Being Present Among Harbingers of Doom

I’ve been overwhelmed the last couple of weeks with the social interactions required to be an activist and volunteer. I found myself saying well, when this is over then I can retreat…Except that it’s not going to be over for a very long time. The times and years ahead look to be very bad ones in terms of politics, economics, and violence. We are at the simmering point in our society. Things are going along as if nothing has changed, but in the last few years, it feels as if everything has changed.

canstockphoto2230732There is an awareness of this moment that runs through my brain. Summertime. There is food in the stores and in our fridge. The heat finally broke for a few days of rain and cloud cover. We can still go to the doctor or hospital if we need to. We are able to go outside after dark. There are no armored vehicles on the streets. My daughter and I can go places unaccompanied, wearing whatever we’d like. Our neighbors don’t report us to the authorities.

I think about the days when my husband and I will be old and infirm and wonder if we will reminisce about abundance and cool temperatures. Will I miss books? Will he shush me, afraid that I’ll be overheard, when I whisper my angry protests about the evil that people do? Will I remember long ago poems and songs and recite them under my breath? Will I kill someone defending my family against scavengers and marauders? When I die, what kind of world will I leave my beloved daughter in?

canstockphoto9972781Part of fighting for change or resisting bad policy is the impetus of doom. It’s seeing the precursors and imagining what comes after and after and after. It’s knowing enough history to know where things begin. There is a confluence of dangerous events – natural disasters relating to climate change, the rise of autocracy in America, the weakening of our national will to be innovative and inspired, the unpreparedness for biological disaster and warfare, the jellyfish spines of people who have spent too long being entertained into mindless drones, pecking away at our smart phones.

But then there is now. If disaster is on the horizon, then what do we make of now? If the times that are coming will be of scarcity and secrecy and savagery, how do we live now?

We’ve been chicken-souped and memed to death about living every day as if it is our last, but what does that mean? And how is living on the razor’s edge sustainable? I don’t know how to work towards a better world, without imagining the bad things that could happen. I suppose part of retaining one’s drive is to focus on positive outcomes instead of the river of fear that flows beneath them. But even that misses the moment. We focus on the future either way.

canstockphoto8705409.jpgThere is always a call for balance, but I’ve come to believe that it is not the balance of the moment, but the balance over a week or month or a lifetime. It is difficult to step outside oneself and see if there is an equal number of tick marks in every column. What is balance for one person, is not for another. Some people can stay fired up and inspired for years at a time. Some of us can only manage an hour here or there.

Much of this questioning involves a constant recalculation of our locus of control; the measuring of the time between our actions and the results of those actions. What is the value of the time I spend with my family now versus fighting for the time it may spend in the future? In this moment, should I write another letter to another congressional representative that will be tallied and shunted aside or should I take a long walk and refresh my senses? The meaning starts large on my end, but means relatively little on the other. Just a number. Just a moment.

There is, at the root of these little arguments I have in my head, some core values. I believe in service to others. I believe that we are responsible for the damage we inflict on the planet and its creatures. I believe that we are defined by our choices. I also believe that we are weighed down by the fears we carry. Perhaps being present is when we lay down those burdens, if only for the moment. Perhaps it is the time when we get to remember what it’s all for.

canstockphoto1432692These days, joyfulness sometimes eludes me. Prone to depression, desirous more often than not of solitude and quiet, I am outwitted by my impulses. I am perhaps not well-suited to activism, to recruit others to a cause, to lead a charge, but I can’t seem to help myself. I’ve come to accept it, but have not learned how to do it without feeling hollowed out after a time.

So I approach the moment with humility. I remember that I am not the solver of all things, the fixer of the world. And I come back. There are things that bring me back. My family. The garden. A passage in a book. A conversation with a friend. The reservoir refills and I straddle both worlds again. Balance is an illusion.

31 Comments on “Being Present Among Harbingers of Doom

  1. I don’t know anyone who isn’t struggling, even eternal optimists like me. It is impossible to make sense of what’s happening, it’s draining to get through each hour of more bad news, let alone each week, each month, each year and it’s frightening and disheartening to think of what might come next. I’ve never sat quietly on the sidelines, I’ve always spoken up and made my voice heard, but there is just so much going on, it’s overwheming.

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    • I’ve worked to narrow my focus considerably, working on voting rights and issues in regards to children. While it’s possible to be informed about a wide range of issues, an individual cannot effectively address everything. That is the first lesson I’ve learned. The second is that what’s the point of working to fix the world, while neglecting your own. I’m sure there are a lot of people trying to find that elusive balance, which is just an unrealistic expectation to have of ourselves. I’m tired of feeling worn-out and overwhelmed, so I’m trying to find better strategies.

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  2. Such a well-written, heartfelt post, Michelle. I wish I didn’t, but I identified with every word of it, if from a UK perspective. On both sides of the Atlantic we seem to be heading, lemming-like, for conflict and disaster. The anti-Russian narrative in particular is driving me mad. It has all the makings of Edward Bernays/ Creel Commission propaganda campaign – endlessly engineering our compliance to the notion of ‘the external enemy’, when all along the enemy is within our own domains – the right-wing, war-mongering, arms selling, cold-war returners who fear the loss of their profit margins if any society on earth makes a success of an economy based on socialist principles. Oh yes, and then there is the driven lust to secure control of the world’s resources, no matter who they actually belong to, and by any vile means, however sick and culpable.

    So yes, how does one proceed with ordinary life exactly, while all this is going on, and when most people around one don’t seem to have noticed any of it. Recently the Windrush scandal highlighted how the UK government has wrongfully deported numbers of tax-paying, UK-born citizens to their parents’ country of origin. This has revealed all sorts of covert ways HMG can use to investigate citizens. We all ought to be worried, but I guess with a summer of unusually broiling weather, and the summer sales on in all the shops and on-line, it’s too hot to think about it.

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    • The problem with Russia is that it further highlights that our president is alienating our allies and cozying up to dictators and autocrats, but it is certainly not the only bogeyman that we’re dealing with. The president is trying to gin up a war with Iran to distract us further from his criminal enterprises. We’re in real trouble, as this narcissist comes under more and more pressure.
      Anyway, we can only work on what we have any sort of control over, which many days, feels like nothing at all. I’ve been puzzling over how to be an introverted activist – thinking about actions beyond speaking up or being in crowds. I just keep hitting the burnout wall and I figure there must be a better way to do things. But staying rooted in the world that matters to me is probably a good start.

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      • As to rootedness, I agree. Also agree that it is hard to know how to make one’s voice heard. I’ve tried writing to my MP whom I know personally from flood activism days in our town, but just get a load of party-line garbage spouted back at me. As to Trump, outrageously as he behaves, I’m beginning to wonder if his whole circus act isn’t also a distraction. It fills the media outlets with so much rubbish that the public are not focusing on serious matters – local, national and international.

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        • There’s no doubt he’s a carnival barker, but he has changed the rhetoric in this country and because so many people crave power, he has been supported, buoyed, and empowered by the Republican party and a swathe of American citizens. There are actions associated with this administration: legislation is being passed both on state and federal levels that is destructive to a democracy, the environment, the welfare of our citizens.
          So beyond all the Tweets and media circus, things are happening that have long term consequences. Because I believe he has a genuine mental disorder and because I am familiar/familial with narcissists, I know this is the most dangerous time and the people we all imagined would be the grownups in the room are just as twisted by their own ambition as he is.

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    • I am soooo with you on this. We are all heading for some sort of huge conflict. I “feel” it here in Europe each day as we step forward. The reality TV of the White House and the conflicts and shortages in the world will lead us in that direction.

      Make no mistake, the war machine and it’s profits are running the world and those who profit from it are running the show! They know there are limited resources left on the planet and they look for anyway to make sure they profit from it.

      I think it is not going to be the best of times in the coming year, or years and I am preparing my family here in Europe for what it could be to live without food, limited resources, and I have made sure that there is a safe place for my adult US children to stay in case it gets bad in the State as well. I have seen with my own eyes what war does to countries and it’s people. I also know that the American public has no idea how bad it can get. The WWII generation is almost gone and they know it can get that bad but none of our generation listened and we voted into offices the people who will send us all straight down the road of destruction.

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  3. This may seem nihilistic, but it’s useful to me to keep a very big perspective. VERY big. Meaning that we may well destroy ourselves and the planet in the same way we already have destroyed many of its non-human inhabitants. Our children will have lives as we have, as humans do, lives of varying quantity and quality; they’ll learn to navigate the particulars as we all must. If humans succeed in killing themselves but not the world, Hurrah! Perhaps the wild things will rise again in the ruin of our madness and creatures with our destructive potential will not re-arise in this new world. If we destroy the Earth along with ourselves, the universe — the other planets, the cosmos — will go on. From that perspective, It is easier to work earnestly within our small circle of influence without despair.

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    • Oh, there is a strong nihilistic vibe in my head about all this. I believe humans are an invasive species, which usually involves some internalized human-loathing. For me, that approach serves the purpose of giving perspective when I get too intense, but it also helps me make more conscious choices about how I spend my time.
      I feel like I have to make that decision almost every day – that despite the fact that nothing may matter, I have to decide what matters to me. And then not take myself so seriously. Some days, it actually works for me, but some days I really just want to curl up in a ball and growl at any encroachment.

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  4. Another post that offers a concise and objective analysis of the deep sense of frustration, bordering on doom, that progressives are wrestling with right now. I really admire your ability to verbalize the struggle. Most of the time I just want to scream, but the void swallows all that up and spits it back out at me so it’s not a great strategy.

    I guess I never considered myself a nihilist but I have found myself thinking many of the same thoughts Franci shared. If we indeed destroy ourselves, the earth will be better off for it. If we destroy enough of us that the remnant has to start over, perhaps the transition will be to a more positive relationship with the earth as a whole.

    I too am an introvert and have always relied on humor to buoy myself and others above the the turbulence, but it’s hard to make light of things, even the light stuff, when the weight of it all is pressing down on us.

    Perhaps the changing demographics in our country will change it’s course, in time. We can hope.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Somehow, with all the gloom and doom, it seems even more critical to find the lightness wherever we can. I think about that expression “carrying the weight of the world” – that’s a lot for any human being to deal with and in the long term, deleterious to our existence. It has always seemed like a challenge, being aware of the misery that is happening at any given time on this planet, to be in the moment and enjoy what is in front of me. Before people were easily able to access news, they lived lives in the moment, and sometimes I wonder how much healthier that must have been.

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  5. Beautiful writing Michelle, sad times. Yes, I think balance (like power) is an illusion too; it’s more like “harmony” for me I go for. Then, when you scratch at it, it all seems like an illusion. Put on a Styx record (while you still can)! Go cross the river and carry some coins.

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    • Thanks, Bill. I like the metaphor of music – includes the harmony and the dissonance. “Everything is an illusion” is a conversational topic in our house. My daughter has been reading Nietzsche, Kant, and Schopenhauer. Also part of heated debates: the existence (or not) of free will. At her age, I was sneaking my mom’s trashy romance novels, so it’s a little unsettling.

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  6. The book I’m reading now makes me either sigh, gasp, or hyperventilate. I can only read a bit at a time of “Fascism Today: What it is and How to End it.” That and the news are the sources right now of my doom and gloom. I step away when I get overwhelmed. I will do “now” and focus on “a little bit later” (as in November 2018). As the saying goes: You eat an elephant one bite at a time.

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    • I think the “stepping away” part is critical and I’ve begun to recognize that I can’t live in that space where the world is imploding. With election season about to go into full swing, I’m just going to focus on getting people out to vote and hope like hell that elections don’t get interfered with by either outside sources or the president (already he’s trying to position the elections as rigged in favor of Dems). One small bite at a time is right!

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  7. My Dutch husband told me this week that he is not worried that we are all heading down this road of destruction. The Earth will recover long after us humans destroy it, to him it is comforting to know the Earth will survive. I guess I am selfish, I want humans to provide an educated answer and live in peace with the Earth and with each other. I know through my own experiences that the war machine governments will not allow that to happen but I still have hope that maybe one day it will before it becomes too late.

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    • I’m with you – I’d like to imagine humans can get their shit together and stop eating their own, but we’re not there yet and how bad it has to get before we get a grip is now the question. Education is really the only answer and when you see how stupid people can be in the developed world, you wonder how hopeful we can really be.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve tried to keep it balanced but now I can see that it is IMpossibLE.
    And it is a torture!
    I prefer the doom and the gloom as it is real and actually puts you back into the present moment.

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    • I think that is the challenge. I don’t want to be Pollyanna about the world around me, but operating from a constant state of depression is not useful. It’s learning how to appreciate the small world around me, while nurturing awareness and better yet, action to make the larger world a better place. It’s tough to do, but that perhaps is the nature of balance – it’s more a juggling act than a tightrope.

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      • Yes, I agree it is a very difficult state to be in. Sort of in between two separate realities. Yes, nurturing is crucial. I would raise another question: Why do we think we have to be balanced all the time or is the society demanding it from us? Maybe we generally do not wish to see negative emotions in others and those individuals are faced with an even more strenuous task on the top of the feelings they face. We are used to only the positive side and we have no willingness to see and accept others while feeling depressed.

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        • I think balance became one of those catchall words marketed along with western yoga and meditation. Because words have meaning, we see balance as some sort of equal sides thing. In reality, you can have 15 little rocks on one side of a scale and one large rock on the other. It looks balanced, but if those rocks are issues, is it? I do think conflict avoidance and not wanting to see others unhappy are part of the social contract. It’s the reaction to those situations that make all the difference – we tend to want to smooth things over, quiet disquietude, or go into defensive mode.

          I’m reading Brene Brown’s “Braving the Wilderness” and one of the ideas she talks about are “conflict transformation” skills. Instead of running away or covering up, we lean in, listen and ask questions, changing what is anger or unhappiness or aggressiveness into a learning conversation. I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of transforming conversation.

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  9. Michelle,

    Can you imagine a future you would want to live in? The worries and fears about destruction, Apocalypse, nuclear war, and climate change, to name a few, make them seem inevitable, but do we create the futures we fear? A sort of passive acceptance and nihilistic expectation of the worst-case scenarios seems to be the au current mode.

    I admire your efforts to make your corner of the world a more agreeable place, and perhaps ripples will spread outward in unfathomable ways. Consequently, to imagine yourself in old age, healthy, happy, and satisfied, seems a valid use of your creative abilities.

    Enough of gloom and doom, say I. Turn off the TV. You’ll feel better.

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    • I don’t know, Katherine. I have a pretty good imagination and don’t actually watch television. I’m definitely not in a passive acceptance mode, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the quantity and magnitude of problems we’re told we need to head off at the pass. This post was obviously written on one of those days where being overwhelmed got to me. That isn’t every day, fortunately.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Well put.

    As the daughter of life-long activists, I remind myself (all too often) that I’m in it for the long haul, which means finding a level of activism I can live with–complete with spikes and troughs. Having said that, I struggle to find it. But these are terrifying times, and we’re needed.

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    • Finding activism that one can live with is really the challenge these days. August came along at the right time – there is a lull in the activity level. Everyone is in planning mode for the midterms. Once September hits, it’s going to be full steam ahead. But this month, I’m happy to take a little bit of a breather.

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  11. The edge of doom. I sometimes think this must be what it felt like in America in 1859 and early 1860. Or in Germany in the early and mid 1930s. Or London in 1939. Or what it felt like to the American Indians in the 1870s and 1880s.

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  12. Pingback: The Marrow of Vulnerability | The Green Study

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