Stranger Days, Stranger

War is hell, the trustworthy adage goes. Most people who’ve been don’t talk about it much. Most of our language can’t do it justice. That says more about our language than it does about war, maybe.

These days are something like war, I’m guessing. No enemy of the usual kind hunts us down, no matter the breathless rhetoric from your news feed. We live in an occupied land now, though. The occupier leaves us to the fantasy of a normal life, and dares us to have one, and seduces all and sundry with the exhausted memory of it and the longing after it, and stays there in the shadows, and is orchestrated entirely by what we do and don’t do and refuse to do and do too soon, obedient to us in perverse, arithmetic fashion. Nobody knows what comes next, how long this lasts. Go ahead and make a plan, if having one helps. But there’s no sign it’ll come to pass. We’ve been addicted to the future, to potential, to self determination for so long that without them our legendary resilience is starting to look tawdry, doubtful. Elders throwing tantrums about rights and citizenship and being made to cover up. While shopping. They’re still walking, they’re still alive, for God’s sake, and …  Hard to know what to say.

I’ve cancelled my year, by now, with one exception. We’re still trying to find a way to get two people married in this time of occupation. Otherwise, though, nothing at all. Maybe like you, I’m finding ordinary days less of a blessing than I once did. I’m still alive, and I’m finding that uncompelling. I’m short on reasons for doing the things that need doing. It’s hard to know how much of our former deal, the one we made with our corner of the world, the one we made with the passing of time, will be there when all of this … does what it’ll do. There’s a good chance that not much of it will belong in the time to come, and we’ll have to find other reasons for doing what we do. Maybe it’s that time. Maybe that’s how the world has ended, all the times that it has: Not with a bang, but a whimper.

So in that spirit of being willing to know what this is coming to, we at the farm sat down once more, and we rolled the cameras and wondered some big wonder. Boredom came up, and migrant farm workers, and grief, and whether grievance can mature, and praise of a kind, and what art might be for, and apprenticeship to tragedy might be, and other things. And then we went back to the other work, feeding the animals, trying to keep things alive in a biblical, diabolic heat wave. We bore in mind that you might decide to listen and to watch, and asked ourselves what might be useful to you from afar, and dressed for the occasion.

Off camera, I was asked about loneliness, how I dealt with it. I don’t deal with it. On my better days, I practice it. I’ve been practicing for years now. That’s what all those days and nights on the dias under the lights were for: To ready myself unawares for The Great Separateness that is for the moment underway. Those days and nights in the death trade are strangely helpful now, in ways you’d never go looking for.

As lonely as I might be, as you might be, how lonely might the people not yet born be when they hear of these days? Will they count themselves lucky to have missed them? Will they think on them as the latest, greatest and now most wayward and lost chance we had to get it right? Will there be a language with which we who are still alive by then can bring them to an understanding of how war is hell, and how being haunted and hunted by what could have been seems worse?

Stephen Jenkinson