America The Fourth: Going Hollow

Still Inside, Still Moving, Will Disappear. All Eyes On Me While I'm Still Here

August 3, 2021

We made it.

Normalcy. We can go outside again. We can meet people. I can climb. Go to the library. Eat at restaurants. The world is open again--


Boy, that feels hollow, doesn’t it?

I’ve not written in a while. It’s been a little hard to write about new things.
The world still exists, doesn’t it?
Even as the world has opened more there’s still… something.
I’m not even talking about Delta, even though that is a whole and very real thing and it’s scary. But there’s, a lack of something. Like I’m missing something.
A hollowness.

In Dark Souls, people “go hollow” when they lack purpose in life, and stop working for goals, but instead linger around the world until they go mad. I always thought that was a good metaphor.

Going hollow.

Clawing out all your insides until you are a shell, operating on survival, long since forgotten why.

A "hollow" from Dark Souls. We don't look quite like this, at least. Yet.

I wonder how long it is going to take to undo the psychological impacts of this. Even when we’re out of it, physically.

You should probably watch Bo Burnham’s Inside. I’m surprised I’m saying this, I didn’t think I’d enjoy it. Not really my thing. It’s comedy, and musical comedy at that. Not really my thing.
But. It’s not a comedy. It’s an existential horror show.
About a very specific feeling, that we’ve all felt the last year. Without being able to describe it. This funny feeling (his words).
I did not fully grasp how well this show worked until I realized that a song from it was stuck in my head for weeks after I watched it. No, not that song; the climax-song "All Eyes on Me".

For those who haven’t watched it, the entire show’s conceit is that it is shot, produced, and edited by one person, Bo Burnham, as he is trapped inside a single room for a year (wonder how that feels), and about his slow descent into internet-fueled disassociation and madness.

In this penultimate song, he flips the script, after having been mostly using his naked voice, simple piano-templates and loops without much extravagance, suddenly he envisions himself back on stage. There is fake laughter at his jokes. Reverb. His voice is distorted, altered, strange.
He’s singing about how All the Eyes are On Him, yet the Him he’s singing about is… wrong. He says we should watch him—and stand (the fuck) up for him—but the him we’ve gotten to know is now distorted. Filtered. Off.
The song is an explosion. It’s triumphant, a victory song. An anthem. There’s applause throughout, for the first time, a simulated, obviously fake, audience. It’s pretending to be pretending.

It is so obviously fake it becomes haunting.

All Eyes on Me.

Just look at me. Get over here and look at me. Just the outside.
Please clap so I can ignore that there is nothing inside anymore.

It is a wonderful play on words.  He is stuck inside, and his insides are disappearing in front of us.
We are all hollowing.

Goodbye, Santa Cruz

I’m moving.

Up to Santa Clara, which is closer to where my lab will be (presuming physical presence in a workplace, bold move, I know), and further away from Santa Cruz, which is where the main campus (and the beach) is.
It has been a bit weird, I haven't even lived here, really. I never got my year at campus. But there’s not really any choice. I can’t stay where I am regardless, so I move up.

Anyways. During my move, I had a very “normal” experience. As in, it involved the outside world. And tangible objects. So, All Eyes on Me, please:

I went to pick up my keys to my new place, which were in a locker on the outside, to which I had received a locker code. That went fine (despite them giving us a 3-key code for a 4-key combination lock, but that was just putting a 0 in front).

And there were two keys inside.
They worked on the top lock.
Neither of them worked on the bottom lock.
We both tried.
A neighbour (my new neighbour, who was very nice) also tried.
None of us could get the key to work.
I simply could not get in.
I called the property manager, and the office. But it was Sunday. So all the phones were off. I called 6 times. Left 1 voice message and 2 texts.


So I did not get into the new place the first day I was there.

I decided to wait, and see if they called me back. I hung around the area, walked the walks, and got a better sense of the place, where supermarkets and restaurants were, and all. Which was nice.

But they did not call back. It was Sunday.

What DID happen though, was I got a cool surprise.

I was looking for food, and just went down to the nearest high street (which on Google Maps is designated as “Koreatown” so I was a little primed already). It just looks like a Californian High Street. Large, flat, giant roads with big cars, long, flat, dusty brown/beige buildings with flat roofs and tiling. Just, what is everywhere here.
The first sign of otherness is that some of the signs are in Korean.

So I walked down past carwashes and laundromats, and some restaurants. I stop by the first one, which has some signs for Korean BBQ, which is a bit more involved than I want, but there’s also some images of regular Korean food, so I peek inside.

And it is like stepping into a different world.

The restaurant is small, white-tiled walls. Every person. Every person in there was Korean. I know this because the waitress spoke Korean with them, and English with me. On thee wall is a TV showing a Korean reality show called “Dogs Are Incredible”.

I felt like a foreigner in there. I felt like I was back to visiting Japan, being whisked in the corner like a tourist. I felt like I had just stepped inside “Stranger” a Korean detective show I am watching right now; just plonked right into one of the restaurants they sit at in that show.

It was awesome.

I got amazing food, for not a ton of money, and a lot of it.

Food! Kimchi-Jjigae with rice and, from left to right, some seaweed(?), sesame-brocolli, cabbage-fries??, gelatinous i-have-no-idea-whats, and cold kimchi(?). It was gooood.

Hell yeah, I’m gonna be living in walking distance from this place.

When I have a key (I now have a key, it has been solved).


On the way back home on the bus, this guy kept talking to me. Saying he just went on a swim in the nearby lake (which I’m not sure you’re allowed to swim in), asked where he could buy a sleeping bag in Santa Cruz. He very clearly just got on the bus without a plan. And then he showed me his girlfriend’s bank account, for some reason?? And said he has no idea how she makes money?!?!
I was very glad buses force us to wear masks because I could not hold my grimace there, I was so weirded out..


I was wearing headphones and watching YouTube on my phone and I tried my very best to just keep. doing. that. Escape back into my safe space of online pseudo-interaction. Please.

In other local news, the summer has not been as bad as I’d feared. Temperature in Santa Cruz is very manageable.

Temperatures elsewhere? Not so much from what I hear. Insane forest fires in Northern California, in Russia. The floods in China. In Germany. The new IPCC report. The Olympics started up with full fanfare surrounded by local protests to cancel the show, and I’m here, watching it on screens.
The covid numbers in Japan are terrible.
While I’m sitting here, trying to shut out the world with headphones.

Stuck. With this...

this slow, thriving, dread.

that it’s not going to get better.

that this is what it is now.

It’s not even that there’s nothing we can do.
It’s that even if we do something, it’s going to get worse, also.
That we fix it and I go back to working in person with real people who I enjoy working with, and then there is still, just, this, hollow, feeling,
there, behind, waiting,


Shit, I’m really looking forward to going home.
I’m visiting home for the first time in almost a year.
So I just check with the international office at the school to ensure I’m good to travel. And then I get this email.

Due to the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the risk of students being able to travel back to the US in the immediate future, we recommend you make your travel plans with great caution.



I don’t think I can live without going home for another year.

And they’re not saying I can’t.
They’re saying I can’t sue them if I I can’t get back to the US. They can't legally say that I am free to leave.
But still. They’re not wrong. This is all a risk.

And this all feels so goddamn privileged because I know people who've not seen their family for longer, who've had it far worse throughout the pandemic. Hell, over 4 million people have died. That's approaching the entire population of Denmark.

I'm still really looking forward to going home.


“The Show Must Go On” can be a dangerous notion, yet, at some point, alone, we lose track of why we should keep going, and we’re forced to replace the audience with something else. Fake applause is better than none.
Not because we want to but because we have to, in order to even function.
Because the only thing worse than going hollow is to look at yourself going hollow. At least, let there be someone else. Even a simulated, pretending, audience.

And the great irony is we’re not alone anymore!
That’s what I started with. That’s the whole point. We are not trapped as much inside anymore as long as you ignore the impending possibilities and everything else (wild gestures).

We’re not trapped anymore, caveat, caveat, caveat, caveat, fact.

What the fuck is going on.

Change is going to be good.
It’s going to be good to go home.
It’s going to be good to do something.
Force the world to change around me. For a while.

If nothing else, just to see different walls.

This was the fourth, probably most rambliest, of my entries on life in America. My apologies for the scattershot nature of it all, but that is how it feels. I also realize this post is very dour, as it was written mostly in two spurts of me not feeling great about everything, and it has mostly retained this quality. There is so much uncertainty right now, it is hard to be entirely hopeful.