The events of the past several months, and especially those of the past two weeks, have made me requestion the relevance and usefulness of my work. This despite the fact that I believe my work to be relevant and useful, but I also believe it to be part of a long game, and when it seems that the world is quickly becoming an uncontrollable bush fire it’s hard to focus on anything but the immediate emergency facing us.
I can’t remember if I’ve told this story here before, but I have a friend who used to be a volunteer firefighter in her mountain village. She told me this and I saw photos of her in uniform, but for the first couple of years we knew each other I never witnessed her in action. Then one day I was over at her house on a sunny morning in the summer. We were talking about life and work over multiple cups of strong black tea, when I saw a fire truck driving into the village on the road up the hill from her house. “They’re coming for you,” I joked, and just then an ear-splitting siren went off. I snapped my head in the direction of the siren, and when I turned back to her a second later she had already disappeared. In no more than 20 seconds after the siren went off she had rushed upstairs, changed into her gear, run back down, put her boots on and was out the door, without a word to anyone. She was back after a few hours, panting, her face a flushed reddish purple. There had been a fire in the village dump, caused by something that had been leaking fuel which ignited in the hot temperatures. It spread to the nearby woods, burning slowly but every so often exploding into shots of flames two stories high. They got everything under control. My friend was exhausted and dizzy and even after taking a long, cold shower she felt like throwing up or passing out or both. I left to go home so she could rest.
This is what I feel things in the world are like now, except that these bush fires are happening every single day and there is no respite in sight. Not saying that the world has ever been a summertime picnic by a shady creek, but these days it feels like it’s just way, way too much. How do you go on with your life when the fire alarm never shuts off? I’ve read several essays in just the past week talking about activism fatigue, how long we can keep up the opposition, how to practice “self-care” so our lives are not completely engulfed by horror, fear, anger, and anxiety. That’s not only unsustainable, but it will surely lead to complete burn-out and, worse, desensitization to each new outrageous action taken by the new US administration. We are already talking about this and it hasn’t even been two weeks.
My mother, who has always been and will always be one of the wise ones among us, has committed herself to carrying out one act of resistance per week, but it’s been working out to be more like one a day. She’s signed petitions, written letters, made donations to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and Standing Rock among others. She’s also started knitting hats and scarves for Sylvia’s Place, an emergency shelter for LGBTQ youth in New York City. (If you’re on Ravelry, there’s some information on this center in the Charity Knitting group’s thread “2017 Currently Accepting Donations.”) She’s staying informed and doing what she can.
I’ve taken inspiration from my mother and have started doing the same. I wrote up a list of things I can practically do and am keeping a log every day of what I’ve done. It doesn’t feel like much, but it’s better than the alternative of doing nothing. It’s mostly small things, donations and letters, as well as some charity knitting which will at least help a handful of people stay warm (but to be honest it’s mostly just helping me to deal with stress). Trying to channel my outrage into useful action.
I will continue to focus on this, finding daily ways to blast my fire extinguisher instead of just watching things burn, and at the same time I will work to stay focused on my part of the long game. Because those two things together are what prompt me to get out of bed every morning instead of staying curled up in a fetal position under the covers, and those two things are second only to my family and friends in giving me a sense of purpose and confirming my belief that we are better than this.