Jun 17, 2009

All the Apocalypse Purses: Devotional Packing Practices for Posi End Time Spins

This time last year, I was riding my bicycle on the north shore of Lake Superior with my dear friend, Roger. Route 61 in Northern Minnesota is one of the most gorgeous roads I’ve ever ridden. Roger had rigged a pair of solar powered ipod speakers to his handlebar bag (he was going all the way to Labrador) and with Fleetwood Mac on our side, we pedaled long into the far-north summer solstice days, stopping only for the homemade pie sold all along the Scandinavian-inhabited shore.

Maybe it was that Lake Superior itself was a cold and mean old Daddy such as I had never met. It could whip up storms so nefarious we were sure the fore riders of the apocalypse had arrived. I’d find myself one moment contemplating the water’s stillness, darkness, and eerie silence, the next riding through sheets of rain to the echo of distant tornado sirens. Maybe it was the Finnish wizardry that Roger began practicing to guide said storms after picking up a spell book at a small town solstice auction. It could have been that I was headed towards the Canadian border on a bicycle, riding a road made more lonely and gorgeous by the fact that gas prices had topped five dollars. Then again, maybe it was just that Roger was reading Octavia Butler’s Parables series and our nightly conversations over re-hydrated split pea soup and cans of tuna inevitably turned to what kind of getaway bikes we should build in case of industrial collapse…But somewhere on route 61, I took to casually referencing the end times in relation to how we might best approach any given activity or quandary.

The thing was, I felt pretty positively about the end times we spoke of. It’s not that we weren’t talking about doomsday, but that we were more so speaking about readiness—a commitment to being ready—not just for the coming world—but for the one already here. One thing I’ve always appreciated sharing with Roger is a sense of camp, emptiness, and maybe even possibility arising from an appreciation of the utter absurdity of late capitalism. It’s as though we both agree what we have on our hands already is, and will continue to become—far stranger than any end of the world we can imagine.

The end-times-speak used between Roger and me took on it’s own internal conceptual framework, that though unarticulated, we understood to be generally positive or at least matter of fact. I spent much of the rest of that summer traveling alone. End times-speak—the language of readiness—became a private language I used with myself to maintain a sense of agency, accountability, and in-placeness while regarding the brutality and absurdity of such realities as borders, capital, and US citizenship. End-times-speak was such a precious part of my private internal lexicon that I didn’t realize until I was back in the company of friends that constant off-handed references to the end of the world didn’t work well for most people.

In the midst of my re-integration, I caught a performance by Justin Bond in New York. I remember being particularly struck as Justin spoke of witchcraft and calling corners from SF drag show dressing rooms in the pre-ARV days of the HIV virus. She sang songs to lost loved ones—“luminaries of affliction,” she called them. “The end of the world already happened to queers,” I remember thinking. The end of the world already came for queers and the end of the world came to most of the world five hundred years ago when white people started running ashore all over the place.

The end of the world is happening right now, it’s just a matter of where you stand in relation to that end. And by ‘end’ I mean both death and violence and destruction and domination AND I also mean the end of stabilized and naturalized notions of those violences. By “end” I mean the world that is unfolding out in front of our feet again and again—all of the time.

The end of the world is scary not because it asks us to hole up with ammunition and iodine tablets but because it asks us to take responsibility for the world that we find before us. Right now. It asks us to be ready for what is coming—without having more than a guess about exactly what that might be and only educated guesses about how to best make it happen. It demands that we keep our shit fresh and our hearts open and that above all, we be paying attention.

As for preparation, I might burlify my bike. I might keep some iodine tablets around. The early summer’s draft of my apocalypse-packing list (made while biking the North Shore) included things like: spare bike parts, solar panels, autonomous Marxism, potlucks, sex, and calisthenics. I quickly realized my packing list was trying to balance out a need to take care of shit with a need to appreciate it as it is. And this made me think, that really, the best way towards the apocalypse/promised world was really in and through our love of this one. That by loving this world well—really well—that we also locate our readiness to have it change in ways beyond what we find imaginable.

I began asking myself and others: what is it we want to take into the next world with us? If we had to pack purses for the apocalypse, what would we put in them? What do we love enough to carry, or what are we loving so well that it delivers us to the next place, allows us imagine a profoundly different world?

For me, it turns out to be things like watching teenagers dance, or a pair of kittens I helped nurse in Brooklyn, or Stevie Nicks youtube videos, or stretch denim, and definitely this picture:

Munira, Tuesday, and Ser on a broken down ferry in Maine last August

When I ask most people what they would put in their apocalypse purse, the first thing they want to know is how big the purse is and how much space things like youtube videos take up. This is really hard to answer. I’m not here to tell you whether there will be anything like youtube after the apocalypse or help you figure out how big a purse you should carry. The apocalypse purse is a conceptual packing list. It is a practice, a sacrament of sorts.

Once, someone answered that the only thing they would need to pack was “world peace.” I don’t want to mock anyone’s packing process. Maybe you are a heavy packer. Maybe you don’t carry purses. That’s fine. But I will say this: How are you going to put it in the purse if you don’t have it to pack? That’s the only rule. That we are working with the material we have available to us.

It’s like Mary Poppins’ carpetbag. It’s bottomless. You might never see the things you put in there ever again. And I think that’s okay. Because it’s the packing, not the contents, that count.

It’s all tumbling out in front of us. The new world. It’s happening very quickly. Likely there won’t be any hard and fast lines we cross, but should we find ourselves having moved into a new territory, a landscape maybe even known as the apocalypse, I’m willing to wager the question is going to be not what we are carrying but how devotionally we have packed.

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