Tag Archives: 52essays2017

setting an alarm (a letter to myself 6 months from now)

Dear Future Me,

I just wanted to check in with you to see how you are doing. From back here, during this first week of the new administration, things look pretty dark. When the election results came in, I braced myself for a dystopia. But I guess much like the expected death of a loved one after a long-term illness, you can never be truly prepared. The grief and shock still hit hard.

I hope that from where you stand, 6 months into the future, in July of 2017, that the outlook has improved. Hopefully impeachment processes are already underway. Hopefully rational voices have finally prevailed, even among the conservative right. I know that Pence is not the president you would ever in any way have voted for, but from back here, he looks at least sane compared to the dangerous madman now in office. If Pence is the one now in office, I hope that you are working to block his attempts to move policy back 60 years.

Either way, I hope you are still resisting. I hope that you are still outraged. I hope that by now you have attended marches and helped to keep the flames of hope going in yourself, your friends, your family and your community. Did you find a Black Lives Matter march to attend in Boston? Did you finish reading the New Jim Crow? Did you attend that talk in February at UMASS on dialect discrimination? Did you attend a march in support of science? Did you find a place to volunteer with immigrant populations? Have you done your part to help your Democratic Town Committee keep up the momentum and follow through with outreach plans?

I imagine that you are tired. While I hope that you have held on to your sanity and your health, I want to make sure that you have maintained a level of awareness that this is not normal. Have you found yourself thinking things are getting better? If so, are you sure that things really *are* getting better? Better compared to what? Have you checked in with your conscience and your friends of conscience to make sure that you are not just getting used to the new normal? 

How are Syrian refugees doing? Are we welcoming them with open arms and resources? Has all the nonsense about building a wall along the Mexico border been shut down? Has the Black Lives Matter movement been recognized as an important political movement by the mainstream? Are people expressing anti-Islamic or anti-semitic or other religion-based bigotry getting censured by the mainstream? Are our legislators working to protect all people, regardless of religious background or ethnicity or gender? What is the state of the first amendment? Is the press still free? Can people still freely assemble? Have people been able to hold on to their healthcare, or are families with sick children facing bankruptcy over life-saving medical interventions? How do things look for women’s health and access to birth control? LGBTQ rights? Public education? Climate change research? Science research in general? (I’m afraid to even ask about international relations. Please, please don’t tell me that we’ve started a new war.)

As you can see, future me, I have a lot of questions for you. But here’s the big one, the key one, that I have for you right now: Are you paying enough attention?

With love and encouragement to stay in the fight,

Present Day Me 

p.s. I hope you can write back.
p.p.s. I hope you didn’t let the crumbling of our democracy keep you from finishing your work for that NSF grant. Science and accountability are still important, right?
p.p.p.s. Did you ever finish that one crazy Hogwarts jigsaw puzzle with the irregular edge? That thing seemed pretty near impossible. 
This essay is my third entry in #52essays2017, a project to write and post an essay each week this year. (I’m a week behind, but not giving up.) To read more about the 52 essays project, visit Vanessa Martir’s Blog.
 
This post was inspired by a quote shared by a friend on Facebook, excerpted from a column in the New Yorker:

At a writers’ protest organized by the PEN America Center, on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum last Sunday, Andrew Solomon, the organization’s president, decrying Trump’s apparent disregard for free speech, quoted a South African friend who had lived through apartheid: “ ‘What is most shocking is not how shocked you are right now, what is most shocking is how unshocked you will be in six months time.’ ” Solomon went on, “When I heard him, I took it as an occasion to declare that I will remain shocked. That we will remain shocked.” –Emily Eakin, The New Yorker, January 20, 2017

I commented that the quote made me feel like I should set an alarm. I have effectively just done so. I put an event on my calendar for 6 months from today: RESIST. I wrote in my new paper planner, and put it in my computer with it set to alert me a day before. I very much hope that I remember what this means.

resist

(not) enjoying the news

nyt

In the days immediately following the crushing election results, I knew I needed to make changes in my life. One easy action that I took was to subscribe to a real newspaper. While I’d had an online subscription to the New York Times at some point ages ago, for the last few years I’d relied on getting most of my news through Facebook and other social media. I have a lot of conscientious friends who post a lot of interesting articles, and I had the general attitude that if the news is major enough, I’d hear about it. By and large, I did learn about a lot of events this way, and on occasion I sought out more in-depth news. In the post election fall-out, among the many, many articles I read analyzing how the election had produced results that I hadn’t been able to fathom, I read about  how fake news was thriving and had played a role in spreading lies and misinformation. In fact, fake click-baity news about the election seems to have been more widely shared than actual new articles from reputable news sources.

I knew that I needed to make a stand. It wasn’t that I had realized that the news I’d been reading was fake, as I hadn’t seen the popular fake news headlines. It was more that I suddenly understood that in this world where sensationalism sells, real journalism was getting shockingly ignored. Dangerously ignored. With the coming change in administration coming, with all the disturbing hints of propaganda and revisionist history, more than ever we need real journalism to document, to investigate and to help us guard our freedoms. I had been expecting to receive something valuable without actually paying for it. Real journalists do real work, and deserve to be paid. Real news outlets need to be supported. I wanted to do my part to support this valuable industry.

I decided to subscribe to the New York Times, in large part because of the scorn directed at them by the president elect, and also because I have enjoyed many articles, editorials and stories that they have published over the years. (I may also add in the Washington Post and the Boston Globe, two other periodicals from which thought-provoking articles are regularly brought to my attention.) I also decided to make the big step of getting a physical paper delivered, and not just getting the digital subscription. I did this for several reasons. For a start, getting the daily newspaper is a daily reminder that the world is moving quickly, and that important events continue to happen, even when I am too busy to read about them. I also thought that having the newspaper be a visible part of our daily lives would help the kids become more aware of the news, and learn the importance of following the news.

The big reason for me in getting a physical papers, though, was that I was reminded that I digest the news very differently in a newspaper than when I read online. Online, I will tend to only pick a few articles to read, those that most closely align with my worldview or my immediate concerns. When I have a physical newspaper in front of me, though, I get much more breadth. I flip through the pages, and read the headlines. I skim articles more quickly. And remarkably, I find myself reading more about topics that I didn’t know I would be interested in. I find myself learning more about my world, and not just my little corner of the world. While many busy days go by when I barely do more than glance at the day’s headlines, other days will find me flipping through the pages and connecting with the stories. In so doing, I feel more connected with the world.

In any case, I paid for my subscription, and within a couple of days, the newspaper started appearing on our driveway early in the morning. I looked through the paper, and gritted my teeth at so many of the stories. I read about the devastation in Syria and the plight of people in the US whose immigration status is uncertain. I read about communities torn apart by opioid addiction and about fatal plane crashes. And I read story after story about the cabinet picks of the new administration, and the many red flags that those coming into power want nothing less than to dismantle the social progress that I have celebrated these last 8 years under Obama.

On the first or second day of new delivery service, we got a call from a number with the New York Times showing on caller ID. I answered the phone to an automated message asking me to confirm that we had received our paper. When I pressed the key to indicate that we had received our paper, the automated reply cheerfully came back: “We are glad you are enjoying the news.”

“NO!” I shouted into the receiver. “I DIDN’T SAY I WAS ENJOYING THE NEWS!!!”

While I have welcomed getting the news delivered, I have emphatically not been enjoying the news.

I am, however, feeling deep appreciation and respect for the journalists and the many others whose work makes the news available.

This essay is my second entry in #52essays2017, a project to write and post an essay each week this year. To read more about the project, visit Vanessa Martir’s Blog.

planning the day

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”
― E.B. White

I stumbled across this quote a few years ago during a visit to my mother. It was posted somewhere in her community art room, and I read it in passing. But the words followed me out, and prompted me to both look them up again, and revisit them regularly in my thoughts. E.B. White’s words nicely encapsulate so much of my inner conflict. For example, my struggles with figuring out what to post here, and on a larger scale, what to do with my life.

I find great joy in the little details in the world around me. I can get lost in the sparkle of ice on a branch or a fence, or the unexpected grace of shadows on a stairway. I often attempt to capture the beauty in photos, with varying degrees of success. I am a collector of images, and it pleases me to sort and categorize them, and share them here. A group of leaves here, an assortment of doors there, a selection of silhouettes yonder. Hell, I’ve even posted photos of storm drains and the peeling paint on dumpsters. I find beauty and comfort in seeing patterns, and putting them together.

Beyond that, the world offers a multitude of sources of enjoyment for me. I love food, I love to make things with my hands. I love art. I love music. I love reading and watching movies. I love humor and playing with words. I love the structure and richness of the world’s languages. I love doing scientific research, and finding the beauty in patterns. And I really, really love to travel. I love to spend time with my family and friends, and I love to spend time by myself doing things that I love, or thinking about doing things that I love. There is enough passion in me for so much beauty, so much wonder for the world’s amazing variety and order, that I could fill a hundred blogs (and I mean blogs, not just posts) if only I had the time to do so.

On the other hand, there is so much ugliness in the world that I can’t ignore. News reports of police shootings. Stories of the plight of refugees. Data reflecting the threats to our planet’s equilibrium through climate change. Systemic racism and misogyny and homophobia and xenophobia and so many other biases. Horrific acts perpetrated by governments and individual acting on their behalf, in blindness to the systemic biases in the system and the damage they inflict. Horrific acts being perpetrated by individuals, often growing out of the collective illness of our society. There is so much societal injustice that needs to be addressed, and I regularly feel the call to address it. How can I sit back and write silly posts about pants when there are people literally dying in the street? What good are my sets of colorful leaf photos to a world in which hundreds of thousands of displaced people want nothing more right now than food, shelter and safety for their families? If I’m going to be writing or posting, shouldn’t I be putting my energy into addressing the injustices of the world?

Further, frankly, writing about difficult topics is…difficult. While I have ventured into social justice topics in my writing, such forays take a lot out of me. I want to be able back my claims with data and sources. Moreover, I want to choose my words with care, lest I inadvertently do harm to the very cause which I am hoping to contribute to. I worry about provoking backlash, both from those who disagree with me, and from those who largely agree with me but find fault with my words or understanding. I am flawed and learning and growing, and I am prone to mistakes.

It has been this tension within me, the pull to share posts reflecting my enjoyment of the world against the pull to lend my voice to improving the world, that largely kept me from posting or doing anything creative at all for many months. I wanted to post light things, felt like I should post heavy things, and in the end generally posted nothing.

I have come around the realization that I really want to do both things, and that I can do both. They may not be equal in measure, but I am giving myself permission to express myself creatively and also, at least occasionally, write about topics that I consider deeply important. I can feed both of the desires, and both can help me to grow, and grow stronger.
This essay is my first entry in #52essays2017, a project to write and post an essay each week this year. To read more about the project, visit Vanessa Martir’s Blog.