On Not Having the Answer
Originally posted on Medium on Feb. 2nd 2018
I like talking to people who don’t have the answer.
Almost all the articles that social media algorithms choose for me begin with the phrase How to. I begin to forget that how is really a question word, not a word of statement. Still, I find myself eating up these guides to a better life, as if a few five minute reads [tl;dr] a week will somehow change how I manage my world.
How to Be Productive, Efficient, and a Good Person; How to Balance Your Interpersonal Relationships, 60+ Hour Work Week, and Basic Needs in Ten Steps; How to Remember to Call Your Mother; How to Clean the Dust From Your Fan in Less Than 20 Minutes; How to Identify Toxic Friends and Enemies; How to Know If You Are the Toxic Friend or Enemy; How to Clean Your Bathroom Drain.
It is an impossible feeling to walk through the world with an impression that you know nothing about how to live in it. As a queer trans person, I am overtly aware that there has never been and will never be a How to guide for me to successfully be in the world. When something begins with how to it is most likely followed by a verb. How to make, How to get, How to manage, etc. I want to substitute this how to guide mentality for a how do mentality. If you conduct a cursory search for how to write a how to guide you will find that many of these sites talk about writing a how to guide in extremely linear terms. For instance, look at the Know How Non-Profit’s advice: “Give each step a heading which describes what the step is about,” followed by “Each step should cover one self-contained task or ‘stage’,” followed by “Make sure you write the steps in the order that they should be carried out!” This type of progress driven, step-by-step teleology of productivity is grossly ableist but also profoundly unsustainable. Don’t we know not to listen to directions that promise certain results if we marionette our way through all the outlined steps?
How to Read A Book A Day; How to Become a Plant Person; How to Make Someone Fall In Love With You or the Thought of Falling In Love With You; How to Reboot Your Computer; How to Get Hobbies.
Asking how do is a question rather than a statement, and one that is probably followed by an “I” or “we”. How do I become, How do we create, How do I learn, etc. I like that the how do model questions the world but also makes the querent take responsibility in the asking. Alongside the deluge of articles on social media, the how to guide idea is a socially constructed attitude; a lukewarm version of mansplaining that I am all set with.
How to Choose Candle Scents That Help Your Writing Process; How to Save Money Fast and Spend Time Well; How to Move Across the Country in Less Than $5k; How to Tell Your Racist Stepfather He is Racist (Spoiler: Just Fucking Say That); How to Stop Inflammation and Sleep Better in A Week; How to Learn to Love and Appreciate Nature.
How to do life? When I began the process of compiling and filing my paperwork related to transitioning (legal name, medical materials, legal gender change, etc.), I realized that the process is insurmountable. Insurmountable because the process never really gets done. Issues come up, people can be rude as hell on the phone or in person, and one can never really stop bullshit companies from dead-naming you in the junk mail that comes to your apartment. Insurmountable because I still have a list of companies to contact to change my name. Things like my PayPal account, which apparently needs a scan of my legal name change that is doubly notarized. Slowly, I tick off these boxes and it gets smaller. But I didn’t and still don’t know how to do this.
How to Organize Your Life in Lists, How to Know When to End Your Relationship; How to Know if You Are In Love or Just Enjoying Someone’s Company; How to Maximize Your Alone Time; How to Say ‘Yes’ To Yourself Instead of Saying ‘No’ To Others; How to Weed Out the Bad Thoughts From the Garden of Your Mind; How to Manage Deep, Soul-Crushing Guilt.
I am someone who begins sentences with How do. And I am starting to think that I like hanging out with people who ask the world similar kinds of questions. The stranglehold of the how to guide filters into all facets of my life: why do I feel like I am managing my life in such a unprincipled and chaotic way? In my academic work I feel like an imposter, in my embodiment as a trans person, I am lead to believe I am an imposter. I don’t know how to not feel those things. Many of us are lead to believe that we need a guide; that we’ve traveled so far afield from the path to productivity, to success, to love, to living that we are in desperate need for simple self-help to get back on the right track. I never have the answers and I have never found it beneficial to pretend like I do.
How to Exercise For Yourself And Not For Society; How to Write A Novel In A Year; How to Be An Inspiring Teacher In Seven Steps; How to Love Yourself But Not Seem Vain; How to Not Need ‘Things’ Under Capitalism or How to Pretend to Not Need ‘Things Under Capitalism.
We need to ask more questions: of each other, of ourselves, and of this difficult world. Let’s stop believing that there are answers on how to live under a patriarchal, racist, misogynistic, ableist, homophobic, classist, cis-normative hegemony. My bones ache knowing that these how to guides reflect a culture of people trying so desperately to survive under a system that hates the majority of us. And just to be clear: I begrudge no one who finds solace, comfort, inspiration, or assistance in how to articles. There is great utility in having another person give a friendly suggestion on how to make the most out of this world. I am writing because I am looking forward to the world we can all create.
How do I go into the bank when I feel dissociative? How do I get a public library card? How do I switch my residency from one state to another? How do I remember to care for myself when those I love are suffering, too? How do I sustain myself in the midst of such a terrifying world? How do I believe in a future that is ‘not yet here’? How do I do anything, I wonder? How do we stop looking for answers and start being answers?
I like talking to people who don’t have the answer. I like talking to people who don’t know how to live in this world because they ask how do we envision a kinder, more just, more sustainable world?