Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Invincible Summer

I gave a speech at the 2016 Bay Area Secular Solstice ceremony, which I'm quite proud of and seems to have been well received. You'll probably like it if you think the world's in grave danger and are into saving it.

Here's a video of the whole Solstice. I start at 34:46, and go for about ten minutes. It cuts out for a few seconds toward the beginning, but comes back.

Content note: This is quite dark, involves depression, and mentions suicide.

And here's the (approximate) text. I do strongly recommend the video over just the text, though, because it's very much designed to be performed in bodyspace.


A stained glass palace hangs in the sky at dawn. I watch from below, circling, as wind caresses the feathers of my wings. The clouds, parting to flow around the Eastern tower, burn red-orange where they catch the sun.

This is a vision of Victory. A fantasy of how life might be, when humanity is safe, and free. A Dream.

I have dozens of Dreams: Ballets choreographed for free-fall. Base jumping without injury or death. Intellectual intimacy with friends, without the barrier of symbolic language.

But here on Ancient Earth, we’re not safe. Not yet. And I am especially unsafe in the Winter. I have seasonal affective disorder, so for me, this season can suck.

What it sucks, specifically, is my soul, out through my mouth, then hides it in tattered robes, while I become an empty shell of a person, who doesn’t miss what they’ve forgotten they ever had.

I remember a time, when I was very depressed, lying on the basement floor and staring at the ceiling. As I had been, for hours. It was like my veins were full of lead.

The line between obsessive thoughts and hallucination blurs at times like these. I saw ice water. I felt it, covering my body. And concrete pressed into my back, where I lay heavy at the bottom of a well. A deep well. Above me were miles of murky water. And I was drowning.

But even through all that water, I could see to the surface, if I tried. And above the well, filtering through the icy sludge, points of light swam into focus.

Not just above the surface, but lightyears away. They were the stars. And they grew brighter as I focused on them, their hearts igniting, and burning through the darkness, with an intensity I’d forgotten was possible.

And in the fire of those distant stars, I saw visions of myself. In one star, I was a professor, teaching logic to freshmen at a university. I could feel the chalk on my hands. In another, I was learning to paint.

And in a third star, the Summer sun warmed my face, and I was laughing, freely. Like that was… just… a normal thing to do.

I’d been very close to dying on that day. Winter had almost consumed me.

But when I saw the stars, when I felt them burning in the night, despite their impossible distance, despite the expectation that I’d never lift my arms, much less climb out of that well into the sky, I realized that I. Had. To live. I had to protect the possibility that I might teach. That I might paint. That I might feel the sun, one day, and laugh.

Today, I’m much more robust against the Winter. But I also see more darkness than I ever have before.

I see the darkness of an empty future. Of the stars grown cold, having meant nothing to anyone for more than one beat of a fragile heart.

It is hard to strive on empty. It’s hard to breathe another breath, and keep on breathing, when your lungs don’t know the taste of laughter.

And I don’t know that we can win. In fact, in the vast majority of timelines, we lose.

Because humanity is fragile and heavy, full of lead at the bottom of a well that seems far too deep to climb out of in time. Nobody’s gonna reach down from the sky to save us. There is no natural law saying that things must turn out ok in the end. No rescuer hath the rescuer. No Lord hath the champion, no mother and no father, only nothingness above. Nihil supernum.

And when I feel the depth of that darkness, smothered by despair at the challenge we face, sometimes it is tempting not to look so far ahead. To look at my feet, at just the next few years. To let myself drown.

Nihil supernum. Nothing above.

But with nothing above us, with nothing but ourselves holding us down, how high might we reach, if we manage stand at all? With what might we fill all that potential? Nihil supernum, absque capacitas crescendi - nothing above, except room to grow.

Dreams are not predictions. They’re by nature inaccurate and fanciful. But they are symbols of what we strive for. And we need them. We need to share them, to ignite each other. To forge the future in the furnace of our shared visions of Victory. We need, in the depths of Winter, to find within ourselves an invincible Summer.

However cold the night, however sharp the bitter winds of Winter, I will fight, forever, as long as I know the taste of Victory.

So I pluck the stars from my sky, the ones that burn brightest for me, that show me what might be, and why we have to live. I tuck them into the pockets of my soul, where I keep the precious things I’ll fight to protect, so that whenever I decide whether to drown or to blaze, in all the little choices made on ordinary days that lead toward or away from Victory, I find myself already on fire.

This is the fire that I share with you: A stained glass palace in the sunrise. The wind caressing my wings.