Thursday, February 2, 2017

Citizen Blackhole

Our enormous, gorgeous orange cat died. King Louis le Cat was 17ish and was literally the very best cat to walk this earth. I have no idea what particular sort of moronic monster abandoned him at the pound at 5 years old, but lucky for us someone did. A Norwegian Forest Cat or perhaps a Maine Coon, his size astounded all lookers and he loved, loved, loved the cold and the snow. I can almost see him now, the wind twirling the ends of his long orange hair, his huge white paws keeping him on top of the snow. He would lift his chin to the wind with a contented sigh and a smile. He also loved kids and would give a room full of five year olds his belly to rub, every time.

We'd been on "Louis Death Watch" for a few years. He had renal failure, but managed to last long after diagnosis. The night before he died, he seemed fine. He'd run across the field to the house. He'd jumped up on our bed that night. But in the late morning, I saw him laying awkwardly in Coyote's room and when I checked on him later, he'd hauled his suddenly paralyzed body down the stairs. His bodily functions released in the car, on Blue's lap and she was loaned a pair of scrubs at the vets. It was mercifully quick and by the time we got to the vet, he was barely breathing and cold. It was good that the thing to do was so obvious. I was not expecting to cry so hard that I could not drive us home. This happened only a few days after the election and it felt like the whole world was ending.

King Louis loved the garden, sunsets, kids, and cold weather

King Louis made us very happy very often
The election. Oh god. Radical change was in the air and some took advantage of it and others didn't think it was possible. For some of us, a shake up of some kind seemed inevitable, which is why I pulled so hard for Sanders in the primary. For those of us on the front end of recent economic tribulations, radical change seemed obvious and I was gunning for it to go the cohesive compassionate way instead of the crashing, bashing, smashing coup-like situation we're in now. Last spring I'd said to Huck, "I'm scared if Bernie doesn't get the nomination. (Hillary's gender was revolutionary but her style of governance appeared anachronistic to me). Revolution is coming and it's either going to be kind and democratic, or chaos and possibly violent and my kids will be the ages to get caught up in it." It looks like our new shadow president, Bannon, and I agree on something, we just disagree on what we want it to look like: Article about Bannon's WWIII fantasies.

The winter/sick days' 2000 piece time suck that is both a source of pride and shame
Since the election of Immortan Don, the Grifter in Chief, I don't know what to say to anyone about anything. Words seem pointless. It all feels meaningless. I have little faith in humans. And I don't see the point in spreading my personal blackhole around to the bright stars in the darkness that are my friends. So I've engaged very little with any humans other than my kids and husband. However, there was some thorough healthcare self-care in there as I'd met my out of pocket maximum (thanks to a huge breast lump that is graciously benign!) in October and over-filled my calendar with massages, acupuncture and chiropractics. I then came down with the entire respiratory suite of symptoms so severe that I ended up on four prescriptions, which is not something I typically engage in.  That prevented human interactions for at least three weeks. Once I dropped a gift off at someone's house and said "hi" for a few minutes. Other than that, I went about 50 days without seeing anyone, which isn't untypical in my winters. But that may have been a personal "best". Since my head injury, I am an uber-interovert, but even that was a bit much. So I'm trying to reach out more. An unhealthy isolation helps no one and does not make the world a better place.

And also, it is conversations with my friends that inspire this here blog. I often feel I don't have anything to say. Some things I'm not ready to blog about and somethings I don't want to blog about. And those are the things my therapists deal with. But with friends, we chat and joke and I don't think I have much to say, but then there's a look in their eye of keen interest. Or I tell the something I thought was mildly amusing but nothing worth writing about, but suddenly someone is laughing out loud and I think, "Oh! I have something to say!"

Someone conjectured that I was trying blog material out on them. But it's the opposite, really. It's their responses to an idea or story that help me see that I have an idea other people might enjoy. I think, "I might write about that." And then that idea shows up again and again in multiple situations and I sit down to write and it all coalesces into something that seems to me to be sort of coherent. And that, my friends, is how a blog is born.

But I wasn't hanging out with friends. And so the blog dried up.

But I'm feeling a bit better, not about the world though. I'm pretty sure nuclear annihilation is coming soon. And that the sub-oligarchy we've been living in for the past few decades will fully blossom into all-out economic abuse. And I can't fix it. I don't think HitlerII is at the helm, but I do think it's a fascist capitalist.

Between the election and the inauguration, there wasn't anything to be done, except make tear-water tea at home, alone, and try not to make the world a worse place. I tried to avoid the inauguration, staying off social media and making my morning busy, but then I was put on hold and on hold I heard, "I do solemnly swear..." It was like the cosmos needed me to bear witness, as if the USA had yelled at me, "Witness Me!"  I cried. I cried 8 years ago during the inauguration too, but for different reasons and feelings. But now with the appointment of a "fox for every hen house" (as Gloria Steinem said at the Women's March), there is something to do. And having something to do does perk me up a bit.

I can make phone calls. When Bush was president, I kept the phone numbers of each congress-person, state and federal, by the phone. And every night that I awoke in a sweat from nightmares of apocalypse, I would call them all first thing in the morning. I would promise myself that I would call in the morning and then I could fall back asleep. If, in the morning, I reneged on my promise, then the next time it wouldn't work and there'd be no sleep.

But I'd relaxed a bit in the intervening 8 years. I needed a break. Perhaps I shouldn't have, but it seemed healthy. Activist burn out is real and worth avoiding. A girl in college turned a sweatshop protest in to her own personal sweatshop, working 36 hours straight. She ended up screaming at everyone. She would not go home and she would not sleep. The foundation of a healthy society is healthy individuals. So we work on our shit, we take care of ourselves, we sleep and sometimes that has to be enough of a contribution.

But now I've resurrected the practice of phone calling. Once again I have my "representatives" numbers posted in the dining room and in my phone. And I have committed to making a phone call every day. Just one. That is my promise. That is literally the least I can do. I hate making phone calls.
my kids casting long winter shadows

It was hard to make that first call, despite it being easier than ever to find the numbers. But I couldn't figure out what to say. I asked the internet. I asked the organizations whose work I support. And got some great responses, scripts and instructions. And also, I was made fun of, "If you don't know what to say, maybe you shouldn't be calling, dumb-ass." But I catch myself imagining that I needed to write a 20 page paper on why the Exxon executive should not be Secretary of State (he is now) before I can call. This is obviously not true. It would also be a terrible idea because if I did write a 20 page paper on such a topic and then made a phone call, I would have difficulty figuring out what to say and what not to say and would nullify my whole point by lecturing their assistant for a very boring hour during which their minds would wander, and rightfully so, and they would not check the box on their form for which side of the issue this particular peon stands.

I was once a senate page, and that's what I did. Nuanced arguments could not fit on the yes/no spreadsheet before me as I, a fifteen year old, listened to irate constituents blather. Sometimes I could not even figure out what side of the issue they were on! In those cases, I couldn't even check a box.

And although I may be informed about an issue and know why I think the way I do, just picking up a phone can be difficult.  Now I write my own little scripts, trying not to spend too much time making them perfect. I'm down to just bullet points teetering on yes/no statements. But once I get it down, once I make the first phone call, it's easy. And I realize that I could just call ALL of them RIGHT NOW! And so I do. So that's at least three phone calls a day.

They say it's most effective to address 1 to 2 issues during a phone call. But everything is happening so fast and it took so much courage to make that call, that I end up talking about all of the issues on my list. It's not like I'm going to run out. By tomorrow, there will be at least 10 more issues to call about; there is this abundance of bullshit being fire-hosed in to the world and there's no end in sight. "My" senator's assistant thinks we're done and says, "Okay, I'll let the senator know! Thanks for calling." And I say, "But wait! There's more!" This possibly renders my already ineffectual little mosquito-annoying phone call even more useless. But I can't seem to help myself.

Afterwards, I can compartmentalize. I can tell myself that I did the politics thing for the day. I can move on, or try to. I can ignore the rest of the terrifying news of the day. And it seems to help. And there will certainly be more to call about tomorrow. It's the Lernaean Hydra of politics, replacing each head we cut off with infinite heads.

I'm also trying to remain calm during the calls. It's hard because this feels scary and the adrenaline flows freely. Everything seems unprecedented. It feels like we're careening into Banana Republic and one side believes in functioning government and the other side just wants its way and is willing to blow up the whole damn baby to get it. If I was Solomon, I'd know who the mother is. It's an anxious time and the typical tricks to keeping anxiety in check don't work. Usually, there's the method my friend put so succinctly: possible vs. likely. But everything here is so farfetched, so unfathomable just the day before that it's hard to parse out what's anxiety run amok and what is the sky actually falling. But I try to be calm because I don't need to spread my anxieties to every poor bloke on the phones. "My" representatives are going to do what they're going to do with my opinions and the exchange might as well be as pleasant as possible, for my sake at least.

And then there are the marches and rallies, full of energy and hope, almost more for the marchers than for our ignoring leaders. In fact, they were once such a powerful force for me that I wrote my college thesis on personal artistic expression in marches. My advisor was an art history professor specializing in Mexican art, so she got it. I got blowback from the rest of the Art Department at UW. They were under the bizarre impression that art is only true art if it communicates nothing, otherwise it's "propaganda". But art communicates, whether you want it to or not, and you better think long and hard about communicating the meaninglessness of art. In demonstrations against authority, it is most certainly not propaganda, but rather its opposite, a show of personal expression, a subversion of the conformity necessary to rule absolutely. Propaganda comes from the top down and that's not the art we see in political protest. Play and creativity are utterly necessary to every human endeavor, especially a social movement... making the road by walking it. But those are my old, academic battles. We've got a shit-ton of fresh, relevant battles to fight today.

I wanted to go to the women's march. At first. I thought, "Wtf, women's march? That seems hopelessly broad (harhar) and particularly pointless." But I began to remember my old college thesis, and part of that paper was devoted to the history of the parade, the march, a show of force. The conquering army would march through the town displaying their size and power, group chest-thumping, so to speak. It was meant to crush the rebellious soul.  And I began to realize that, yes, it would be appropriate to remind our "leaders" of how many of us there are. "Dear Administration: This is what you are up against! May your ambitions be crushed upon viewing." And then the glorious Gloria Steinem spoke. And I felt I had to go to Spokane's march (our largest ever at 8-10k people). But the day before, I'd gotten an oil change and little did I know they'd spectacularly over-filled my reservoir and the day was instead spent getting screwed over, again, at the mechanics.

But I marched for refugees and immigrants. Post TBI, it is difficult to be in a crowd. And so when Channel 2 interviewed me, I didn't make much sense, babbling, syntax errors, backing in to ideas. Plus I was wearing my light-sensitive glasses, which are never attractive. Then, when they published the written account of the video, they omitted all punctuation from my statement, no doubt having no clue where to put it, and my gibberish quotient grew exponentially. All-in-all, I was a highly ineffective spokeswoman for the movement. I will try to have a succinct and clear statement prepared before I head out into a crowd next time.

Does it work? Does marching work? Do protests work? Does calling work? A recent book claims that the WTO protests in Seattle had a huge impact in changing the conversation. The protests gave delegates from poor countries the courage they needed to stand up and be heard. It worked. A little. It seems all of our little mosquito phone calls are working now too. A little. All of our marching is helping, some. I'm fairly cynical about it all, though, thanks to this Princeton and Northwestern study: Citizens have No influence on laws passed. Thus, some of my phone calls have included off-the-cuff, unhelpful barbs like "This may be an oligarchy, but we demand that you be a bit more subtle about it." And more recently, "Is this a coup? This feels like a corporate coup."

Some reports are that all of us together have actually pushed back some of these sudden and shocking changes. Just today, phone calls ended the bill to give public lands to the states. But, as is the Hydra's nature, there's another to allow drilling in National Parks. And we lost the fight for clean water. But then, only a few of us still had had that privilege anyway.

It is heartening to see some unlikely coalitions forming under this strain. McCain, normally a nut job with terrible taste in vp's, seems to be holding the country together single-handedly.

It's also encouraging to see my fellow Americans voicing their opinions, being involved. We may not be able to stop this train-wreck, but at least I'm not alone in my horror. There are other humans, compassionate humans, here too.

Effective or not, there is still the matter of me. Can I sit idly by and let this destruction of democracy occur? I can't save the world. I can't save the country. And I can't make all of my fellow Americans get on board. But I also can't do nothing, can I? I don't think that's a position I can live with. So however illogical and ultimately pointless it may be, I am committed to making one phone call a day, at least. It is literally the least I can do without doing absolutely nothing.

Maybe nothing we do will change the inevitable, terrible outcome of humanity. But for me, I have to do something anyway. Perhaps I'm too cynical; I don't imagine I'll be changing the world. And yet, I'm still a citizen of it, and am committed to acting as such. I will raise my voice for love and peace, for the earth and all its inhabitants for as long as I have a voice. This is my solemn vow. I may not love the world right now, but I am deeply committed to its well-being. And I am not alone.


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