I hadn’t written anything, not for myself, not in nearly two weeks. But did I want to?
Ideally, as summer hands its torch off to fall, I would find myself somewhere tranquil, contemplative, quietly beautiful — if not with a pen in hand, then one nearby for when I feel inspired to express what I’m experiencing.
These days, I would give prominence to the experience itself rather than its documentation. I would wish myself face-to-face with a moving masterpiece in the Museum of Modern Art, or seated at a sidewalk café in Paris savoring the urban parade.
Perhaps instead I would wander an 18th century manse — running my fingers over its worn surfaces of brick and wood, taking in the splendor of its classic proportions, then settling into a chair to contemplate the lessons of our history.
Sometimes, introspection just isn’t on the agenda; commenting on the cultural zeitgeist feels silly and self-indulgent. Sometimes, musing on any subject, especially a personal subject, becomes a “thing we do” — purposeful or not. Yet sometimes, we lose sight of the fact that we may be touching others in positive ways, though we are unaware of it.
Sometimes, we are so far inside ourselves that faint or faraway connections no longer seem viable.
This isn’t the first time I have questioned sharing my thoughts in this great, gregarious, growing sea of competing words and views. My engagement with social media is (and no doubt will remain) a love-hate relationship. It alternates between a thing I do for myself (with gusto) and one I make myself do for any number of reasons — discipline, professionalism, skills maintenance, relevance.
And I know myself. Periodically, I discard introspection and cultural criticism in the face of significant events on the world stage — events that remind us all to pay attention, to be civically minded, and to drag ourselves beyond petty personal preoccupations.
News in these past weeks — Harvey, Irma, Maria, not to mention the earthquake in Mexico and the latest ramped-up rhetoric in the political sphere — are heavy on my heart, and no doubt yours. Still, time and attention are at a premium; don’t we all have the usual press and stress of earning our keep, paying our bills, and taking care of our families?
We often have things that we do for ourselves, though they may not be necessary per se. We do them because they’re pleasurable, they’re “good habits,” or they give pleasure to someone else with little effort. We also have things we make ourselves do, because they are necessary, to us and to others. These are not mutually exclusive of course, and nor is any “necessity designation” objective or static.
When I am deeply immersed in work-related tasks (which I have been lately), morning may turn to afternoon without my notice, then afternoon into evening with only the slightest awareness, and then I look up to find that it’s sunset and I haven’t eaten, much less stepped outside.
So is eating something I must make myself do? Sometimes. Is stepping outside something I make myself do? Sometimes. Is finding ways to process the draining complexity of the world — not through writing — a challenge? For me, certainly.
Is unwinding the real challenge? Perhaps.
So I try to imagine a Krasner or a de Kooning as I absorb the power of their exuberant, mysterious swaths of color and form on canvas. And I try to imagine sipping coffee, blissfully lost in the rhythms of a language not my own, but that I love. And I try to imagine a sweet-smelling night, a porch and a rocking chair, and the season’s last fireflies at play as evening descends.
During a couple of weeks when so many of us watched helplessly on television or online as lives are devastated by catastrophic weather, it can be a struggle to pull ourselves away from the news, much less the things that we must get done.
During news cycle after news cycle filled with menacing promises that may be overwhelmingly difficult to process, it is hard to know what to say, what not to say, or if saying anything can stop human-created chaos or mitigate what truly is beyond our capacity to control.
Confronting ignorance, desperation, and disaster, each of us must find moments and methods of standing up, speaking out, and taking any action we can to help. Just as important, to sustain our strength, our resolve, and our connectedness, we must find moments and methods of securing sufficient inner calm to be able to do what has to get done.
This is little more than a handful of discursive morning musings, I know — a few mindless minutes to quell my concerns over yet one more disgraceful period of politicization of healthcare (a fundamental sign of “civilization” or its absence); my sense of powerlessness to do anything about hurricanes or earthquakes beyond sending my prayers and my dollars; my anxiety each time small men wield massive weapons to threaten people who just want to love their families and lead their lives with a bit of dignity.
Oversimplifications, all? Possibly.
Powerlessness. It’s a word that comes to mind often. It lies at the heart of so many problems, so much acting out. The only combatants as I see it — our refusal to accept it, and, at every level of government, our votes.
Some days I can keep up the good fight, and others require that I step back, stay silent, and stick to survival methodology of my own. That methodology is less reliant on laying words to the virtual page than it once was. Instead, I remind myself to eat. I remind myself to get up and move around while I’m working at my laptop. I remind myself to look out and look up. I remind myself to regroup with a short walk under a blue sky, whenever and wherever I can find it. And I go to places in my mind that increasingly give me peace.
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