Someone asked me last week how I keep it together and don’t lose my mind. We were talking about how crazy our jobs are, but most of us have pretty complicated lives, so this question has broader implications.
First of all, last week’s post demonstrates that I, like all of us, don’t always hold it together. Sometimes I fall apart. Last year, when I didn’t write, I didn’t feel completely whole either. This year has been better in that respect, I’ve found ways to pull myself back together to do things that heal and nurture me. It’s been incredibly hard in other ways, of course; my own struggles and triumphs feel pretty insignificant in light of all that is happening with our democracy. As much as it might help my mental health, I don’t want to hide from those hard realities, but now and then, it’s okay to take refuge inside a smaller circle of friends, pets, books, and whatever else gives you the ability to keep going. Last week, I retreated and worked on some more watercolors, which I find incredibly relaxing.
Then you get back to the fight, because you don’t want to let the “bloviating mendacious shitgibbon(s)” win. (I stole that from a George Takei tweet, cuz no way could I make up something better than that.) Plus, giving a damn about something outside ourselves that matters – other people, our environment, creating things – makes this life worth living. At least for me. As another George, author George Saunders (one of my faves), advised graduates in this 2013 convocation address: “Err in the direction of kindness.”
I did just refer to certain people as shitgibbons (whatever those might actually be), so clearly, it’s not always easy to be kind. I’m pretty sure George S. would agree with this characterization, but still. The onslaught of meanness and hatred lately testifies to how hard kindness can be, and it’s tempting to want to jump into the fray of nastiness. But I don’t want to live like that. For me, it helps to remember I’m not the only one suffering. I was really struck by a poem I read recently by Mary Karr called “Carnegie Hall Rush Seats.” The poem’s subject is the cello in the orchestra: “…like all of us, it aches, sending up moans from the pit we balance on the edge of.” As she says in the poem, “Be glad you are not hard wood yourself and can hear it.” I think if we do not let ourselves become hard, we can still hear each other. We can help pull each other back from the pit, and ourselves in the process.
Awareness is part of it, but there’s also action. This year, one of my goals was to put some energy into volunteering. I’ve been a supporter of Old Dog Haven for a few years now, ever since our dogs got old and I realized how hard it is to watch your loyal, live-life-to-the-fullest friends slow down and need help. And of course, the inevitable end, which we must stay present for as well, as hard as it may be. Old dogs deserve so much love and care, and ODH makes sure they get that. So I signed up to volunteer earlier this year, and have done a few small tasks here and there. On July 23, I will be helping out at the annual Walk for Old Dogs event. I’ve registered and have a sponsorship page set up in honor of Shadow and Tanner. Can’t wait to see all those old tails wagging!
These are just a couple of the tools I’ve found helpful. I have others I’ll share another time. Meanwhile, listen to whatever music lifts your spirits and moves your mind (your booty, too, if you like), read a good book or poem, do something nice for someone (and yourself!), and put the shitgibbons to shame.