Mentally, We Are Anywhere But Here

The internet has given us the ability to speak in multimedia, and that's the only way to even begin to describe how we're all doing.
August 24, 2020, 6:41pm
sad dog

I'm looking at a video of a dog, a yellow lab, gently floating in the ocean. Its legs paddle softly, a forlorn expression on its face. The yellow lab rises and falls with the gentle wave until a person, presumably its own, descends from a ladder and reaches their arms out to the dog, whose plaintive face makes an expression like relief. I let the video loop over, and over again. Even now I see it in my mind's eye. Mentally, I am there.

Twitter's bread and butter is this kind of "relatable content," and this format for memes has seen many different iterations. On any of these tweets, you could replace "mentally I am here" with "big mood" or "aesthetic" or "it me" or "me IRL." This is a new coat of paint on a very long genre of tweet that uses a video, still image, or gif to express one's feelings. What is key to this meme, and the current moment, is where people want to be mentally is as far away as where they are physically as they can possibly be. 

My therapist jokes that whenever someone asks her how she's doing, she has no idea how to answer. The floor and ceiling on "how" I'm "doing" changes on the daily. At this point, my guideposts for what it feels like to be in the middle of a pandemic, on the cusp of a historic election, in the summer of widespread protest and unrest, are other people's description of how they feel. Twitter is rife with examples, signposted for me with the phrase "mentally I am here."

The place where one is, mentally, isn't always positive, though often these tweets depict a user's place of comfort or relaxation. To me, there's something melancholy about this meme. We are all trying to find a place of mental calm and peace because the world holds so little calm or peace; thus the representations of happiness in these tweets tend to be fleeting moments. Mentally, we are living in canceled television shows, cows visiting the beach, and the long defunct browser fighting game for the cartoon Teen Titans.

The distillation of complex feelings into more easily digestible images something the internet is very, very good at. Declaring something to be a "mood'' or even an "aesthetic" have become cultural shorthands for conversations or expressions that are, right now, almost impossible to have without bursting out laughing or having a new mental breakdown. The internet has given us all the ability to speak in multimedia. How am I today? Words cannot truly capture what it's like to have anxiety about going on public transit. Take this video of dudes ripping it up at the skatepark on office chairs instead.

The key to understanding "mentally I am here" is the implication that in order to survive this moment in time, we have to shield ourselves far away from where we literally, physically are. Engaging too much with our reality is like staring into the sun. Wouldn't you rather be a dog in the ocean?