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Barbie vs The End of Days
“You have to go to the real world. You can go back to your regular life, and forget any of this ever happened. Or you can know the truth about the universe.”
~ Weird Barbie
Introducing “Barbie vs. the End of Days,” the disturbing – yet delightful – new immersive roller coaster running around the clock in my very own brain. And, lucky me, there’s not even a line to get on it. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure theme where I can go to either the bright and shiny Barbie movie wearing all pink with my best friends or fend for myself as I visit the climate apocalypse wearing clothes and sandals made of cardboard and garbage bags. I can mix M&Ms in with my medium-sized theater popcorn or fight to the death over the last can of tuna on earth. (Extra points to Team Armageddon for the dramatic savings on Botox, because it’s perfectly reasonable to frown when I’m about to be burned alive walking to the mailbox.)
It is usually a waterfall log ride, but since we are in a drought, there is no cool water splash on my face that tempers the baking heat. It's just a searing carnival in a microwave oven. Just as I’m cruising through the tunnel showing the “Best of Seal/Dog Friendship” videos, in comes the b-roll of famine in the Horn of Africa. GIFs of cute babies from Instagram intersperse with GIFs of emaciated polar bears floating out to sea on a mint white chicklet of ice where there were once giant glaciers.
I really don't feel well. Unsettled, scared, and nauseous.
From the tippy top of the roller coaster, I can make out two starkly different universes below. One is the colorful and complex landscape of the human experience as I have always known it. It’s rugged and beautiful and challenging, dappled with the color-shifting opals of sparkling joy and crushing pain. I have had a beautiful life, and much of my pain has been of my own creation - an embarrassing reality as I careen down the cliff in the tracks into the other darker universe.
The other universe is a doomsday of un-survivable heat and the broken pipes of democracy spewing rusty toxic fascism everywhere while washing basic human rights and notions of common decency into the gutters. Everything feels heavier here as if there is a stronger gravitational pull. The truth is that an entire lush green island in the middle of the ocean just burned down and a hurricane is headed toward California. The war in Ukraine is at a tipping point. The territory of equity and inclusion gained through decades of civil rights battles is now being ceded to the cynical gospel of us versus them. (I won’t even begin to discuss Britney Spears’ 500th divorce. I used to have recurring dreams that we were best friends, and the point of every dream was how lucky she was to have me as a friend. True story, but that’s a whole other essay.)
The air here is not infused with oxygen, but a peppery vapor making breathing a painful chore. I’m struggling to trust the strength of my seatbelt and safety bar holding me tight as the car turns upside down and the change falls out of my pockets. My brain hurts from the jerky ride between the heaven and hell planes of existence, intensified by the daily 100-degree temperatures. The roller coaster’s tracks cut uncomfortably close to what feels like the world’s final days. The scaffolding keeping the structural integrity of a well-lived life appears rickety and rotted, possibly beyond repair.
There is no end to my questions, and I have no good answers. Are this heat and global instability the “new normal?” Can we fix what we’ve done to the environment? Why time after time do people choose conflict over peace? Can we have just one moment where everyone in the entire world is ok?
The world is so beautiful, but also so broken. It always has been both, that much I do know.
Accepting the cruel asymmetry of the world from the comfort of my home requires squinting at the preposterous unfairness of the instructions on the Monopoly box that explain the rules of who has what and why. In my own life, I’ve done my best to account for my own privilege and lean into the values that drove me to work in the field of child poverty, but I still squint—a lot. I travel, I have nice things, and my children will have the advantages of tutors and college counselors. Even if I were to give all that up, I alone cannot completely dismantle a system that benefits me at the expense of so many others. I can tell you that I’ve tried and will continue to try, but it's not a one-woman job.
So where does that leave someone like me in moments like this? Am I allowed to be happy when everything is crumbling around me? If I throw myself into the deep end of the pool of cruelty and unfairness, will I help save someone or will I just drown?
(Let me pause for a moment. If you are reading this and having intrusive thoughts such as, “Lighten the fuck up, Lady” or “What poor schmuck married this woman?” you aren’t entirely wrong. I’m just having a moment. Did I mention it’s frighteningly hot outside? This might be a good time to go to the bathroom, get a cold drink, take your dogs on a walk, and then sit back down and see if you can work through all of this with me. I could use the help.)
Being able to sort and compartmentalize the good and evil of the world is a survival skill. It has to be morally acceptable to experience pleasure in spite of other people’s pain. Still, there is no hard and fast rule that discerns what constitutes healthy blinders for problems we can’t control from hypocritical excuses for looking away. I can’t stop for every homeless person I see, but I can’t drive by them all, either. There is no graph or PowerPoint deck that pins down precisely what counts as sanity preservation and what is a weak tea justification for protecting the socioeconomic machine that works just fine for me.
I sit in my air-conditioned home surrounded by construction workers renovating houses in the neighborhood that are up on the roof in the hundred-degree weather while I am mixing my second iced latte of the day. Why me? Why don’t I have to be up on the roof while one of those guys sits in the air conditioning?
The question of “Why me?” has always been a tuning fork for me to calibrate the fairness of a situation. It was one of the first questions I asked when I got diagnosed with Parkinson’s. What did I do to deserve this? Of course, the answer was nothing. But I think the same question and answer apply to my privilege. What did I do to deserve this? Also, nothing.
Cognitive dissonance is the realization that your values and behavior are incongruent. It’s the pit in my stomach that demands intellectual honesty and sees right through hypocrisy. Perhaps the discomfort can also be a diagnostic tool to see where we humans have broken the link between our deepest values with our actions. Where we can lean into the truth of our shared world and take better care of it and each other.
For me, the answer is action through human connection. Bringing cold drinks to the workers is a simple gesture but makes a human connection and, hopefully, starts to mend the broken link between my own values and my actions. It's not as system-changing as my work on child hunger, but I don't think that's a requirement. The more I am able to see the humanity in someone else, the more compassion I'm able to generate for them. The more compassion I generate, the more motivated I am to work toward an authentically equitable system.
I’m getting off the ride. It’s too upsetting, too depressing, and too chaotic. I can pretend I never got on it in the first place, or search beneath the ride to find the coins that fell from my pocket from being upside down and use them to invest in a better ride – an honest ride. Also, I'm going to make a cocktail, because who can think in this heat, anyway? Weird Barbie, are you free for dinner?
You have to go to the real world. You can go back to your regular life, and forget any of this ever happened. Or you can know the truth about the universe.”
~ Weird Barbie
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Jenny Ramo is a mom of two boys, wife, social justice advocate, lawyer, & questionable decision-maker. Her family lives between NOLA & Santa Fe. Her writing has been featured in The Washington Post, NYLON, Parents Magazine, & BUST. Jenny's social justice work has been covered in the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, BBC, and many other international and national media outlets.