Am I a dissident now? I thought yesterday, reflecting on national events that have not exactly worked out to my liking. It’s not an everyday word, dissident–it makes me think of tanks and gulags, Vaclav Havel and Andrei Sakharov. Not me, walking around on a dignified low boil, making practical contingency plans I hope I won’t need.
And yet, it kinda fits. Present me with any role–corporate worker, woman, wife, sober person, American–and I’ll find something fundamental to take issue with, if not outright reject. And if I couldn’t find that thing to cross my arms against, I’d probably invent it, God help me. Like one of those actors who find themselves reworking lines as they speak them, I’m constitutionally unable to just play the goddamn part as written.
But I’m low-key about it–I’ve got credit in the straight world, to borrow a line. Comparing my adolescence to my sister’s, my father once said: “She would argue us into the ground over every rule and curfew. You’d just nod and then go off and do exactly what you wanted.” You’d have to be paying real attention to see me as a dissident, and hardly anyone would watch that closely–including me, I guess, or it wouldn’t have surprised me so much to realize Yes, you’re a dissident. You always were. Now it just matters a little bit more.
Being sober is also a small act of dissidence that feels like a bigger one these days, something writer Megan Koester absolutely nails in a scathing new essay in Vice. The whole thing is worth your time–it’s the entire reason for this post!–but here’s the line that knocked me flat:
“I know people who have been dead drunk for days, a reaction I find logical. To stay loaded is to remain in stasis, pausing the video game that is life while figuring out your next move.”
That’s exactly how I’ve been feeling–that in this first extended period of, you know, spectacular political upheaval and global uncertainty since I cleaned up my act, life has somehow insisted on marching forward even as I struggle to process it all in real time. There’s no cycle of numbing/suffering/shame to distract me from the sense that a whole lot of things seem set to blow. But there’s also no distraction from the fact that in recent weeks I’ve also cooked good meals and written and gone to the movies and bought (and worn!) killer lingerie and laughed at my younger dog’s first experience with snow and had startling moments of connection with other people. All of this is happening. All at once.
September 11, 2001 is the date I became a daily drinker. For no good reason–I lived in a peaceful college town over a thousand miles from New York, and didn’t lose anyone in the attacks, and didn’t know anyone in the military. But I was anxious and horrified, and a giant glass of wine each day seemed like the rebellious, life-during-wartime thing to do. Why not, right? We were all going to die soon anyway.
Except here we are. And my sense now is that the truly radical life-during-wartime thing to do isn’t drinking. It’s, well, living life during wartime. At least I think that’s what a dissident would do.