Tuesday 25 October 2022

Tile Choices and Vote Tallies

My thoughts about the midterm elections right now: I just want to redo my kitchen. Hear me out. 

I'm lucky to live in my now not so new-to-me old house, and I'm able to afford it partly because it needed a bunch of work, which was definitely the deal and the plan going in. Housing costs are bonkers, and I am deeply grateful to have a roof over my head, much less one that comes with antique architectural details and opportunities to learn about traditional building. 

But part of me can't help having one foot out the door. 

I've been hovering at the edge of this kitchen remodel for years now, because there's never really a right time to tear an enormous hole into the heart of one's house. Our ragtag, falling apart kitchen--older than anyone living under this roof--was a blessing in the lockdown, and before that the idea of feeding a baby with no appliances and lots of dust and noise seemed crazy. 

Yet, now, the opportunity is here, and I'm looking at the many, many thousands of dollars it will take to get this done, and I'm nervous about investing that into the brick and mortar of a country that seems inconsistently trustworthy in governing itself. Perhaps I know too much. To earn my degree in Development Studies, I've read more than the average American about the impediments to improvement that come with chronic political instability and the looming threat of violence. Thanks to Trumpism, it requires no imagination to see how my university reading applies to the US context. 

It's not all bad. As I regularly remind myself, Trump never had a majority; on a national level, the electorate chose sensibly in 2016--to the tune of millions more votes--Hillary Clinton. In 2020, we swerved away from the Chernobyl of the Trump presidency, and narrowly elected a Democratic majority to both houses of Congress. We have the chance to expand our distance from coup attempts and religious radicalism in this election, right now. A further two Democratic senators with a Democratic House majority paves the way to passing a transformative legislative agenda to restore reproductive choice and take major action for environmental restoration. 

However, our judiciary has been screwed for the foreseeable future by extremist and unqualified GOP stacking of the courts, most evident in a Supreme Court which now favors Christian nationalism over voting rights and bodily autonomy, but also visible in a federal judiciary that was absolutely rammed with Trump appointees. The pipeline is now greasier and grimmer than the Keystone XL hoped to be. To contain that toxic spill, we're going to need to keep flexing muscle on policy that matters in our immediate lives. 

So this is where my consumer confidence is. Holding a bunch of job-creating cash and questioning whether my crumbling kitchen is really the rainy day to spend it on when a shitstorm may be brewing on the horizon. The realness of all this potential expenditure and the tangible risk of the US failing to imagine itself as livable for all humans is hitting me right between the eyes. I want to feel at home here, and safe in the choice to build back better.

Folks, you've gotta vote blue. At every level, all the way down the ticket. Everyday life choices depend on it, and not just my home improvement wishes. Your local electeds are determining whether it's safe to access reproductive healthcare, making choices about our increasingly precious supplies of clean water, and deciding whether democracy means anything at all in this country. This is our home we're talking about, the basic circumstances with which we shelter ourselves and each other against the uncertainties of human existence.

We are not exceptional. America can be a war-torn dump, a bad investment, a backward theocracy, or an impoverished hellscape just as much as any other country. Our deferred maintenance can become collapse with mind-boggling rapidity. Rightwing extremism is an incredibly efficient path to those destinations. 

We are all invested in the outcome here. We vote with our wallets, with our feet, sure, but the ballot box still matters, too. That is not a given. Our franchise is our most direct political statement of our intentions for our shared future. Elections have consequences, the personal is political... We choose to renovate or neglect our government for the people, by the people in every cycle. 

I want to vote for a sustainable life, full of choice, for joy in the present and excitement about what we can do. I want that politics of optimism. I want to build something that's going to last, and get out of emergency mode. 

Really, I want this country to be a safe space for us to dream big and relax into new ideas, to move toward that vision rather than simply away from the worst-case scenarios.

Thursday 20 October 2022

Politics of Optimism

A quick thought: As a cuspy Xennial, I was blessed to be in high school during a time of relative optimism, when the messages were that we were working on environmentalism, triumphing over sexism, and generally progressing toward accepting each other as fully human despite our differences. 

I don't want to pretend it was all okay--there were wars, scandals, and outrages, of course--but the tone was lighter. And I think about how my experience compares to kids in high school right now, or recently graduated. It felt possible to imagine that we were legitimately working on a better world when I was full of youthful enthusiasm, and I'm not surprised that I don't hear much of that coming from our newest adults now. 

I want to bring that sense of possibility back. I know, so retro!! But I think we all need it. I feel that there's a tilt now toward nihilism and despair, born of disconnection and very real crushing uncertainty, but these feelings are disabling. Omnipresent doubt short-circuits action, and the spiral continues. 

I would like a politics of optimism, please. In order to get there, we do indeed have to get ourselves past the immediate moment wherein our basic rights to bodily autonomy and democracy are very directly under attack. We have to breathe deep and shift that obstacle. 

But, then or even simultaneously, we need to hold dear that space to rebelliously dream. That's the arena where human social brilliance thrives, shifts paradigms, and manages to surmount generational challenges. That is when we have the capacity to transcend a status quo that is actively damaging all of us. 

And I think it's particularly important for those of us that have tasted such hope to find ways to cultivate it within ourselves, revive it when needed, and reach past the chaos and distractions deliberately placed in our path so we may gather momentum with others to envision and action on something better. Easier said that done, but eminently doable. 

Start with voting. Do that right now. Bring your friends. Let's first move the boulder of regressive conservatism so that we can get a real look at what our future can hold when we believe in solving the big problems of the day, rather than simply recreating the oppressions of yesterday. 

Actual progress is possible, and is present in our history at least as much as setbacks. May the glowing embers of optimism flare up in our hearts and warm us as we dream.

Wednesday 19 October 2022

Blood, Sweat & Selfies

I need to set a reminder to periodically look back through just my photos of myself. It's such an emotional timelapse of... Well, as many years as I choose to revisit, I guess. 

Looking back on recent history, I see a woman who had a fun, adventurous pregnancy through unexpectedly historical times, who fought hard for her happiness and sense of self in the early days of motherhood, who actually accomplished a lot, and who created a delightful, beautiful and nurturing environment for her child where they played and grew together. 

I know this from the perspective of having done it all at the time, with intention and perseverance, but wildness of these years has condensed it all in such a whirlwind that it can be hard to see myself in it. It's different to follow the pictures, with their thousands or probably millions of words, and be carried along on the story they tell. 

I feel I'm at a junction in life where I can reach back and grab a little of my youth to carry forward, maybe in my body or perhaps just in my heart. That energy and optimism has been easy to forget in the last couple of years. Honestly, I long for naiveté and enthusiasm that I fear is never coming back. I feel anxious to conserve what I can, to stabilize just what I have in a world that has rocked to and fro far too much, and right at the time I had more to lose than ever before. 

I felt my child's soul calling to me to come to Earth. I reached up into the stars, and we danced back down together. A paradigm shift transpired, and I wondered at the great mystery and deep knowing of my baby. I was left alone far too often, and I gave profoundly from myself. 

The vulnerability I felt scared me, maybe too much to ever go back to that bewildering, primal state of early motherhood. I discovered new beauty, and I lost trust in the world around me. I slept little and felt the tension of the few strings that held me where I had hoped a fabric of society would offer warmth and protection. Often, the loss-averse nature of my own humanity dominates the emotional view, and I hold the growing independence of my now-kindergartner in a loving embrace that feels like there's room for both of us to thrive without excessive sacrifice. 

But, the photos somehow don't convey the exhaustion or the fear. They are triumphant, and only mildly curated: self-portraits in moments of tenderness and laughter, me and my silly baby, learning and growing together in the big miracle of life's longing for itself. The toddler dances and goofy smiles, clumsy hugs and dimples, naps in wraps and international stroller adventures... These are the reward for that raw vulnerability, and tasting the honey alone is sweet indeed. 

I have been stronger and more beautiful than I have known. When I castigate myself for what I failed to accomplish, I need to reach back for that younger version of myself and hold her dear. 

Tuesday 4 October 2022

The Only Constant is Change

Let’s talk about change, what rushes by and what stays the same. 

The past few years have been, at least for me, a study in discomfort about all of this, but bolstered by an innate ability to breathe deep, lean back and survive.

Maybe you, too?

There have been so many false starts, and winter is coming, etc., but over here it’s actually feeling like some rhythmic pace of life that can be called normal, or the new normal, is here. I’m trying to see it for what it is.

My child is vaccinated, as of this summer, so we’ve finally cast off some of that odd holding back that typified most of our pandemic days. We started traveling again in earnest, booking flights and throwing masks on, and a backlog of two years of missed trips somehow got caught up on within a couple of months before school started. Re-entry jitters gave way to the suppleness of bone-deep exhaustion and jet lag, which required some sit-down time.

Honestly, I kind of landed with a thud. We came back, and the whole house was a mess from the back-to-back chaos, months of throwing things into and out of suitcases. Getting ready for adventures kind of forced me to organize the garage, and now getting everything squared away will require that again. The leaves built up in the backyard. The office I tiled for myself prior to departure still needs shelves and a sense of stability to be installed. As usual, we forgot how to shop, and the fridge was full of nonsense, but a few weeks in and we’re starting to make sense of it enough to fit the milk in and find unexpired food when we’re hungry. 

Finally, the rhythms are settling. Dash is in school, James is back at the office, and I am… Here. Nakedly, the rhythms of this new life are still unsatisfying, yet I find myself loathe to take on any more changes. I’m trying to catch my breath here. I’ve found it hard to motivate to attend to any of the millions of things that sat, dusty and waiting, calling for my action.

I find that I’m dwelling in this odd hybrid life. I’m probably the person in this family who most needs to socialize and be out in the world to shine, and yet all of my classes have moved online and my evenings are largely taken up with staring at screens, still. I’m trying to finish a certificate program that has stretched on longer than anticipated, thanks to bereavements, COVID’s interruption and the demands of being a mother, daughter, and wife.

I keep trying to go back home to what’s familiar, and it’s kind of not working. Things don’t mean the same as they used to. I appreciate all of the work that has gone into offering consistency even as adaptation has been required (my own included), and yet there’s no denying that things have changed: My design classes have changed. My appointments with doctors have changed. I can dance every day of the week from home, as long as I’m happy to schedule yet another online meeting. So much of my life is mediated by screens, which made sense during the peak of pandemic danger, but now that the threat is fading the purpose is changing. 

At the same time, the increasing demands of normalcy on limited time in a busy family reframe the screens as convenience. It’s no longer making do, it’s the efficiency of skipping a commute, apparently clawing back a little more space to fit in extras. I should be even more productive, right? I have the space, the time, the demands, the calls to action. 

Yet, like a tortured actress, I find myself asking: “What’s my motivation?” I find myself alone a lot, and struggling to keep polishing the walls of my prison cell. Get dressed, put on makeup for the next Zoom meeting. My beautiful house, which I used to find solace in, kind of feels like a dungeon right now. Would it feel different if I gave it the work I feel it is owed? Or would I feel less soothed, older and more disconnected, more deeply invested in the very place I feel stuck?

Lingering projects, languishing in the midst of a life in transition. At the start of this pandemic, I had a toddler—now I have a kindergartner. I have poured myself into keeping life stable for him, and keeping us all alive. These are victories! But, as I try to recalibrate, to feel for my own desires, the sense that I shouldn’t get too attached to anything I want hovers. It is hard to move from this place. What’s going to happen next? What big changes are coming?

I want to close on a high note, wrap this all up somehow in a way that is motivating. Yet, the world beyond these safe, stultifying walls remains unstable. There’s so much work to do out there, too, and I know I’m not the only one who feels deeply worn out by all of it. A lot of fighting spirit has been required—and delivered—and that comes from somewhere. It’s okay to sit and examine all this, to try to pick out the threads and darn the holes discovered. I feel sure there’s something beautiful to be made from it all, up-cycling this experience into solace or even wisdom.

Still drawing breath, still capable of change. Life will keep changing. Meaning keeps changing. Emotional clutter and physical debris are part and parcel of this human life, I suppose, and I believe deeply in the personal responsibility to attend to them. 

Best put the kettle on, make myself a cuppa and get on with it. The only way out is through, right?