What matters now

I’ve been struggling, like many people, to make sense of the world since 80,000 angry Americans in three eastern states decided that a shameless amoral, corrupt, ignorant and narcissistic bigot with questionable financial ties to hostile foreign despots — something that’s been clear as day to anyone paying attention — should be given the most important job in the country, with responsibility for all of our well-being.

I haven’t exactly gone completely Kübler-Ross. Denial came to a bone-rattling halt early on election night, and “abject horror” isn’t one of the five stages of grief. But I’ve had anger a-plenty, directed at the incoming manchild-who-would-be-king, his cadre of enablers and sycophants who see him as a vehicle to finally gouge Galt’s Gulch out from of the ruins of civil society, and the struggling white people who believe that their problems are the fault of equally (if not more so) struggling people of other races and creeds and not of an overarching system determined to keep them quiescent and subservient — as if they couldn’t remember who they were writing their checks to to pay off predatory mortgage and credit card debt. These are the same people who, despite all evidence to the contrary, have been duped into thinking that the Platonic ideal of a privileged bully in hock up to his ears to shadowy investment bankers and oligarchs would have the interests of the working class American at heart.

This anger of mine isn’t irrational — we’re in for a very rough ride until the next election, and maybe beyond.

But it isn’t productive. Venting on social media only works if you do it sparingly, and I’ve certainly been doing more than I think is healthy for my own well being, and everyone else.

How, then, to handle this situation?

The short answer is that words must be replaced by action. It just poses a problem for someone whose actions — and talents — lie almost entirely within the realm of words. I have been active, on Facebook to my friends, on Twitter to the tens and tens of people who follow me, to my mother on the phone. But venting electronic bile isn’t the same, and it comes at the cost of friends and family who have blocked my account, post insulting comments, or who just quietly move away.

I’m not a believer in New Year’s resolutions, for one because if I ever kept them I’d be 20 pounds lighter. But most everyone’s got a talent, and I know what mine is. And so I’m resolving to use mine with better precision, on those issues which I care most about, and let other, better, people handle the rest. Other better people can probably do a capable job handling my pet issues, too, and more power to them. I won’t be silent, though, and I’d rather join a chorus already singing in my register.

And when that 4 a.m. tweet comes that is just so rankling and evil and wrong… well, I can’t let it bother me. Let it bother someone who’s paid to keep track of that stuff. There are, however, things that I do think matter.

Truth matters. But not every tiny detail. Who cares if dresses are or aren’t sold out in Washington, D.C. for the inauguration? Someone does, but not me, at least not any more than when I can’t look away from a bad car accident that involves two Hummers. Because a certain person who I won’t name here bases his entire existence on how long he remains in the spotlight, getting lost in the tweetstorm and the rest of what passes for normal in the stupidsphere is akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, and then seizing the helm to look for more icebergs to run into. Sometimes the broader truth is best approached obliquely. There’s a lesson for fiction writers here, in that small details speak volumes. But artistic impact doesn’t amount to much if you’re building a case for a federal prosecution, or simply trying to justify your beliefs and actions. Saying “I told you so” when the next atrocity comes down the line is neither kind nor useful, and even if it’s true, it might be a waste of breath. When Russia invades the Baltics, the only person who should be gloating is Vladimir Putin.

Decency matters. I can carry that forward in my personal relationships. I can conduct myself appropriately in my professional life. This is kind and also useful for maintaining a certain calmness in a chaotic time. It might not be true at times (we have little white lies for a reason). I can tune out or cut off sources of indecency, not because I want to remain ignorant of it (it’s going to be hard to do that), but because of this next point.

Peace matters. Inner peace as well as outer/national/global peace. This turbulence inside me isn’t doing me any good, so I need to calm it down, and for that to happen, I need to make myself a (ahem) safe space where I can remain clear-headed, even if that space is in my skull. This is more useful than anything else, and mostly to me, although others might benefit if I become a more pleasant person to be around.

Laughter matters. Sometimes, it is indeed the best medicine. And laughter has power when power has no ability to laugh. It might not be kind laughter or useful laughter. But it can be more true than the same facts stated with a rigid sobriety.

In short, I need to refocus and apply the true/kind/useful test to my interactions with this new and rather frightening world. I’m not perfect and don’t expect to be a paragon of virtue, but I figure that’s a reasonable approach to try.

Besides, I’ve got a book to finish, and I’d rather spend time with my crooks, clowns and killers than the ones we’re saddled with in real life. (Mine are more likeable, too.)

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