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  • Writer's picturePhoenix Tesni

musings on kindness, vulnerability, and the state of the world’s affairs


the world is at least half terrible, and for every kind stranger, there is one who would break you, though I keep this from my children. I am trying to sell them the world. Any decent realtor, walking you through a real shithole, chirps on about good bones: This place could be beautiful, right?

You could make this place beautiful.

Maggie Smith, Good Bones.


a photograph of a green car against the backdrop of a large building, against grey skies. captured by @sunamored.

photograph credits to the loveliest Chrys on twitter @sunamored!




There was a time when all of my ambitions were based on ridiculously unfounded confidence & a lack of knowledge of how the world operated. This was all the way back from when America was still the land of all our dreams, when hard work was the only thing that kept you from attaining incredulous wealth, & a definition of injustice was only formed with the help of personal experiences, like perhaps a particularly terrible teacher exhibiting favoritism in class, or missing out on something that other rich kids could afford. This has eventually changed over time, thanks to the wonderful world of the internet & the ability to learn of the world’s terrible mishaps as they happen in real-time. Unfortunately, I have also since forgotten the ability to dream entirely— and if I were to be even more honest, the ability to want things beyond what I already have.


On certain days, this isn’t half bad a deal. When I’m going about a particularly good day– content with the sunlight on my face, filled up to the brim with gratitude for my cat lying beside me, the ability to not want anything more than what I have serves me rather than being an obstacle. I justify it well– after all, aren’t the ones who are constantly in the pursuit of an undefined more often dissatisfied & incapable of filling a void in them that refuses to be filled? So I tell myself I’ve figured it out. That I’ve attained what Buddhists spend entire years meditating to achieve– a complete release from worldly desires.


What a load of bullshit.




 




The truth is that I was scared. I am scared. I went out and saw the world, & I despised everything I learned about it. I wasn’t comfortable staying within my own home, so I spent years & years devising a way out, dreaming of a future where things would be beautiful & wonderful & kind, only to find that the world was just as ugly, filled with hideous, unsightly, dangerous things. I saw exploitation & blood hidden behind a façade of shiny & glamorous things. I saw that there were just as many indifferent people as there were kind ones, and I learned that there were cruel people who liked to be excessively loud about their cruelty. I wanted to believe in the goodness of people, but the world kept burning, falling prey to illness & death & misfortune, and it kept turning the kind ones terrible and indifferent. So I told myself it was okay to be where you are. That if you stay in, bite your tongue, tuck your tail in between your legs, you don’t have to cause more harm to the world, and you don’t have to see how much worse the world could get.




 



When I was 20, I discovered Brené Brown’s Ted Talk: The Power of Vulnerability. I was obsessed with it for months– I watched both her talks and her Netflix special, and shared it with everyone I loved. She spoke about how human connection was what gave life purpose, & how excruciating vulnerability was the only way to connect with each other. I still love her. I understood at one point that I had to be courageous in my ability to be seen and to fail, and I prepared myself for it.


But at 23, after a couple of failures and traumatizing incidents later, I ended up with an avoidant attachment style, a desperately broken sense of self-worth, and a widely growing inability to ask for help. Present me laughs at this ironic development, but the younger me would have had compassion instead and held my hand through it.




 


Of course, in my mind, all of this ends up being my fault. I understand the circumstances were difficult, but why wasn’t I brave enough? Why didn’t I let myself be open to new possibilities? Why don’t I just believe in myself when I know I’m capable and smart? Why don’t I just work on myself?


Some of this has to do with mental illness, which makes my life difficult in a myriad of ways. I’ve struggled with it throughout my life. Other parts of this, however, also have to do with how the world works with respect to us. I realized this during a conversation with a friend– where I was telling him this:


a text screenshot of a message that says "I could technically still be brave abd refuse to fall prey to my pattern seeking/ pattern finding tendencies but it's all such exhausting work" in blue and a response a says "I'm not sure how possible it is on a deeper emotional level though, like we still need to experience some of the right, healthy thing to feel that it exists" in gray



And this knocked me out with such incredible surprise— because why didn’t I think of this? Why was I trying to heal everything in me on my own, when my wounds weren’t mine-created? Which then makes me think about the most basic fact of life that we all know and somehow still ignore: We live in a society. We live for each other. We built this world for us. In the beginning, when we were still figuring out how to live, someone said– you don’t have to do this alone. One of us will heal you when you get sick. I’ll grow the crops so you don’t have to do it all yourself. I’ll make your clothes so we can protect each other from the heat & cold & everything that might come our way. We made the wheel once and later we came up with the air fryer. Our whole, entire human race has been a group project in survival. A group effort to make sure our lives are easier for each other. A group effort to connect & build wonderful things so we can live & love & play easy. But somewhere along the way, we’ve lost the plot, mostly because we’re human. And capitalism– but that is also a concept we made up, because being human also entails being capable of cruelty beyond comprehension. Thankfully, so does the ability to choose kindness.


So as a society, if we don’t show each other kindness, it becomes increasingly difficult to show it to ourselves. You and I can move towards hyper-individualism at an alarming rate, but as much as we try to fix ourselves, put ourselves first, try to heal our own wounds ourselves, we can’t get very far until we receive help, and extend help. We have to show up for each other. I have to text a friend who’s too caught up with work & make plans first. I have to understand that the person who always seems frenzied doesn’t need advice, they need to be heard. We have to believe in our friends when they can’t believe in themselves. We have to extend more empathy and less blame for the people we can’t understand. We have to start by believing in the goodness of the world, because at some point, if we give up entirely, we won’t get anywhere better.




 



What I’m leading up to say here, is that yes, the world is getting more & more terrible by the day. There’s no denying this fact. But another equally true fact is that we can choose to make it better, one person at a time. I was in the shower a few days ago, and instead of the usual existential spiral, I had a seemingly revelatory thought: “I don't have to always think of the world as particularly messed up just because I’ve lived through better times. It doesn’t have to be cruel, it just can be what it is. I just have to do my part in making it better for the people I come across.”


A lot of this, I personally feel, also has to come with how we interact with each other over the internet. I find that most people on the internet are like feral street cats, where– even if you extend out a hand, they’ll still hiss & snap at you for no apparent reason whatsoever. Something that always comes as a shock to me after all these years of being online is that there are actual, real people behind all these hate-spewing internet bigots— because some part of me does want to believe that they’re all bots, and the world is filled with kind & incredible people who hesitate & think twice before saying incredible horrific things to other people online.


Weirdly enough, it seems to be incredibly easy to get sucked into a world of horrific exchanges. The truth is that while none of this is justified, all of us are also still recovering from a global pandemic and grief so unsurmountable that no one can begin to explain how much it hurts. I know I am. Most of the young people online— including me, we’ve lost entire years of development & socialization amongst people our own age. A lot of us quite literally haven’t touched grass in years. We’ve become so desensitized to people being actual human beings that we’re now alright with filming strangers, doxing them, & sending death threats. And people, with no access to proper mental or physical healthcare, terribly disorganized governments, surrounded by trolls with harsh temperaments & endless patience, often do love company in their misery, especially when given a veil of anonymity. It's such an awful, repetitive chain of events.




 



But despite all of this, what I still want to believe— although this belief might stem from a place of privilege— is that the world can be better if we refuse to give up on it. That despite our collective suffering, if we can still choose to be authentic and honest about what we need, we might make it better still. I don’t want to preach Gandhian principles about extending the other cheek, because I think that’s the stupidest idea & we shouldn’t have to put up with cruelty. Neither do I want to say that we owe this world kindness when a lot of us are victims ourselves. Some people do get off of the cruelty they inflict upon us & I believe in ruthlessly overusing the block feature. But I do think that we have to stop thinking about what we owe to the people around us and act how we would in any human-occupied society, where connection is the underlying thread of all human interaction.


And maybe– just with the slightest hope and belief in the inherent goodness of the people around me, I can still have ambitions based on unfounded confidence again, & perhaps dream of things bigger than what I want. Perhaps I can still be genuine about what I want again, without constantly being afraid that the world will take it away. Authentically, wholeheartedly, with the knowledge that I might just be helping someone else do the same.



 


Hi, I'm Phoenix Tesni, and I'm a poet & multidisciplinary artist! If you've known me for a while, you know about my newsletter, phee speaks. I've been wanting to start a blog for the longest time now— I've been reminiscing upon the years when I was an early teenager & liked documenting my entire life through journal entries that I would put out on the internet for everyone to see.


There's a lot in the world that I like to write about, but prominently— I write about feelings. I think pain is inevitable, but we always have the option to choose hope. I think kindness is important. I think happiness is often found in fleeting moments, and it has to be chosen every time we get the choice. I like writing about pain, too— all kinds of heartache, mental turmoil, & chronic physical illnesses, in hopes that someone else can feel seen in it, and perhaps a little less alone.


This is who I am. I like creating art, I like consuming art, & I like letting it consume me back. If you hang around, I promise we'll end up changing each others' lives for the better.


Forever grateful,

Phee.










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