Hey there,

How are you doing?

I mean, really. How are you really doing?

It’s been a few minutes since I’ve shown up here because…

I just haven’t had any words. Chuck Wendig had some recently that resonated: “…I suspect that anybody with one iota of empathy and a few braincells banging together will likely feel caught in a miasma of anxiety and depression, either bearing the brunt of it and smashing themselves like a soup can in a car crusher, or they’re disassociating so heavily that they feel disconnected from everything that makes them want to write stories or make stuff in the first place.”

I haven’t feel “caught in a miasma of anxiety and depression,” but feeling disconnected from everything that makes me want to write–that struck home. Which might mean that I have, actually, been caught in a miasma of anxiety and depression and just haven’t really acknowledged it. Because I have maybe been in the numb stages of it.

I started to write a post about abortion and the overturning of Roe, but it felt pointless. My words aren’t going to change the trajectory of the train barreling toward us, are they? And what can I have to say about it that really matters, anyway? Especially here, where the only people reading are likely those who already feel much as I do?

I have been working to adjust, again, to my changed and changing understanding of our shared reality. I have been trying to figure out how to respond to it, how to be in it. Remembering my responses in the face of Trump’s campaign and election, I cringed at my naivety, my lack of understanding about our country and how it works and has always worked. My lack of understanding of people. I abandoned the post, not wanting to make meaningless gestures or participate in actions that don’t actually do anything or write something that will make me cringe five years from now.

No other words, about anything, came forth.

Wendig’s arguments for writing got me to take another go at the abortion post, but I ended up letting another Sunday pass without sharing it. The words weren’t right, and besides, putting my words out in the world felt akin to spitting in the wind.

(All I have felt like doing is sheltering from the wind.)

I once believed, to my core, that the sharing of stories can be life-saving–that it was stories that saved mine, that of a lonely, often sad girl who had no idea why she felt the way she felt or what to do about it until she read and heard the stories of others like her and of others unlike her who provided models and hope. Story is the thread connecting the pieces of my life’s work, and my faith in their power is fundamental to the reasons I became an English teacher, a librarian, and a writer.

(I’m no longer an English teacher or librarian and I long ago abandoned being a traditionally published writer. I suppose there’s a story there.)

These past weeks, though, I haven’t been able to help wondering if such ideas about storytelling are frivolous, indulgent, wrong, and perhaps harmful. Are they ideas for a different kind of time? Do they keep us from doing other work that more directly saves lives, or keep us from seeing how things actually are? Are they just ideas that people like me like to believe in so that we can justify and feel OK about what we do (and don’t do)? What if they are just something we tell ourselves to feel better about dire circumstances, to feel some sense of power, to keep hope alive–and the feelings, power, and hope are false?

A few days ago, I shared my wonderings with a friend, who gave me these words in return: “(My daughter) asked what she could do and I reminded her that a load is always lighter when carried by lots of hands. Your post might not feel like you are lifting enough but your words are bearing part of that load. It all matters and we all have different strengths. This is a time for us to dig deep and use our superpowers!”

Well.

I had to sit with that for a bit.

For awhile, my self-deprecating bio on Instagram was: “I write things that make people cry. Not the superpower I asked for.”

There is so much I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure the answer to most of my questions (always) is Yes, and.

Yes, sharing our stories matters, and there are other things we need to do as well. (What are they? I’m not sure. I’m working on figuring that out. Letting go of thinking that any individual actions are going to stop the train is surely one of them.)

Yes, stories can be harmful, and they can also save us.

Here, I think, is what I do know: Truth is what saves us, and stories are a powerful way of truth-telling.

Isn’t it, perhaps, reason enough to tell a story if it does nothing more than help us know we are not alone in a terrible truth–so that we can know that what we are experiencing is both terrible and true and not specific to us alone? So we can counter the forces constantly working to gaslight us? How much of where we find ourselves now stems from the spreading of stories that are lies? Aren’t hope and community and good feeling grounded in truth necessary for all the other work that needs to happen now? Storytelling alone isn’t enough, but storytelling as a foundation for other action–that might be just what is needed right now.

Perhaps it is more important now than ever to throw our stories to the wind (even if our wind is just a tiny breeze, nothing more than Krista Tippett’s “quiet conversations at a very human, granular level”). Out in the world–in the ears, hearts, and minds of others–don’t they have some chance of doing good? They do nothing if they remain in our heads or our drafts folders, where they can provide no comfort, connection, or hope to anyone else.

I’ll share the abortion post next, most likely. It’s still not ready. Or I’m not ready. (And that’s OK, too. Probably.) But soon, most likely. In the meantime, I’ve linked to other stories below that feel worth sharing–stories that contain both hard truth and hope. (Maybe there’s more than one way to be a librarian?)

Take care of yourself, and if you feel so inclined, please do tell me how you’re doing, what your story of the past few weeks has been.

(This is me enduring/recovering from a wicked afternoon headache the other day–which is a fuller, truer story than the one I shared on Instagram with this image. Hope you are all finding ways to take care of yourselves.)

Dots (connecting them is encouraged)

Christian nationalists are excited about what comes next (“Breaking American democracy isn’t an unintended side effect of Christian nationalism. It is the point of the project.”)

I’m a Christian pastor. Evangelicals have to be defeated in 2022 (“I’ve been a kind of undercover Liberal in an increasingly extremist movement, that while once relegated to minor fringe noisemakers is now at the precipice of Roman Empire-level power. They are less than two years away from having a dominance that they will wield violently and not relinquish.)

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland statement on Supreme Court ruling… (“The Supreme Court has eliminated an established right that has been an essential component of women’s liberty for half a century – a right that has safeguarded women’s ability to participate fully and equally in society. And in renouncing this fundamental right, which it had repeatedly recognized and reaffirmed, the Court has upended the doctrine of stare decisis, a key pillar of the rule of law.”)

What to do when the world is ending via Jill Seeger Salahub’s excellent Something Good, which she shares every Monday (“But while there are some things about this moment that feel unique, I remind myself that the experience of the world ending is not new. Whether due to a prophecy or a very real looming threat, many of our ancestors also likely felt that the world was ending. And in many cases their worlds did end… . Facing loss, despair, uncertainty, and death is as much a part of the human experience as anything else.”)

Sometimes writing is a place to put all your rage, sorrow, and even joy (“And readers may find what you put there useful in the same, or almost the same, way. They too have things to unpack and unravel and examine. And sometimes they just don’t want to feel alone. The story is a signal to them, an echo they hear that reminds them that they are not the only ones feeling this way.”)

Krista Tippett wants you to see all the hope that’s being hidden (“I see the disarray. I see the broken power structures. I see the damage and the pain. I also see people tending to that. At the heart of some of these national-level or community-level conflicts, there is space to move below the radar and start stitching together relationships and quiet conversations at a very human, granular level. We’re going to work on quiet conversations that will not be publicized. That feels to me like a power move in this world.”) 

Heather Cox Richardson’s Letters from an American, July 8, 2022 (“Today, Biden reached for the power embodied by the Fourteenth Amendment for the federal government to overrule state laws discriminating against citizens within their borders. But he also echoed the electoral fight to put that amendment in place when he told Americans: ‘We need two additional pro-choice senators and a pro-choice House to codify Roe as federal law. Your vote can make that a reality. I know it’s frustrating, and it made a lot of people very angry. But the truth is this…. [The] women of America can determine the outcome of this issue.'”)

12 thoughts on “Hey there,

  1. Marian says:

    Hi Rita,
    Two weeks ago my FIL passed away at the age of 85. He was born in Poland in 1937, and had a lot of early losses (his dad when he was 5 and his home when they had to flee near the end of WWII), but once he made it to Canada, he had the golden kind of life most people aspire to. I have, for the last few years, felt quite a lot of envy for people of his generation (or for the older Boomers), who are now exiting this world after having lived full lives, before the s*#t truly hits the fan. I think this means I am losing hope and am battling not just my usual anxiety, but depression too. (Canada is not the US, but I fear the insanity will migrate north.)

    The “why write” hits home with me. I follow Austin Kleon, and many months ago, he had a post on “doing the work that is in front of you.” I’m quite certain he was talking about writing the thing that is demanding to be written, but even though there is so much in my head that is clamouring to get out, I seemingly cannot shake my working class roots. I nearly always—despite still not quite giving up on becoming a Writer with a capital W—choose to do the *actual* (domestic labour) work that I have in front of me: cooking, baking, growing food, cleaning, sewing, mending, etc. Although I completely agree that writing gives us community and solace, I also think that if perhaps we all were better equipped to feed ourselves healthy food, and to live in ways that allowed us to take care of each other and of our planet, perhaps we wouldn’t need the solace of writing quite so much. We humans are storytelling creatures, though, and the thought of a life devoid of stories is actually unbearable; we all need to be able to tune out of our own lives occasionally. Perhaps the trick is to not *need* to tune out of our own lives? (An analogy to this is the current call for everyone to be able to access mental health care. Yes, 100%, but also, perhaps if we prevented trauma and abuse by ensuring we could all feed ourselves healthy food and live in ways that allowed us to take care of each other and the planet, fewer people would be abused and traumatized.)

    “. . . there are other things we need to do as well . . . Letting go of thinking that any individual actions are going to stop the train . . . .” I know that I am naive (and insufferably moralistic?), but I don’t think I will ever be able to let go of the thinking that individual actions will stop the train. If we ALL stopped wasting food, we would not have a food waste crisis. If we ALL stopped jetting around just for fun and just because we have money to burn, we would drastically lower our CO2 emissions. If we ALL consumed only as much as we needed, rather than what we wanted, we would be able to solve numerous crises.

    “Truth is what saves us, and stories are a powerful way of truth-telling.” Yes to this. But also: the “other side”—the ones who would have celebrated each of the recent SCOTUS rulings—are also telling stories, stories that they also see as the truth. You silencing yourself is only helping them. (Says the person who has silenced herself because she cannot speak into a world filled with such acrimony. /shakes head/)

    • Rita says:

      Thank you for writing, Marian. I always so appreciate hearing your voice. I’m sorry for the loss of your FIL. I’ve had similar thoughts about Boomers, and sometimes even for my own generation (I was born into the cusp between Boomers and X-ers). Sometime I feel so ill-equipped for the challenges of this time (and the ones I believe are coming) because the first 50 years of my life were so relatively easy. I feel I am playing catch-up as fast as I can to develop greater resiliency and the kind of understanding I need. I suppose that’s some of what my post was about.

      Your thoughts about writing and other word remind me of Maslow and his hierarchy of needs. I think the point of much that has happened and is happening is to keep as many of us as possible in the lower levels of his pyramid. When so many of our resources are needed to take care of our basic needs (food, shelter, physical safety), we don’t have enough left to tell stories that might help to liberate us from the conditions in which we’re living. Myself, I’m trying to figure out what kinds of tasks really need doing. I don’t have the answers much of the time. I’m trying to learn by doing.

      As for individual vs. collective action–I think we’re both in very similar places. Letting go of the idea that an individual can make some significant difference doesn’t mean we shouldn’t all take the kinds of actions you’re advocating for; to me, it means the opposite. We must do them, and we must get as many of us to do them as possible. What I was thinking about is letting go of an idea that we can fix any of our problems without working collectively. I was thinking about letting go of the US worshipping of individuality, and the hero who comes in and saves everyone. Holding to that is (I think?) part of what can then allow us to think that it doesn’t matter if we don’t do those smaller, individual actions.

      And yes, to putting out alternative narratives to the ones currently doing so much damage. Thinking of all the false ones is what ultimately led me back to believing in the power of story, but only of story grounded in truth.

      I understand your feelings about not wanting to speak into the world as it is. That is very much part of what I struggle with. I get it. I am not shaking my head at you in any way. I think there are many ways of being that have value. I loved my friend for reminding me of that. I’m trying to figure out how I can have the most value. I’m not sure it is story-telling. For some, I know it is. I just don’t know what it is for me. I used to have my work, which I knew had value–but now I don’t have that. I’m just trying to find my way in a world that feels increasingly foreign. It’s strange (to say the least) to be at this kind of place in this stage of life. It’s sure not how I once imagined it would be.

      • Marian says:

        Ah, thank you for clarifying your thoughts on individual versus collective action, Rita. I agree—the worship of individuality, which has always been strong in the US and which is now migrating to Canada under the banner of “Freedom!” is hugely problematic. We desperately need collective action, but we likely won’t get it because of all the people who are too blind to see (or refuse to see) how everything, including them, is interconnected. The wish for a “hero who comes in and saves everyone” — yes, I see this too. With regards to climate change, this is exactly what’s going on when people talk about carbon capture (or some other yet unproven/undiscovered technology) and use that to justify their overconsumption. I think it’s also got to do with classism: “I deserve to do what I want, and someone else can clean up the mess.”

        Learning about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was a huge eye-opener for me, and I agree with your take on this as well. Sadly, it’s the basic things in life—food, shelter, care—that seem to be the most undervalued, and the people who provide these things—cooks, cleaners, carers—who are paid the least in our society.

        • Rita says:

          Oh, don’t get me started on “freedom!” If you ask me, real freedom comes when we aren’t shackled by medical or educational debt and low wages+high housing costs. I honestly don’t know how we (in the US) overcome cultural values rooted in the mythologies of our history–those stories we’ve been told and continue to tell that are based in exceptional individualism (among other things). I suppose that’s why our politics have become what they are; it is no longer about policies or solutions to the real problems we face, but about cultural values. We’re fighting over which version of our story will prevail.

  2. Kari says:

    Thank goodness for hammocks.
    I also enjoy Jill’s weekly posts. Thank you for introducing me to them.
    My mother’s first cousin died just a few days ago. I sometimes feel as if I’m pouring from an empty cup.
    I’ve been spending less time writing, but I know it’s because it’s summer and I’m too busy chauffeuring teenagers about.
    Also, because hammock time.
    Kari recently posted…Not My Mother’s Menopause- AppendixMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      I’m so sorry for your loss, Kari. I used to find my teen-chauffeuring summers exhausting. I loved my children and missed them so much when those years were over, but something about the endless driving and how it dictated my time really depleted me. I hope you get plenty of hammock time to refill your cup.

  3. Kate says:

    On that Friday, V passed their written driver’s test. I thought they’d come home happy, but they had heard the news. Watching my usually stoic child cry about this decision, and what it likely means for other decisions, was…tough. They talked about how angry they were at spending the day before so carefree – happily decorating our driveway and sidewalk with chalk. I had to remind them (and me) that we can’t allow them to steal our joy, but it wasn’t until I promised that we will help those who need it in the ways that we can that the tears stopped. We’re both still carrying the rage.

    “We’re going to work on quiet conversations that will not be publicized. That feels to me like a power move in this world.” THIS.

    Thank you for sharing Jill Seeger Salahub’s words as well – it’s been something that has been bouncing around in my head but haven’t found a good way to articulate it. We go on. Until we don’t. Like those before us.

    So I’m also tending the garden, knitting a baby blanket for a cousin that is expecting and a pair of socks for my dad who is recovering from surgery, trying my hand at canning peaches and making jam from roadside strawberries, riding my bike alongside Abram’s runs, swimming in the lake with V, watching my nephew’s baseball games, and fundraising for a friend’s congressional campaign. They will not steal my joy.

    • Rita says:

      I spent more than an hour outside first thing today, watering while listening to an audiobook, deadheading and pruning. It did more to fill me up than working on a blog post would have, for sure. At the same time, I see the kinds of things we share in our blogs (as we are here) as a form of those “quiet conversations that will not be publicized.” I’ve stopped sharing the link to my blog posts in my social media accounts because that feels a bit too much to me. Like, if the conversation here is one that matters to you, you know where to find it and when. And that’s not coming from some kind of sour grapes place, but from the same part of me that prefers a small dinner party with close friends to a large party with loud music and lots of people I don’t know. I know the conversation here is public, but it’s not publicized. You’ve now got me thinking about how to do this even more intentionally.

      I want to do both/and, about all kinds of things. Keep my joy AND find ways to help others in ways that I can. Find ways to be OK myself. I know things are going to get worse, in fundamental ways. I am coming to terms with the death of the country I once lived in. The world. It is gone. Sure, some things remain, but it’s not the same. It’s not going to be. I hope it will get better, but it’s not going to go back. This is not some temporary blip, as I once hoped. I need to get grounded in what is. And part of what is, is that I am not going to be able to escape it or significantly change my lot in it. It’s humbling to realize how much I have taken for granted my whole life, how I haven’t had to figure out how to be in ways that others have. So, now it’s my turn, our turn. And what I know is, there have always been people living in dire circumstances who find ways to live with joy and create joy and live with meaning. I hope those of us who have been fortunate enough not to have to learn that before can help each other learn it now. You help me do that all the time, when you start the conversations you do in your online home, and when you respond to what I write here.

      • Kate says:

        I agree with you that our blogs are part of the quiet conversations. I’ve found your space to be filled with thoughtful open exchanges and I appreciate the words you share and the words of those who comment. Over the years, my thinking has been influenced in many ways (by you and Marian especially) and I am grateful.

        Krista Tippett’s words struck home in part because of my leaving social for the summer. I’ve found I have more time, less reactivity, and also more of a willingness to say (gently) “we don’t agree on that” and to leave conversations when they become circular. A friend asked if I’d rejoin IG/FB when school started again, and I’m not certain. I don’t want to know so much or hear so much or even speak so much. I do miss a few people specifically though.

        Your morning of pruning and deadheading sounds lovely. Small acts of caring for the who and what around us may not fix everything, but it sure does make me feel useful and calmer.

        • Rita says:

          I’d love a conversation about social. It’s a thing I’ve gone back and forth on (and continue to). Breaks have always felt good, but like you, there are a few people I miss specifically. I can’t seem to find a good solution for that. I first really liked the differences between Instagram and FB, but it is so full of ads and posts that their algorithms are pushing at me. It doesn’t feel the same as it did initially. Still not as icky as FB, but less of a difference than there once was. It’s probably time for another break (or cutting back) for me, too.

          I’ve been seeing for awhile expressions of desire for a return to blogs as they once were. I would sure love to see more of that. I think they are a great vehicle for quiet conversations among those who share important commonalities but aren’t geographically close–something that may become more and more important.

          Take care. I wish I were heading out to prune, but instead I will be budget balancing. Not nearly as fun, but a different act of caring for who and what around me.

  4. TD says:

    Hi Rita,
    It’s nice hearing from you! Yes, seems like you have been busy as well as pondering much about life. The transition into retirement phase of life is definitely something! No one really knows what it will be like until they are walking in those shoes, one day at a time. It seems to me when I talk with people we find common ground that retirement isn’t what we thought it would be, or how we imagined, or how we planned. It just unfolds.

    You asked “How are you doing? I mean, really. How are you really doing?”

    Well! (In this moment). I’m happy currently and struggling too (both at the same time).

    There’s so much in your post and comment conversation that my mind is going in circles with too many thoughts.

    • Rita says:

      I think currently happy and struggling (both at the same time) is where many, many of us are. If I think about it, that’s where I’ve been most of my life. Maybe that is life? The trick, I suppose, is to get the balance right. I hope it is for you, at least most of the time.

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