Unreliable Narrator: Tradition in Turmoil
"I’m the proof—you can’t throw away tradition.” — Vivienne Westwood
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 24
“So what's happening on today's episode of As The World Burns?” I typed into my phone. Scan for typos. Send tweet. It was January 31, 2017—the brief, sparkling wellspring of hope inspired by the massive global turnout of the 2017 Women’s March seeming to fade in the rearview, tamped down by an endlessly churning news cycle.
I’m not particularly active or political on Twitter. My profile is a string of intermittent plugs of my work, lots of Kermit content, and 280-character-or-less snippets of amusing things I’ve recently witnessed while stuck on the subway. That day, I’m sure I was simply dashing off a mildly clever observation on the rapid progression of the hellscape we’d collectively plummeted into, but it’s a sentiment that’s stayed with me in the nearly twenty-plus months since.
Brett Kavanaugh sworn in as Supreme Court justice. As the world burns. Michigan Will No Longer Provide Free Bottled Water to Flint. As the world burns. Planet has only until 2030 to stem catastrophic climate change. As the world burns (up).
It’s a depressing refrain, if not an inaccurate one, simple and yet potent enough to shape our daily behavior.
Maybe we’re more politically active than we were a couple of years ago, signing up to register voters and having the kinds of tough conversations that we used to take pains to avoid; perhaps we’re spending more time in bed than ever before, purposely drowning out the news with Netflix as a coping mechanism. If you’re anything like me, you have one foot in both camps and you’re feeling increasingly ambivalent and anxious about the whole thing.
The apprehension sneaks up on me at the oddest times—say, while waiting on line to buy a matcha latte. The world is on fire and you’re buying a matcha fucking latte, a voice in my head will interject while I wait to place my order. The voice is rude—I buy one matcha latte a week right after I get out of therapy every Wednesday, and it’s a small tradition I’ve grown to love—but it’s not wrong.
Traditions, especially the ones we create for ourselves just because, tend to look trivial by the light of a world in flames.
And yet, my time in therapy hasn’t been completely wasted. I’ve learned to quiet the voices in my head that skew harsh and overly pessimistic. I do my volunteer work; try my best to be progressive and civic-minded on a micro and macro level; and I buy the damn Wednesday morning latte, reminding myself all throughout that I’m always striving to do my best, and beating myself up won’t do me or my community any favors.
These inner conflict resolution tactics are hard-won, to say the least. I suppose I should have been pleased when my therapist first floated the idea of us parting ways, saying that I’d made great strides in managing my depression and negative self-talk. I nodded and said I’d mull it over—now I had even more to think about during my post-appointment solo café date.
The lede had somehow gotten buried. Here I’d been, wrestling with myself to accept one frivolous tradition as another major one was about to be pulled out from underneath me. Therapy is one of the few places where I can keep the sensation of the burning world at bay—it seemed as though my therapist felt I was ready to leave the nest and face the heat on my own.
I haven’t wrapped up with my therapist yet, but I’m preparing for it by establishing even more traditions: ways of keeping tabs on the news, ways of productively reacting to it, and even ways of finding small moments of thoroughly trivial, purely personal moments of joy. I realize now that they’re all worthy, necessary, and valid—even as the world burns.