It was an emotional election night. I cried, then meditated, then meditated some more. When that wasn’t enough, I went on a meditation retreat. Then I bought a plane ticket to DC for the Women’s March on Washington – a pretty expensive one – with a recklessness I rarely employ. No place to stay? No one to hang with? It’s okay. Feminism will provide.
When she found out how much the plane tickets were, by best friend asked, “wouldn’t it be better to donate that money to some organization that’s fighting the policies or something?”
Well of course it would. In a practical sense. But sometimes people just have to be counted. And for me, this is one of those times. We did a hilarious (!) “farewell to Democracy tour” in September where I insisted Ben photograph me looking sad/worried/distraught in front of iconic DC buildings, monuments, and meaningful quotes carved in stone. “In case Trump gets elected – haha!” Perhaps my ironic guilt obligates me to return.
Everything is coming together. I am invigorated. But I am also concerned about my reactive, non-hippie, overly human self.
First of all, I’m not a fan of crowds, or even lines (and I’m wondering if Thinx panties might hold pee in a pinch?). Fortunately I’m taller than I was when a lack of access to available oxygen caused me to pass out at Taste of Chicago as a kid. But the practical concerns are the lesser part of it: I am viscerally freaked out by large groups of people chanting in unison. Maybe it’s the Jew in me: perhaps that fear has been naturally selected. That crowdmic thing during the Occupy movement? It makes me sweat just to think of it. That said, it’s not really the behavior itself that concerns me, but my reaction to it. I worry about my instinctive repulsion of groupthink and groupspeak, even when that speech is loving and rational.
Maybe I’ll get swept up this once, maybe I won’t, but as much as I dislike bad, loud rhymes, they won’t ruin the march for me. What might come closer to doing so is the work my brain will be doing to determine whether or not a chant is worth making.
I grew up in a household where protesting was a normal, if not regular, activity, and I would mimic the leaders like a good little activist. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more discriminating (one would hope). When I’ve gone to marches and protests in the past decade or so, I internally rate the validity of, and my level of agreement with, every chant. I analyze every sign. I am eagle-eyed for oversimplification and exaggeration (and spelling and grammar of course). It is doubtful that 5 percent of signs will pass muster with my overalert fucking brain, which is therein critical of other people’s creativity, beliefs, feelings, intelligence, and education.
My incessant judgment is my greatest spiritual struggle and failure. I would love to muffle it just for tomorrow. How can I keep myself from judging in an environment created for people to give voice to their opinions and grievances?
Well, I can’t. I know that. Next best thing: how do I keep from letting my self-loathing of my critical mind ruin the march for me? This is where the brain-tool comes in handy. I can talk myself down from my emotional response to chants and signs I don’t like by recognizing the inevitable, pitiable, universal humanity of people’s anger and fear. I can recognize that each person’s reaction makes sense for who they are at that moment in time.
Until they get hateful. And, boy do I love my anti-hatred high horse. “Ugh! don’t they see that when they write about hating Trump for spewing and fostering hate, they are doing the exact same thing that he is! I fucking hate that!” And here we are. Full hypocrisy circle.
I can call my own bullshit. And I recognize that, for me, no good comes out of the anger and hatred. That doesn’t make me any better than anyone else, but it does make my life better than it used to be before that recognition. It helps me log the fuck off Facebook. And it forces me to question my own integrity. If I believe hate is universally, unequivocally destructive, then my quick-release hate is no more excusable than theirs or Trump’s or the Trumpites’. The only possible difference is that I am no longer enjoying the feel of it. When something I see or hear makes me feel angry or frightened or despairing, I change my environment. Some might call it avoidance; I call it the refusal to embrace unnecessary, destructive emotions. What good do they do me?
I was one of the angriest people I knew when I was younger. I fed off of it. It was like manna, and it grew like citrus in Los Angeles – if I found myself running low on my stock of rage, I could refuel anywhere. But it was also fetid. It was exhausting and it kept me from sleeping at night and it was physically and emotionally all-consuming. I remember when a guy I beeped at threw a bottle at my car and sped off and I was filled with so much hatred I thought I was going to explode. You can only smoke so many cigarettes, drive so fast, yell so loud. Ultimately, you’re still where you are – boiling over with skin-ripping anger that is so blinding you can’t even see that the blame and self-righteousness are more destructive than useful. At some point it became too much for me, and I stopped clinging to the familiarity of that emotion. Colbert had a gorgeous, sad reflection about this on election night:
We overdosed … we drank too much of the poison. You take a little bit of it so you can hate the other side. And it tastes kind of good and you like how it feels. And there’s a gentle high to the condemnation. And you know you’re right, right? You know you’re right.
It took a long time to break the habit. I still get angry, but it slips away quickly now. I know hatred and anger aren’t the same thing, but for me hatred is essentially low-grade, perpetual anger. Since I cut back on the latter, hating people isn’t something I can really muster anymore. Not for more than a few seconds at a time. And I don’t want to. Hatred and anger make me feel shitty. And if I don’t feel good, it’s hard to do good. It’s hard to see outside of myself when I’m immersed in a cloud of rage. Oh, I can rant & post & link, but I don’t actually act. So fuck that.
As hard as it was to quit anger, letting go of judgment seems incomparably difficult. Here I am, judging people who are angry because they are judging others. I am attending the march in solidarity with other women and oppressed peoples. How do I come out of it without an increased disdain for humanity or (far more likely!) myself? Self-awareness is a curse.
Rather than trying to clamp down on my “talent” for critique and analysis, my best bet is probably to keep my eyes open. (Do I contradict myself? Well, then, I contradict myself. I blog. I contain multitudes.) I know that every day when I walk out my front door I choose what to see. There is infinite input and I select what makes it through my perception to my conscious self. If I look for good, I will see good. And I have no doubt that I will see infinite good at the Women’s March. I already see it in the way people are coming together and seeking out ways to contribute to their community. I can’t shut down my judgment, but I can keep turning myself back to joy and compassion and love. Judgment may be one of my strongest character traits, but character traits tend to dull in the face of joy. I intend to expose myself to joy just as I expose myself (tastefully) to the glorious 55 degree weather in DC. I’ll deal with the rest of it when I’m back in the frozen Nord.