet feels natural, like it's always happened, but the first iPhone was only created in 2007. You weren't born going to the restroom and checking all your apps to emulate some kind of break in the middle of your work day. And walking around New York City, it oftentimes feels like I'm just waiting for a notification to appear on my phone, whatever it may be. Every intersection I stand at waiting for the light to change, I take a quick peek at my phone. At this point, my brain has gotten so used to the influx of new content that I basically expect something new and shiny to react to every single time I touch my screen. King Midas, except instead of gold it's just that one meme, that one message, that one notification that gives me the perfect hit of dopamine.

And then, when I am no longer on the clock for my job, I constantly crave something to fill the void that is never-being-able-to-recover-my-alienated-labor. I yearn for something to play in front of my eyeballs and give me the visual cue that it is, indeed, time to relax. Mark Fisher captures this phenomenon masterfully; he write, “Perhaps the feeling most characteristic of our current moment is a mixture of boredom and compulsion. Even though we recognize that they are boring, we nevertheless feel compelled to do yet another Facebook quiz, to read yet another Buzzfeed list, to click on some celebrity gossip about someone we don't even remotely care about. We endlessly move among the boring, but our nervous systems are so overstimulated that we never have the luxury of feeling bored. No-one is bored, everything is boring.”

From an early age, capitalism (and the impending doom of potentially NOT having financial security) taught us to achieve as much as possible: get good grades, maintain a strong GPA, enroll in a prestigious college, find a high-paying job, buy some property, and retire in peace. And of course, all that has to be done no matter what circumstances you find yourself in, it only becomes a demonstration of how strong a person can be. You overcome your struggles for a happily ever after—and then cue the Disney end credits. Your life is not a Disney movie, but the American education system creates a formula of shame, punishment, and external validation that tells you life can be like a Disney movie if you just try hard enough.

So fast forward twenty something years, and you're greeted with a life of work, the act of peeling yourself out of bed every morning, and no hobbies whatsoever after the shell of school disappears. Alienation is not just the feeling of misery that comes with clocking in and clocking out, but the material impacts of not having time, not having an education system that promotes learning for learning's sake (as opposed to achievement), not having the energy to do that one task that would really only take 5 minutes to accomplish. To break it down even more, the worker (me, you, even that person that is super convinced that they love their job, even the person who pursued their passion as their job, even the girl bosses of the world) suffers from four kinds of alienation (taken from Marx / please see @lauralannes on her IG graphic for a beautiful, visual depiction of this):

  1. The worker is alienated from their humanity because they “can only express labor—a fundamental social aspect of personal individuality—through a private system of industrial production in which each worker is an instrument, a thing, not a person.”

  2. The worker is alienated from the product because everything about its making and design is determined by the boss class, in search of maximum profit—which in turn goes only to the boss, not to the worker.

  3. The worker is alienated from the act of production because they are only responsible for one piece of it. The labor power is commodified and categorized. No sense of accomplishment, nothing to admire at the end. The work is never done. It is performed for wages, not for self-satisfaction or usefulness. The wages themselves are as low as possible, meant only to allow survival, sometimes barely.

  4. The worker is alienated from other workers. This is because of wage compulsion. The worker is bound to unwanted labor as a means of survival. Labor is “not voluntary, but coerced.” The worker is unable to reject wage compulsion at the expense of their life and that of their family. Workers are pitted against each other in a competition for jobs and higher wages.

So, it is extremely understandable that with all of this going on, that people cope by watching TV, smoking weed, drinking alcohol, playing video games, and aggressively NOT building and maintaining interesting hobbies. When I first graduated from college, I consistently thought about two things: 1) how to make new friends and 2) how to get a hobby. I did one main thing for twenty years of my life—school—and I got extremely good at it. Not at learning, but at school: the mechanics that come with rote memorization, studying very effectively to remember information just for the time it'd take me to take the exam, regurgitation motivated only by the instant gratification of receiving a good grade or being able to flex on other people. And if you didn't “get good” at school, then you were left with shame and punishment—ranked GPAs, competition for valedictorian, competitive acceptances to “prestigious” institutions, and the ways in which capitalism has equated self-worth with income. So we're at a point where no-one is bored, everything is boring, AND nobody knows how to learn*. Something something gifted kid burnout shit?

My favorite method of coping with my alienation is, surprisingly, video games. I only say surprising because I rarely played video games growing up. Other than a few minor blips—the two-week period in China when my cousin lent me his GameBoy so I could play Pokemon for the first time, the very brief period of time when I grinded Jak & Dexter, the period towards the end of high school when I played Halo 3 & Halo 4 with my friends (simpler times . . .)—I was pretty secluded from the world of video games. There was only Club Penguin and Neopets, no MapleStory or Runescape; only Webkinz and flash games, no GameCube or Wii. So, me playing video games, and furthermore of me enjoying playing video games, is an extremely recent phenomenon.

Nowadays, on any given week and sometimes any given day, I spend at least a few hours indulging in the game that is Super Smash Bros (I feel extremely obligated somehow to state that I play SSBU but am very aware that SSBM is better, despite the fact that I do not play. I have put in a large # of hours into watching the game, though. Ultimate just seemed like an easier way, and still fun, into the world of video games. Hi Josh. And maybe Graham. And also maybe Beeftip). At this point in time, I only know how to play one (1) character, Samus, so catch me camping and shooting projectiles until I finally learn how to recover better and edgeguard successfully.

The process of actually starting how to play Smash was hard. It took virtually 4 years of consistent exposure from hanging out with Josh, subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) peer pressuring (also from Josh), and me going to therapy to learn why I have such an intense aversion to trying new things. But all of that, coupled with my extreme alienation-meets-quarantine, I finally picked up a GameCube controller and started learning how to move (i.e. how to not fall off the fucking stage). But I am so extremely grateful because for the first time in a very long time, I feel fulfilled. Almost in direct juxtaposition to doom-scrolling-alienation-brain, I am not bored, Smash is not boring, and I am learning.

I used to look at people who would play a shit ton of video games and feel some level of moral superiority over them. I would think to myself about how at least I'm not being a degenerate and wasting my life away playing nonsense games. But now, I am so glad to be that degenerate. A degenerate with a hobby, with a game not only to be entertained by but a game to grow from. Smash is not naturally, born-from-the-Earth as something existentially fulfilling. There are definitely ways to play it for hours and get nothing from it. Sirlin's book, Playing to Win, he writes, “The scrub mentality is to be so shackled by self-imposed handicaps as to never have any hope of being truly good at a game. You can practice forever, but if you can't get over these common hangups, in a sense you've lost before you even started. You've lost before you even picked which game to play. You aren't playing to win.”

The second phase after simply developing a willingness to try the game is losing. Losing a shit ton. And it fucking sucks. Especially if you're a sore loser. Almost everyone I know has told me in some shape or form that they're a sore loser. We're all so terrible with losing because capitalism has taught us that losing, and therefore failure, is a reflection of our character. You lost your home? It must be because of your shitty work ethic and not at all because this country was designed to punish poor people for being poor despite the fact that being poor is quite frankly, so goddamn expensive. You lost the race? Clearly you're not worthy of being recognized despite the fact that you may have just beaten your own personal record. You lost the competition for a promotion? Definitely means that you're not capable of accomplishing anything despite having demonstrated on various occasions that you're fully competent and hard-working.

When I first started playing Smash, I felt absolutely devastated that I was losing. It didn't matter that I quite literally did not know how to play the game, didn't know any of the controls, didn't even know what buttons were on the GameCube controller. What mattered then was that I was losing repeatedly, and somehow my brain translated that into me being, unequivocally, a piece of shit. But last night, I played a bunch of games. Despite losing almost all of them, over and over and over again, I did not feel upset—no rush of red flushing my face and chest out of embarrassment, no self-deprecating thoughts flooding in the back of my head, no weight of shame creeping over my shoulders, no desire to throw the controller down and walk away. For the first time (maybe ever in my life?), I did not feel like a sore loser. Instead, I felt so powerful. Here I was, alienated in so many ways and by all intents and purposes, a loser, failing, but I was radiating in a sensation of pride and joy. Not only was there the happiness that comes from unlearning the relationship between producing “good” results and self-worth, but there was the happiness that even though I was losing, I was still learning. Learning about the game, learning about new combos, learning about the different timings of attacks, learning about what's safe on shield, learning how to be comfortable with failure, learning how to be unapologetically proud of myself when I achieve a new goal, learning how to make friends with people who also want to play the game, learning about what makes me tick, learning that losing in front of your friends is not actually a big deal because they're your friends and simply are having a good time playing with you (hi David!), learning that video games have the potential to be so more than graphics that make me motion sick sometimes. Ask yourself, when was the last time you learned something that was not related to a goal to make money? And then ask yourself, when was the last time you learned something that you could continuously go back to and improve and learn more things—an endless proliferation of growth, for you and you only? Capitalism makes people boring. It is not our fault.

Even when I was in college and had the luxury of majoring in something I genuinely enjoyed and cared about, the results I was producing was attached to things like my GPA, my employability, my metrics to boost the school's public image, my desire to seek approval from my parents and other authority figures. But now I have something that is wholly mine, that is teaching me so much more about coping with the realities of life. I know it sounds cheesy, something something Smash is changing my life—but it's provided me with an incredibly helpful framework to wade through working adulthood.

One of the most important lessons I've learned from Smash is that you have to pay attention to the other person. Meanwhile, capitalism taught me to look only at myself, and neoliberalism taught me surveil myself, to “bear [my] own internal panopticon within” (Psychopolitics, Byung-Chul Han). I've spent my entire life locked in my mind, hyper-vigilant to whether I'm doing something the “right” way, constantly critiquing myself in ruthless ways while also romanticizing parts of my life as a “main character”. Smash offers a different outlook, to understand your positionality in comparison to others, to other circumstances, and to the community at large. You have to pay attention to your material conditions—who you're playing against, what weapons and attacks they have, what stage you're on, what items there may be—because if not, you will suffer material consequences (me, screaming in fury as I fly off the stage even though I was the one who ran directly into Marth's sword). Adopting that understanding to my everyday life has been helpful, easier ... no more abstractions, and instead a concrete perspective over how the world operates. No more murky, “this is bad and this is good” mentality that ultimately flattens and reduces real life.

Yes, Smash is just a video game, but it has given me so many tools to improve the quality of my life, and it has started to give me the seedlings of a new community (HMU if you want to play sometime!). And with these tools and this ever-evolving camaraderie, I feel even more confident in my vision for the future. I am way more prepared now than I was before when all I did was school-and-vegetate, or work-and-vegetate, to handle the setbacks and hardships that come with fighting for the people. I'm not saying that playing Smash is equivalent to fighting for the end of capitalism, but it has shown me so much about how I handle failure, about how to handle failure, about how to strengthen my confidence in myself, about how to find joy in perpetual learning, about building relationships with friends, about paying attention to the chaos of my reality, about coordination, about becoming stronger, about how to develop hobbies, about how to not be boring. And all of those things translate to the core of organizing, of fighting for the future that communism offers.

For twenty-something years of my life, I channeled my rage, angst, and emotionality in school, complaining about school, and dreaming about life after school. But that immediately shifted to the very same rage, angst, and emotionality in work, complaining about work, and dreaming about life after work (not retirement, but the communist vision!). For twenty-something years of my life, I've sat in front of a desk performing labor, becoming extremely boring as person, but it wasn't until very recently that I understood that “the ability to work does not have to valued in money; labor-power does not have to sell for wages. Rather, 'living labor-power'—actual workers—can unite for equal, democratic, nationless cooperative production” (Marx's Capital Illustrated). Labor as an action is not organically attached to the grueling alienation that comes from exploitation under capitalism. Labor is also the energy you extend to productions for yourself and your loved ones. Labor-power as an extension of your capabilities is not inherently meant to lead to suffering. Labor-power is also about liberation. But true liberation comes with time, with organizing, with comrades, with rest, with learning, with joy, with obstacles, with failure, with progress. And sometimes that means sitting down with the homies to play some Super Smash Bros.

*I can only speak to experiences growing up in an American education system .... unfortunately.

Don't worry, there are only two and half more weeks left of mercury retrograde. And even after that, there are always more planets and stars and moons to look to for guidance, for explanation of extremely-not-spiritual-and-instead-actually-very-material-alienation, for simply something to grasp onto in the midst of an unending unraveling.

On top of the world falling apart, I am a Leo Sun, Aries Moon, and Capricorn Rising. Do you understand how loud it is in my brain? I think I am the hottest person in the world, yet I simultaneously loathe myself with enough energy to power a small country. It's tough containing so many multitudes, yeah? To add another layer to that, I also follow Chinese astrology. Can I get an OWA-OWA for my year of the Ox bbs? Please wear some red underwear this year, anything to make it easier. I make moon water and do a lil boogie in the morning when I drink it all and thank the universe, I say affirmations to myself every day, I write in my manifestation journal, release with my bay leaves, and set intentions for the next day right before I doze off into sleep.

I wasn't always doing these things, but it's been a long time coming. The evolution of astrology into popular culture* feels like a distant cousin; I have seen it change, grow, and face obstacles—from the early days of trying to find horoscopes in CosmoGirl and J-14 magazines to now reading StonksMan69 invalidate astrology (while praising the silly little numbers and the silly little red-and-only-sometimes-green line on the screen) on Reddit to the collective sighs people do when you tell them you're dating a Gemini**, astrology has seen its ups and downs. I think it's safe to say that we're climbing on a strong uptick these days, though. Even Spotify has sign-specific playlists they've curated for their users. Icebreakers have started shifting from 3 Truths & A Lie to Tell Me Your Sun Moon & Rising. “What time was I born?” texts to mom are becoming increasingly more frequent. Natal charts are slowly accumulating more social power than listing out your height in your Tinder bio. It has infiltrated every platform and has become the perfect [insert your favorite sweet snack that does not contain a blasphemous amount of sugar/fats/etcetera]: it's addictive enough to keep you coming back for more ... but at least it's healthy, you say to yourself.

Don't get me wrong, I'm definitely part of the bandwagon. As astrology became more and more mainstream, I was drawn to it like bees to honey. Let me add onto my BuzzFeed quizzes, my Harry Potter house sorting, online tests to tell me my love language, and cling onto something to give me even more structure to my very fragile identity. Because honestly, I had no idea who I was. What 12 year old does? What 20 year old does? Let me drink up the watered down astrology that popular culture can provide for me because I craved guidance, some low-hanging fruit explanation of what to do, of what to feel, of how I should act. Is it a coincidence that there's an uptick in astrology now that we have spent over a year in quarantine, a time and space where people have to confront exactly who they are (and who they aren't) because there aren't as many distractions? I spent the majority of my childhood growing up in desperation: for a more stable family, for more money, for more friends, for a quieter brain (Leo, Aries, and Capricorn, remember?). And I was never given the tools to break down that desperation for what it really is—the ills of capitalism. I had a desire that was rooted purely in a lack of mental and physical things, constantly thinking about how left out I was, what I wish I had, and ultimately becoming increasingly resentful of those people who did have them. These were my material conditions, conditions that were not set in stone, but of course I did not understand that at the time; all I wanted was more of the thing that I did not have in my possession.

Deleuze & Guattari, in Anti-Oedipus, write, “The deliberate creation of lack as a function of market economy is the art of a dominant class. This involves deliberately organizing wants and needs amid an abundance of production; making all of desire teeter and fall victim to the great fear of not having one's needs satisfied; and making the object dependent upon a real production that is supposedly exterior to desire (the demands of rationality), while at the same time the production of desire is categorized as fantasy and nothing but fantasy.” Think artificial scarcity [thanks Josh for breaking down this part w/ me earlier!]—housing, hand sanitizer, those fucking bazillion potatoes farmers were and are mandated to throw away ... But also think about the ways in which people use astrology, tarot, and spirituality. Manifestation becomes a vehicle adjacent to TikTok-endorsed morning routines. Follow these steps to achieve your best self, all because you are consistently internalizing the very neoliberal hell that promotes daydreaming and daydreaming only. The moon was just in Scorpio, so of course you're feeling extra horny. Sexual desire is also desire, babes, and you're missing it big time!

I want to make it clear that I don't blame anyone for finding solace in astrology and tarot and spirituality. (I, as you can tell, do this myself.) It can be a huge source of faith and hope, of a realistic understanding of the world because it's not just fortune-cookie-Live-Laugh-Love messages. But, it has become massively exploited as a vehicle for wellness: self-optimize, be productive, and level up as a person. Like self-care had a baby with a never-ending personality quiz. Meditation videos on YouTube have gotten noticeably more hits since COVID has started, and the industry for crystals and incense are wildly successful. In a world where we're constantly pushed to think about positivity, it does not surprise me. It's almost ironic that in an effort to cope with the alienation we experience, we instead focus solely on the positive—never let your guard down and face the negative because what's the point in that, right? Look at life with your rose-colored glasses on, where everything is clean and neat and aestheticized just enough for your and everyone else's consumption. But the reality is that life is not clean, life is not always positive: life is smelly and complicated and hard and extremely overwhelming because the forces of the dominant class have built a structure specific to that reason. There would be no ruling class without a subordinate class, remember? Don't think about how shitty some circumstances are because the more you think about that the more likely you are at realizing that these circumstances can (and should) be destroyed. Look on the bright side so you can become complacent with your life, always feel grateful for what you have not out of gratitude but so you never realize that you absolutely do deserve more. (Unless you are a billionaire. Then you can eat shit.)

Positivity promotes a lifestyle that teaches the masses to ignore the very material, horrifying conditions that capitalism has created. For the petit bourgeois, this is about sending out some thoughts & prayers, talking about how atrocious racism is with coworkers on Slack on a DEI training before getting back to business, and feeling intensely stressed about living in the city. It's about eventually moving to the suburbs so visually you will not be reminded that there are drugs, there is crime, there is homelessness, there is a constant pandemic (hint: it's not just COVID, it's poverty). Positivity upholds capitalism as a superior way of life because it engrains a mentality that we should always be thankful, and to be pleased with just that. I can be filled with endless gratitude that I have the security I do in life, while also knowing the bar is absolutely in hell. I feel tremendously lucky to have a comfortable, healthcare-providing job right now, but I am fully entitled to constantly question why the fuck our healthcare is tied to employment in the first place.

And on top of this trend towards constant wellness—a productivity for the psyche—spirituality has also latched onto our social media apps, intermingling heavily with the Algorithm™. It is never-ending. We've seen this throughout history, “as Adorno pointed out, a newspaper column could only “pretend” to tailor the content of each sign’s horoscope to users’ needs, wants, wishes, and demands,” building up to “big data and social media['s ability to] overcome the limitations of mass media and allow forecasting to fully realize its capacity to tailor categories and output to observed user behavior. Scaled up in size and in processing power, big data could be the realization of what Adorno called “the potential danger represented by astrology as a mass phenomenon.” (Robin James, Cloudy Logic) I don't want this to come across that I think pop-culture-astrology is a complete waste of time, and that nobody should engage with it. I want my friends to enjoy the nice things in their lives, and to find peace wherever they can. In a world dictated by capitalism and white supremacy, peace is so valuable.

Two nights ago, I craved this peace. I asked my friends if anyone else was feeling sluggish, utterly exhausted—and immediately made a reference to mercury retrograde. In reality, it was probably because the day before, I had worked from 6AM until 5PM, and then continued to stare at a screen for the rest of the night because I felt entitled to my relaxation time. Yet, I still turned to manifestations. I read something on Twitter to journal about the life you want; write everything down, all your desires, as if you already had them. So I opened up my journal and stared at the blank page while the thoughts circled my head viciously. How could I possibly write down all my desires? Is this exercise actually going to do anything for me? Does creating a vision board really make any difference for the current circumstances of my life? Many doubts, but it seemed easy to do, and something I could quickly do for myself during an evening when I had little to no energy anyways. As I finally put my pen to paper, I took a moment to reflect. I thought to myself, “All my desires are so different now.” Once I started to break it down, I realized that's because so many of those past desires are my currently reality. 13-year-old Helen would have lost her shit at the life I'm living now. I wanted so desperately to be where I am now, but I focused so much on improving and optimizing myself as some sort of personal project that I never quite took the time to celebrate all that I have achieved. For the first time in my life, I realized that all that I was manifesting as a kid, teenager, young adult right out of college, was actually quite attainable to begin with. My desires were not just fantasies and lingering thoughts of, oh-if-only-I-had-that or oh-if-only-I-could-do-this, but real things that I could count on to happen. It didn't happen because I necessarily wrote down a bunch of manifestations in a journal, there was real effort being put to get me to where I was. There was labor. So much fucking labor because sorting through trauma is so goddamn hard.

All in all, though, I do think that many spiritual practices are extremely fulfilling. Telling yourself affirmations over and over again works because it's neuroscience; wire your brain to believe something through consistent exposure. Fake it 'til you make. Meditate because it is highly effective as a form of self-soothing and emotional regulation. Think about the power of the universe to help strengthen your connection and overall relationship with the world, to remember what is natural (re: the moon and the stars) versus what is not (re: capitalism). Manifest in a way that is genuine to your desires by recognizing the power that manifestation can have for revolution. In Fred Hampton's Power Anywhere Where There's People speech, he talks about the Black Panther Party's Breakfast For Children program. He says, “A lot of people think it is charity, but what does it do? It takes the people from a stage to another stage. Any program that's revolutionary is an advancing program. Revolution is change. Honey, if you just keep on changing, before you know it, in fact, not even knowing what socialism is, you don't have to know what it is, they're endorsing it, they're participating in it, and they're supporting socialism.” Fred Hampton said, all of y'all that are manifesting food, it's coming. Because we have the power to make these changes. The people have the power.

One of my favorite affirmations goes, “All I need is within me now”. I find myself whispering this quite often, mumbling underneath my breath especially in moments where I feel like I doubt this the most. I repeat it to myself because it is one of my personal revolutionary underpinnings. All I need is within me now, I say, as I think and tell my brain that as helpless and worthless as capitalism can make me feel, I know I have the power—my friends, my comrades, the masses—we have the power to make change. Manifestation can be a tool for revolution, a way to hone in on a political vision, a political ideology that propels us forward as a community of people who demand to be given the tools to live a fruitful life. We have already achieved so much, and accomplished so many of our goals. The political to-do list of communism is not a fantasy living in the world of abstractions, but a concrete way of improving material conditions. So let me remind you that you & I are absolutely large & in charge. All we need is us.

*I want to clarify that when I talk about astrology and tarot and spirituality in this blog post, I am not talking about the well-established practices seen in various cultures (which, are also being heavily appropriated by mainstream regurgitations). I am specifically focused on the watered down, bullshit-personality-test-esque type of astrology that is becoming increasingly more popular.

**I would like to formally apologize to the Geminis I have blindly given hate to these days. I now recognize the real enemy, Sagittarius men. I said what I said.

Happy December 40th, 2020. I'm ringing in the new year with COVID anxiety, political anxiety, separation anxiety from the puppy my parents recently adopted, and not-new-but-never-old alienation.

It is now day 7 of my quarantine after coming into contact with someone who (may have?*) had a positive COVID diagnosis. As of now, I am symptom-free and extremely glad to be feeling healthy. I have a new collection of vitamins, and my screen time has gone up 38%, with a daily average of two hours going straight to TikTok.

And recently, I got this tiny notification that I've hit my TikTok anniversary—a little circle on the side of my screen, reminding me of the cruel passage of time during these godforsaken 12 months. This ridiculous app has become my top choice of doom-scrolling, largely because the content simply never ends. It is a passive action I can take that generates extremely high reward, especially given all the data the algorithm has collected from me over the past year.

My explanation of TikTok and what purpose it serves in my life depends solely on the state of my mental health. Sometimes it is just a nice way to spend a quick break, watch a few videos and get back to the rhythm of my daily happenings. Other times, it's a means for me to stay connected with my friends who are also on the app. I'll even find myself scrolling through random food-related accounts to find inspiration for my weekly grocery list. For this past, extremely long week that has felt like a decade, it was noise. Super fucking loud noise—fill up my brain so I don't have to sit alone with the thoughts swirling in the back of my head. So there wasn't any confrontation with the possibility that I had COVID, that I could fall seriously ill, that people I know could experience rough symptoms. All because I was too busy watching Pudgy the dog say owa-owa over and over. I could exchange my thoughts of existential dread about the state of this country for some tutorials on how to make frog figurines out of air-dry clay, drown out all the concerns I harbor in my mind with constant stimulus. And of course, there are TikToks made about that very act of distraction, of filling up time with the void that is consuming content.

That's fine, though, I think we can all do with a little escapism. But TikTok operates very differently from my other forms of escapism because it is, quite simply, all over the fucking place. It still hinges upon the components of social media that always seem to draw people in—the potential to become famous, the humor and the memes, the validation, the desire—but it remains unique in the fact that it will give you whiplash. You could go from financial literacy tips to soft porn to workout tactics to video game replays to song promos to a POV series to acting challenges to literal beans. And that is a tiny, tiny fraction of the platform. And not only does the content differ, but like I mentioned, the utility of the app varies for different people, at different times. Facebook is different in that it is inexplicably a social networking tool. Instagram, the same thing in a different manifestation. Reddit, Snapchat, Twitter, Twitch, OnlyFans ... they all have niches to fill, itches to scratch. TikTok is much more vague; it promises a platform to share videos but has since exploded into endless proliferations of purposes.

In Capitalist Realism, Mark Fisher states, “..., if, as Deleuze and Guattari argue, schizophrenia is the condition that marks the outer edges of capitalism, then bipolar disorder is the mental illness proper to the 'interior' of capitalism. With its ceaseless boom and bust cycles, capitalism is itself fundamentally and irreducibly bipolar, periodically lurching between hyped-up mania (the irrational exuberance of 'bubble thinking') and depressive come-down.”

To me, this is TikTok at its core. It produces new identities, new personalities, new trends, new subcultures, while enabling users to fluctuate from feelings of jealousy to lust to euphoria to elation to ... anything. It ensures that your brain is always on and ready to consume. What song should I listen to now? (For me, this is Suga Suga, on repeat.) What colors should I incorporate into my fashion? (TikTok has deemed this to be Green.) What hand motions can I use to express my emotions? What influencer-inspired pasta can I start cycling into my monthly collection of recipes? What else can I learn from this app that I can seamlessly build into my identity?

This is not a new phenomenon. BuzzFeed has done this since the early 2000s with its quizzes—Can we guess your age based on your favorite types of french fries? When will you get married, based on your rating of dog breeds? If you were an animal, what would you be? Pick a number 1-100, and we'll tell you the best time to invest. With every quiz you take, you can add a little bit onto your identity. The founder of BuzzFeed, Jonah Peretti, understood this well. In fact, he singled out this very idea in an academic article he wrote (pre-BuzzFeed) entitled, “Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Contemporary Visual Culture and the Acceleration of Identity Formation/Dissolution”. In this article, he offers a critique of MTV and cultural capitalism packed full of references to Marx, Deleuze, Guattari, Jameson, Lacan, and Freud. Peretti writes, “Capitalism needs people to have moments of schizophrenia, where their personal identities are in flux, but it also needs them to be able to recover from those moments with new identities, which can fuel new consumption so as to realize the identities in question.” When asked if his theoretical background was relevant to the creation of BuzzFeed, he replied, “lol.” Last year, TikTok's General Manager had a virtual event, and interestingly enough, in the background you can see a book about Deleuzian theory on her bookshelf. Maybe something to overlook, maybe not.

Mania is defined as “excitement manifested by mental and physical hyperactivity, disorganization of behavior, and elevation of mood” (Merriam-Webster). TikTok demonstrates this through the random combination of videos—you never know what's coming next!—but also through its consequences on the psyche. Sometimes, it's inspiring, you watch a video about building a morning routine and its residual effect is motivation to do the same. Or, it's informative: you watch a video on how to fix your posture and you think, today is the day I finally begin to address my back problems. Recently, TikTok has discovered Notion, a productivity app (to the point where they crashed it), because of someone who created templates to keep track of their to-dos, their goals, etcetera. Maybe this is exciting, some kind of sign from the universe to push you to doing the same. But conflating this time-to-get-my-life-together mentality as some kind of genuine self-care is dangerous. In fact, this “neoliberal ideology of self-optimization displays religious—indeed, fanatical—traits ... Endlessly working at self-improvement resembles the self-examination and self-monitoring of Protestantism ... now, instead of searching out sins, one hunts down negative thoughts,” without ever considering why it is we're collectively so desperate to get our shit together (Psychopolitics, Byung-Chul Han).

These videos exist completely in a vacuum, churning out content that is devoid of the recognition that we are actively living through a global pandemic in a country that does not give any shits about its citizens. But, of course, sometimes it's just nice to have a reminder, to have some explanation of the tools we can use to help us through this time whether it is exercise or therapy or recipes. Why not take the serotonin? I don't think there's anything wrong with that—I do this so often and will continue to do it, but I think it's important for me to remember that it will not last very long. You become conditioned into having spurts of manic(-like) behavior. If you do That One Thing you'll be alright, this video without any hashtags that landed on your FYP really is a sign, cow print everything will truly be all the therapy you need. As sad as it makes me to say, even Butter Dog cannot last forever.

And then comes the depressive come-down, the sadness that latches onto an already existing alienation from work, racism, sexism, white supremacy, family trauma. And maybe this depression isn't necessarily I-can't-get-out-of-bed depression, but it's jealously because your life doesn't feel as glamorous as so many of the famous TikTok creators. Or, it's melancholy from the fact that you see people making TikToks with their friends and you don't feel like you have the community to share that experience with. Or, sometimes the depression is a feeling of validation: you relate heavily to the content that people are producing (“this really is a for YOU page, huh?”) ... but it is fleeting. You watch all the Hot Girl Shit videos and think to yourself, “Damn, I am a hot girl.” You end up on PlantTok & suddenly you have a community on the app, a subculture that creates content to your liking and a group of viewers that feel the same way about an interest. But then 60 seconds pass, and then what? What comes next?

TikTok is not built to incite lasting feelings because then you wouldn't need TikTok in the first place. It creates a desire feedback loop, whether it's desire to have your own videos go viral, desire to see more relatable content, or simply, desire to find funny videos. It is desire to go deeper and deeper into the digital culture that TikTok offers.

It also completely obfuscates the money behind becoming a famous TikTok persona, or even keeping up to date with trends. Each video can only be 60 seconds long, but there is plenty of wealth to be seen. Look into the pupils of many, and you see the outline of ring lights. Watch the Day In the Life pseudo-vlogs and realize the sheer amount of money it takes to exist. Scroll past another “Amazon things you didn't know you needed” video and accept the seamless way consuming content can become consuming products. Read job descriptions for companies hiring TikTok interns and process that businesses are jumping to take advantage of yet another self-deemed marketing platform. Watch DIY tutorials for crafts and debate whether it's worth it to spend another x-dollars on a hobby that may only last a few weeks. Think about the influencers who moved in together to their gigantic homes while homelessness continues to skyrocket.

At the end of the day, I want the homies to laugh and have nice things. I'm not trying to create a personal vendetta against TikTok, nor am I trying to be a pseudo-intellectual Chad about it. But I spend so much of my goddamn time on this app, and just as it is all over the place, so am I. I've cycled through everything that I've just discussed: the inspiration from “wellness” & “productivity” accounts, the full-body laughter that comes from a video I can't wait to share with my friends, the absolute frustration that I can't afford to live in a beautifully decorated and giant apartment loft, the hope that if I start a trinket collection I'll be fine mentally, the feed of saved workout videos that maybe I'll get to eventually. I have experienced and definitively will continue to experience the mania and the depression that comes with TikTok. So I wanted to understand how it unravels in my life, how it relates to neoliberalism and the way it “ensures that individuals act on themselves so that power relations are interiorized—and then interpreted as freedom. Self-optimization and submission, freedom, and exploitation, fall into one” (Psychopolitics, Byung-Chul Han). Something something self-awareness, yeah?

There is nothing inherently evil about TikTok whatsoever, but it exists under very concrete, real, non-organic, material conditions. It is a corporation, it is in competition with other social media apps, and it is largely influential for huge populations of people. For me, those are important to remember, even if you're doing the remembering while scrolling through TikTok, just to make the consumption a bit more understandable. See clearly how the mania and the depression that comes with capitalism can manifest. I don't think the solution here is necessarily to boycott TikTok, devote a life to no doom-scrolling, because this is greater than just one app. I think the key is to confront and very explicitly identify the factors that push so many of us to spend hours watching these videos in the first place. And from there, we can become one step closer to differentiating TikTok as a vehicle of self-care vs. TikTok as a mechanism to cope with our alienation. From there, we can question why “self-care” is needed and not a default to begin with. We can start to learn the methods that go into building true community and collectivity, and fostering a world where we don't always feel so unhinged.

I don't plan on deleting my app anytime soon at all. I would be extremely sad to leave the dog-who-growls-at-the-name-of-Mitch-McConnell. But by analyzing and understanding just how TikTok encompasses this bipolar aspect of capitalism takes away its power just a little bit. Just enough for me to keep scrolling for more videos during my breaks, continue learning about what it's doing to my brain and how that's related to my political goals, and try and stay grounded in this world.

*American Boy by Estelle ft. Kanye West starts playing in the background.

I am a grandmaster at consuming; a veteran of mindlessly watching, of devouring images on a screen.

I can watch an hour-long television show in about 20 minutes. After years of dedicating my free time to the endless depths of TV, I have gotten exceptionally good at fast forwarding during the boring parts, stopping just at the peak of drama and suspense, and predicting what random insertions of comedic relief will be injected in.

For a very long time, watching TV & movies served a very specific purpose. Like many things we consume (snacks when you get the munchies, TikTok right before bed, cheese at literally any time of the day, the Discover Weekly playlist that very intentionally comes out every Monday to help you conjure enough energy to start the work week once again), it made me feel “good”—but of course, “good” is so vague that it's become the most non-productive explanation. But that was all that I had for years and years. And years and years, because I wasn't even able to figure out what I was feeling in the first place to crave “good” in reaction. Was I angry? Was I devastated? Was I lonely? Was I resentful? Was I stressed? Was I completely and undeniably scared? I had no idea, or if I did have an inkling of a suspicion, I shut it down immediately—because all of those emotions are “bad” and “bad” means I should feel ashamed, tuck them away in the dusty box under my bed; or that I would be punished because now I'll make others feel some flavor of “bad” too; or that I did something wrong and ultimately caused this onto myself—and now we're back to shame. So why feel it? If I identify it, then it becomes real. Why not just stare at the colorful, magical, constantly changing box in the middle of the room?

I accepted that my little television screen could give me some bursts of serotonin and never stopped to critically understand why I felt so desperate for some “good” to begin with. But then, TV shows & movies started making me feel gut-wrenchingly terrible; they became a demonstration of everything that I wanted but could never have. It was like I was window shopping for different lives, different experiences and adventures, but with the disclaimer that I would never be able to actually make the purchase, never would I be able to swipe a credit card and buy my way into the material conditions of these made-up, glorified, romanticized shows.

Many of my friends have heard me share this story—but I grew up watching this show called 8 Simple Rules. It was a generic sitcom about a typical, American family, but I watched it with such intensity, paying attention to all the dynamics. I would note how the family would eat dinner together and speak to each other lovingly, how the father would actually smile and laugh on a regular basis, how after every fight between the mom and the daughter, the mom would knock gently on her daughter's door and say, “Honey, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to yell.”

Some generic fucking ABC series, and it swallowed me whole. Spit me out with absolutely no mercy. I could have just as easily been watching Harry Potter (I was, indeed, watching that as well) because that world on my screen was absolute and total fantasy. It grabbed me by the shoulders and laughed in my face, mocked me, but at the same time whispered in my ear, “If you try hard enough, maybe you'll be able to feel what we feel, see what we see, live what we live too.” A complete fiction, but something I held onto longingly by doing the one thing I knew I could actually do. I couldn't exchange my parents, who had and continue to have their own way of dealing with alienation, for theirs; I couldn't transform myself into the white daughters on the screen who were so skinny, beautiful, and never had to worry about money; I couldn't gift my parents the language of English so we could try and remedy the already barren communication between us. But I could keep watching the show, inhale it like a life force. Never let go.

It got cancelled in 2005. And with that, I felt a kind of heartbreak. But it was fine because at that point, I had imprinted, projected, obsessed over countless other television shows—I told my friends about my emotional attachments, cried at the characters' heartbreaks as if they were my own heartaches, felt renewed by their (over-glamorized) coming-of-age stories ... I even got to the point where I felt a kind of psychological prowess: I used to tell my friends that I could pick up on any plot twist before it happened because I was just that talented at reading people, that given the amount of hours I've spent eyeballs glued to the screen, statistically, I should have a pretty high chance of success in my guesses.

As I grew older, I started coming to terms with my own material conditions and accepted that no matter how much TV I watch, I would never be able to live those lives. The function of television then evolved a little more to a form of escapist self-care, a guilty pleasure that doesn't actually harm anyone (right?), a way to treat myself after hours and days and weeks of exhaustion. Fast forward to November 2020, and I'm still going strong, further emboldened by COVID catastrophe and overtime-amplified-alienation.

But then, about a week ago, I finished reading a book called How to Read Donald Duck, an incredible critique of Disney comics (and Disney as a corporation) focusing on its role in imperialist, American propaganda. Dorfman & Mattelart write, “The imaginative realm of childhood is schematized by Disney in such a way that it appropriates the real life coordinates and anguish of contemporary man, but strips them of their power to denounce them, expose their contradictions, and overcome them”—and suddenly, there is clarity.

Even when I told myself, “Of course this is not real life, I'm just watching this for fun,” I continued to consume, continued to wire my brain to take in these images undoubtedly. But, just because I denote something as that of fantasy doesn't mean that it was not created intentionally to manipulate and warp my perception of reality.

Yes, of course, these main characters would never be able to live in this giant apartment on their salaries (and in fact, I never really even see them work), but that's TV! Yet I am here, day-dreaming of the day I would be able to live in a home as beautiful as theirs. And, yes, of course that daughter who had a life-shattering epiphany and rekindled her relationship with her parents is one of imagination, as people are more complex than that, but sometimes still, that main character music starts humming in the back of my head, the small beat of my psyche. And definitely, I shouldn't depend on movies to help me experience the catharsis of crying when I feel overwhelmed and depressed, but there I am, laying in bed with candles lit around me to set the mood for some kind of I-sobbed-and-then-purged-myself-magically-of-everything-and-now-can-live-life-freely ritual.

TV never gave me answers because it never would explain my problems; it could—but it chooses not to, ignore it with a smile on its face and a wink every now and then. Instead, trick me into wanting to spend my free time living vicariously through fake people in a fake world because I am so busy feeling alienated and lost in my own world; create a meaning of life on my behalf but convince me I got there with my own agency somehow.

They continue to write, “Disney history is impelled by ideas which do not originate in concrete circumstances or human labor, but are showered on people inexplicably from above ... By making ideas appear beyond the control of the passive recipients and extrinsic to them, it takes the motors of history out of history into the realm of pure nature. This is called inversion. In reality, it is people who make history, in accordance with concrete conditions, and who, in reciprocal interaction with social forces produce ideas.”

I know TV is not “meant” to be a mirror-shot of reality, otherwise it wouldn't be TV, but I think that's the problem. From such an early age, we are exposed to such forces that control the means of intellectual (and economic!) production: we are taught the little packaged lessons they squeeze in it, but also taught the ideas, feelings, and intuitions that come along with it. And then we don't stand a chance because we don't know what we don't know—we don't learn about tactics to create communal love, we don't learn to appreciate silence, we slowly lose grip onto the understanding that “main characters” actually have 29734982378472389479238x more moments of boredom, or shame, or anger, or hunger, or confusion. We forget that the worlds we see on our screens don't account for the weight of capitalism.

But we can remember that they also don't account for the revolutionary power of communism. What is not captured on the screen is the love and community that exists between comrades who can empathize with each other's alienation, who can fight for a world together and organize to change material conditions, who can focus on identifying real societal ills and advocating for direct action. So while we may not necessarily see the mundane, the ugly, the despair that comes with living under capitalism (which, is very intentional), we also don't see the world that is to come, the care that we can extend to our friends and loved ones, the lightness we feel in moments of pure camaraderie.

We don't see that because we are living that. So, of course I will still (sometimes) put on my silly little TV show in the background when I'm folding laundry, I will still get excited about new movies that are coming out, and I will still binge interesting new series (Queens Gambit!), but I will also dedicate my time to making my own history, to feeling my own feelings, and to remembering my very own life is also composed of various images I can enjoy, at all times of the day.

I have the Sunday scaries.

This all-encompassing feeling of dread knowing that Monday is right around the corner and thus marks the beginning of yet another work week. Come Monday, I will still have the Sunday scaries.

Nowadays, I measure my life by how many end-of-Zoom-call-sighs I take and by how many times I tell myself, “I need to take a break,” and don't, how many times I tell myself, “I need to start working,” and don't. I stretch my wrists when they cramp up from typing and writing, I rub my eyes because the moment I'm done with Big Work Screen, I relax with Small Personal Screen. Every day, I wake up early, peel myself out of bed, and commit to a morning ritual to maintain some semblance of structure—a reclaiming of my time, but the boundary between my personal life and my professional life has started to blur so much I'm no longer sure what that means. I go and go and go until I stop, take the 48 hours to recover just enough that I can go and go and go until I stop again. Repeat.

I light candles, do manifestations during the new moon (and never on a full moon!), move my body, read books with my friends, eat delicious food; I feel immense gratitude for the life I am able to live. But there continues to be something heavy inside me, the swirl of discomfort and anger, something between a stern frustration and a somber misery; I live in the cracks between these emotions.

Throughout college, I was doing five million things at once; if I wasn't running from one meeting to another, I was churning out 20-page papers and reading 400 pages a week. I spent college riding an adrenaline rush, carefully rationing it out over four years until I knew I could take a moment to breathe. A year and a half after graduation, I'm breathing. I find myself constantly reminding myself just how grateful I am to not have homework, to not be staying up until 3AM working on assignments due the following morning—but, I have never felt so exhausted in my entire life. Here I am, a working adult that has the luxury of logging off at 6PM, and I am so fucking drained. Even the days of sunshine and adventure, where my friends and I cling to new experiences and exploration around the city to produce basic levels of serotonin, it often still feels like I am walking through quicksand. I am squirming. I am panicking. I try and pry my limbs out of it, but I keep sinking and sinking. Even when I am calm, it is only a resignation to my own swallowing.

The pleasures in my life slowly exist in conjunction with the sufferings—somehow, I have ended up in a mindset where the “good” can only exist to compensate for the “bad”. A justification becomes attached to every action I take in attempt to feel a fleeting liberation. Freed from the quicksand, and instead floating on a cloud. But of course, at some cost.

It was not until recently that I stopped to ask myself, why does there even have to be the “bad” in the first place? Why do I end up staying awake past midnight because I feel like the few hours after work just aren't enough for me to feel like a real person again? Why do I feel guilty asking if I can take PTO unless I've produced something extremely valuable for the company? Why do I even have to ask for PTO in the first place, rather than just tell my manager I'm going to take it? All the “good”—the homies, the substances, the junk food, the comfort food, sun-bathing in the park, reading a book so beautiful you want to sleep in between the pages, dancing to that one song that never fails to make you want to boogie, the first bite of a juicy watermelon—exists without the “bad” because it's not a binary, because “bad” is not a feeling, but something objective, something controlled and manipulated and maintained by a dominant class that knows exactly what it's doing. So, why does there even have to be the “bad” in the first place? Why did it take me so long to realize that the “bad” is not natural? Not organic, but created. Manufactured.

What I thought was maybe just a quarter-life crisis, or maybe just the result of me not consistently taking my vitamins, Marx describes as something called alienation. It is an estrangement. To be separated not only from your labor, but also from the world, from others, from yourself. I work all week: sit down, type all day, do some Googling here and there, live through too many Zoom calls where coworkers are just random rectangles on my screen, and then what? Maybe I make some profit for my company and help hit some goals. But then what? Do I get a raise? Do I get a promotion? Do I truly understand where my labor goes? Instead, I focus on continuously presenting my utility to the company because I know if I get fired, I lose my health insurance. So, I go on about my day, maybe eat some fruit, never really stopping to think that in order for me to be eating, someone else is also alienated from their labor, never really stopping to think that fruit belongs to the very Earth the capitalists are destroying. And once I log off from work, I tell myself I'm going to write, or make some art, or try out a new hobby—but then it comes, the paralysis. Sometimes friendly, sometimes devastating, this wave that makes the workday pass by on .25x speed and the nighttime pass on 5x speed. And suddenly, my daily todo list becomes a stagnant page of goals I'm never quite sure I'll be able to accomplish; and suddenly, I convince myself this is a Me problem, because my friends, my peers, the world around me is still operating at what seems to be full capacity; alienation, then, becomes so isolating it tricks me into thinking I caused this myself.

The self-care industry saw this and saw money—they capitalized on the individualization that people undergo when alienated and found more and more ways to wave the magic wand of consumerism. Except it's not magic, it's capitalism.

Learning about alienation, about Marxism, felt unreal. It came up to every version of my past self—especially the ones that felt so overwhelmed with exhaustion and sadness, even when doing 'everything right'—and asked me to forgive myself. It become a reminder that even when I'm not trying my best, that is still extremely satisfactory; it became a reminder to remember that I am trying (my best, my least, not at all, only a little) under important material conditions I cannot ignore: a pandemic actively elongated by an exceptionally disgusting government, living in a city with too many men raised under a society taught to objectify and sexualize women, an unstable relationship with parents as a result of abandonment, a few health concerns that sometimes do have large consequences, being racialized and associated with a country so many people hate purely because of endless streams of propaganda. The “bad” is not inherent to the world we live in. For every single one of those things, communism has shown me an origin point.

Communism not only gave me the tools to be kinder to myself, but it gave me a vision forward. Paralysis is still frequent, quicksand is still engulfing my limbs, but the sheer fact that the “bad” is created—man-made at its core—means that it can be destroyed, dismantled, deconstructed, absolutely discombobulated. Communism shows a world where people can feel connected with their own humanity (a concept Marx details as species-being).

So on this Sunday night, or any night, or any morning, or any moment, I remind myself that I can and I will fight for a better world, because I fucking hate the Sunday scaries. And I want to live to live rather than live to survive.

As I write this, I feel deeply, deeply sad. It is alright, because I know I am not tied to this emotion; it is hard, because I know I sometimes trick myself into believing so nonetheless.

I did not have an intention to feel this way as I write this blog post. In fact, I had anticipated the opposite, a literary high to carry me to the finish line fluttered with some kind of euphoria, some kind of catharsis—but I miss writing, and it is just as good of a distraction as it is a method of mindfulness. I will take all the wins I can get.

Tonight, I cried. I sobbed into my pillows, balled myself up, and desperately wanted to feel some kind of peace. For a very long time, it was more about the sense of urgency than it was the sense of despair, like there was a time limit ticking away before the tightness in my chest would collapse into itself. I felt, and still do, feel like my body is on fire. I turned off the lights and curled up in bed unsure of so much: what to do, what I felt, what will come next ... this quickly turned into an uncertainty of who I was, where I was, when I was. I recently learned this is called depersonalization. Before, I used to look at myself crying in the mirror, and I would think to myself, “What a sad, sad girl,” and it would take me a very long time to process that I was looking at myself, and not someone else. I told myself it's because I don't know what my face looks like (despite looking at my reflection quite often), that it was because of body dysmorphia, but I later realized it is because moments of heightened emotion correlate strongly with the act of me losing my sense of self; this is why I would describe myself as someone with “high highs and low lows.”

There were moments tonight I completely zoned out, froze like I was some kind of robot rebooting, caught in some kind of glitch, and right afterwards, I felt so angry with myself. It is strange to be in tune just enough with myself to recognize unhealthy behaviors, but not quite enough to prevent myself from committing the unhealthy behaviors to begin with. My timing is just so slightly misaligned. It is exhaustion and disappointment and frustration, to be self-aware but to lack the necessary amount of muscle memory around distress tolerance, of emotional regulation. And so, I'm left with dehydration from crying for one hour instead of dehydration from crying for three hours; I have a hill of tissues covered in snot rather than a mountain—I know this is forward progress, and of one that is not meant to be linear, but there is a pain that exists in this middle state. The amount of time I spend not being sad is compensated by the amount of time I spend being critical of myself for being sad to begin with. In hindsight (and, now, with foresight), I see now that this comes with my heavy tendency to police my own emotions. To prescribe a judgment on every feeling is to weigh myself down in quicksand, a kind of self-sabotage that is not fully understood at the beginning until it becomes so, so exceptionally messy.

I used to vilify myself even more, the word “bad” ringing in my ears so loudly I could not even focus on trying to be “good”. Self-sustaining, it echoed in every corner of my mind—I felt bad, I was bad, It's bad to feel bad, I did something bad, I shouldn't have done that because it was bad, because it made someone else feel bad, because life is bad, I am bad, I will always be bad. I am still guilty of this, to some extent; tonight, I recited those very words to myself like some sort of debut soliloquy, a ritual that quickly became a twisted form of comfort. To designate myself as bad absolves me of any need to be good, and I wade in that like my own holy water.

Time has helped. And like most things, practice over time has helped. I've learned little tricks, anti-anxiety techniques, distraction tactics; I've done homework, gone to therapy, journaled. They all help. When I started feeling the walls caving in, coming down like the end of the world, when I started wanting the silence and the darkness to filter out all the noise in my head, it was because of those things that I knew how best to breathe, that I should drink water if I didn't want to wake up with a crying hangover, that soft music usually calms and stabilizes my heart rate.

What is most helpful, however, is to remember all the lessons I've learned from and about Marxism. For me, this is much newer of a phenomenon, so this is hard to do, especially in the moment. In the moment, I am a small, insignificant, lonely, bad, undeserving person. But just on the periphery of the moment, and only inching closer, is the recognition that communism has done more for my mental health, for my stability, and for my continual self-management and self-care than anything else. Just in the horizon, I am a person, with lived experiences rooted in my own material conditions, and ultimately conscious of the fact that these material conditions do and will change.

This perception of the world is rooted in dialectical materialism. It is a hard concept to understand, and I'm not here (at least right now, at this very moment) to explain it in full detail, but on an emotional level, it grounds me in the fact that it is not productive to understand myself as feeling bad versus feeling good. On one level, “bad” and “good” are not productive because they are, objectively, not emotions; “bad” could mean sadness, or anger, or embarrassment, or resentment, and the nuances there do matter. But on a bigger picture, “bad” and “good” are not productive labels for myself because I am, simply, not a static being, and to describe myself as one or the other is to seal myself to an inevitable doom: if I am ever feeling bad, that then prevents me from ever feeling good, and if I ever feeling good, then I am always in danger and terrified of feeling bad. Marxism, and the wisdom I've been able to gather from reading about it and talking about it with my friends, instead pushes me to remember that “bad” is insincere; bad is an injustice to my very being. I am bad then becomes I am having a bad day to I am having a bad moment to I am a product of very specific, material forces in life—be it the existing condition of the world as we hit a peak in climate catastrophe and exploitation of labor, or the fact that I was raised in a household unforgiving of negative emotion, or that I am adjusting to a new paradigm in a new city with a (somewhat) new global pandemic—and while I feel devastatingly sad at the moment, that is not an indication of my character, of my relationships with my loved ones, of my ability to continue growing and evolving. It teaches me that I am absolutely allowed to feel whatever way I do, that I am a human being with a matrix of emotions that are sometimes way too complicated to understand, but that I am absolutely not, in any way, condemned to being a “bad” person.

I spent a lot of college talking about this concept of the personal as political, but I did not think nearly enough about how the political is personal. Communism is a therapy, and to me, that becomes one of the most personal tools I could learn. But for many people, it is a death sentence. It is Red Scare, the big scary monster across the ocean from the United States, the devil waiting to devour our so-called political freedoms—and that makes sense. In ever possible divot and nook and cranny, there is propaganda and twisted history and self-sustaining patriotism; there are television shows planting seeds and missing history and a kind of psychological manipulation happening.

I am talking about communism not as the section in history textbooks that is commonly learned, but about the vision for the future it presents. I am talking about the communism that lays out the foundation for a classless world rid of exploitation and alienation. I am not talking about a utopia (and it is important to note, Marx was never a utopianist) because communism is a science. It deals with evidence from the real world and is never floating in the abstract.

It is so easy to be against something, in the abstract: I am an anti-capitalist, I am anti-racist, I am anti-cops, I am anti-Jeff Bezos, I am anti-misogynist. But to be anti-something does not mean you are pro-the-inverse-of-that. If you are against misogyny, then what are you for specifically? If you are so strongly averse to Jeff Bezos, then how do you picture the future without him? If you are disgusted by cops, then what is the structure that brings you peace and calm and safety instead? If you are aggressively calling to dismantle racism, then what do you see as the steps there? If you are an anti-capitalist, then what do you stand for? Fanon writes in Wretched of the Earth, “Racism, hatred, resentment, and the legitimate desire for revenge alone cannot nurture a war of liberation ... hatred is not an agenda.” This is not a practice in opposites, and it is most definitely not an exercise in virtue signaling; it is a sharing that communism is rooted in the real, in the personal, in a therapy, in a community, and it is what I am for.

Communism has changed my life. My entire perception of the world is shifting—that is a process that is still ongoing and will continue to be. On a very individual level, it tells me that my neuroticism is not bound to my body arbitrarily, I am not cursed with some kind of illness or plagued with a “craziness”. My neuroticism makes sense, and in that understanding itself, my neuroticism starts to go away. There is an origin, a verbalization, a compassion, a forgiveness, that builds.

But communism never stops at the individual level because communism is about camaraderie, and empathy, and class consciousness, and power to the people, and power anywhere where there's people. Maybe sometimes I will have a strong grasp on my material conditions, so much so that I will subsequently have a strong grasp on noticing my triggers, on identifying my emotions right as they arrive at my consciousness—and maybe sometimes I will still break down because something someone said hurt my feelings, because someone did or didn't do something around me that caught my hyper-vigilant brain. But just as I have all these material conditions, so do they. And that, in and of itself, is already a seed in all the fruits and vegetables and life that the communal care of communism has to offer.

To me, communism is not about being bad or good; it is not about a proximity to being ideologically pure because it is not some kind of abstraction. In fact, it's very foundation demonstrates that there are dialectics at play, that the real world is not easy and straightforward. So that is why I am sitting here, half-sniffling through my tears, writing about how meaningful it is to me on a random Friday night. Because communism is not some distant kind of political philosophy only present in Russia, or China, or Cuba, or an ideology (that has had the full force of the Western Empire brutalizing the shit out of it), but a kindness, a patience, and a movement of hope: for myself, for my comrades, and for all those who may feel chained to this perpetual feeling of “bad”.