August 9, 2016

The World’s a Mess & I’m a Mess…Now What?

writer's block, writing

Loss and anger and fear are swirling in the streets so densely that the zeitgeist is an almost visible riptide of emotion; I halfway expect it to sweep a car or two past the window when I look out.

“Oh, dear,” I’ll say as the Petersons float by, their black Jeep spinning in the current of communal panic as they peer out the windshield, unable to make it back to high ground. “It looks like the neighbors tried going out at the wrong time. Did someone just make another hateful speech or something? Oh, students are packing guns on college campuses now? That could explain a rising tide of paranoia. Man, that undertow looks bad.”

I did recently hear a college kid explain that he will be taking his pistol pretty much everywhere now that it’s legal to do so on his campus. He feels safer by keeping both his nervous system and his weapon ready to fire. I’d guess that he is no more or less scared than I am about, well, life.

I have to ask myself: Why am I at the keyboard instead of down at the shooting range?

An incredibly abbreviated and highly edited inventory: I’m afraid that the young men who rents next door will burn the place down with their bonfire ways, and my dogs will get caught somehow. I’m afraid that the people I pass on the street will want something from me, likely something I don’t have or don’t want to hand over. I’m afraid of having anything valuable, be it a salary or a shred of serenity, as I’ve seen both material and emotional resources plundered without mercy. I’m afraid the violence in the world will smack the self-obsession out of me in the worst possible way, leaving despair and broken bodies in place of my rumination and vague weeping.

I suppose that most of all, I am afraid of anger—my own and everyone else’s. That rage that sometimes turns into action, coursing through bodies as a liquid and absolute dictator, makes me have to lie down under the covers.

The evolutionary fact seems to be this: We are a species of frightened mammals, and we’re armed. We harbor the physiological chemistry of the trapped and cornered, the adrenalized focus of the desperate. And this scares the sh*t out of me.

I’ve seen myself panic and felt tunnel vision close in when threatened with losses of the most mundane and trivial kind. I viscerally understand both the raised hackles of those protecting what they have and the fury of those unfairly denied what they need. My body knows both of those experiences, and the news brings daily evidence that these primal forces are playing out between individuals and cultures in the most appalling ways.

So, why, again, am I typing rather than buying up ammo? I am very clearly part of the problem, and terrified of the rest of the problem, and I can understand making protection job number one.

What I’ve actually done with these fears for most of my life is try to make the world safer, more just, more ready for peace. My long history of sometimes frantic activism has been an attempt to change the surrounding world so that it will cause me less despair. At some level, it’s been my version of trying to bend a situation to my will with fire power. As long as my attempts to help are really an effort to control the world and make myself more comfortable in it, I am waging an unsustainable battle.

The world’s a big place and I’m going to wear down my trigger finger.

So, at the moment, instead of marching in protests or shopping at gun shows, I am sitting at home and writing. What I am trying to do is this: I am trying to disarm myself.

The one portion of discord and fear and rage for which I have sole responsibility is the portion I carry within myself. I decided to meet, and listen to, and write down the fears and rages, to welcome them onto the page and grieve with them. I do not want to carry their raw, unprocessed agenda into every interaction. I do not want to walk around packing heat of this kind. This is the one patch of torn humanity I have direct access to, and I want to heal it so that I will contribute less weaponry to the world.

I want to have something to offer besides my own panic, and it looks like I’ll have to build an oasis from which I can work. So, for now, I write.


Author: Shai White-Gilbertson

Image: andrew smith/flickr

Editor: Katarina Tavčar

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