If you haven’t seen Jordan Peele’s Us, you totally won’t understand the direction we’re taking in this months Essentials, and you might want to avoid this month’s piece to ensure that the movie isn’t spoiled for you. The film centers around a family of four on what we assume to be on an annual vacation in Santa Cruz, California. Adelaide Wilson, played by the Kenyan-Mexican Lupita Nyong'o spends the majority of the film hiding a eerily dark secret, which is that she’s not who her family thinks she is. Viewers are taken for a thrilling mind fuck of an adventure and eventually discover that Adelaide isn’t the Adelaide they thought she was, but the tethered version of her original self.
Enter the tethered, the living shadows residing in the vast network of tunnels existing beneath the United States. The tethered are forced to mimic their double’s actions in almost every context imaginable without any of the emotional recoils experienced by the originals they were cloned for. Such, a tethered may mimic the actions of their original while at a birthday party, but they wouldn’t know that they were actually at a party or experience any of the fun that their original experienced. They’re essentially empty shelled copies of their surface dwelling counterparts who live purposeless existence.
A couple of our writers went to see the movie and thought it’d be a good idea to scrap the content we originally planned for this month’s Versus issue due to the duality existing between the originals and their tethered dopplegangers. The movie got us to thinking about what it would be like to have a tethered; to have an abandoned version of ourselves, a version that didn’t need to exist, a version of ourselves that’s been forgotten but still willing to fight for a better life on the surface. A dream deferred, a forgotten goal, to be physically perfect but mentally damaged, and having the will to turn a meaningless existence into one with purpose. These are the things the tethered represented to us and we wanted to share our collective thoughts on how to overcome these things with you.
A DREAM DEFERRED
Langston Hughes’ Harlem poses the question of what happens to a dream deferred, but it never offered us an answer. The “if” in life is more tangible than some of us would like to believe, and is the main suspect in the case of the deferred dream. What if we would have finished that degree? Would employers consider us as being more viable candidates for the countless jobs we’ve been applying for? What if we would have taken the opportunity to slide into Terrence’s DMs to shoot our shot before he met James? Could it have lead to the development of something special between us?
Of course it’s too late to wonder now as we’re sitting at Terrence and James’ wedding reception filling ourselves with salty Hors d'oeuvres, pricey champagne and regret. We can never be too sure of how things will turn out if we follow our dreams. But a lot of us can damn sure attest to the things that happen when we don’t. Its that business we always wanted to start, but didn’t, the opportunity we passively let slip through our fingers, and the granted we continually take tomorrow for.
There are reasons some of us fall into this trap, and most of them are pretty understandable because they’re rooted in fear. Fear of the struggle, the work, and of failure are three of the most common reasons we don’t go after the things we want and the older we get, the more our proverbial slips start to show. We cautiously move about the safest paths of our lives hiding our apprehensions under a guise of practicality.
This is why we never completed that business plan we started back in 2011, because the more we crunched the numbers, the more impractical our fledgling endeavor seemed. We do our best to hide behind this rationale, but deep down, we know the truth. Living with this fear demotes us to the tethered versions of ourselves and keeps us hidden beneath the streets where somewhere up above, our original self is not living in fear, but in the dream that we deferred.
PHYSICALLY PERFECT BUT MENTALLY DAMAGED
Our physical state doesn’t always match our mental state, and a lot of you reading this know that we don’t always look like what we’ve been through! Us gave its viewers the opportunity to witness this with Adelaide as she appeared to be physically well, but we soon discovered the impact that her secret had on her mental well being. Throughout the movie she was paranoid, had a hard time talking to people and plagued with the stress of keeping her secret a secret. A lot of us are walking around here doing the same thing, and we really need to work on that!
We generally don’t engage in conversations centered around mental health, and then there’s that little roadblock of having the means to actually address whatever mental health needs we might have. We have a lot of baggage that needs to be checked, and the sooner we own that (and realize that it's okay), the better position we’ll be in to handle it. Some of us either suffer through, or do our best to ignore the sexuality and race-based exclusion from health, and endure the struggle of trying to improve or maintain our socioeconomic status. The list of struggles goes on to include the side dishes of depression, stigma, substance misuse and...whew, chile. The ghetto. The ghetto. But how do we go about dealing with these situations?
Radical acceptance occurs when we completely accept something from the depth of our soul. Its accepting the fact that we are depressed and working to get to the root of the what and the why of it all. Its working through solutions and trying what works best for us with regard to solving the problem. Is this easier said than done? Yes. Is it impossible. Not at all.
ROOTING FOR THE WRONG VERSION
Be honest, you were rooting for Adelaide until you figured out who she really was right? Right. Many of us were! Do you remember how you felt when you realized you were rooting for the wrong version- that you were rooting for the villain instead of the victim? A lot of us are guilty of doing this in real life. We defer our dreams, forsake our goals and don’t talk about or take our mental health as seriously as we should.
We root for our inner villains each and every time we create problems in our lives that interfere with long standing goals. Adelaide, for instance, self sabotaged when she switched places with Red. Instead of going with Red, she forced her into living the very existence she was trying to escape.
While none of us can be certain, we definitely can assume that Adelaide could have used her encounter with Red at the fun house as a way to escape, but she didn’t. While it may appear she was simply trying to turn her meaningless existence into one with purpose, all she did was to create a situation with results that were as inevitable as they were unnecessary. She was literally rooting for the wrong version of herself to remain in submission. Literally.
We, too, self sabotage, and the reasons as to why we do so aren’t much different that those we’ve already listed. We overestimate risks to avoid trying new approaches by over valuing the things we know while undervaluing the things we don’t. Using that business plan we never finished as an example, we knew the costs were too high and placed a high value of our knowledge of that. Meanwhile, we failed to consider how lucrative the return on our investment could have been as a result of us under valuing the information as it was unknown.
Recognizing the problem is always the first step to solving the problem. This requires for us to take a long, hard and honest look at ourselves and the actions we’re taking against ourselves. Why are we procrastinating? What are we afraid of? What’s at the root of us making decisions that go against our best interests? What habits do we need to change? These considerations give us the opportunity to confront our inner selves and, if properly addressed, can lead to us rooting for us harder than our tethered villains and harder than Tyra was rooting for Tiffany Richardson in 2005.
The tethered represented the some of the ways in which we are our own worst enemies. Adelaide became her own worst enemy after forcing Red to live a life that was exclusively designed for her. Given the situation its not something any of us would have done differently, however she (probably) could have made different choices and reached the same goal. Red was not without her faults as well, as she could have taken actions that would have prevented her from engaging Adelaide in the fatal fight that lead to her demise.
Postponing or setting aside of our dreams, abandoning of our goals, and disregarding our mental health all pay a huge role in us rooting for the wrong versions of ourselves. If we are to turn what may appear to be a meaningless existence into one of purpose, then we must be prepared to do the work. Failure to do so relegates us to the tethered versions of ourselves, the versions of us that we’ve abandoned, the versions that, when properly motivated, come back to bite our neglectful asses in the behind.
They aren’t swathed in red jumpsuits, but in a rage born from the frustration of not having their potential actualized by the person who should always have their best intentions in mind. The best way for us to prevent this is to realize that the time to start is now, because tomorrow is about as promised as an update from Blackbreeders. Some of y’all will get that. We must also set goals that we know we can commit to, be realistic about what we’re going to do and how, and to know our limitations. The goal is to always work towards being better for ourselves, as the result of not doing so is to one day look into a mirror and seeing and find the worst version of ourselves staring back at us while wondering why we didn’t work harder.