art and a reboot

OH MY have I been in trouble with myself. Ever since the nightmarish election, I’ve been in trouble. I keep trying to stand up, find myself, breathe, reorient my mindset. I’ll make headway — return to the mat, the street, the vegetable market — and for a moment I am back. But I’m back in that moment, still surrounded by chaos. And it’s a specific kind of chaos that’s my own worst nightmare. The incessant (even when it’s nonsensical) lying and gaslighting, and a country of people who are just fine with it. (Mercifully almost all of my own people see what I see, but not all do.) And that’s not even considering the hideous political stuff he’s doing, the destruction, the looting.

And so I’ll rally and pull it off for a few days: oh yes, yoga, how delicious. A daily walk, hard again at first but after a week getting a little easier. My wonderful food, lots of cool water, clear mind. And I won’t put pressure on myself about it (great! Now I’m completely back! That’s all behind me!) but the constant falling off and then struggling to right myself has been especially awful. I’ve tried being gentle with myself, tweaking expectations, setting low bars, surrounding myself with people who support me, and that’s all gotten me through but I haven’t sustained a reboot.

At this point I’ve gained 22 pounds, from my lowest weight. I’m not quite back where I started a few summers ago (and having sustained my comfortable self for a couple of years, this is hard to take), but I’m in the neighborhood. I was talking to a friend yesterday who asked if I wanted to let HIM have this effect on me — and of course I don’t, of course, but that doesn’t make this stop. It’s actually a thing, the “Trump Effect” — like the ‘freshman 15’ people are eating their misery.

This past week I’ve had a social date every single day, a meal or a drink, and all week I’ve been anticipating today as my next reboot. I’m taking a class this afternoon (watercolor, “bold blooms” — flowers and blossoms, just the perfect medicine) and stopping at the grocery store on my way home to buy fresh, beautiful, healthy food. After dinner I’m either taking a walk or taking a restorative yoga class. It’s not a clear, sunny day here, but I’m filling my day with beauty and color in the hopes that it helps.

Intro to Watercolors: Bold Blooms Workshop
Sriracha Rainbow Noodle Salad!

Fingers crossed, y’all. Is there any worse feeling than just being out of control, unable to stop yourself from doing what you don’t really want to be doing? Unable to start yourself in the direction you really want to go?

How are you?

checking out

It’s time to save my own life. I’ve been here before and I’ll probably be here again, so it’s familiar terrain, but with a difference. I’m not actually depressed, although I cry a lot and had a quite terrifying experience on Christmas Day that you’ll read in tomorrow’s post. But the events in my country, combined with my son’s daily choice to be gone from our family, are truly overwhelming me.

Since I’m not depressed, intensifying treatment for depression — including hospitalization — isn’t the fix. I am of course continuing taking my medication, as I always will, but instead the fix for this extraordinary despair must be:

Checking out of Facebook. I will still participate in the secret groups I belong to, all of which nourish me. I will check the Events tab daily so I can be informed about the various protests and marches that I will participate in. I’ll still feed this blog to my Facebook blog page. But I won’t be looking at my feed, at all. Of course this means I’ll miss the personal things my friends post, but that’s a price I’ll have to pay and at the moment, it’s a necessary price. All but two of my friends share my political views, and my feed is also filled with real news sources, so there is just too much dosing of the poison for me to keep living, and I say that and hear that it sounds hyperbolic, but at this moment it isn’t.

Other social media I will keep are Instagram, which nourishes me, and Facebook Messenger, so friends can easily communicate with me. If you want my cell to text me, and you don’t have it, email me and I’ll give it to you. I don’t want to avoid my friends, or make personal communication impossible (or even difficult).

Upping the medicine. One-on-one time with friends who nourish me. More walks. More yoga. More reading. More music that lifts me. More art. More time in thought. More time creating things. A focus on creating a world for myself. A temporary suspension of working on my book, because the themes and experiences of my childhood and the person of the incoming president overlap too much. Fighting the fight, holding my hero John Lewis in my mind as the model of long-term, persistent fighting for what’s right.

I am not giving up the fight for what’s right, friends, even during this moment. Today I’m going to the local meetings of the National Poets’ Protest, a training session for non-violent action, and then the National Writers’ Protest. All I’m doing at this moment is stepping outside the flames so I can stay alive. I won’t be responding to your Facebook posts for a perhaps long time, but I am still with you.

such a mess

Up and down I go, in this terrible mess of a world. Some days it makes me feel entirely hopeless, and other days I’m mostly able just to ignore it, not think about it.

  • Our political system as a whole is entirely corrupt, almost without exception.
  • As a consequence, most citizens of the country feel hopeless about it ever changing. Except for the increasingly tiny few with all the money, I guess, who can buy what they want — see above re corruption of the system.
  • Our media is not just irresponsible, they are no longer interested in journalism. They’re interested in entertainment. They’re not interested in examining their biases, trying to be objective, pursuing the story. It doesn’t even matter which form of media you point to. Which form, which outlet, which voice, which channel, which newspaper, none of it matters. None of it does what it should be doing. None. It’s not just Fox News, which is by far the most egregious; it’s the New York Times too, and pretty squarely.
  • People in the world who are fleeing for their lives are turned away from the countries that could take them in. People fleeing for their lives, for their children’s lives, die in trucks, on boats, in deserts, on foot. We tsk tsk tsk, isn’t that horrible that those countries are doing that (and ours is too, though “it’s different” here). Tsk tsk tsk. The wealthiest people in the world don’t want to give up anything at all, and it’s disgusting.
  • From my perspective, as a woman, I live in a world in which my existence is in very real peril. In the US, my peril comes around reproductive rights, and also in just living in this culture that seems to think boys will be boys, take a joke. Don’t be so sensitive. You shouldn’t have been wearing that. Or walking there. Or attending that party. Or having a drink. I recently heard a Republican politician say that women ought to be staying at home — in the kitchen, specifically — and then these things wouldn’t happen to them. The 70s were kind of the glory days for women. We were much freer then, and it’s been downhill ever since. We got a couple of decent years and that’s it.
  • Our culture is differently murderous for men and women. It’s horrible for men, horrible. We insist men be this very small and stupid container of things, and we simultaneously expect everything of them and nothing at all of them. What we do to men does not help our world whatsoever. And what we do to them surely has an effect on women, and on the culture at large.

What a world, what a world. What’s a person to do? I am often in deep despair about it. I believe we must do better, we must, but I don’t see how it will happen.

I recently joined a Facebook group — women only — called The Fempire. It seems to be primarily young-ish women, mid- to late-20s and through their 30s. They call each other badasses. They sing their own praises, and each other’s praises. They act as if they live in a different world than I do, one in which hell yeah of course it all can and will be different. And then once in a while a young woman will post that she doesn’t know how much longer she can take it, being a woman in this world. For her, I shared one of my favorite poems:

God Says Yes To Me
by Kaylin Haught

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph
my letters
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes

It’s such a hard world. It’s always been a hard world — women died very young in childbirth, commonly; babies died and kids died young; people lived short and hard lives; young men left their lives to go fight in world wars, and so many didn’t come back, and many of those who did were haunted shells hidden away from us. Now we have medical care and treatments, and every kind of technology to make life easier, and long life spans, and the world is hard. Hard, hard, hard. What is a woman to do?

  • messWe have to support each other. We have to be each other’s ferocious advocates, and allies.
  • The world needs kindness, desperately. Where and whenever possible, add some. Be kind to strangers, be kind to people you know, and importantly, be kind to yourself. When you hear something unkind in your thoughts, or in your words — even if/especially if it’s directed at yourself — cut it out. Stop. Think, wait, I didn’t mean to think or say that. Even if it takes you years and years of trying to change that habit, change that habit. Be kind. It’s the only thing that matters. Be kind. And be kind to yourself. You are not a special snowflake; you deserve kindness too.
  • Find a couple of people to form a moai — a friendship group devoted to each other pointedly, dedicated to helping each other through. I think there is great power in this, I really do. Don’t just do handwaving in your mind—I have friends I care about and they care about me, that’s enough—actually and pointedly form a group with a conscious dedication. Two people, three people, five people. A friend-marriage, committed. Give yourself to that, and accept that from the others, and good will surely come into the world.
  • Do what you can where you are with what you have to change something outside yourself and your little world. Make little donations. Volunteer if/where you can. Read this article and adopt the strategies outlined, no matter what your political persuasion might be. Help bring the dialogue back toward reason and conversation. Applaud and share instances of curiosity, and apologies, and collaborative behavior, and feelings, and careful reflection. Do not applaud or forward into the world insults, and manipulation, and black-and-white thinking, and evasiveness. Do what you can to shape the world in a better direction. (This reminds me of an old social psych story; the story goes that a class decides to shape its professor’s behavior. When he walked toward one side of the classroom, they all paid attention and were engaged. When he walked toward the other side, they quit paying attention. Gradually he taught the whole class from the one side of the room where they’d given him their attention! He had no idea he was being shaped like that.)

I don’t know, none of this feels like The Answer, but maybe all of it is the answer. Maybe small shifts produce big ones, the way waves accumulate with each other and then there is a gigantic wave. That feels easy to say and I don’t know if it’s true, but good God, feeling hopeless about it all sure doesn’t help. Two of my heroes, the Dalai Lama and Kurt Vonnegut both said their religion has one tenet: Be kind [babies]. Just be kind. Be kind in word and thought — be kind in thought, don’t forget that. Put kindness in the world. Reward good whenever you find it. Help each other. Help me, I need your help, and let me help you, I need to be a helper.

xoxoxox

the world

When I first started working in publishing as an acquiring editor, one of my lists was political psychology — a subject I knew only a little bit about, only the aspects that crossed with social psychology, my own discipline. So I attended conferences, talked with scholars, read related books (including those I signed), listened to academic talks, and tried to learn enough to speak intelligently to authors I wanted to sign.

And in the years since, I seem to have forgotten most of it.

But I do remember that for many people, their political beliefs stem from their values. (I wish I could remember the other source — economics, maybe? Now it would be fear, that’s surely a source.) It occurs to me, though, that even if we share values as a starting point, our beliefs stemming from that value could diverge.

PartisanPoliticsI’m torn right now. The political discourse is filling me with such despair and agitation. All that hate, all the snarling and contempt, and all the blind followers salivating behind the one who is being contemptuous of them! I don’t understand any of this, it makes no sense. Keep out all the Muslims but everyone including terrorists and those on the watch lists should be allowed to buy guns. What? It makes no sense. It feels like our world is upside down, and I can’t understand it.

And the parts I do understand are heartbreaking and tragic and adding to my despair. Poor people running for their lives, having lost everything, running from the very people we see as our enemy, and we slam doors in their faces. Who are we? Really, who are we? We are an ignorant country, a cruel country, a greedy country, an arrogant country. As a country that’s who we are, though most of my friends (not all) and all of my family are not like that at all. Our reputation in the world is horrible, as I know from traveling around the world. Terrified people who have lost everything want to come here, yes, but I feel for them because I know how they will be treated if they get here. They just don’t know it, it’s unimaginable to them.

And so, these are my values, and how my beliefs evolve from them:

We have an obligation to help each other. Even though Jesus encouraged people to give everything they had, we don’t have to do that, it needn’t be that extreme. I have an obligation to people I know and to people I don’t, because we’re all interconnected. And I have so much, even though I have no assets and a dusty bank account. But I have so much, including the things I don’t have, like rockets tearing through my home. I have been in great need so many times in my life and people helped me in ways large and small. This is one of my deepest values. My most complete obligation is to my children and their families, but it doesn’t end there, even if it begins there.

So what does that look like, given that I have no power to effect legislative change, nor millions or billions to donate? It means I can offer whatever support I can to agencies and groups that help others. It means I can offer practical help whenever possible. It means I speak up when I see someone who needs help. Someone I know on Facebook said come on, those Muslim women who were verbally assaulted in public should’ve just spoken up for themselves, get over it. Should they have? In a great world, sure — but it’s easy to imagine that they were quite scared. Simply being a woman who is being shouted at by a threatening man is difficult enough, and when everyone standing around is not doing anything, I can imagine that might be silencing. My value, then, leads me to speak to her, with her, for her, to help her as I can. Since this is our world, now, I can prepare myself and not be caught off guard. My value leads me to help wherever I can, in whatever way I can — not in martyrdom, but we are connected.

This value means that I support spending some of my government’s money—taxes I paid, as a matter of fact—to help those in need. People with another value are quick to snarl that “those” people just take advantage and “those” people just want to use the system. I wonder if they’ve ever known any of “those” people. I doubt it. The ones I can quickly call to mind are quite privileged in a lot of ways and while loudly proclaiming themselves to be Christian, holding hands and praying, it’s hard to see any Christian values in action. So this value means that any vote I cast includes a concern about social welfare.

The world is not fair, but we should do what we can to make a difference. I think it’s a terrible situation that so few people own the bulk of the resources — money and power. I think it’s a terrible situation that our policies seem to operate from a position that hey, I got mine, you get yours, without any acknowledgement of our different starting places.

When I came out of graduate school, I had $50K in student loan debt. I’ll die with that debt. My daughters came out with student loan debt. My stepdaughter had everything paid for her and came out with zero debt, and a lot of resources given to her, in addition to that. They are not beginning on a level playing field. My daughters didn’t grow up in poverty, but they did not grow up with much. We always had a home and food, but they didn’t go away to fancy summer camps (my stepdaughter did), they couldn’t take advantage of programs offered by the school if they cost any money (my stepdaughter could and did), and they did not have parents with a college education. I got my education as they grew up, but even so their lives were difficult because of that — so it was less a benefit and more a difficulty. My stepdaughter had two parents with PhDs (and one stepfather most of her life with a PhD, and a stepmother from the age of 14 with a PhD…though all four are psychologists, so that’s perhaps a strike against her 🙂 ) and families on both sides with pretty great wealth. I’m not saying that my daughters should therefore be given something, but I am saying that it’s not a level playing field. And we are all white! When you add race (and gender, for that matter), the field gets rockier.

What this means is that I care about working toward seeing that disadvantaged people get help. This means I do not see them with contempt, and if there is a way I can help, I should. It’s a moral value. I should.

What this means is that I speak against the “I got mine, you get yours” position whenever I encounter it. I probably don’t have any power here, but it’s my value and I must do what I can when I can.

Really, all my political beliefs stem from that first value, and maybe everything stems from that first value, not just political beliefs. We are interconnected and are here to help each other when we can.

But I started this post with a dilemma, with a comment about being torn right now. The political discourse really is keeping me in a pretty bad place. I’m constantly agitated by it, and I easily slip into despair. So do I withdraw from it? (This would mainly mean stepping away from Facebook.) Is that hiding my head in the sand? It’s not like saying or doing anything on that platform makes one. bit. of. difference.

And then yesterday, in my despair, I read something by bell hooks:

bell hooks

And it occurred to me that I can think each morning, “What does Mister Rogers want me to do today?” And then I can decide what he would want me to do, and go into the world and in every way, small and large, build that community.

mister rogersThank you, Mister Rogers, for once again helping me live my life. For continuing to guide me as I try to figure out how to be a human being. This time the struggle is not with myself, it’s with the world, but it’s still a mighty struggle. Gentleness, kindness, saying the truth and living according to my values, helping when and where I can. Be one of the helpers instead of one of those setting fire.

Queen of the Pillbugs is enough for me

it doesn't even matter where this is. it could be anywhere.
it doesn’t even matter where this is. it could be anywhere.

I am so very glad I am not queen of the world, leader of anything, decider of anything more important than what I will put in my green smoothie this morning. Yesterday I had lunch with a friend, one whose politics are very different than mine, and we agreed that we’re so glad we’re not in charge of making world decisions right now. It’s a terrible time; nothing good going on in Syria, and no good decision to be made. Whether the US does or doesn’t do something, there will be so much more terrible pain and suffering of innocents. And if we do something, whether we do this thing or that, there will be so much more terrible pain and suffering of innocents. Talk about paralysis — my own little recent paralysis is laughable in the face of trying to figure out how to fix our world.

On the way home from lunch, my random shuffle playlist brought me this song and I literally gasped, all alone in my car, when it hit the lyric, “Nations droppin’ bombs / Chemical gasses fillin’ lungs of little ones / With ongoin’ sufferin’ as the youth die young.” That song was popular in 2003, exactly 10 years ago. And still.

I was driving home feeling so so sad about all the suffering that is of course going to continue. My family and I have been harrowed by our own suffering for the past year — a bunch of innocents, we — and so maybe it’s very easy for me to touch suffering right now. I was thinking that I’m glad I’m not in charge of the world, but that left me feeling so very helpless (which I am). There is not one thing I can do for the people being destroyed around the world, and it’s so much more widespread than Syria, of course.

What can I do? What can you do? There are little nothings I can do, “call my representative,” and you and I both know how nothing that is. It’s what there is to do, but it’s also nothing, and I don’t think that’s cynical. What can I do? I can be as good a person as I can be, in the world. I can love others and help wherever I can. I can stop before adding trouble to the world. I can keep others’ secrets, I can not pass along unkind comments, I can be as generous as I can be, I can let go of small slights, I can try to have better assumptions, I can try hard to see others in their own contexts and try to understand them, I can try to encourage others because we’re all dealing with something, and I can be as real as I can bear to be. That’s it. That won’t save one child starving here in our country, or being gassed in Syria, or being shot in the head in Pakistan, it’s embarrassingly small and invisible. My “influence” (hahahaha what a hilarious idea) extends to about 15 people, max, maybe 20. I sit in my house almost all the time, all alone, and the only moving and shaking I do is my jiggly bits as I walk from room to room.

It feels terrible, and insufficient, because it is. But I have no answers. Today I think I’ll just try to do my best, even though I feel like crawling under the covers. How do you help yourself when this kind of impotent despair about the larger world overcomes you?