Hi. It’s me. I’m here.
I’m here and it’s my 40th birthday and I need a shower. I need to update my to-do list, make a plan for the day, when all I want is a day with no plans.
I keep thinking, “Will it feel better to retreat, or to take action?”
Yesterday at work I felt like I was in a thick jungle- lost in a haircut, bushwacking my way through conversation. Every time someone asked me how I was doing I wanted to collapse, clear away the world for a moment and say,
”I’m turning forty tomorrow. I’m trying to get my house ready to sell. Lately, art and poetry, although necessary to me, are buried deep, untouchable. It’s been weeks since I’ve gotten enough time to myself. But most of all, my vow to ignore the news for a couple months is failing because it’s all crashing in, it’s unavoidable. Abortion rights are being threatened, climate change is a real problem unfolding before our eyes, there are wars and poverty and homelessness and people are being gunned down in grocery stores, in churches, in schools, and lawmakers care more about profits than protecting American people so I feel hopeless and powerless, like nothing will change.”
On Tuesday, while Benny and I were enjoying a relaxing getaway near Smith Rock, there was a mass shooting at an elementary school in Texas. I can’t look away from this.
Is it better to retreat or take action?
I’ve been happier lately, not reading the news. Life feels more manageable. But I can’t shut off. Yesterday I woke up feeling tense, ravaged. All relaxation I attained on the trip was gone. I felt overwhelmed by the clutter in the house, the lack of alone time, the weight of where the world is right now.
On the way to work I listened to Glennon Doyle’s podcast, We Can Do Hard Things. She was interviewing the founder of Moms Demand Action, an organization that is working towards gun regulation. They were talking about how we got here as a country, what we can do about it. They urged me to not turn away, to not go numb. Feel it, feel sad and sick and angry. Hope can be a concrete, productive feeling, built not on blind faith but on initiative. When I got to work I signed up for a monthly donation of $25 a month to Moms Demand Action. Did that feel better? A little.
As I set up my station I felt floaty, detached. A coworker asked how I was doing and I spilled some of it on him. He suggested I try acupuncture and Tension Tamer tea. I was inwardly outraged at his advice. One of my regular clients asked how I was doing and I cheerfully said, “Barely holding it together.”
I read a quote the other day that said, “It’s tragic how we have to disassociate in order to live our lives.” There’s such a split, the way we tamp down what’s wrong in order to go to work, be productive, do the next thing. We are so busy there’s no time to focus on the real problems and put energy towards making change.
On my lunch break I thought about how I used to be so carefree and oblivious, especially before 2016 when Trump became President. That was when the world broke open for me, and for a lot of us. When all the ugliness became very visible, when we couldn’t look away. I keep wanting things to get better so that I can go back to that blissful ignorance but I suddenly realized that that’s never going to happen. I can never go back.
And maybe that’s what growing up is. Maybe growing up is facing the world’s darkness and not looking away.
Maybe growing up is knowing when to retreat and when to take action.
Maybe growing up is waking up every morning ready to have your heart broken, again and again, but that’s okay, that what hearts were meant to do because otherwise they solidify, harden, become tough like old meat. The constant breakage keeps your heart soft, open, a conduit for change, for art, for outrage. Outrage is one of the purest forms of power.
Maybe growing up is calling the world on its bullshit and finding ways to rebel, to cultivate your own little garden of authenticity that you know to be real and good, and then as you get older, let that garden flourish and expand until it’s grown beyond its tidy plot, it’s not just yours anymore, it belongs to your neighbors as well, to your community. Creating your own beauty and brilliance so that it doesn’t become lost and small- it’s all around you, it’s all that you can see.