How to Break Rocks

Illustration by Evan Sult.

If you truly believe you are living your best life then stop reading this now. Up-cycle your time, and enjoy the fact that you are winning. This essay is for the losers. 

The concept of “living your best life” is as old as the first Neanderthal showing the other homos how to break rocks. A cursory google glance at the term brings up over 300 million hits from self-help books, seminars, vacations, astrology, new wardrobes, YouTube videos, mantras, massage therapy, doctors, psychiatry, religion, movies and drugs. Instead of crushing stones we now funnel  hundreds of billions of dollars into finding this supposed “best life.” Astrology alone is a $2 billion industry, which means hundreds of thousands of people around the world look to center their lives on the zodiac scales. Even the stars ask us to buy something. 

The idea or image or, let’s say, astral projection is that there is a best version of ourselves possible as people existing in this world. To be this person means we must be living it. The Instagram tag #bestlife has 2.1 million posts, and they’re all well lit. There is a lot of Yes in all of them as well. Yes to love. Yes to last-minute reservations at the expensive sushi restaurant. Yes to sweaters. Yes to a new job. Yes to sex. Yes to anything and everything that resembles a smile. 

That, however, would be the living part of the equation. 

To have a best life is a tall order when even a happy life is never guaranteed. Of course, we can say yes to being better than we were yesterday. A life’s trajectory is made less petty and banal when we do. But if you can step back long enough from the warm light of the constant comeups and glo-ups saturating the eye, you might notice cracks in the screen.

The “best life” is how we convince others we have it. Kanye West told us he found Jesus and now he has it. Aunt Cindy might tell you her cancer is finally in remission. Or Donald Trump will tweet about his election results again. Our psyches filter every single one of these moments into a framework that tells us what our best lives could be. Some of us look to build stronger community bonds through local organizing. Some of us try to maintain our relationships. Some of us get sober. Some of us may be intentional and some of us may be lying about our best lives. As a projection, your best life exists for others to believe or to buy. And we as queer people need to start saying No to it all. 

If we began to say No could we begin to be honest about our fractured community? Our trans and queer POC communities feel abandoned by the white cis gay majorities. We still have poor people dying of AIDS. And trans women are being imprisoned. What does it mean to be queer or gay or transgender and try to find your best life when we can still be fired or denied housing or banned from hospital beds for simply existing? What does showing others a best life do when it takes multitudes of filters and face-tunes and finstas to believe it ourselves? 

The Supreme Court is expected in the coming months to hand down one of our nation’s most crucial LGBTQ civil rights decisions. A decision that decides if we even have a legal right to live a best life. The case before the high court hinges on our nightmare regime’s Department of Justice arguing in favor of defining the federal ban on sex discrimination in the workplace as one that enshrines the legal protection to fire someone because they are part of the LGBTQ community. Welcome to Trump’s Twilight Zone. The same president who told LGBTQ voters to vote for him because he would “protect” us is the same president whose DOJ is asking for permission to ban us from protections against actual harm and discrimination. 

A best life indeed. 

I can see why these hashtag moments feel more empowering than barricading and chaining ourselves to the steps of the White House. We want people to know that we’re dating again or that we’re throwing a dinner party or that we’re moving to a new city. We want the communal experience of “being” even when the “being” hasn’t even begun. 

Something tugs inside the meat brain, and we sense ourselves in the refractions of light and memory. We have forgotten to see ourselves in lives playing out next door or across the hemispheres. 

The protestors in Chile are living their best lives as they set fire to the buses and late trains.  

Chicago’s teachers are living their best lives drumming in the streets on strike and walking out to demand a better future for hundreds of thousands of students trapped in ill-functioning school systems. 

Our sisters are living their best lives bringing the CNN LGBTQ town hall to a halt demanding to know why black trans women are being erased from the conversation that is killing them.  

We lived our best lives in Ferguson on shut-down freeways and running from tear-gas clouds.

These are all a best life of No and not Yes. No to abuse. No to second-class citizenship. No to rising nationalism. No to rising rent. No to lies. No to racist cops. No to war. No to more drones. No to the rats gnawing on our toes. No to rigged elections.

This means living our best lives knowing that Ben Carson is in the room. This means living our best lives knowing that they’ve stacked the federal appeals courts with lunatics who want us back in the closets. This means living our best lives as the climate melts. This means knowing that we can’t survive if we say Yes anymore. No elite Yelp badge or selfie bomb or thirst traps or good vibes or beach vacation check-ins are going to produce a best life for any queer person under the thumb of our current nightmare regime’s escalating rate of cruelty. 

This is not a call to stop enjoying the overpriced cinnamon roll because it reminds you how your momma made them. Or a call to ban #transformationtuesdays. Or a call to stop trying to improve yourself in whatever personal and intentional practices you know you need or want or even just briefly embrace. This won’t radically reroute our selfishness or even our envy. And I don’t expect anyone to leave this redefining how they wish to live their better selves. 

This is just me breaking rocks and saying no.  

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