Never mind writing; frankly, it’s hard to do anything after reading the news.
When I first drafted this post a couple months ago, there had been two mass shootings in the past twenty-four hours, and a shooting the previous week at an annual festival an hour from where I grew up.* Today, the Supreme Court hears arguments on whether gay and trans people should be safe from discrimination at work. California’s gas and electric company is shutting off power all over the region in an effort to prevent a repeat of last year’s wildfires.** The Guardian reports now on climate crisis or climate emergency rather than the milder-sounding climate “change”. Meanwhile children are still separated from their parents. White supremacy continues to kill. I haven’t yet found a way to entirely stop shopping at stores and banking with companies that help fund detention camps and hate sites.*** Also we could all die soon from a superbug, or the much-threatened “big one” earthquake, or in any of the ways humans have always been vulnerable.
I wrote some years ago that the flow of activism goes like this: Witness. Question. Think. Speak. Act. I still think it’s true, but our current moment feels different even from that one. The sheer volume of pain to witness feels overwhelming; news and social media bring awareness, but also numbness and despair. Questioning moves back and forth between society and the self; in a world where we are all intricately connected by capitalism and exploitation, it’s hard to live with ourselves for the ways we’re complicit. Thinking goes in circles when it doesn’t lead to words or action. And we’ve all done so much in the past few years or more, in terms of words and action; I think a great many of us have moved beyond our comfort zones in what we speak and to whom we say it, and how we act and how frequently. But the larger we want to act, the bigger the risk, the larger the courage required.
I tell myself frequently that action is the antidote to despair, a quote I’ve seen attributed to Joan Baez. I know from my own experience that when faced with a wall of impossible suffering, even a small action can tremendously reduce my own despair (a quote attributed to Mother Teresa: if you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one). I started writing postcards to voters for this reason. I was also reading in Emily and Amelia Nagoski’s book, Burnout, that stress stays in our bodies even after the stressor has been removed, unless we “complete the cycle” physiologically (crying can help, or exercise, or hugs); the body’s reaction is independent of what we’ve processed in our minds.
Things are bad right now. But I also know things have always been bad and always are bad for someone, somewhere; the “right now” in “things are bad” just means I’ve been extra-lucky. But we see so much more of the world now than we used to, information speed and quantity being what they are (see Annie Stenzel’s poem, “Cronos: His Tempo“). Sometimes the bad just comes in such waves we submerge. It makes sense. Things are bad. The fact that we still think so means we haven’t become entirely inured to outrage. We pause, we feel it, we acknowledge it when talking to others. And then, I guess, we draw on all the tools we have (writing, hugging our children and partners, remembering pleasure, calling our representatives) and keep going.
*Not that there are ever not mass shootings in the US, it seems.
**The most recent update says we won’t be affected, but I’m still wondering if I should make preparations — and our emergency kits are a little out-of-date, in any case.
**This is maybe promising, though.
I’m sensitive to the news, too. Extremely so. It scares me when someone says it doesn’t bother them at all. Today my depression says that vacuuming the apartment, changing my sheets, and then showering and washing my hair (the hair part takes care since I don’t think I’d be happy yet if I cut it really short) is too much to do. I’m crying about it as I write this. I cried early in the summer when I worked out with my weights, too. That was before my brother passed in June and I couldn’t recover from the derailment to my internal resolve to work my muscles three times a week until it physically felt wrong not to. I’ve been that fit and I want it back, but turning it into a habit is the hardest part. At least I began today’s chores. Started some rice for dinner, emptied the vacuum cleaner, and scrubbed some spilled flypaper glue off the bathroom floor. Felt like time to take a break, and I found your post.
Sometimes writing helps me feel better for a while in my mind, like you said. But I’ve also recognized how much the anger and sadness seem to live in my head, neck, and shoulders no matter how cathartic the poem. Still, the writing is what I have. It’s hard when it leaves me, sometimes for days, but the weirdest thing is that I can almost always write some form of what I’ve come to call a ‘suicide poem.’ I know it sounds awful, but in my individual depression, the peripheral thought of it doesn’t just go away, so calling sad “I” poems something like that doesn’t bother me. It’s just equal parts lucky and weird that those are the writings that do best for me on Medium. I guess there’s a lot of sadness going around and a lot of people understand it.
I made a new friend there who started a publication (it’s not hard on Medium, just time consuming) where she only wants non-fiction stories and poems where things turn out well in the end. I wrote a couple of fictional poems for her, and she hasn’t asked. It helps my fiction skills to visualize happiness or contentment, but I can only try that inside the relief that comes after the big chores are done. Maybe tomorrow. Just wanted to let you know that I really felt this post. I hope you can find ways to write no matter what the news is. I’m glad you wrote this one. ❤
Dearest Ré, I meant to respond to you back when you wrote this, but didn’t get to it. I’m so sorry for that. You shared so much that was so personal and heartfelt, and it resonated with me enough that I wanted to write a lot in return, but instead wrote nothing. What you said about having trouble doing things — I get that, too. Not as dramatically, but still, afternoons go by where I do nothing but sit in the armchair for hours playing iPad games until I either force myself to get up because there won’t be dinner otherwise, or because Ada needs something and won’t leave me alone until she gets it. Meanwhile the weight of all the things I should be doing, want to be doing, sits on me and I just feel worse and worse about myself for doing nothing.
How are you doing these days? I’m sending you a huge hug, and a wish (as ever) that we could go for a walk (maybe in CA weather and not Chicago) and just be in company for a bit.