And yet, we are still alive

Understanding what made 2017 so hard to bear means thinking about how the personal and the political converge. Art by Neal P. Corpus

And yet, we are still alive

SLOW DOWN, DILETTANTE - Jam Pascual (The Philippine Star) - January 12, 2018 - 12:00am

The most underrated album of 2017 was “A Crow Looked At Me” by Mount Eerie, one of the musical iterations of songwriter Phil Elverum. The album, a soul-crushing documentation of what the heart goes through in grief, is dedicated to Elverum’s wife Geneviève Castrée, who passed away from cancer. In the album notes, Elverum writes of the spirit behind the album’s creation and distribution: “I make these songs and put them out into the world just to multiply my voice saying that I love her. I want it known.”

In the last song Crow, he addresses his daughter as a newly single father and a witness to all the death happening around him. “Sweet kid, what is this world we’re giving you? Smoldering and fascist…”

I’ve been thinking about that line a lot — about how Elverum, despite the enormity of this deep and personal tragedy, could not shove his sorrow into a vacuum.

* * *

This year has been a year of death, for reasons that are hard to explain, but I’m going to try. Most obvious: the ongoing drug war that specifically targets the poor. A country ravaged by genocide. The crisis in Marawi, which began as a problem of terrorism and has mutated into the looming chokehold grip of martial law. And there was that one rally we assumed Duterte was going to use, finally, as the event to justify the declaration of nationwide martial law, the way Marcos made scapegoats of the communists. I remember arriving at Luneta fully expecting a platoon of heavily armed police and a hail of bullets, even though there were none.

But it wasn’t just that, no. There were also the big and small ordeals that hit closer to home. People I’m connected to by perhaps three or four degrees of separation, my age, were claimed by sickness or suicide. People I care about and am closer to have become extremely anxious of death as a result, hyperaware of the smallest itch or ache. Late last year, I lost my dad to kidney cancer.

And that’s just speaking for me. For everyone else, there are sorrows and trials I do not claim to know but occur nonetheless, relentlessly, giving no one a break even though there is already, politically, so much to deal with, so much to invest the heart in. Factors like these, which directly affect our lives and relationships, comprise not just the center of our lives but the foreground, set against the bloody backdrop of national systemic violence.

What is meant, partly, when people say “the personal is political” is that our material and social conditions, which are determined by political forces larger than us, influence the parts of our lives we hold closest to the heart.

But that’s not everything. A friend of mine put it best as we shared an Uber home from a rally, speaking of his own share of aches and heartbreaks, that the sadnesses of this year were magnified by everything else happening, on a level beyond the individual; that his pain would be easier to deal with if it had occurred in any other point in history — one in which we that didn’t have to worry about genocide, or the possible onset of nuclear war, or the red pill revelation that sexual predators are apparently f***ing everywhere.

That the personal is political also means the dread and bleakness that pervaded 2017 is twofold — the systemic violence of this country and our individual concerns are caught in a feedback loop of mutual abrasion and aggravation, fueling the ache and hurt of both. There was, and is, no room to make space for personal pain, when everything looms so large on a systemic level.

* * *

People like to claim that 2016 was the s*** year. But if 2016 was the alarm that shocked us into waking, then 2017 was the alarm we let ring out of lethargy and dread while we questioned if rising to another day would be worth it at all.

I am not about to say that we have to suck it up. I am tired of the dense f***boys on my contacts list who think happiness is ultimately dependent on mindset and not the social and political conditions that strangle us on a daily f***ing basis.

All I want to do is state the obvious, which is easily forgotten: we are still alive. Alive and kicking and, if you’re lucky, maybe more equipped to rough it out for one more year. And then the next. And then the next.

And I know it’s hard, but if you’re reading this, you’re alive, and if you’re alive, what you did to get through 2017 will most likely not let you down this 2018. It is hard for me to imagine any other reason for us to say what we say and do what we do, other than to multiply the instances and iterations of us trying to love ourselves and each other. Let’s keep going.

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