Putting the Brakes on Burnout
It’s only Wednesday and thus far, the week has been exhausting. My calling and letter writing and meeting-going has drained me of inner resources. In order to effectively make calls and find the right rhetoric regarding the immigration policy separating children from their families, I’ve had to read a lot of news stories, look at “other side” arguments, and really dig in.
Yesterday I stumbled through calls, likely irritating already overworked congressional interns. I popped more old-fashioned letters into the mail, intent on contacting senators every way possible, phone, email, and U.S. mail. I attended a voters’ rights meeting, which was more social than working, but found myself tapped out by the end of the evening, followed by a heavy dose of insomnia.
This morning, after reading another round of damning news, I was blurry-eyed and tearful. The U.S. pulled out of the UN Human Rights Council. Since 1989, we’re the only country that has refused to ratify the Convention on Children’s Rights. For all the pro-life bullshit spouted in this country, we’re really not. But that is not the point of this post, merely the pile of bad news on which it is built.
But it gets worse. Let’s start with the phrase tender age shelters. Then, our vicious, useless reprobate of a president is bringing his corrosive self into my state today, where a large amount of people will don red hats and make him feel adored while shouting cult-like phrases in his direction. Lock babies up! Lock babies up!
Today I’m taking a break. There is much to do and much urgency in doing it, but I’m headed for burnout and I haven’t been sleeping and I need to rally my mental troops, because there is a lot more work to do. Plus, if I have to see that bastard’s face one more time today, I’m going to punch my monitor.
To recharge, I’m doing some very basic things:
Not reading the news until this evening.
Cleaning up my study, which has become a large pile of camouflage for car keys, that graduation card I forgot to send to my niece, Spanish vocabulary cards that exploded when the rubber band gave up on life, research articles, and ambition.
Flopping in a chair and reading something humorous. I’ve picked John Hodgman’s Vacationland.
Writing fiction. Sometimes it’s good to be in a land where things work out to my satisfaction. I’m working on short stories and not the novel, because it quite unexpectedly (or maybe not a surprise at all) landed squarely upon immigration issues.
Gardening. After days of rain, my tall tomato plants need to be staked, carrots thinned, peas trained on a trellis. To use a bad pun, there is something very grounding about getting dirty, having sweat drip into my eyes, the smells of thyme and lemon balm, the aerial show of dragonflies (mosquitoes have arrived). It is as present in the moment as I ever get.
Cooking. While I’ve focused on being all civic-minded, my family has foraged in the kitchen like a pack of rabid wolves for their meals. Cooking forces me to slow down and be a little more thoughtful about nutrition. Feeding the soul is great, but feeding the body makes it all happen.
Sitting and doing nothing for moments at a time. This will likely lead to a nap or ten.
Having coffee with a friend. We always have a laugh and I get to talk about other things than the news.
Making the list. I have more calls, emails, and letters to write tomorrow. Having a call list and addresses ready will make shorter work of things.
Preparing for and going to bed early. This is where it all begins – getting enough rest to knock out the next day.
Joy doesn’t betray but sustains activism. And when you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated and isolated, joy is a fine act of insurrection.
Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark
Much like writing, one can assume that activism requires constant productivity, but we are not robots and we are better writers or activists or humans, for taking the time to allow our brains and bodies to rest, recuperate, refuel. Quantity does not indicate effectiveness and the best ideas often emerge out of fallow times. Off to get some energy and good ideas. And maybe a nap.