I’ve gone through a lot of feelings in the last 24 hours, much of which I’ve dumped all over Twitter and FB, among other places. I’m feeling the same as a lot of others do, going by the other posts I see: Shock, anger, disbelief. And fear. Lots of it. For ourselves and for the others who are now in danger. We are also, to my great comfort, extending a lot of caring and support, particularly for those who need it most right now. I sent my kid off to his (majority-PoC and immigrant-heavy) pre-school this morning with a note that some of his classmates may be feeling sad or scared today, and asking him to be extra kind and gentle with them, and I’m thinking about other ways I might be able to put some of my privileges to work.
But something else is bubbling up in me today, though it seems like an odd feeling to have under the circumstances: passion.
For the past several years, I’ve been . . . complacent isn’t really the word. More like existing on auto-pilot. I finished my journalism degree in 2007 and did a bit of that stuff for a while. We bought a lovely new house. We did a ton of paperwork and spent a lot of money and adopted a terrific baby, whom we’ve now been raising for the past 3.75 years. I’ve dinked around with fandom stuff. I wrote a few books. I played a lot of video games and watched a lot of TV and movies. I grieved the loss of four beloved cats in the space of five years, and welcomed two new furbabies into my life. We did some fun traveling and celebrated holidays and birthdays. Life went on as life does, in other words.
But somewhere in the process of doing all this, my fire went out. Some of it was sheer exhaustion, especially after we discovered that our son has mild autism, which caused a rather spectacular (and expensive) child-care crisis and a lot of doctor visits to get his diagnosis. A lot of it in the past 18 months or so was self-preserving breath holding regarding the election (and there is a certain amount of relief in knowing the waiting part is over, even if the true hell of it hasn’t yet begun.)
Most of it, however, was just ennui. Like the old Peggy Lee song, I kept asking myself “Is that all there is?” I started dipping my toes in some of the usual midlife-crisis angst. I’m 45, I have some health problems that means I’ve had to scrap some bucket-list stuff and potential career aspirations. I’ve been in a stable, healthy marriage for 20 years. We’re financially stable, more or less. I no longer have to worry about whether we can afford groceries or mortgage payments, but I’m also aware that we’re probably never going to be in any of the upper-tier tax brackets; a job loss would still hurt pretty badly. Becoming a parent has meant a big shift in gears, and since we’re currently in the waiting pool for baby #2, we’ll also have even more of that coming up within the next year or so. But outside of the delights and challenges of parenting, I’ve been wondering what the point is. I’m not suicidal–haven’t gone that way in more than 20 years, back when I was on completely wrong meds for my particular brain chemistry–but I also just felt like a lot of things about who I am and what my purpose in the world is had somehow gone grey. I tried to do a container garden this year, and just never bothered really working on it, so it never went anywhere. I have a stack of household projects that have been on the to-do list for years. I have a big pile of books to read. I more or less stopped writing, save for keeping my skills fresh barfing out the occasional trashy fanfic. All typical depression symptoms, really. It’s classic anehedonia, but also an-everything else, too. Not happy, but not sad, either. Just bored. Just meh. There were and are moments of intense feelings–especially where my son is concerned–but outside of him, everything else has kind of blurred into the same shapeless, lumpy mass of me and my somewhat pathetic life.
I know it’s kind of eyeroll-inducing for me to complain about this. I very much realize millions of other people would give a limb to have the comfort I have in my life. I recognize I have a lot of privileges, and having the luxury of navel-gazing like this is one. But I also used to believe that my life was going to be more than this, and I did a whole lot more to try to make that so, even if a lot of the attempts eventually fizzled out.
I was in constant crisis for the first ~25 years of my life (poverty, abuse, poorly managed mental and physical health issues), but some of that struggle for survival also gave me a fighting spirit I’ve subsequently lost. When I was a teen, and first figured out that I wasn’t straight, I worked my ass off to earn enough money to get the hell out of my conservative town and move to Portland instead. Once there, I got involved with queer and student activist groups. I went to my first Pride parade in 1992, when we were fighting the OCA’s Measure 9 horror show. We triumphantly elected Bill Clinton, finally ending 12 years of Republican oppression, and then did it again 4 years later, even as we were also fighting the attacks of a GOP Congress. We had eight years of absolute hell under Bush, and I slipped into a self-preserving bubble of fandom during that time to keep myself from having constant panic attacks, but the 2004 election galvanized me enough to go back to school and get my second degree. I fought hard for that, and was incredibly proud of myself for doing it. And then, after a contentious primary, the country, to my great amazement, elected a Black man. I finally–FINALLY–felt safe again.
So I relaxed. I started working on becoming a parent. I felt safe spending money on a bigger house and travel, and enjoying life. An obstructionist Congress and a nail-biter 2012 election sucked, and I knew that other people were still struggling, but I felt we were on the right path. When the Obergefell decision came down, it felt like a giant, immobile landmark had just been sunk into the Earth. Yes, shit was still happening, but we could handle it, eventually. We outnumbered the asshats. We were making the future we always wanted. The nasty old guard was dying off, and the new generation seemed to be even more progressive than us Gen Xers were at their age. I was Ready for Hillary two years ago, and felt confident that she’d be the next step on the ever-widening path forward.
Well, shit. So much for that.
We DO still outnumber them. We’re distributed in a non-electoral-vote-friendly way and we’re gerrymandered out of having much power in the House for the foreseeable future, but there ARE more of us. But maybe too many of us have done what I’ve apparently done for the past eight years and just fallen asleep, more or less. Oh, I’ve stayed politically active. That’s been a part of who I am since I wrote my first letter to the editor at 13. But on a personal level, I’ve been on cruise control, and I suspect a lot of people my age have been, too. I think many younger ones aren’t really cruising, but probably think the country is a lot more safely progressive than it really is, and therefore felt more comfortable being radical (kinda hope this election is disabusing them of that idea now.) Well, I’m definitely not on cruise control now. Maybe it took facing a direct threat to my own safety and that of people I love to create this spark, but the fire has definitely been lit, and now that I have it back, I’m not letting it go out. I still need a few days to rest and recover from the immediate trauma, but once I’m out of shock, I’m back in action.
I’m of course going to be just as politically vocal and cantankerous as ever (as long as I have the right to do so), but I’m also feeling more engaged in my own life, now, especially my work. I still have limitations that mean there isn’t a lot I can do directly to help save vulnerable people, but I can still write. For a while, I felt like we were seeing enough progress that maybe my little books weren’t that big of a deal. I thought maybe my voice wasn’t really needed. Now I know better. I still don’t expect to write any best sellers, but even if my stuff is merrily skipping over well-trod ground in some ways, I can no longer believe that I don’t still need to be on that ground. People of privilege have had literally thousands of stories about themselves. Some of those are terrible quality, some are more or less exact copies of other works. And yet they keep getting churned out. The appetite for cishet white heroes hasn’t been satisfied, yet, and won’t be anytime soon. Everyone else therefore deserves to have their own giant buffet of options, and I feel like I have not just the right but the responsibility to add my own work there. Reading a book doesn’t take long (even if writing one certainly does) and people are always ready for another story. I can give that to them. And I will.