In every life, I imagine, there comes a moment of shock and self-awareness, a moment when one realizes it’s impossible to go on this way. Maybe not every life – perhaps some people can maintain a cool distance forever, excusing away the small incongruities and the cognitive dissonance. Perhaps even most people live that way; I don’t know. What do I know about other peoples’ lives?

But in many lives, anyway, there comes such a moment. You work hard at something, or for something, and it suddenly dawns on you that your goal isn’t worth it, or its value diminishes at least, or you question the very basis of that work. The justifications for minor tweaking dissolve. You look around and think, “But this isn’t it. This isn’t it at all. I missed it all along. Maybe I had it once, but I lost it.” And you feel very alone, and probably very angry. If circumstances conspire to compel this realization as a direct result of outrage at flagrant injustices around you, you feel angrier still, and probably even more alone.

“I knew this; I knew this. And yet I chose to ignore it.”

Guilt, complicity, rage and the kind of aimless anger that makes your skin hurt, fatigue so bad you still shake in bed awake or write at twenty to four in the morning, and despair, boredom, ennui, irritation at friends, desire, solidarity, nearly boundless love. That’s what I’ve felt in the past week, when the state unfurled itself like a flag in my city. Not, as some maintain, “the police state,” as if there were some other kind – just the regular old “state;” the arrangement of norms, protocols, disciplines, and economies that bound thought, assembly, speech, self-rule, and desire.

In my community, among my friends and my lover, on the streets we all walk, the state came and announced itself the only way it knows how.

Contrast and compare:

A roomful of dedicated young people, dreaming of a better and more egalitarian world, where norms are subverted, everything is shared and necessities are free, and a spirit of cooperation predominates.

And a street lined with barely recognizable humans encased in robotic black, insignia-free, emotionless, firing tear-gas and rubber bullets and pepper spray at children and the elderly and the idealistic and the angry, holding guns to their heads, detaining those who would report on it, confiscating evidence, pressuring the faithful to betray what they love, torturing those they imprison, tapping every phone, threatening every passerby, murdering every dream they can find.

A friend says, “I told you so, they’re cowboys,” like I’d been warned not to use a certain hot sauce. Another says, “Why not leave when they tell you to? That way, no one will be hurt.”

I stare blankly and in some amount of disbelief, before recovering enough to mumble some sort of unequivocal retort. What is there to say? How would one explain water to fish?

Our lives go on; we meet at ungodly hours to organize paper trails of lost innocence or reconfirmed suspicions. We hug each other very long and try not to cry where others can see us. We say, “Keep loving, keep fighting,” and wonder if the raids, the roundups, the mass arrests, the targeting, the surveillance have stopped for good.

And of course they haven’t. They’ve just slinked back into the shadows, they’ve just moved on a bit, and they’ve just continued in all the pockets they call home – the ally states, the “rogue” states, the communities of color and the communities of the poor and the communities of the vulnerable and every last spot where cameras aren’t. That is, where they’ve always been, for as long as we’ve sold our dreams to pen flicks or digital touch-screens, to nominate strangers who will determine the structures of our lives.

Are we a bit wiser now? Are we a bit angrier? Will this last?

I think it has to last. I think there’s no other choice. And I think if we go down, we go down swinging – and even if we don’t connect, we latch on to each other in the meanwhile. We grab what connections we can, and we love with more rage than this system’s architects and engineers ever dreamed possible.

One hand around your lover’s shoulder and the other one clenched in a fist.

Tonight at the Cabaret, she quoted a friend: “They tried to dig up the roots, but they only succeeded in planting seeds.”

So tonight, in response, with nothing left but fumes and the lingering feeling that I should be doing more, I quote a song instead: “Brick by brick, wall by wall.”

It’s not over, St. Paul.