Living in Times Like These: Finding Light in the Darkness
Like many of you, I have gone through the various stages of grief following the most recent presidential election; shock, pain, anger, depression, acceptance and … what is supposed to come next? I just Googled it: reconstruction and, finally, hope. I’m not sure I’ve gotten to the latter yet when it comes to our government, but maybe I’m in the reconstruction, “working through it” phase. More specifically, I’m trying to figure out how I can be the person that I want to be in this current political and social climate. Sometimes, that person gets buried in anxiety, and a dark cloud of constant bad news.
One of the great things about songwriting is it helps you understand exactly what is on your mind, even when you don’t realize it yourself. No matter what you sit down to write about, you will end up writing a song about the thing that is paramount in your brain at that particular moment. That’s what happened when I sat down and wrote “Times Like These” with my new friend Thom Schuyler. We started out writing a song about all sorts of specific political issues, including student loans and immigration, and ended up writing a song about gratefulness and the beauty and love that we experience every day.
This writing process led me to think about a question: How am I supposed to feel when my micro world is full of unprecedented joy and happiness and my macro world is full of pain, injustice, and suffering? The two worlds are, of course, interconnected. In fact, I face the prospect of losing my health insurance, losing family and bandmates to visa and immigration battles, and what feels like an ongoing war against my entire gender and sex. But at this exact moment in time, however fleeting it may be, my little micro world is brimming with wonder. Fixing up my first home, getting married to an amazing partner, the birth of my first nephew, inspiring music and career prospects shared with great friends, a vibrant and inspiring hometown, family and community.
After wasting too many beautiful days being angry about things I can’t change, I’ve come up with a few strategies for navigating these tricky times. These strategies are all based on one fundamental concept: I, as a human being, have a limited amount of energy on any given day. If I spend all of my limited energy being angry at Donald Trump, or some other person in power making terrible decisions, and yet do nothing to actively combat these people, then Donald Trump is winning. He is already taking away so much from all of us, should we allow him to take our joy as well? Here are five strategies I’ve used that might help you find your way:
1) Find one or two news sources that you trust and respect from which to get updates on what is going on. Intake a small amount of news each day, enough to remain educated on what is going on, and then stop. Limit your news cycle intake; don’t allow yourself to spend hours reading one terrible story after another. If something comes on, you already know about it, and you know that it’s going to infuriate you, change the channel, turn it off, or put it down. Media operates on one currency, which is your attention span. The headline that can grab your attention is the headline that makes the most money for that media source. Your attention is a commodity that is bought and sold. Know that, stay aware, and act accordingly. Don’t spend all of the attention that you have to give on the media. Save some for yourself, your own work, and your own day.
2) Once you know what is going on, think about a few small concrete ways that you can react. Can you make a call to a senator or representative? Can you volunteer with a group that is helping with that particular issue? Can you donate money? Is there information you can share with a specific person who might need it, like a friend of a family member who needs an update on immigration policy or needs help registering to vote? Make a concrete plan for how you can help, take action, and then give yourself permission to stop thinking about it for that day. Remember, simply feeling upset doesn’t improve anything. Your anger, if not channeled into action, is simply energy gone to waste. So use it to take action, and then move on with your day. One thing I’ve found really helpful is the “Daily Action” text, which gives you a concrete way you can help with current political hot topics each day. You can sign up for that here.
3) Pick a cause or two to get more invested in. Sometimes, the political shitshow might be knocking directly on your door, in which case you might not have a choice about which issues are central to you. Are you at risk of being deported? Being harassed and brutalized by the police? Being told that your identity isn’t real because you’re transgender? If this is the case, then simply existing and living your life may be more than enough to take on. If you aren’t feeling directly targeted and have some energy to spare, find an organization to volunteer with or a way to work more deeply with and learn more fully about one or two critical issues. Allow yourself to interact with other important issues on a more pedestrian level. Each of us only has so much bandwidth, and expertise and commitment in one or two areas might do more than interacting on a surface level with dozens of problems.
4) Social media activism is not real activism. Social media is a great tool for organizing and a great way to connect with like-minded people, make plans, and keep up with friends. It is a means, but it is not an end. Make bold statements, and speak your truths on your own platforms, but stop fighting with people in the comments. It’s a waste of your energy, energy that is vital and much needed to do real, productive, and essential work. Let me explain further. Today, I volunteered with the Tennessee Democratic Party to knock on doors to turn out the Democratic vote for the midterm elections. We were targeting Democratic voters, but of course you never know who may have moved, or what houses might be occupied by a new owner. As the field organizer was giving us a brief training he told us explicitly notto argue with anybody who expressed opposition to our platform. It surprised me, but then he explained, “Engagement is what really drives people to the polls. Just as talking to supporters is helpful, if you argue with a Republican voter, you are essentially doing the Republican field volunteer’s job for them by exciting their energy and driving them to the polls.” It occurs to me that you are doing exactly the same thing when you argue with people on the internet or social media. There is a difference between a healthy debate or even an argument between two people who respect or even love one another and an anonymous argument between strangers. And we all feel anonymous when we argue via the internet. How many times have you made a strongly worded comment to someone you know online? Would you ever say that same thing, using that same tone, to that person’s face? How would you feel when you saw their reaction, when you saw the hurt and offense in their eyes, and felt the tension in the air? The thing is, anonymous arguments fuel the fire in everyone. They make you mad, they make the other person mad, and they make each person even more sure that they are correct.
5) Now that you have conserved some energy in each day, what to do with it? Cultivate your joy. Love the people you love a little bit better. Allow yourself to accept the good things that are happening in your life, and enjoy them. Commit more fully to your art or your passion. Carry a little bit more energy inside of you, so that others can lean on you for help or advice in times of need. Stay aware of ways that you can create opportunity for others. Be a radiant source of light in your community. Watch as the love and energy you put out grows without penalty to anybody. Take comfort in the knowledge that when you put something helpful, good, or beautiful into your community, no matter how small, you are winning, and the resistance is winning. Find your joy, however big or small it may be in this particular chapter of your life, nurture it, and protect it fiercely. In the end, that joy may prove to be the most fundamental form of resistance possible. We SHALL overcome.
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EDITOR’S NOTE: Rachel Baiman is No Depression‘s Spotlight artist for November. Read our feature story about her and her new EP, Thanksgiving, here, and stay tuned throughout the month for more!