“It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” –Jiddu Krishnamurti.
I’ve been struggling to write lately. As a person who primarily writes about politics and international affairs, that seems weird. There is no shortage of subject matter for someone like me. At home, my president-elect is at best self-absorbed, shortsighted, and lacking in basic human empathy and decency, and at worst a fascist who will embroil us in senseless wars and further legitimize the already alarming violence and degradation suffered by marginalized groups in this country. People of color, particularly black people, continue to be killed by police at an alarming rate, and the officers responsible continue to face no real consequences. This election cycle was such a flaming garbage heap, there was barely time to substantively engage nuanced policy issues; we were basically forced to direct all our attention to keeping those flames from burning up the most vulnerable members of our society.
And we failed, which means that at least the next four years will be more of the same: those of us who give a shit racing to minimize the damage being done to our planet, our communities, our rights, and our lives.
Around the world, refugees and asylum seekers continue to flee everything from beheadings to chemical weapons attacks. Terrorist attacks have rocked Europe. Tensions continue to escalate around the territorial disputes in the South China Sea. That Brexit vote happened, in another right-wing victory ironically coming out of left field, and it has been followed by mounting xenophobia and violence and harassment against people who are not seen as British enough, as well as the possibility of a new Scottish independence referendum.
And personally, I’ve just graduated from a Master’s program, only to find that having this new credential does not seem to have made me any more employable than I was without it. I worked for a nonprofit before grad school and found that despite its claims to progressive values, it consistently underpaid and undervalued its employees. I have repeatedly discovered that almost any organization I try to work for dedicated to building a better world seems to believe that passion for the cause can sustain life and that I am selfish for wanting to be able to pay my rent and buy groceries in the same week. Publications expect me to write for them in exchange for exposure, seemingly oblivious to the fact that no landlord or store accepts readership stats in exchange for an apartment or food.
I haven’t been writing because I’ve been depressed and anxious by turns. The current events that I follow for subject matter sometimes make me feel physically sick, they’re so frightening and disheartening. It feels overwhelming to be trying to work for a more inclusive, representative society in the face of such events. In my personal life, the job hunt leaves me perpetually exhausted and discouraged. It feels like I’ve done so many of the things I’m “supposed” to have done: gotten an education, filled summers and sometimes winter breaks with internships for experience, temped to gain administrative skills, and blogged and freelanced to try and get my writing out there. But it has not made a difference.
At the same time, I recognize that I come from a privileged background. I had access to that education. I could do those unpaid internships with the support of my family. That all contributes to my feelings of uselessness, to the sense that I have it so much easier in this world than countless other people, whether they are Americans of color or people in other countries with even more unequal economic systems and/or repressive governments, and yet I am still failing.
I just moved across the country to a new city, where so far this year at least four houseless people have frozen to death on the streets. A few days ago, I literally fled a different homeless man who screamed threats and obscenities at me while I was out on a run. I spent the rest of the day nervous and jumpy, thinking of my own vulnerability and fear as a woman in relation to a strange man as well as his vulnerability in an economic and political system that values profits over people and reduces us to the contributions we make as laborers and consumers. I thought of the irony of the situation: this man, clearly not in his right mind, accused me of spying on him, and I spent the afternoon checking over my shoulder even though I knew he couldn’t have followed me.
There’s something larger to say there, about trust and community and isolation and fear that borders on paranoia, but I’m not sure how to say it.
There is some thread that connects a man who has been left behind by his society and his rage against a woman out running to the election results that blindsided so many of us in this country; and the wars we wage abroad as well as on our own poor, nonwhite, immigrant, Muslim, and queer residents; and the displacement of millions of Syrians and Iraqis and others; and the resentment and xenophobia that breeds around those refugees and migrants wherever they go. And I want to do so much to change the world that enables all of that suffering, but instead I can’t even get anyone to hire my overeducated ass and pay me a living wage. I’ve heard the saying about how you have to take care of yourself before you can care for others, about how you cannot serve from an empty vessel. At the same time, acknowledging my privilege makes me feel like I should be doing so much more for others, should have leveraged it to accomplish so much more by now than I have. And writing this piece feels self-indulgent and whiny.
It also feels like the only thing I can write today, after weeks of hardly writing anything. So maybe it needs to be written, so that then I can start figuring out how to write better, be stronger, and do more.