If you move in progressive spaces, especially progressive religious spaces, there’s a quote from the Pikei Avot you’ve probably bumped into a time or two:
You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
I started seminary in September, just a few months before the November 2016 elections. Even that fall I wasn’t incredibly optimistic about the electoral outcome, and after that abomination became president-elect many of my friends and family told me I was being ridiculous and hysterical for crying over it. “He’s not going to shove immigrants into concentration camps,” they told me; “no one is going to kidnap children from their parents and then adopt them out to white families” they tried to assure me. “Checks and balances will stop anything truly terrible from happening, don’t worry so much,” “the courts will stop him,” and “stochastic terrorism is not really a thing, y’know Sam.”
God dammit I feel like Cassandra.
It’s been almost three years, and that span has been the best and worst years of my life. Enrolling in seminary: best choice I’ve ever made. It was phenomenal and I loved every second. I got involved in local politics for the first time since I was an ignorant, unaware Republican teenager and that was … informative. I learned a lot about people and about myself (mostly how badly I needed therapy, which I’ve now been in for over a year). I started walking in marches, attending demonstrations, and participating in civil disobedience. Being arrested and thrown in jail was both miserable (no food or water in a freezing concrete cell for 12 hours: do not recommend) and sublime (I was with some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met). I completed my capstone project/report in September and while I’m incredibly proud of the work, it was draining in the extreme and required every reserve of grace, patience, and kindness I could draw upon. Other events over the last year have sapped me of compassion, joy, well-being, and trust. Compared to all the rest this seems almost minor but I’ve also been trying to get pregnant for three years and am pretty much sick of it at this point.
I’m facing another difficult year.
The 2020 legislative session starts up in January in most of these United States and as the primary policy advocate or “government relations director” (I’m a lobbyist, but apparently we in the non-profit world don’t like calling ourselves “lobbyists”) for the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, January through May is going to be a frenetic rollercoaster ride I will barely be able to manage. In June I’ll be moving to Michigan to join whatever Democratic presidential campaign has won the primary for the simple reasons of a) I can easily find housing there and b) I have the time and money. I’m committed to doing these things, and in some vague, nebulous, barely perceptible sense I’m … excited? about doing them.
Last Tuesday though … I ran out of fucks.
My county has been in the national media a few times over the last few years because of how incredibly queerphobic we are down here. A while back the secular humanists invited in a lesbian woman to teach a sex ed class at the public library, and the bigots unleashed a staggering tide of hatred that ended in a political brouhaha of local-politics-but-epic proportions. This year, it was a Drag Queen Story Hour the same bigoted group used to incite violence. The county government’s reaction was to punish the public library financially and warn them that if the library didn’t want to lose any more of its funding they had better stop allowing such “controversial” (ie: queer) events. Our state attorney’s general office got involved and explained how what they’re ordering the library to do is illegal, but so far they’ve refused to budge. Last Tuesday, I spoke at a public hearing on behalf of my queer community for our right to free speech and public spaces, and doing so terrified me. I left moments after I was done, and spent the next week struggling to get out of bed and with a migraine I couldn’t shake.
I want to abandon the work.
I look at what’s going on and the searing rage that’s accompanied me for three years is just gone. The riverbeds in my soul constantly flooded with sorrow have run dry. I’m beyond frustration, despair, or caring. Even terms like “apathy” and “emotional numbness” don’t cover it. I look at what I’ve been hearing recently and I’m just … tired.
- Trump’s actions regarding Turkey and Syria
- the sickening and repulsive “tourist transplant industry” in China
- overwhelming tides of climate grief
- the ongoing and what seems to be inevitable onslaught against LGBT people like Aimee Stephens and Gerald Bostock
- Atatiana Jefferson’s murder in her own home
- and most recently and annoyingly, Blizzard’s decision to suspend Ng “blitzchung” Wai Chung and then rob him of his prize money because he vocally supported the Hong Kong protests. I just want to play Overwatch and get the “Demon Hunter” Sombra skin in peace, God damn you Blizzard. When even the gaming community knows what’s right in this situation and uses Mei (a Chinese Overwatch character) in anti-China memes and pro-Hong Kong art, you should know how incredibly badly you fucked up.
I’ve been taking a break this past month trying to get some of my verve back but I’m afraid it’s not working. I went on vacation to the Emerald Coast and lazed on a beach all day for a week. I’ve created a Twitter account just for my obsession with the upcoming Wheel of Time television adaptation. I’ve been playing video games pretty much nonstop, and when I’m not playing video games I’m reading books and have nearly caught up on my TBR pile. At this point, I don’t know what more to do to make myself feel engaged again, to care again about what’s going on in the world and what I can be doing about it.
As I’ve thought about all this, I’ve started to think it might be the biggest reason why my writing has languished so much over the last three years. Yes, seminary has kept me enormously busy– and so has all the protesting and demonstrating and lobbying. But when confronted with … the entire fucking world right now, what can my writing possibly do? What can men do against such reckless hate?
I haven’t come to any answers. I hear You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it and what used to inspire me feels small and useless. What is the meaning of “You are not obligated to complete the work” when the planet, without immediate and immense action, could actually be dying all around us? There could, theoretically, be no completion of the work for anyone. But … I’ve been reading a lot about vulnerability and I’ve been putting on a brave show for a while, almost entirely to myself. Trying to convince myself that yes, I absolutely will have a draft of my memoir completed by Christmas (ha!). I will finish my World History and Cultures review (right, sure). I will type up all the blog ideas I’ve been jotting down for years now and actually start turning them into blog posts and magazine pitches ([insert::eye roll]).
But I started this blog six years ago because I wasn’t sure what else to do. I wrote for myself, wrote to remember, wrote to feel, and through it all I found all of you. I’ve made friends I cherish, have had transportive experiences I’ll never forget, have felt joy and anguish more acute than anything else in my life has brought me. Maybe, if I start typing away with the same “I have no clue in hell what I’m doing but HEY I’m gonna WRITE WORDS” … I can keep going. Maybe this is putting one foot in front of the other.
Maybe this is doing the work.