There are good people in the world. There are strong people in the world. There are knowledgeable, informed, active people in this world, and they are doing good things. And if we just keep being positively rebellious and rebelliously positive, every little thing will be okay. Trust David Tennant: he’s a Doctor.
I found this the other day when I was searching my old Blogger blog for something else. I wrote this in 2012, but it’s Relevant To Our Interests in this post-truth age, methinks. Hang in there, my lovelies. Be good.
The Small Person is in bed, again, at last, and I’m reading, again, but not books, because books can’t hold my attention right now when I’m restless, and tired, and vaguely guilty for the fact that my house looks like it’s lived-in and there are toys in the corner and folding on the lounge and unfinished paperwork on the table and dishes in the kitchen, though all the non-dishwasher dishes are clean and really I just need to unstack and stack. There’s a basket of wet laundry waiting to be hung out on the line like flags, colourful flags that symbolise everything we are and have been, because we wear our clothes every day and they make us, and we make them, the caterpillar suit that belongs to Small Person that is my favourite, the shirt I should have thrown out months ago but that I love, the sheets that my husband and I bought together, lie in together, change together.
All of this is calling to me, but I’m sitting here reading, and my soul is full. I’m reading about courage, and hope, and change; I’m reading about things that outrage me, things that try to excuse themselves saying they ‘didn’t mean’ to be offensive, and so therefore aren’t – to which I silently, furiously, blood-boilingly disagree, because when you are the powerful one, you don’t get to define what offends those in less powerful positions. And I’m reading about love, and life, and wanting to uproot everything you are and have and just get out, change, do something different because what you’re living is so empty, so small, so nothing.
I, too, was raised under the unconscious message that bigger is better, that more is more, and I’m not talking about the world, about acts of greed and selfishness and plastered billboards and enchanting lights and beautiful people with beautiful drinks and cars that change your life and computers that sing and dance and long slim legs and long thick hair and sparkling eyes and full breasts in bikinis and clear skin and stuff and things and more-more-more. I’m not talking about that.
I’m talking about other things, unselfish things, things that help and heal and minister. Things that change the world, that can only BE big because what can small do against a world of greed, a world of pain and hurt and envy and pride, large gaps getting larger and privilege and wealth and so much poverty that I never, ever see. I’m sheltered, spoiled, I don’t even KNOW anyone who qualifies as poor, and we’re not rich and we have bills but we also have a car, and a motorbike, and a house and new furniture, a dishwasher for Mothers’ Day and fishing rods for Christmas, thousands of dollars of books and a flat-screen TV, and how dare we think that we need stuff in a world where people die so easily at the end of a gun wielded in a bar brawl, in front of their wife, with two small children at home?
And I’m doing nothing, or so it seems, because we’re told that the only things that count are BIG, that if you’re not serving overseas it doesn’t matter, that soup kitchens and street alleys are the only places you can make a difference, that unless you’re fighting to stay alive with everything you have your perspective isn’t valid, doesn’t count.
And I’m thinking all this because of what I’m reading, because the woman whose blog I’m reading has felt all this and I do too, and it’s guilt, and it’s more guilt, and I am so. sick. of guilt. Guilt is poison, a spider bite in the vegetable garden, a snake curled in the blankets of your bed, a fire-ant sting at a lavish summer picnic, ready to flood your senses without provocation, devouring, destroying, souring the taste of the cherries because cherries are expensive, and out of season, and you shouldn’t be eating them because the cost to ship them here from America ought to be prohibitive, and people in the world are dying from lack of sustenance and you’re eating things that cost a year’s worth of food for these people, and you’re enjoying it, and you must be perverse.
Sometimes, even big things aren’t enough.
But I’m reading, reading, feeling and still reading, and a sentence makes me pause. In all of this, the quiet reminder that even if we don’t feel like they do, the small things count, because we’re not in this world to fix it, it’s broken, it’s crumbled, and one day maybe we will rebuild but for now there are just as many working against as there are working for and really, ultimately, there’s nothing we can do. One day it will all be gone and we’ll start over with everyone, everyone, who wants to see that, regardless of race colour creed size shape gender age. We will all be there, and then it will be fixed.
But now, here, we’re not fixing things, no one can do that, we just can’t, we’re fighting against powers and principalities not of this world, and here, on Earth, it’s a losing battle, though ultimately it’s won. But I’m reading, and I know: that doesn’t mean that what we do doesn’t count. It’s like the starfish, which has been retold so often it’s cliche, but it matters, it still matters even if you’ve heard the story a thousand times, just like what we do. We do it so often, all that small stuff, that it becomes cliche, and we’re inured to it, and we forget that it still matters, that even though we’ve never seen a smile of ours make a difference, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t. That giving a few dollars here and there still helps, even if it’s boring, even if it’s tiny, even if it’s ‘done’.
And I’m reading, and I find the thing I didn’t realise I was looking for, the sentence that gives me hope. We’re not here to fix things, we can’t, it’s too much. Instead, all we need to do it tip the scales. We’re striving for justice, for mercy, at least I am, it’s what I burn to do with everything that I am, every time I read something that makes my blood boil it’s because I hate, I hate injustice and I hate unfairness and I hate that there are people in this world that think that privilege is okay, that power over others is God-given, that discrimination is alright. I long for justice; I ache for mercy. And in the end, that is what we are to do, all we are to do, everything we are to do: to tip the scales in their favour.
And I read this, and I remember: it only takes a grain of rice to tip the scales in the end. We don’t need ‘big’, or loud, or bright or shiny or dazzley; we just need. Everything tips the balance, one way or the other.
I did something useful, even though it was a very small thing. It wasn’t like I brought peace to the world or anything. I just kept some people from killing each other for a little while. I was useful. It felt good.
Nothing I did will last. Omar will live the rest of his life without his parents. The killing will keep on going.
But in that little place, for those little moments, I actually did something good.
Context is everything.
Deborah Ellis, The Cat At The Wall
Liana Brooks, twin of my soul if not my actual blood, and I email each other quite a lot. Actually truth be told, I email her more than she emails me, because she is the kind of creature who will send considered emails at sustainable intervals, or else will email me the day’s writing for safekeeping, where as I am the kind of creature who will fire off seven single-sentence emails to the same person in under and hour. Oops. O:) Somewhere in the midst of all of this crazy, an email genre I like to call “Dear Amy” has been established – and I’m not sure Liana is even aware of it? but any time I get an email from her that starts ‘Dear Amy’, I know it’s That Kind Of Email.
Which kind? The kind where someone you know, love and trust is basically doing you a favour by telling you to pull your head out of the ground, stop having an unproductive whinge, and bloody well get on with it. We all need someone in our lives to give us a Dear [Name] talking to once in a while, that’s for sure 😀
However. Sometimes, procuring a Dear [Name] email when I need one is all too hard: maybe the twinny one is preoccupied; maybe I’m preoccupied and don’t have time to email my whinge in order to provoke the necessary reply; or maybe, the issue is just too complicated. You know, sometimes, when you try to explain a problem to someone else, and all their answers are super helpful in theory but in practice are actually just slightly off point, like they’re not quite understanding the crux of the issue? Yeah, that.
You know what, though? You can totally write your own Dear [Name] letter. I had a bit of a Moment the other night when I was lying in bed attempting to get my brain to shut up so I could sleep. It just sort of hit me what one of the main problems I’ve been having with writing is, and before I knew it, I was composing my own Dear Amy letter in my head. I’ll share it with you on Thursday, but in the meantime, this is just your official permission in case you needed it to say that yes, sometimes (not all the time, but sometimes) what you need most is a kick in the proverbial pants, and that yes, you are totally capable of doing that for yourself. Because you are awesome, and you rock. *fistbump*.
This is a repost from 2012, but it’s so totally relevant to my life right now. I needed the reminder and figured it might be useful for you guys too 🙂
Anyway, have been doing lots of internet reading outside my usual hangouts, lately, and this article on busyness seemed ridiculously appropriate, given my excuse for not posting was going to be, “I’ve been busy” O:) Definitely go read it for yourself, but the best quotes are extracted below.
It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: “That’s a good problem to have,” or “Better than the opposite.”
[We] feel anxious and guilty when [we] aren’t either working or doing something to promote [our] work.
It’s not as if any of us wants to live like this, any more than any one person wants to be part of a traffic jam or stadium trampling or the hierarchy of cruelty in high school — it’s something we collectively force one another to do.
Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.
[But] if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. (That’s a challenging one)
Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets.
Conclusion? Life is too short to be busy.
Amanda Palmer, multi-media artist extraordinaire (and, though I am loathe to fall into the old ‘identify the woman by her family’ trap, wife of Neil Gaiman) is pregnant. I happened across this article today, in which she defends herself from an eloquent yet, in my opinion, insufferably critical and nosey fan who is concerned essentially that Amanda’s standards are slipping, and will continue to slip when/because she has a baby. Amanda has some lovely things to say, and I think you should definitely take a couple of minutes to go read the article (link again), because this is an Important Issue.
What’s the issue? Fundamentally, a compartmentalisation of women’s roles, stemming, I think, from the fact that a woman’s contribute to the public sphere has been historically undervalued. Put simply, this issue is this: while it is never called into question that men balance fatherhood and careers on a daily basis (some better than others), women are constantly beleaguered with questions surrounding their ability to balance motherhood and a career. I’m too lazy to go look up links right now, but there are plenty of examples of female celebrities being asked this question in professional interviews, while their equally-famous husbands are quizzed simply about their jobs. I’d like to say that this goes double for artists of any kind, but let’s be honest: western media culture as a whole lacks competent role models who are both mothers and workers. Trying to figure out how to balance the two falls solely on our shoulders and, if we are fortunate enough to have personal role models, those around us.
Amanda notes in her article that she is terrified that becoming a mum will somehow vanquish her identity as an artist. This really resonated with me, because I had the exact same fear when I fell pregnant with my first child. Teaching, I knew, wasn’t optional: for us, me not working was never an option. But writing? Art? Writing was a hobby, a love, something I wanted to turn into a career but something that wasn’t really contributing to the family income. Would I have time to write? Would I even want to write? What kind of person would I become when I had a small person to depend upon me?
The answer, obviously, is that I would become the exact same kind of person I was before I had a small person depending on me, because becoming a parent doesn’t change your identity, it just throws another cap in the ring. Yes, becoming a parent has changed me profoundly in many ways–but it hasn’t changed me, if you understand the distinction. I’m still the same kind of person I was–just without a lot of excess flaff. As my husband once put it, having a baby is a great way to distill your life to its essence, to what’s really important and what’s not–because you don’t have time for what’s not.
And to my great pleasure, writing was one of the things that was really important. It took time, of course; I quit writing at one point because it had become yet another yardstick by which to measure my own failure. But before my son was a year old, the itch returned–and by the time he was two, I was writing my non-fiction book From The Ground Up (2016). Last year I wrote over 100,000 words. So far this year, I’ve written nearly 70,000 words of fiction. My best year ever was 200,000. Has having children slowed down my art? A little, yeah. But has it killed it? Hell no. And as the babies grow ever, onwards, older, they will need me in different ways that are somewhat less demanding on my sleep reserves and time, and late evenings (my peak writing time) will once again be mine. (In point of fact, my day job has interfered with my ability to write far more than having children, because in busy weeks I’m stuffed by the time the kids are in bed.)
Ladies? It is possible to both mum and art. You can be an arting mum, or a mumming artist. Having children will change you profoundly–but it only makes you more you. If being an artist is what you are, don’t fear. When the dust settles, when the sleepless nights are over, your identity remains. Art on, my lovely one. Art on.
Sometimes, when you’re writing, you hit the point where you just want to give up. On the current story, maybe, or maybe even on writing altogether. We’ve all been there, I promise. So this post is for me as much as for anything, and it’s as the title says: bookmark it for when you need encouragement. I’ll put this over in the writing articles too so there’s a static page, and I’ll add links as and when I find them. The list ain’t pretty, it’s just a mess of hyperlinks, but every one of these represent something that has helped me rekindle my determination and love of writing–and, most importantly, my confidence–when I’ve had IHATEWRITING patches.
Hopefully, you’ll find it useful too 🙂
http://99u.com/articles/7094/the-future-of-self-improvement-part-i-grit-is-more-important-than-talent (and part 2 as well)
http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2011/07/19/25-ways-to-defeat-the-dreaded-writers-block/ – language warning 😛
http://susandennard.com/2014/11/the-productive-writer/ – a compilation of links
http://susandennard.com/2014/11/facing-fear-and-tackling-writers-block/ – another compilation of links; look for the FRAB ones particularly
There are days when you just want to wash your hands and quit humanity. You know the kind. Maybe someone (or a whole host of someones) was rude to you; maybe people were petty or spiteful or jealous or rude. Maybe the news is a nightmare, with people taking advantage of everybody else, with the powerful lording it over the under-powered, with other people not caring or people whose opinion you respect and admire turning against something you believe in, and you feel betrayed. Maybe you’re just tired, stuck up to here with your own problems, and the next person who tells you to put things in perspective is going to be smashed into ‘flat on the ground’ perspective.
Whatever it is, it’s got you tempted to quit. To just wash your hands of the whole, ugly mess of humanity and give up, give in, pack it up, get out. You want to run away and hide on an island somewhere, in a desert far away, in a lonely log cabin, at the top of a mountain where only the truly pure in spirit can reach you.
There’s a time for looking outward, for extending your perspective and taking in the troubles of the world, for feeling the full intensity of other people’s suffering, for acknowledging the role your lifestyle plays in the oppression of others (all of us do, all our lifestyles do in some way or another, even if we don’t mean to, even if we’ve got the raw end of society’s stick, society’s mess up and unequal and founded on prejudice and injustice and so if we live in society, we’re part of this mess too)… But there’s a time and a place, and if you feel like giving up, if you feel like quitting, that time and place isn’t now.
If you feel like quitting because humanity’s greed and pride and pettiness has rubbed you the wrong way and left you raw, now’s the moment to put your head down, to look inward rather than outward, and to be reminded of all the little goods you do each and every day. Now’s the time to remember what it feels like when a stranger smiles nicely at you in the supermarket. Now’s the time to remember what it sounds like when a toddler laughs. Now’s the time to remember how easy it is to remind your friends and loved ones that you’re here, that you care. Now’s the time to remind yourself of the difference you make every. single. day. in the life of at least one person on this planet, just by the very act of your existence.
There will be a time for fighting, a time for standing up against the horrors and injustices of our world. But today, if you feel like you’re about to break, if you’re raw and hurting and helping seems so, so much harder than quitting… Look down. Look in. What you do matters, even if it isn’t huge, even if it isn’t grand. Someone, somewhere, has a better life because of you.
So don’t quit. Just come sit down for a while, and we can hold each other’s hands and hurt together, and maybe the carrier bats can bring us tea and cake and cookies, and we’ll just look – inward, downward, at the small things in life. Just for a while.
Today, the big things can wait.