It's true that I still have "I can't keep quiet" running relentlessly through my head, as well as a succession of paranoid thoughts about exactly what dastardly plan has been concocted and is being implemented by (some subset of) Vladimir Putin, Steve Bannon, Rex Tillerson, Carter Page, Richard Spencer, Paul Ryan, Mike Pence, Alexander Nix and (maybe) Donald Trump. On the other side of the scales there is an obsessive desire to keep looking for data and photos about a protest and impromptu march in which I personally participated yesterday. Why?--I was there, I know what it was like. Also-- and I know I'm not alone in this-- I'm thinking about some comments I made on Facebook-- whether they were wise, what people thought about them, whether they contributed to the conversation or were just a bunch of self-important BS.
The browser is closed, I won't look at my phone until this is finished, no one else is home, I don't have anyplace else to be. But I still can't turn my brain off.
If conversations I've had with others over the past couple of weeks are any indication, we are all in this boat. So much is happening that consuming news has become (in an immediately overused analogy) "like drinking from a firehose." Then, once you consume it, the pressure and obligation to act in response is immense-- but what should you respond to first, and how? And, while you are beginning to consider action, the firehose blast of new material continues. Meanwhile, there is also life to be lived, a life that increasingly seems like a trivial aside: going to a job, perhaps, keeping up with the kids' schedule, making dinner, doing the laundry, calling your mother and talking about something other than Donald Trump. Reading a book published before 2016, in the Days of Irrelevant Yore. These are all things that have to be fit into the interstices between fits of panic, outrage, and righteous action.
So, for a long time now I've been intending to write and think about how to create an activism schedule, or life balance, or however you want to put it-- some way to gain control back over my time and decision-making-- but ironically I have not been able to find the time to do so. This, despite the fact that I have only a part-time job and my child is 15 and needs very little direct care and feeding. There have always been urgent news to read, urgent calls to make to my senators about cabinet appointments, meetings to attend, protests planned and spontaneous... or, on the flip side of all this, a day here or there of total meltdown in which I check out entirely, eat potato chips, and block out the world.
I was going to write this post yesterday, but a major protest and then impromptu march arose downtown, near the White House, in response to Trump's new travel/immigration bans, and I couldn't bear not to be there, so I went.
The situation is dire. It's great that, all of a sudden, we have an engaged and responsive citizenry, an army of people willing to act at a moment's notice. But, on a collective level, we need to have enough opportunities to catch our breath that we can coordinate well-considered actions, not just reactions. We also need to not burn out after a couple of weeks or months. On an individual level, there's laundry to do, and your teenager wants to tell you about a test score they're really proud of.
And this liquor isn't going to drink itself.
So-- and I am really asking this question, like, seeking answers-- how do you decide what to do, at any given moment? I always have trouble with this issue, being a scheduler and a list-maker-- spontaneity does not come naturally to me. But I'm thinking that maybe, right now, my natural lack of spontaneity could be an asset, something that could keep me from being entirely reactive 100% of the time. I had some luck-- for, like, one week, right after the new year and admittedly before Donald Trump actually took office and started firing off presidential memoranda-- with a schedule that looked like this (on the days I do not work at the restaurant):
7:00am--12:30 pm Ingest news and commentary (usually takes until 9:30-10 am). Shower. Spend a couple of hours calling congressmen, writing letters, and/or writing my own material.
12:30 pm--1:30 pm Lunch break. Read something that isn't news. Like a book.
1:30 pm--dinnertime Do Life things. Try really hard to stay away from Facebook. Go grocery shopping, do the laundry, errands, bills, cooking. Don't check Facebook. Don't. Even email is shaky now that I receive 80 million action alerts and news digests in it. Just life things. And, oh yeah, exercise.
Eat dinner with my family, do dishes, go for a walk around the block with my husband, possibly watch a TV show that is not black comedy about news (possibly). Now I can check Facebook, but not for too long, because I need to go to sleep at a reasonable hour.
Attend scheduled meetings, protests, volunteering, etc. as needed (probably a couple of evenings a week, plus occasional daytime commitments, usually known in advance).
Sounds like a pretty decent plan, right? But, oh my God, it requires so much self-discipline. I've had three big problems right off the bat. 1) It is hard to stick to ingesting news only once per day, when the constant barrage of outrageous activity from this administration (plus fascinating tidbits that seem out of a spy novel) mean that there is something shocking happening pretty much every second. 2) The pretty natural and universal addiction to checking social media to see if anyone has responded to me has now been invested with a whole extra veneer of urgency and importance, so that it is now possible to pretend to oneself that it matters how many people liked one's comment about Putin or the Women's March. Hint to self: it still doesn't matter that much. 3) (perhaps an extension of #1) In my 7-12:30 time slot, the news-gathering portion of the time has tended to slowly expand and eat up the action portion until it is all gone. This kind of defeats the purpose.
All this has led to a fourth problem: quite uncharacteristically, I am finding myself committing to taking actions that I then don't get around to or forget about. The list of things to do is just getting too long and unwieldy and living in too many different places (emails, calendar, Facebook, written lists, inside my head). I really need to go back through everything and figure out a) what I said I would do that I still need to do, b) what I said I would do that it is too late to do, and c) what else is most important to do next. In a block of time like this, where all other inputs are turned off and I don't stop mid-sentence to read the Daily Kos Elections email or the action steps in My Civic Workout. People who keep recommending new activist tools to me, please stop. You don't understand: I already have a problem. I will love your new activist tool, and subscribe to it, and it will slowly crush me along with all the others.
So. I want to hear your strategies, your problems and solutions, in as much detail as you are willing to give. It is trivial and yet it is absolutely not trivial, because our lives and futures depend now on our being able to get it together and keep it together, to at least a certain degree. How do you decide what to do and when to do it? How do you know which ball to keep your eye on? Do you spend time thinking about where you direct your energies? If not, should you?
And now I'm going to take a shower.