Remember when Kylie Jenner called 2016 “The year of realizing stuff”?
In a now infamous scene from her solo reality show, Life With Kylie, the youngest Jenner declared that she had shifted her focus to the pursuit of emotional maturity, which she meant to acquire through a meditative reflection, allowing a greater capacity for gratitude. Well, we think that’s what she meant to say, because what she really said was: "Like, I feel like every year has a new energy, and I feel like this year is really about, like, the year of just realizing stuff. And everyone around me, we're all just, like, realizing things."
The meme factories were at their most industrious in the weeks that followed, making an icon out of a one-eye-half-closed photo of Kylie at her most pseudo-spiritual, as the quote became the (anti) “I have a dream” of a generation.
Jenner’s “realizations” would remain as much a mystery as the incomprehensible reasons for her mass appeal. The reality star has always made a point to lack depth and has strayed from projecting a brand of celebrity based on relatability, but we must admit that the billionairess was way ahead of her time — and we are finally catching up to her attempts at a half-asleep awakening.
The problem was that when Kylie made the vague and inarticulate statement, it was 2016. The rest of us were not there yet, and had not, spiritually speaking, arrived at the year of realizing things.
Slowly, though, the world started to catch up with her. First, the pandemic moved from something that only people in China needed to worry about, to something that maybe Italy should worry about and finally to something we should worry about in the U.S. Then each piece of the world seemed to fall like dominoes. Even the dopiest among us were forced to go from flappers to philosophers.
We’re now on a seemingly collective, inevitable pilgrimage in search of enlightenment, but not in an un-sexy, off-putting, profound and no fun way, but in a quasi-deep, inspired Instagram caption, Kylie Jenner way.
I admit I am one of those skeptics who are respectfully apprehensive of anything having to do with new age crystal feng shui cosmic energy — except in situations that build communion or provide speculative amusement, like a palm reading at a party. Since the pandemic, though, I’m a hippie dippie stoner without the weed, trying to find the greater metaphysical meaning behind every damn thing.
To be clear, I am naturally plagued by a perpetual state of overthinking. Not the practice of overanalyzing turns of events, but rather having my own internal monologue consistently interrupted by the distracting aroma of the food for thought cooking in the back burner. Like, in the middle of a professional exchange, an inner voice that sounds a lot like Owen Wilson will start riffing on some passing observation, “Wow, aren’t mouths so weird how we use them to communicate and also to digest our food. Wow we are flesh robots, wow, wow.”
Sometimes I can’t adjust the view from the bigger picture to zoom into the mundane. I’ll be driving and wondering how someone from the past would react if they saw us in our little transportation machines going past on the street and can’t turn my brain off from that line of thinking to whatever practical things I’m supposed to be brainstorming.
Yet, until now, I have not realized most stuff.
It’s undoubtedly a stressful, somber and uncertain time, but it's also endlessly fascinating — and not only because of the ways in which we’re seeing the world change.
One of the most perplexing things about the pandemic is the thought that the actions of one person across the globe (in an area of China most of us had never heard of) can result in a domino effect that will alter the lives of the entire world. That is the kind of stuff we’re realizing, and it’s majestic in its arresting complexity.
How often do we get to see a recorded trail demonstrating the connectivity among humans around the entire planet? Sure, tracing the spread of coronavirus happens to be a map detailing a path of death and disease, but what about the small things that don’t make it to our radar because they aren’t causing a worldwide crisis? How much good spreads around the world and how much of that good are we responsible for passing around?
We are privy to a unique lesson that we’ve never understood before, no matter how many movies pushed the concept of parallel lives and the consequences of small actions. We’re finally seeing that everything we do matters. Everywhere.
There’s also the humbling, mind-shattering fact that an entity so minute could wreak havoc throughout humanity and completely reconfigure reality, shape the future and even change the environment.
Another newfound discovery is the fact that we are living through a distinct era in history. This time feels more eventful than any before it. Our journal entries are no longer emo notes we scrawl out in the morning to feel more artistic — they’re actual documents for future generations. Our Facebook memories will be worth sharing in a few years and our existence and actions feel meaningful. Unless there is far worse lying ahead, our grandchildren will ask us about this time period, and so will historians if we outlive the others and become the last known survivors of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.
We’re learning new terminology and have adjusted our vocabulary and our thinking: “Flatten the curve” and “shelter in place” are now the core tenets of our principles.
News websites now have a tab to categorize stories as coronavirus-related. Never has any news section (not even “sports” or “music”) ever seemed to sum up our entire reality. We have to face ourselves with few social obligations, no visitors and ample time. As it turns out, we cling to a lot of things that don’t matter, and there weren’t all that many roadblocks preventing us from reading more or exercising or learning new skills. As it happens, we now know, we just preferred watching YouTube and playing online games in our free time.
Most of all, we are dazzled by how much greener the grass is over our neighbor’s fence. Parents with young children hope for some alone time while those who have no family at home suffer through their loneliness.
Especially in the South, we are learning to shed our instinct for politeness over safety and have to forget our concerns about hurting someone’s feelings when we move away from strangers at the store on in the street because they’re getting too close.
As we celebrate our milestones without parties and guest lists, even worse, we are left to grieve the loss of loved ones without participating in comforting rituals like funerals, having to accept death as a clinical, biological event without any community support.
We’ve had to reconsider how we stay in touch and with whom and periodically look inward to update our politics and morals. We learned that all our survival instincts are tied to modern technology and had to define who is essential in business and what is essential in life.
Many of us found that we aren’t irreplaceable at work, because, the quarantine tells us, our jobs aren’t as important as we believed. But we are, and they are, and, again, everything we do matters.
To some degree, this hyper awareness and unprecedented depth are afflicting all of us, simultaneously keeping us down and inspired. But, like Kylie, we keep one eye closed and barely say what we mean to say because we don’t know how to articulate the monstrous proportions of such rapidly changing thoughts — some of which we haven’t even properly explored. Instead we talk about Tiger King or share posts about the top 10 things we hate and open up slightly about our personal worries, because we are entirely too overwhelmed with the enormity of the stuff we have realized.
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