An Octopus’ Confession
On one hand…
On one hand, today alone there’s Sessions and the Russians and Tillerson and the press conference from hell and repealing Obamacare and his business holdings and the ice caps are melting and HE’S NOT EVEN PRESIDENT YET. Every value that I have — every single one, defensive or aspirational, about obligation and citizenship and responsibility and protecting the vulnerable among us and Never Again — every value tells me that I must be spending all my waking moments (and, if my dreams last night tell me anything, my sleeping moments, too) fighting with everything I have. Urgency has never felt more urgent.
On the other hand, I was already completely exhausted before this round of mishegas started. While I was certainly invested in reading about and thinking about organizing this year, this was supposed to be my break, my Year of Random Crap, to average out the hundred-hour-crisscrossing-the-country workweeks of the past six years. I am not sure that I have the stamina to Go Hard — this hard — now. If I’m honest, I’m really fucking miserable.
On the other hand, what kind of privileged bullshit is that?? There are many, many who do not have the luxury of just withdrawing for the next six months. There are many under attack simply because of their identity, background, the color of their skin, their religion. They can’t just “decide” to “take a break” from this nightmare. They are under threat of deportation, hate crimes, losing their rights, being banned, being under government surveillance. The literal planet is in danger. In the face of that, “self-care” (eyeroll. Eyeroll?) is the most ridiculous thing I can think of.
On the other hand, maybe in order to be in fit-fighting shape for the years (?!) ahead, taking the next six months away from organizing would actually be the best thing to do. Maybe taking “advantage” of my less immediate danger to be available for relief pitching (#sportsmetaphor) starting in September is appropriate. And not even appropriate, useful.
On the other hand, there are people watching me. Today I received a really lovely email from a former student thanking me for my efforts and writing to offer encouragement. Certainly, I don’t do this for “glory” or even to be respected. But, given that there are folks in my life who are, for better or for worse, looking to me for direction, how can I possibly bow out? If I withdraw, isn’t that setting the worst possible example? How could I critique the passive people around me if I myself appear passive? The Friday after the election, I wrote a Facebook post about the need to get up off the fucking mat. Am I a hypocrite?
On the other hand, this is my LIFE. Do I stop making plans for myself? Do I need to feel guilty for every moment and penny I spend on things that are not building the Movement? Do I get to be happy? And further, if I “allow” Trump to dominate my life, is he winning? Isn’t my existential misery, fear, and anger, the crushing of my will, exactly what he is looking for? Isn’t that in part what tyranny is? Isn’t part of my job to protect myself against that — and moreover, maybe model that for others?
On the other hand, see point three. And, maybe, as my mentor once said to me (and has since half taken back, grimacing every time I bring it up) — maybe happiness is overrated. Maybe “being happy” is the most indulgent thing a person can do. Fulfillment, being of use and of service, is that the goal? And can I feel content, satisfied, with that being my life’s work, instead of “happiness”? What is happiness, anyway? And hoo boy, I do get a rush, a tremendous sense of purpose from organizing. It is, in many moments of my life, the most amazing, holy thing I can conceive of.
On the other hand, how much should that perspective, from him directly, and from other people I respect, indirectly, matter to me? How much of my drive to do this work is about seeking validation from people I respect? How much of it is about wanting to be a “cool organizer” in the cool organizer club, which is just a rehashing of middle school angst (#therapy)? How much of it is a projection on my parents (who actually are among the people most encouraging me to take a break!) and wanting to make them proud? How much am I motivated by not wanting to let the people around me down? How much am I motivated by not wanting to let Barack Obama down? And wasn’t part of what I was trying to do this year was develop my own ego — my own sense of self? To get rid of the “shoulds” in my life?
On the other hand, part of what I know to be true about myself is that I believe a person should live by their values. And I know what my values are — I know what they are every time I open the newspaper or turn on the radio and my heart breaks and my blood boils.
On one hand, I am seeking validation from y’all of this back-and-forth in my own mind. I am seeking thought partnership on these questions. I need to make some decisions.
On the other hand, is writing this post and obsessing about these questions the most self-indulgent thing I’ve ever done?
On the other hand, isn’t this my life? And when I’ve been vulnerable about these things in the past, it’s been useful to me — and to others.
On the other hand, is my life the most important thing right now?