It’s five weeks since Donald Trump assumed the office of the presidency of the United States.
It feels like more. A lot more.
President Obama was quoted, soon after Trump took office, as saying that he was heartened by the uptick in political activity that surfaced after the election, and exploded in the days immediately following January 20th.
I have lived through dark days in American history, and have witnessed, and partaken in, dissent, protest, and organizing.
But I have never seen what we’ve seen for weeks: an outpouring of agitation, discussion, organizing, and protest across the country. I have had moments of pride and amazement as I’ve watched resistance to the Trump administration involving every demographic within our borders and beyond.
Throughout all of this, I’ve struggled.
I’ve struggled to understand what is happening in our country, to understand how we’ve gotten to where we are, how best to respond and resist, and how to change the underlying problems besetting our nation and democracy that led to, and allowed, such an election.
And, like all, I have a life. A life outside of politics. I’m a devoted writer, connected to, and caring for, friends and family, running a household and caring for a large garden, addressing health and financial concerns.
A life that last fall, on the double, had to accommodate to a new (for me now) role, that of political activist.
I didn’t choose to become more active politically; I felt I had no choice. Today I feel I have even less. I am hopelessly confused by those who appear to not feel compelled to become politically involved. They seem rare and exotic to me, and sometimes I wish I were one of them.
Not a day has passed in the last several months during which I did not feel overwhelmed. I know this is unhealthy, and I’ve worked, not always successfully, to find a more balanced way to integrate political action into everyday life.
Others have challenged me:
I can’t afford to get so involved; I’m working.
I have to put it aside; I’ve got kids/an elderly parent/a sick pet that need me.
Pace yourself; there is much that lies ahead.
I can’t think much about politics now; I have to trust that this is what we as a nation are needing right now, and that ultimately good will come of it.
Let it go; you lost the election! Now deal!
And my favorite:
Just let go of it: compartmentalize.
I didn’t get angry hearing these responses. I felt envious and wondered what the hell was wrong with me that I couldn’t let go and “compartmentalize”.
I’ve always sucked at compartmentalizing. In fact, I don’t really know what the word means, or how it feels to engage in compartmentalizing. I don’t know if there is a gender issue lurking here, but I suspect that there is.
This, as you might imagine, tripped me up in the workplace but proved to be a bonanza for my kids.
Caring for children requires an unappreciated, but evolved intelligence that excels at diffuse but highly alert awareness, the ability to rapidly shift one’s attention from one subject (or human being) to another, and the near miraculous ability to maintain close attention to the subject at hand while simultaneously remaining aware of anything remotely threatening within a twenty-mile radius.
Regarding work, my efficiency, native quickness, and tendency toward depth more than made up for the time during which I felt compelled to focus on others, relationships, and the wide world beyond work.
But that was in the workplace where, under threat of performance and paycheck, I had to keep humping.
Today I am my own boss–no one knows, or even cares, what deadlines or expectations I hold for my writing–and the twin pressures of feeling I must save the world and democracy while producing fine fiction, poetry, and prose have proved to be too much some days.
So what is the answer?
Do we abandon our desire to make the world a better place and attend only to business, counting on others to fight the good fight? Or do we chuck work, and devote ourselves, like Mother Teresa, to doing good in the world, relying on the kindness of strangers to forestall starvation and exposure?
Or, do we attempt to blend the two?
I’ve gone so far as to attempt to schedule time for political activity, to squeeze it into a couple open slots in my week.
But I was soon reminded that the outside world doesn’t run on a schedule. Things happen–fast. And like a good journalist, anyone hoping to influence events has to be ready and able, much of the time, to simply drop whatever else she is doing, and act.
It’s messy–the whole thing. And maybe that’s why some eschew involvement; they can’t handle its messy uncertainty.
Try as one might, one can’t mold and shape the damn thing–the what the hell happened, what should we do now, how can I make a difference–into a tidy answer.
Not unless one decides to embrace a formulaic interpretation of history along the lines of radical socialism or Marxism (remember Marxism?) or even evangelical Christianity. To embrace something, anything–please Lord!–that tells us how we got here and how to fix it.
But I–and most likely, you–am not going to go in those directions.
I’m choosing to stay put, to keep trying to act, as best I can, for the common good. Each and every day.
To allow my understanding to evolve and change. To tolerate my efforts swinging from the minute to the dramatic, the private to the public, the timid to the ballsy, and the secure to the risky.
No rules. Other than the oldest in the book (any book): do no harm. To self or other.
To follow, in other words, my heart. And to trust that with application and effort the muddy will grow clear, the why will be answered, and the how will become apparent.
And, meanwhile, to return to the well of writing for nourishment and replenishing.
Whatever the nature of one’s writing–whether investigative journalism, literary fiction, essay, or erotica–the very act of writing is rejuvenating and energizing. We write to discover what we feel and think, and to make others think and feel. The act of writing, for a writer, calms like nothing else. Those who need to write cannot not write.
Work doesn’t trump writing; it can only shove it into odd hours and stolen minutes. Personal issues will not suppress it; with time, they only enrich it.
And while politics might thrust writing into a corner like a naughty child waiting to be released, we, when released to our writing, find it matured and sobered. And we feel fresh gratitude that we are able to enjoy the gift of creating art.
Somehow our days will stretch to accommodate it all.
They will have to: a writer who is not writing is of little use to anyone or anything, most particularly to herself. No good at saving the world, and even less good at saving herself.
And because good writing cannot flourish in a state that does not safeguard freedom of thought and expression, guarantee civil liberties for all, and ensure full and equal opportunity for everyone.