It is said that decadence led to the fall of the Roman Empire, that imperialist powers are at their most extreme before their decline. I’ll leave comparsions to historians, but suffice it to say that gay men in New York are getting syphilis again.
After being closed for weeks due to inclement weather brought on by climate change, an Arkansas middle school resumed in-person classes. A 15-year-old boy shot his classmate in the hallway at 10AM. Someone online uses the words abuse and grooming to refer to unpaid internships while another chastises his followers for “romanticizing” the pharmaceutical companies which developed the COVID-19 vaccines, since the internet is a prison where any argument is worth having, apparently. Gun to my head, I’d struggle to come up with a convincing one for why this society should be.
Everyone’s been drinking more. “There are different kinds of addicts,” a friend explains the first night they let us sit in bars again. The table tells her to shut up. The next morning, my hangover is interrupted by news of death, poverty and Armie Hammer. A device allegedly designed to make our lives easier has largely isolated us, and each day I’m educated against my will on a world I’m actively trying to forget. Access to this much knowledge feels indulgent. Access to this much of each other feels intrusive. An emotional peeping Tom to my followers’ selected victories and traumas, I’ve begun to draw the curtains fully when I go to bed each night.
A device allegedly designed to make our lives easier has largely isolated us, and each day I’m educated against my will on a world I’m actively trying to forget. Access to this much knowledge feels indulgent. Access to this much of each other feels intrusive.
Other nights I stay up late and do drugs with strangers. Everyone’s high but you can’t tell because we’re depressed. But there’s revelation, too.
“Who am I doing this for?” a millennial who makes their parents proud asks. Job security hasn’t been hitting the same since they closed the hotspots where we go to brag about it. Stuck in a tiny apartment – its own fucked kind of high – working on a computer feels especially pointless. Self-importance needs an audience and a year inside has put a crack in the narratives we spin about what we do and what it means. To think I once let men in streetwear flex on me in crowded clubs over $12 mixed drinks… and yet, self-respect has not accompanied the opening of my third eye.
I guess the medicine should be art, but in our misery, it seems we’re allergic to enjoying things. Critiquing art for what it isn’t instead of what it is, a man lectures the room on every reason a movie shouldn’t be enjoyed because of its director’s corporate ties. He speaks with authority, he works for Supreme.
“This is why you will never make anything meaningful!” I scream at him but also myself. I waste the rest of my buzz having to backtrack for my outburst. On the walk home, I contemplate my generation’s obsession with everything but what’s actually happening in front of us.
The weeks blur and I struggle to focus on my freelance assignments. Clients are too easily pleased and it all feels obvious. After months of bingeing, it becomes clear I cannot drown this existential dread. My peers are fairing only slightly better, seesawing between manic positivity and going to bed early. When this ‘why me’ act becomes too predictable, I text my father to ask if he felt similarly hopeless in his twenties. He reminds me that his upbringing was harder than mine – validation is not a Boomer speciality – so his anxieties were a result of real life concerns like going hungry. Easy for him to say, Twitter didn’t exist then.
While the scale and complexity of social inequity immobilizes my circle, younger Zoomers look at the shit show of the modern world and appear galvanized to change it, or something. Parkland survivors parlay their trauma into business ventures, resign from “the Board” of organizations via notes app, and subtweet their former classmates: so the wheel of this American life turns and I wonder why all of us aren’t at the bar. (It’s closed.)
Jacob Seferian is a writer and editor living in New York City. His work has appeared in over 13 magazines, and he’s allegedly working on a novel.
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