I’m looking for that one point. For that precisely determinable moment, for that blink of an eye when it happened. Sometimes there is such a thing, a point in time that divides life into a before and after. As recorded by eyewitnesses: “It’s been different since then,” followed by a thoughtful gaze into the distance.
But I haven’t been able to find it, that very point – the point in time after which the future was no longer good.
It used to be better, the future. And I don’t mean that with a sense of nostalgia, looking to sell you patina as if it were high-gloss wallpaper. I know that memory is a distorted filtering system that transforms even the most questionable episode of the past into an exciting memento that one longs for. But as to the future, it is actually true, that even without a nostalgia filter, the future was better in the past. Back then, as a child, and also later as a young adult, it was this great, fascinating uncertainty, a promise-machine. Granted, one lined by insecurity and question marks. But that was sometimes part of its fascination. The future was a buffet of possibilities, a play of colors made up of glimmers of hope, with which scenarios could be anticipated and pictured – of dream jobs and adventures, of love stories and feelings that are bigger than life. “When I grow up” was the battle cry, and everything seemed to be underlaid with a subdued hum that made you feel comfortably warm. The optimism and I agreed: “No matter what comes, it will be fine.”
However, today my optimism is no longer so unconditional, now that I have grown up. The future wrinkles worry-lines onto my face. Where there used to be anticipation, there now is skepticism. “It will be nice” became “it will be.” In my mid-thirties (graciously rounded down), I notice that no longer is everything possible per se, that there are obstacles in the way – money, time, allocated laundry room slots – and that quite a few big plans end up in the drawer and the future holds inevitable dramas, for example, that loved ones will eventually die. Not just our own future worries me, but also the future of all of humanity – a pretty big piece of future if you come to think about it: the algorithms of barely regulated tech companies are more influential than entire states, large corporations maximize their profits with exploitative systems, populists stick human disdain onto hooks in order to fish for power, and a climate catastrophe awaits us, where the debate should not be whether it will happen but when.
The fact that the future seems bleak today probably has to do with age. Over the years, you lose your naivete, are a bit better informed, and perhaps also more reflective. But I think it’s also the present time; the corona pandemic and climate crisis are not exactly catalysts for confidence. I probably won’t be able to capture it, that point where the future turned negative. But maybe that point is irrelevant, naming it wouldn’t change anything. Much more interesting is the question of whether there will be a new point. One in the future itself, where apathy and self-pity will give way to a regained, genuinely justified optimism. A point that people won’t have to look for because they will have set it themselves. A particularly big, strong point. A colon! A colon that introduces a future that will be good again: namely, progressive and green and diverse and fair. In short, a healthy future! And since it would be quite exhausting to set up such an immense colon by myself (especially for someone like me, with extremely meager arms), it will only be possible together, with everyone cooperating. So that with collective commitment, the coming times will turn into a coming-together. So that the following generations may know only one future. One that will be good from the start and remain so.
Translation: Dina B. Charnin NYC and Antje Eiger
Download the original text in German >
Kilian Ziegler, of Olten, Switzerland, is one of the most successful slam poets in the country. This word acrobat and cabaret artist became the 2018 double Swiss poetry slam champion, winning both individual and team awards. Ziegler’s diverse repertoire includes poetry slams, solo shows, stage readings, workshops, and moderating events, as well as performing on radio and television. The city of Olten awarded Ziegler the Recognition Award in 2021, and he received the Literature Award from the canton of Solothurn in 2017. Ziegler’s first book, “Temporarily standing still” (Vorübergehend stehen bleiben), was published by Knapp in 2017 and includes a collection of his best columns.