Every day we’re presented with the same message: ‘Make a difference.’
Be it through charity, fame, beauty, intelligence, sporting ability, love, spiritualism, we are expected the make the most of our lives. Each of us trapped within this impossibly small bubble of possibility, with a media that spins around us, chanting an ugly mantra: ‘You are special. You can change the world. Flap your wings, butterfly, and you can do anything.’
But here’s the kicker: What if we can’t? What if, when it comes down to it, we die having changed nothing?
One thing I’ve noticed about people is that they work in these tiny little blocks of focus. Concentrating on the next goal post. ‘If I can lose 5 pounds by next month, I’ll be able to relax,’ we chant, twisting and turning in the mirror to find that magic angle that catches the light and transforms us into the pouting and sinewy model who pounds the catwalk, hair and breasts bouncing as her impossibly high heels strike the floor.
One wobble. That’s all it takes. A rabid attack on the cake at the back of the fridge. A shameful visit to the forbidden cupboard of biscuits. One tiny little shake in the model’s leg and she comes crashing down, a foal learning to walk, eyes wide and full of naive panic in the glare of a hundred cameras, greedily sucking the mistake into their unblinking eyes.
We see the girl sitting at the front of the class, her arm shaking from exhaustion as she reaches up. Reaching for the answer, reaching for her teacher’s praise, reaching for salvation. She is drowning in a sea of mediocrity, stuck in a system built for idiots. Her searching fingers beg for the quiet intellect of an aged university professor, peering over glasses and making a silent connection with her student.
The girl sits there, wrapped in the uniform of her peers, a uniform selected from hundreds of uniforms to represent her school. She wears the colours of a majority, and it weighs her down, the same way the books that she has collected in her battered satchel weigh heavily on her shoulder as she treads the corridors of her school. In thirty years, that shoulder will dip slightly, a throw-back to the corridors she used to inhabit.
She is unseen. The teacher selects the student behind her. The girl sinks down, breathing deeply, her pen already scribbling notes in the margins of her textbook. She will study every night before her exam. She will memorise the text while her friends drain bottles of sugary alcohol and run their mouths together clumsily, mimicking the adults they wish they could be. She will drop three marks on the exam, and her father will ask why the percentage on her results isn’t three-figured.
But she waits for the future. For university. For her BA. For her MA. For her PhD. She’ll make a difference. She just needs to wait until she has the qualifications to be able to.
A boy sits in his darkened room, his pale face illuminated with the cool glow of his computer. A webcam blinks at him as his lips race around words he is too young to know. Later, he’ll edit the video he is recording. He’ll chop it up as a surgeon disects his patient, selecting all the good and removing all the bad. He’ll cut it together so it seems off-the-cuff, like he’s funny and intelligent and worth watching. Then he’ll upload it. Sit and watch his views grow. He’s made a difference. He’s practically famous. People all around the world are watching him.
I’m exhausted. Writing streams of consciousness is tiring.