Tadpoles of the internet, unite

At times I feel utterly ravenous online, with this belief that today I can defeat it all, beat back the internet’s power over me if I can find the perfect content each day to soothe my soul. But there’s so much out there and so little of what I really desire, in between all we’re forced to view, that stays with me.

Feeling overwhelmed and frantic about the internet is also a bit like prayer, or how I used to imagine prayer might work. Neurons firing within my gray matter produce a signal? Out there some kind of interstellar transit occurs. Riding the ripple of a gravitational wave toward the God-system with other prayers. Sort of waved through the gates by the angels after dodging demons and asteroids to reach another dimension that’s not a dimension, sideways across time into time outside of time, like the “Other” category of my phone’s daily report of my screen time.  

The report does not have an “In tears, tired” category, which it should. Because the story of tiredness is having an enormous moment in the timeline, like a quiet mushroom cloud, now that millions more people are experiencing intense, prolonged dread. This is a welcome thing for those who already consider themselves old hands at exhaustion. Others resent the intrusion of newbies and the tenor of their innocent laments about dark eye-circles and job loss. The collective surge toward digital unity around tiredness—the online over-sharing to boast about the lack of progress made in tele-behavioral therapy—has invigorated demand for more stories about staying alive while thoroughly spent. I note this trend with genuine hope, of course. The snarky tone I’m deploying is required. If I came across as charming, no one would believe I wrote this in the middle of the night cursing demon insomnia.

Nature is tired as well, although it branded its relationship to sleep with cool terms like brumation and estivation eons ago and has somehow, despite its taste for cruelty, avoided an internet connection, except as camera subject. Sometime in my past, when the season resembled what we once called spring, not long before the trees would put out their leaves, I stayed in a cabin at a state park for a week. Running past the cabin was a red-dirt road with wide puddles alongside after the heavy rain. Admiring the reflections there, among the dead leaves trapped in the water, I saw enormous tadpoles. The more I looked the more I saw hidden in every shadow. Dozens of dark-seed-pod bodies with minute black tails, like exclamation points with massively engorged dots. The tadpoles didn’t want to move. They were tired, too. Waiting to grow. Nudging one another.

I imagined (that is, I imagine now, cold, from deep within the grip of the pandemic) as I looked at the tadpoles that the internet of my soul would release me from its grip if I could reach them. And why not? They were pure, tiny, vulnerable. So I fell to my knees in the red mud, put my lips near the puddle, and shouted with intense desire to the souls of the tadpoles, “I have discovered a master recipe involving all things!”

The tadpoles replied calmly, but their answer ultimately baffled me, which is likely more my fault than theirs. I was surprised to hear they already knew about things like grand unified theories and the bardos. Their recipe involves several ingredients to transform time. Every minute, though, still must be lived, slowly, often in pain, and tired, of course, with fresh despair, courtesy of the daily news and a melancholic mind, carefully washed of any pesticides, until it’s ready to be grated over the bowl, and mixed into the next couple of decades of caring for others. After the meal is prepared, its spell takes several months to gain full effectiveness. It’s as thick as old oatmeal with raisins, or tadpoles the size of raisins. By the time you’ve forced down a few bites the friend who gave you the recipe may have moved on to another town or spouse. They wanted to escape seeing you so tired but it has found them or someone they love and now they laugh together to the same song of tiredness. They can’t believe you actually ate that stuff. But you still do, cramming it in, laughing, hoping someone will notice, even if it’s just a like or strange comment on a blog about old family recipes for staving off despair.

My desire for connection sometimes happens elsewhere, before I pick up my phone. In an old picture taped to my dresser mirror, my father and I have a hand on our chin and my grandmother, his mother, is listening to us with a wry, perhaps tired smile on her face. They’re both dead but I think it was a great conversation. I can’t remember what day it happened or where we were. The urge to ask one of them as they sit there on either side of me in the picture is very strong.