An Apparently Impossible Problem
This essay also appears in A Beautiful Resistance: Everything We Already Are.
Extinction. Climate change. War. Dying oceans, dying forests. The earth shattered beneath us to get at the last bits of hydrocarbons and water. Food shortages. Refugees fleeing fighting, poverty, poison, religious feuds.
Capitalism and its physical manifestation—industrialisation—have so thoroughly transformed our environment, our social relations, our imaginations that the very idea of throwing off this system and having another—one where we humans live in community with everything else which shares this planet—seems to be an apparently impossible problem.
I know. I'm sorry.
But I also know something about apparently impossible problems. Mind if I tell you a story?
There was this moment with a lover of mine, a few winters ago. We’d gone together to get wax to make candles and the stuff for glühwein (German mulled wine), and we got stuck on a bus in a snowstorm at the bottom of a steep hill. We’d had little time to do much together, had both been ground-down by our jobs and the difficulties of our relationship and our various lives, and this simple errand had been a beautiful thing to do together, seemingly crushed by a sudden storm.
The bus wasn’t going anywhere. Cars spun out, slid back down the hill past the bus. We were gonna be there for hours before the bus would ever start moving again, and it looked like the world was against us, the same way every awesome thing we– both from abject poverty and families rife with mental troubles–ever tried to do would fall apart in the face of impossibility.
Both of our lives, actually, were impossible.
I grew up in abject poverty in Appalachia to an abusive father and a developmentally-disabled (they used to call people with her intelligence quotient “retarded”) mother who later developed schizophrenia. His mother? Addicted to drugs since he was a child. He’d tell me a story about being 14 and being left with his 6-month old half-brother for days on end, trying to figure out what to do with a baby while his mother was out drug-seeking. I’d tell him stories of being in South Florida trying to raise my sisters and pay rent at 14 while my divorced and schizophrenic mother talked back to voices telling her to drive my sisters and I off a bridge into the water. And it’s funny, because he and I would have arguments about whose childhood was harder (I thought his, he thought mine).
The world’s a fucking impossible place, and we both knew this a little better than most.
And we’re sitting there in this bus as the snow falls and cars slide past us, hitting each other in the great chaos of human effort against nature. That bus wasn’t fucking going anywhere, but you know what we did?
We got off the bus and walked.
Trudging up that icy hill in a snowstorm, laughing, watching all the silly people in their silly cars trying to get up that hill, catching snowflakes on our tongues, pushing stuck cars on our way up… the impossible is always impossible only if you insist on going on precisely the way you think you’re supposed to.
If we can’t have cars and mass-produced shit and 40-hour work weeks in lifeless jobs without ruining the planet, we can just start walking and making stuff that lasts and working less in more meaningful ways.
If we can’t have smartphones and computer games and 400 television channels and fresh strawberries in winter, then we can write letters and play cards and tell stories and make strawberry jam in the summer. And if we can't send those letters by carrier, UPS or Lettershop - we will hire a man who walks town to town, delivering communications of the old way between friends, relatives and loved ones.
If we can’t make absurd amounts of money off of selling houses and derivatives and weight-loss programs and plastic toys, then we make absurd amounts of joy and equality in societies where people grow gardens and tend forests and no one gets to ruin other people’s lives on account of having more money than others.
So what if that bus isn’t getting up the hill in the snowstorm? We can walk up the hill and catch snowflakes on our tongues and warm our winter-chilled bodies with each others’ flesh when we get to the top.
The way past the impossible usually just involves giving up some certainty that is keeping you on a snow-bound bus at the bottom of a hill, some habit, some reliance on an expectation that isn’t serving you any longer.
You can carry a rucksack full of wax and wine up a snowy hill with your lover and laugh and make mulled wine and warm yourself and each other with the love falling like rain and snow from the skies. You can read by the light of burning barricades and plant chamomile in the cracked pavement and tell stories of what it was like when we thought we should ignore the gods and the dead.
We can side with the poor and the streams and forests and crows and the forgotten, because there’s so many of us, you know, and we have the best stories.
And we can start building now. Actually, we must. If we’re to counter their violence with something other than violence, a game we can never win, we must create the world we want now. A world full of gods, a world of remembered dead, a world others want to join and help create, one that doesn’t flood the cities and poison the waters and raze the forests and abuse women or favor one skin color over all others.
The first step’s easy.
You just have to leave the stuck bus, and make sure you help others up the hill on your way.
Rhyd often lives in a city by the Salish Sea in occupied Duwamish territory. He’s a bard, theorist, anarchist, and writer, the editor of A Beautiful Resistance and co-founder of Gods&Radicals, author of Your Face Is a Forest and a columnist for The Wild Hunt. He growls when he’s thinking, laughs when he’s happy, cries when he’s sad, and does all those things when he’s in love. He worships Welsh gods, drinks a lot of tea, and dreams of forests, revolution, and men. His words can be found at Paganarch.com and can be supported on Patreon.com/Paganarch