Of Star Wars, Wonderful Lives, and Terrifying New Beginnings at the End of the Decade
This is my attempt to write something cleansing in the final hours of this decade, so that I can start the next one with the right mindset and the right heartset. If you read it I hope you get something out of it but, cards on the table: I wrote it for myself.
As the discourse around the new Star Wars trilogy has revealed, these three films are about a lot of things, most of all themselves, and by extension, through the arguments and debates they’ve generated, they’ve become about what we want from our myths and legends, and what we want for ourselves in reality. They’re a lens through which to view the beliefs fueling the fervor on all sides of our struggle to define who we are at this particular moment in American history. And so, of course, what we talk about when we talk about Star Wars is so much more than just Star Wars. Some of us want to remain swimming in the warm bath of the past, and our intoxicating nostalgia for it, which makes us see it in a fuzzy, flawless way that doesn’t reflect the truth. Some of us want to kill the past to give rise to bold new visions and the possibility of a radically different future that’s better than the past ever was.
Which kind of person am I? If you were to ask me where I land when it comes to Star Wars, I’d say that I think the series’ obsession with the past, with dynasties and legacy lightsabers and villains who won’t stay dead, is poison, and that the impulse to kill the past is our best hope for the future. But what about when it comes to my own life? I’m standing now on the terrifying precipice of a new decade, and I don’t know the answer. I think that maybe I am too attached to the past. Trapped there by trauma, and by the gravitational pull of the few fleeting, magical moments when I felt like my loneliness might finally be at an end. Do I have what it takes to let go of the past? Do I even know who I am without it?
What I loved most about Rey was her loneliness, and her intense desire to not be lonely anymore. How she knows all about waiting. How the belonging she seeks is not behind her, but ahead. I know all about waiting, too. I’m still looking for a real sense of belonging. I get it. I feel it in my bones. I wake up starving for closeness with another person. I wanted so much for Rey to finally find what she had so long been yearning for. That was the energy I wanted to carry into 2020 from this cinematic saga that’s been part of my life since as early as I can remember. A vision of solitude’s end. What The Rise of Skywalker actually gave me is the absolute last thing I wanted. As Andrew Todd wrote on /Film:
If movies’ final scenes and shots are their final statements (and they are), the final statement of The Rise of Skywalker drags Rey back to the lonely place she began. The visual language places her alone in yet another desert, surrounded only by dead people and sand. Yes, she has friends elsewhere, but that’s just it — they’re offscreen… For anyone who’s struggled with isolation or loneliness, this ending is absolutely crushing. It tells those people that no matter what they do, they’ll always be alone; that their closest companions will all die; and through Ben’s absence, that the person with whom they connected most intimately will be straight-up forgotten. It confirms deep, terrible fears. Final images mean a lot, and this final image is damaging and hurtful, made all the crueller because Rey’s passed over in favour of cramming in yet another bit of Star Wars iconography.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens introduced us to a girl with abandonment issues who put on a dusty old space helmet and looked to the stars, yearning to be somebody. Numerous audience members no doubt saw themselves in Rey. The Last Jedi sent those audience members a message unprecedented in Star Wars: that even “nobodies” can become somebodies — they need only muster the spark to do so. Over-optimistic? Maybe. But in The Rise of Skywalker, anyone who identified with that girl in the desert is outright denied that optimism, told that their importance is pre-defined by a lineage out of their control. And worst of all, in its ultimate cinematic statement, it tells you that you’ll just end up alone anyway.
In another desert.
Surrounded by ghosts.
J.J. Abrams was so concerned with bringing things full circle with the ending of The Rise of Skywalker that he didn’t understand that this is a circle that needs to be broken. Rather than being a source of hope, the ending of TRoS was one that evoked my deepest fears: that the future will match the past. That the belonging I seek is not ahead, but nonexistent.
I need to break some circles too. Leave some things behind. So let’s clean house a bit. Sometimes when I’m lying in bed late at night a feeling will become crystallized in my mind and I’ll type it into my Twitter drafts just to put it somewhere. But as long as they’re there in the drafts folder, I’m still carrying them around. I haven’t really gotten them out of me. So here are some of those drafts, now deleted, that represent an emotional place I hope to leave in this decade rather than carry into the next.
There are bottled up stores of joy and affection in me, untouched for decades, just waiting for someone with the password to come along and open the vault.
What I hate most about the way things are isn’t that you can’t be there for me. It’s that I can’t be there for you.
At a certain point you accept the idea that nobody who you’re into will ever be into you and that you’re always going to be alone because it hurts less than continuing to hope that somehow it’s finally gonna happen for you when it already happened for everyone else decades ago.
Hold on, let’s pause for a moment here. This third one isn’t even true. The idea that I’ve stopped hoping is absurd. Hoping is all I do. Hope is all I have. I guess maybe I wrote this one as a way of trying on this attitude to see if it fit. It didn’t. Okay, let’s continue.
Never know what to do when I’m around people who talk as if sex just is or has been a pretty standard part of everyone’s life at some point. Like, no, there are those of us who have just never found anyone with whom we could really share that aspect of life.
I’ve been alone for so long now that as much as I want to meet someone great I’m also scared of it because I’m afraid if/when I do they won’t understand or accept that I’m a bit fucked up by how long I’ve been alone. But I can’t hide it or pretend I haven’t been affected by it.
I want to talk a bit about this last one, too. I realized after I wrote it that it doesn’t really add up, because one of the things that makes someone “great” to me, that makes them that rare person who cracks me open, who I want to know and be known by, is that I feel safe around them, safe being real about who I am, what I’ve been through and what I haven’t, the things I’ve missed out on. If someone seems like they won’t understand or accept that about me, then I won’t feel drawn to them in the first place.
I long for an end to loneliness but I still don’t know where to start looking. Dating apps with an emphasis on hooking up or on kink make me feel like so much of an outsider. I truly have no problem with these things, and I’m glad that people for whom they’re important have ways in which they can find each other. I just don’t know where someone like me is supposed to look for someone to whom I might make some kind of sense.
My kink is being around someone who gets my fight or flight response to chill the fuck out and who activates my parasympathetic nervous system. Someone who makes me want to be rooted in the present moment.
My kink is enjoying just being around a person, even if we’re not doing anything. A person whose presence feels restorative rather than draining.
My kink is being around someone who brings my defenses down, who I can’t be stand-offish with.
My kink is someone who wakes up places in me that have been dormant for so long I’ve forgotten they even exist.
My kink is feeling like me and someone I respect and trust and admire are more or less equals.
My kink is feeling like I can really talk to you about my problems and my fears, and like you can talk to me about yours.
My kink is wanting to text you and share little moments from my day with you sometimes.
My kink is being around someone who feels like they could be home.
Maybe someday romance and sex could be a starting point for me rather than a place that things could go in time, but I’m not there yet. I feel like all the people my age are meeting in the kink personals or at the gay bar or on the dance floor and I’m still a 17-year-old hanging out by the Street Fighter machine at the 7-Eleven hoping for a chance to get to know the girl I like. If there isn’t friendship first, and fun, and trust-building, there can’t be anything else for me, because this world still so often makes me feel invisible, and often when people do desire me, it’s in ways that run entirely contrary to my sense of self, that make me feel more invisible than ever.
It’s still so rare for me to meet someone who cracks me open, and when I do, it’s like being caressed by the gentlest lightning. The feeling of trust and safety, or rather the possibility of it, is electrifying. It’s been six years now since I felt it. The truth is that it’s still that person I want to call when I just really want to talk to someone. It’s still them I miss most when I feel so alone. My heart opens to their voice. But I don’t call them, because I can’t be in their life in the way that I want to and I worry that it would just hurt too much having a little contact with them but not the closeness I yearn for. I hope that sometime in the decade ahead, I find the belonging I seek with someone, a person I feel as inclined to reach out to as I do this person, without it being fraught with the weight of all my unfulfilled yearning.
In the meantime, like Rey learning to stop looking back at half-remembered images of the past, one thing I want to find the strength to do in the new decade is to stop thinking about the last person who seemed like a chance to me — a possibility that only existed in my head and not theirs and so was never really a possibility at all, I understand that — and to exist more fully in the present moment, even when that moment is just me alone in my little apartment. Maybe that will motivate me to bring about the change I need in my life, though I still have no idea how to go about creating that change, or where to look for it. It feels like the sort of thing for which the universe has to meet me halfway. But I am open to the possibility. I’m ready for it, ready for it to demand something of me.
I know most people my age don’t feel that kind of intense romantic adoration for one person anymore, but I can’t help but wonder if that’s because many of them already learned what it was to be seen and desired by someone they adored when they were younger, and I’m still stuck there waiting for it to happen. To everyone who suggests I’m doing it wrong, all I can do is quote “How Soon Is Now?” which still functions as an anthem of my life decades after it should have ceased to be relevant. (And yes, I know Morrissey is an asshole. It’s still a great song.)
You shut your mouth
How can you say
I go about things the wrong way?
I am human and I need to be loved
Just like everybody else does
I hope now is sometime in the next ten years, that the 20s are the last decade I ring in with the question of “How soon is now?” still looming over me.
I’ve spent the last week of the 2010s watching my friends’ dog while they and their two kids are on vacation. The pup misses his family very much. It’s hurt me that I’ve had no way of assuring him that they’re coming back soon, that he just has to live in the uncertainty. Often in the early afternoon, he’ll let out a few mournful little barks, and I know I’m projecting but I can’t help but hear them as him pleading with me to make his family reappear. How quiet the house must seem to him, compared to the energy it usually has. I feel like that’s my life, an intensely quiet, empty house, waiting for some life to enter it and take root.
I watched It’s a Wonderful Life this Christmas for the first time in probably twenty years. I felt like I needed it, because I’m entering this next decade in a far more precarious position than I started it. No job. The money’s almost gone. The new decade looms with all its terrifying urgencies and I have no idea how I’m going to meet them. I understand George Bailey’s fear. When he says “I’m at the end of my rope,” I say, “I’m right there with you, buddy.” And when, in the face of all the looming terror in his life, he says “I want to live again,” I say “I want to live.”
Things truly are scary. But I want to live. More than ever, I want to live.
When I say that I want to live, I don’t just mean nights on the town drinking or dancing or talking with someone I love and trust, though I do mean that because I still yearn for the things I haven’t had yet. I don’t just mean maybe finally having someone to go on vacations with, to make new memories with, though I do definitely mean that. Mostly I mean someone to wash the dishes with. To share the mundane with. To give my presence to, and to receive their presence. To witness and be witnessed by. That’s why the ending of The Rise of Skywalker pissed me off so much. What good are those ghosts? What we all really need is someone to wash the dishes with. Someone to just exist with.
So a new decade is upon us, and I’m trying to leave some things behind so that I can have the new beginning, the new belonging, that I’ve been seeking for so long. I know my prolonged loneliness and my lack of experience make me different in some important ways and I don’t want to deny or erase that but I also want to acknowledge that my awareness of it doesn’t always serve me and that perhaps I should focus less on the ways I’m different from everyone else and more on the ways I’m the same.
In It’s a Wonderful Life, the angel Clarence gets George to abandon thoughts of suicide (at least temporarily) by jumping into the water himself, prompting George to leap to his rescue. I know I’m happier and better when I’m focused more on other people than myself. My fear and pain keeps me focused inward. I want to get better at focusing out. I don’t want to let the fact that other people don’t see me clearly in this body or that the world is hostile to me drive me out of my own life anymore.
I’ve spent much of the past decade chronicling my own loneliness. I don’t want to be a chronicler of loneliness anymore. I know I’m worth existing with. Maybe I have to stop telling stories of my loneliness before the loneliness itself can end. I don’t know, I’m fumbling in the dark here. But at least I’m trying to find a way out.
I’m really fucking scared. It feels like with 2020’s arrival, the RESET button is being pushed, an involuntary and extremely unwanted new beginning that’s wiping away most of the progress I’ve earned, leaving me, in many ways, starting from scratch. But new beginnings mean new possibilities too. Maybe there’s a lesson here, a really fucking hard one, about the need for me to let certain things go. To get out of the desert and say goodbye to my ghosts.
Okay. Fine. Let’s hit the RESET button. Hand me the controller. Game on.