The Creation of Matter, or What Do You Do When The World Stops Spinning?
When a friend dies, everything changes. Even "everything" means something different now.
What I’d really like to be is everything. Is there an app for that?
The older I get, the more I come to realize that the thing I’m really struggling with— underneath it all, hidden behind the daily desperation of “when will I finally become the person I want to be?” and the sometimes-hourly spiral sessions over my too-big feelings and too-small life— is that what I want cannot be quantified. No matter how hard I try or how intensely I think about it or how many different ways I find to write about it, I can’t seem to crack the code on balancing my desire for small, comfortable, everyday joys and my desperation for big, lofty, bucket-list happiness.
I want to sit on the couch and watch a show with my friends and listen to albums and laugh and drink too much. I want to write a masterpiece and grow my podcast and get a promotion at my day job and take spontaneous trips. I want to feel good in every moment, and spend my time, my minutes, in ways that make me relish in my own life. I want to feel great, the best, incredible, now and later, after lots of hard work, after I’ve spent my time, my days my months my years, making moves that burst open doors to bigger, fiercer lives I hadn’t even considered I could live. I want everything. I always have.
Then, suddenly, one day, in between watching a female-written indie movie that gave me lots of inspiration-y feels and making a divine dinner of my own creation, “everything” became something different. I got a call from my best friend’s mom. There was an accident. Hours passed. My dinner went uneaten. The TV stayed on, paused, waiting to be given permission to play out the next scene. A hundred phone calls. A million minutes. A billion lifetimes. The injuries were unsurvivable. The night kept going. The food got cold. Everything changed. “Everything” changed.
I had never lost someone close to me. I had never considered it possible. Not in the stories I’d write for myself, not in the daydreams I’d concoct on the subway or right before I fell asleep. Not in therapy, even. That was simply not a part of my everything, and so it seemed impossible that it could happen, and something beyond impossible that it actually did happen. She had so much left to do. She had so much left to say.
Molly was good at talking. She was even better at listening, and perhaps the best ever at understanding. She was an editor, by trade, a documentarian, by hobby, and a podcaster, by passion. She could always see the world as something to behold, and she was able to capture it as it happened, cut it all up, and make it into something even more beautiful for everyone else to see, too. She could listen to what her life was telling her the story was, and she could tell it herself, almost at the exact same time. She was a magician in that way. She was a creator of worlds. She was a whole world unto herself. What do you do when the world stops spinning?
If you’re me, the answer is “everything,” naturally. I tried to do it all. I drove to my sister’s the night we found out. I finally ate buttered noodles, the only thing I could manage to figure out how to get from the stove onto a plate and into my body. I called her mother. I texted all her hometown best friends, none of whom I had ever met, but all of whom I knew I was now connected to forever. I set up a memorial fund in her name. I wrote an obituary, which turned into a testimonial I’d later give at her funeral. I organized a sleepover with our group of best friends. I went back to New York. I cleaned out her apartment. I went to her funeral. I spoke. I went home, eventually, weeks later, back to the place where I’d learned the news, and when I walked through the door, I wouldn’t have been surprised to find the television still frozen in place, characters mid-sentence, as though even they weren’t ready to know what the next moment held.
The one thing I couldn’t do, and still can’t, is face the functional truth of what this all means. Molly is gone. That means she can’t write anything new. She can’t film constantly as the rest of us run around singing, screaming, jumping into freezing cold ponds, playing murder mystery games, loving just being near each other so much, we forgot to ever imagine what it could look like to not be. She can’t say anything more. She can’t press the record button on her laptop and give a clap to kick off our podcast’s weekly session. She’s had all her conversations. She’s made all her moves. Her everything is now nothing. Or, at least, it’s something else. I liked what it was before.
Before, in the Normal Times, Molly and I talked for hours every week. We hosted a film podcast together called The Lady Parts. One of us would watch a movie and take note of the timecodes where only female characters appear, she’d send those codes to the other, who would watch only those lady parts. We’d call each other, recording from separate rooms as a completely shutdown world kept us apart, but we’d talk and we’d listen and we’d formulate theories and we’d argue over opinions and we’d dream big and we’d laugh bigger and there was Molly, recording it all for the world to hear (after she’d perfectly edit it, of course). Listening, hearing, seeing, doing, talking, sharing, being, feeling, all at once. Everything, always.
I had never been inside Molly’s apartment before. That seems strange now, in retrospect, but she’d moved in March 2020, then the city hit pause, and then a year later, she was dead. I hated that the first time I was visiting was to pack up her things, but I hated even more that the things had to be packed up in the first place, so the nuance of my despair kept the guilt at bay. Until I stepped into her office.
Taped in front of Molly’s desk, above her tornado of cords and microphones and plugs and headphones, handwritten on a piece of poster board in permanent marker was the phrase “What’s Important Now?” It was the first thing I saw. I walked up to it, my heart suddenly pounding, my breath somehow simultaneously lost and heaving, and I ripped it off the wall. Quick. Unexpected. Shocking. Unplanned. Just like her own departure. It was the first thing I put into the box of things I’d later take with me and re-home in my own living room, bedroom, bathroom, closet. “What’s Important Now?” She was asking. She was telling, too.
l think that all depends on what “now” means. Right now, it’s important that I finish writing this. It’s equally important that I don’t waste my life away, waking up late when I could be creating, lying on the couch when I could be seeing the world, being inside of it instead of creating ones of my own. Tomorrow, it’s important that I do the job that pays my bills, that allow me to have an apartment, on the walls of which a piece of cardboard with the phrase “What’s Important Now?” is now pinned next to an art print that states “Dare to say something that matters.” It doesn’t say “Dare to say everything.” That’s not what’s important. That’s not what I need to do, now.
After tomorrow, either in one day or in one year or in one decade, it’s important that I no longer have a survival job when what I want to have is a dream job. Now is a construct. Now is confusing. Now, I don’t know what’s important, because if I was told I only had 24 hours to live, I surely wouldn’t spend it trying to finish that screenplay or publish a book of poetry. I’d spend it with my friends and with my family, watching shows and playing games and listening to albums. But time is relative. And I do have only 24 hours to live, kind of, if you really think about it. So what’s important? Now?
It’s important that I don’t let myself get in the way of my own happiness, my own drive, my own success, my own passion because I am scared of making the wrong choice. It’s important I understand that I can’t have every thing, but I can have everything I want, because in the end, it turns out, all of what you are and all of what you’ve done is an “everything” unto itself. It’s important I continue to write down or shout out what I feel, what I think, what I observe, what I experience, because, as Molly taught me, being able to see what you look like in the world reflected back to you on a screen or on the page or in your earbuds isn’t narcissism or laziness or a product of boredom or a simple way to pass time. It’s magic.
It’s important I continue saying the things Molly now can’t, whether that’s in writing or in our podcast or on film or in photos. It’s important I create. It’s important I share my creations with the world, or just with a few people who are searching, desperately, like I am, for meaning amidst all the chaos of the everything that is being alive.
So maybe I don’t need to have everything. Maybe I don’t need to do, to be, to want everything. Maybe it’s really something that I’ve been looking for this whole time, and I’ve just been looking in the wrong spot. After all, sometimes, you walk into a place you’d never been under circumstances you’d never dared to imagine and you find the thing you didn’t know you were looking for, just taped up, for you to take with you. When you look for everything everywhere, there’s nothing to focus on. When you find something somewhere, it becomes clearer. I’d like to be that something for someone. I think that would matter.
I don’t know if I have the answer to my life’s purpose today, or if I will tomorrow, or if I will in a decade. But for now, I will try to find the balance between seeing and doing, the peace in wanting and waiting, the joy in pursuing and anticipating, and I will do my damnedest to revel in the journey. Which, I think, means writing phrases like “What’s Important NOW?” in permanent marker, so they outlive me, even once my 24 hours is up. So they can hang on someone else’s wall and keep them up at night. So they can remind whoever reads them that time is a tricky thing, but now is indestructible, even if it’s just written on paper. Maybe, I think, especially so.
I can’t be everything, it turns out. But I can write about it all. In fact, I believe I have to. It’s what I was born to do. It’s what I was called to do. It’s what I have to make the choice to do every day, every new now, every time I think what I write down isn’t necessary or worthy, every second I spend worrying about my future or my past, every keystroke I waste wondering why I think I’m crazy enough to want something so big and so loud, I’ll remember to believe in what’s important now, and I will to say something, anything, just not everything, and I will make it all matter. I will create matter.
So that’s what I make, I guess. I make believe.