Drop by drop/while Rome burns

I have been struggling with the question of how to spend my time during the lead-up to these mid-term elections. On the one hand, I decided this summer to cut back on a number of my activities, to focus my time more narrowly in order to have greater depth and, hopefully, satisfaction and success. My “declaration,” in the language of my somatics practice, has been to align my life around my longings to create powerful and resonant writing, and to unleash a flow of funds for social transformation.

On the other hand, I view our country and world as rapidly “going to hell in a hand-basket,” as one of my childhood caregivers used to say. While my two goals and roles, writing and funding, are great strategies for long-term healing and transformation, they aren’t so obviously useful for immediate change. I’ve had the phrase “fiddling while Rome burns” going through my head. Is that really a thing? I looked it up and it’s intriguing – legend has it that the unpopular emperor Nero played his fiddle while most of the city of Rome went up in flames. Apparently not actually historically true, (e.g. there were no fiddles in the year 64 C.E.) but a powerful image nonetheless.

Thankfully, I am not Emperor, so my actions or inactions don’t have the same degree of impact. Yet I believe that every one of us matters, even if in nearly infinitesimally small ways. Calculus makes sense of how infinitesimally small things add up to large ones. Like the union song my now-dormant business Many Stones Consulting is named after, “Step by step, the longest march can be won. Many stones can form an arch, singly none. Drops of water turn a mill, singly none.”

So I’ve been feeling guilty for not canvassing, though I really don’t want to canvass. I’ve been looking for other ways to help. Bringing food to the canvassers, which I’ve done in the past, for some reason isn’t being coordinated this year. As the election has drawn nearer, I’ve kept Election Day mostly free, figuring that would be my compromise. One day of action. But driving people to the polls, which was my plan for that time, is apparently not needed in my location this year, too many other people have already signed up. (If you’re in Milwaukee and can help with this, call Common Cause Wisconsin, they need people there!!)

Back to the first hand, though. The writing I am doing, much of it, is about slowing down. It’s a sci-fi novel about how our world has sped up, how it impacts us, how white people especially embody a harmful relationship to time, and how we might shift things. So, doing less is part of my research for my writing. The powerful feeling that I’m not doing enough, that I need to take more action, is part of what I signed up for when I took on this new declaration.

This past Saturday I participated in a writing retreat led by Miriam Hall of Herspiral Contemplative Arts. It was wonderful. In the morning, in response to a prompt “why I write,” I wrote about how important writing has become to me, how it makes my life clearer. I remembered that I’d planned to set aside the whole month of November to write, for “National Novel Writing Month,” but had given it up somewhere along the way. I started to think about that completely open day on November 6th, and to think about what other time I might reclaim during November. And then, in the middle of the day, Miriam told us the news from Pittsburgh.

Since I was on retreat, I didn’t immediately read the news. It took a day or two for it to sink in. The next morning I wrote in my Morning Pages about how if I didn’t work on Election Day, I might have to feel the fear more… fear that I’ll somehow blame myself, or be worthy of blame, for not doing enough to save the world, not doing enough to stand up against fascism, not putting my whole life on hold, all my other goals, dreams, and commitments, and plunging myself into an activist battle for life… and I had fantasies of being part of a huge crowd of peaceful US citizens at the border, creating a human wall / escort between the caravan and the US troops…and then wondered if it would end in massacre. And then, I remembered my declaration about aligning my life with my longings….and remembered the healing shame process, and letting go of trying to be some kind of activist that I’m not.

Later that day, my brother and sister-in-law told me about a “text-banking” party they’d hosted, where people were texting voters instead of knocking on doors or phoning them. This really appealed to me, and I eventually realized it was because it would be writing! And I realized, maybe I can use what I do best and love most, writing, in this moment.

The next day, I penned a letter which had been swimming around in my head. It was to a small group of Conservative Christians my progressive Jewish congregation had started a dialogue with after Trump was elected. In a nutshell, the letter said that I and others like me were starting to talk about whether we should leave the country, that some I know already have, and that I hoped this group didn’t want us to do so. I typed up the letter, and emailed it. I will share it in a separate post, so that it stands alone, in case you have any Conservative friends you want to share it with.

I’ve received two responses to it so far – one to the full group, supporting (and blessing) my voice and the importance of free speech, saying how good this administration has been for the economy, and condemning the attack in Pittsburgh as “ungodly” and “the actions of a single, deranged individual” who doesn’t represent the majority. I felt pretty triggered by this response on my initial reading, finding it patronizing, feeling they’d missed the point about fascism, and wondering why I was naïve enough to think I could make a difference with my writing, with such a group. This morning, I received a second response, sent to me privately, by someone who said they had been thinking about our group and had decided not to vote for the Republicans in this election. The person said “I will think more about your note over the coming days. I don’t want you to leave.” And they invited me and my husband over for dinner!

One drop.

Perhaps, combined with enough others, it will help to extinguish the fires.

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