‘Survival Math,’ Is A Memoir About Growing Up Black In Oregon
‘You have a vision and keep at it, bit by bit it will happen.’
From a friend.
Today seems like the right time to do a thread I’ve been thinking about for a while on how to handle the seemingly never-ending deluge of depressing and disturbing news. My tips are based on my time as a CIA military analyst in which I dealt daily with disturbing content.
1. TAKE ACTION. Volunteer for a food pantry, canvass for a political candidate, donate to a NGO, visit a sick friend. Seriously. Service of some kind in your community lets you be part of SOLUTIONS. You will see RESULTS when otherwise you’d feel helpless.2. Conversely, for those who may take tip #1 to the extreme–know that you alone can’t save the world. Accept your limits. You aren’t a 7/11. You can’t always be open. At the end of every day when I reached my limit, I silently told myself, “I’ve done what I can today.”(Note: Repeating that to myself did not stop me from feeling like I could have done more most days. But it was important to tell myself anyway because I am human. We are human. It’s good we *feel* things.)3. RESEARCH BEFORE PANICKING. Easier said than done, but everything will seem like crisis/earth-ending if you don’t know what has/hasn’t happened before. If it has happened before, it’s can be hugely comforting to know how it was resolved and/or what might happen next.4. GET UP & MOVE. Put the phone away, turn off the TV, log out of Twitter. Go for a walk, sit outside, get some coffee, call a friend. CIA is full of ppl walking the building with a colleague/friend. There’s a reason. Our brains & bodies need breaks from stressful content.5. SET RULES. Because of my work at CIA, I had a rule–I only read fiction at home. I had enough reality at work. In the civilian world, I set blocks of time each day where I turn everything off–no news or social media. Let yourself recharge so you can keep fighting later.
6. AVOID DARK HOLES. (I’m sure there’s a joke to be made about that.) It’s easy to get sucked into the swirl of bad news. You watch a gruesome YouTube video and the next one is all queued up to play right after it. Focus on one issue at a time. Deal w/ it before moving on.
7. YOU NEED FUN. When there is suffering, war, despair, etc. around you, it’s easy to feel guilty when you have fun, feel happy, have a good meal with friends. You NEED these things. You will be better able to do good in the world if you let yourself have these things.
8. TALK TO SOMEONE. Often, we curl inward socially when overwhelmed w/ negative content. It’s a means of protection. One of the great things at CIA was that everyone else knew what you were going through. Whether it’s therapy or talking to your person, talking helps.
Wednesday, April 4, 2018
50th Anniversary of the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
If you lose hope, somehow you lose that vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of all. And so today I still have a dream. —Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)
“Deep knowing and presence do not happen with our thinking minds. To truly know something, our whole being must be open, awake, and present. We intuitively knew how to be present as babies. Psychologists now say there is no such thing as an infant. There’s only an infant/caregiver.
In the first several months, from the infant’s view, they are one and the same. Infants see themselves entirely mirrored in their family’s eyes; they soon believe and become this vision. Contemplative prayer offers a similar kind of mirroring, as we learn to receive and return the divine gaze.
In his book Coming to Our Senses, historian Morris Berman makes the point that our first experience of life is not merely a visual or audio one of knowing ourselves through other people’s facial and verbal responses; it is primarily felt in the body. He calls this feeling kinesthetic knowing. We know ourselves in the security of those who hold us, skin to skin. This early knowing is not so much heard, seen, or thought. It’s felt.
Psychologists say that when we first begin to doubt and move outside of that kinesthetic knowing, we hold onto things like teddy bears and dolls. My little sister, Alana, had the classic security blanket as a baby. She dragged it everywhere until it was dirty and ragged, but we could not take it away from her. Children do such things to reassure themselves that they are still connected and one. But we all begin to doubt this primal union as the subject/object split of a divided world slowly takes over, usually by age seven. Body/mind/world/self all start getting split apart; we begin to see the basic fault lines in the world—and the rest of life will be spent trying to put it all back together again.
It seems we all must leave the Garden of Eden, the state of innocence and blissful, unconscious union. We can’t stay there, letting mother gaze at us forever. Unfortunately, if that primal knowing never happened at all, immense doubt arises about whether there even is a garden (“God”) where all things are one and good. When family systems disintegrate, people live with doubt and uncertainty. I am sure God fully understands. It is surely why Jesus says, “It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble” (Luke 17:2).
Hopefully, our parents’ early gaze told us we were foundationally beloved. But when we inevitably begin to see ourselves through eyes that compare, judge, and dismiss, then we need spirituality to help heal the brokenness of our identity and our world. True spirituality is always bringing us back to the original bodily knowing that is unitive experience, which is why you cannot do it all in the head!”
‘Hope for me is deeply tied to the fact that we don’t know what will happen. This gives us grounds to act.’
“On January 18th, 1915, six months into the first world war, as all Europe was convulsed by killing and dying, Virginia Woolf wrote in her journal, ‘The future is dark, which is on the whole, the best thing the future can be, I think.’ Dark, she seems to say, as in inscrutable, not as in terrible. We often mistake the one for the other. Or we transform the future’s unknowability into something certain, the fulfillment of all our dread, the place beyond which there is no way forward. But again and again, far stranger things happen than the end of the world.
BOB GARFIELD: I want to read you a note from a father to his three daughters on election night, after the kids had pledged a compact to invest their next four years in looking inwards towards the family and relationships and the things that mattered to them the most. The note went as follows:
“Yes, we must look inwards and cherish one another, holding onto our precious love where our own values seem so under attack. But please, we must not retreat from the world, we must never stop believing in and fighting for what is just and sane. Loathe as I am to be a backseat driver in your lives, I do implore you, be courageous. Live your life fighting the fight.”
I’m intimately familiar with those sentiments because I wrote them, but notwithstanding my encouragement to my daughters, no matter what the scope of history one day will provide, in the foreseeable future we are likely as a society to go abruptly and maybe irretrievably backwards on civil rights, human rights, climate, sanity.
REBECCA SOLNIT: You’re talking about two different things, how do we feel and what do we do. And I’m not telling people how to feel, I’m telling people that there is scope for action. One of the great conundrums is that unless we believe there are possibilities we don’t act, but the possibilities only exist if we seize them. And so, a lot of what I’ve been trying to do is encourage people to recognize there is an extraordinary history of popular power in the US but also around the world. I’m not an optimist, as you said in your introduction. Optimism believes that everything will be fine, no matter what we do and, therefore, we don’t have to do a damn thing. Pessimism is the mirror image of that – that believes that everything’s going to hell in a hand basket, and it gets us off the hook. We don’t have to do anything.
Hope for me is deeply tied to the fact that we don’t know what will happen. This gives us grounds to act. And the Trump administration is such an amplifier of uncertainty. Will the guy have some kind of breakdown? Will he get impeached? Will he start World War IV? Will the Republican Party split? Will the Democratic Party find its backbone? So I think that there’s grounds to stay engaged, while being clear that terrible things are happening and we should mourn them.
You keep wanting to talk about despair and I’m just not very interested in it. The situation on climate, which I spent a lot of time looking at and trying to do something about as an activist, is really bleak but there’s wiggle room in there. You know, a lot of extraordinary stuff is happening and it’s happening in very complex ways. One thing that not very many people have noticed, because it’s a change so incremental, is that the technology of renewable non-carbon energy has evolved so dramatically over the last dozen years that we’re in a completely different place than we were at the beginning of the millennium. Bloomberg News ran a story yesterday that within the decade solar power is likely to be cheaper than coal, which is the cheapest fossil fuel. We actually have the energy solutions and they are being adapted pretty rapidly in a lot of places.
You know, we also are looking at the Antarctic ice shelf cracking. We’re looking at sea level rise. We’re looking at chaotic weather. We’re in a very deep crisis. You know, and I want people to be able to hold both of those things. We’re not talking about a future that’s already written.
What we get from the mainstream media over and over and over is a story that what we do doesn’t matter. We have had huge impacts. We have changed what constitutes what’s acceptable and ordinary in innumerable ways. You can tell the story of same-sex marriages, oh, the Supreme Court in its beneficence handed this nice thing down to us, but the Supreme Court decided that this was normal because millions of people had transformed our society in powerful ways over decades about what was normal, and so they did what seemed reasonable, but we defined what reasonable is.
The future is not yet written. What the story is depends on what we make it, and that’s really what I’m here to say.”
Rebecca Solnit is a writer, historian and activist. She’s the author of Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities.
[Full Interview on WNYC/On The Media: https://www.wnyc.org/story/otm-rebecca-solnit-hope-lies-and-making-change/]
[Photo: Prayer Wheel in Sun Valley, Idaho]
‘May the frightened cease to be afraid and those bound be freed; may the powerless find power, and may people think of benefitting one another.’ Shantideva
“Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing true or beautiful makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love.”
‘To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.’
“Cultural memory, the hope of history, is often as potent as historical fact.”
-Bettany Hughes, Historian/author
‘Giving and receiving, loving and being loved, I rejoice with all creation and find in field and flower and running brook, in the sunshine and in the stillness of the night, that One Presence that fills everything. I enter into the harmony of eternal peace, into the joy of knowing that I am now in the harmony of eternal peace, into the joy of knowing that I am now in the kingdom of Gaia, which no person is excluded.’
-Science of Mind
[photo: Port Angeles, Washington, Tuesday, January 17th, 2017]
Trying to release the collective heartbreak of the past year and embrace hope; that the kindness and compassion of so many in our country will continue to work and strive within community to overcome the senseless greed, hate and lies that our country’s new leadership is seemingly embracing. I will not give up, or in, but RESIST. And love.
‘And if your breath to you is worth saving
Then you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changing…’
︶⁀°• •° ⁀︶
I see you.
I am here.
[African Bushmen greeting]
‘To have who we are and where we’ve been be seen. For with this simple and direct affirmation, it is possible to claim our own presence, to say, “I Am Here.”
But just as important as bearing witness is the joy with which these bushmen proclaim what they see. It is the joy of first seeing and first knowing. This is a gift of love.
In a culture that erases its humanity, that keeps the act of innocence and beginning invisible, we are sorely in need of being seen with joy, so we can proclaim with equal astonishment that of all the amazing things that could have been or not, We Are Here.
As far back as we can remember, people of the oldest tribes, unencumbered by civilization, have been rejoicing in being on earth together. Not only can we do this for each other, it is essential. For as stars need open space to be seen, as weaves need shore to crest, as dew needs grass to soak into, our vitality depends on how we exclaim and rejoice, “I See you!” I Am Here!”
︶⁀°• •° ⁀︶
N E W Y E A R ‘ S D A Y
‘We have been given the ability to inititate a new chain of causation. There is but One Mind and we use it. The laws of nature are universal, but our use of them is individual and personal.
Everyting is continually being re-created. Spirit is forever making all things new. Let us confidently affirm the Divine Presence and actually believe that It is guiding us as we consciously bring a problem we are facing into our thought, not as a problem, but as though we were receiving the answer.
I am open to new ideas, new hopes, and new aspirations. This which so recently seemed a problem no longer exists, for the Mind of God, which knows the answer, is quietly flowing through my thought and feeling. Great peace and joy come over me as I accept this answer from the Giver of all Life.’
-Science of Mind
︶⁀°• •° ⁀︶
“We need senators who have studied physics and representatives who understand ecology.”
‘I wondered if you realized how long is your past, and how much more there is in your future. I remembered a Peanuts cartoon that my family likes. Lucy is saying to Charlie Brown, “On the oceans of the world are many ships, and some of them carry passengers. One of the things the passengers like to do is to sit on the deck and watch the water. Some of the passengers like to face forward, so they can see where they are going, and some like to face backwards, to see where they have been.” And then Lucy asks Charlie, “On the ship of life, which way are you going to place your chair: to see where you are going or to see where you have been?” And Charlie Brown replies, “I can’t seem to get my chair unfolded.’
‘And now, you must turn your chairs to face the future. You are concerned tonight with more than the fate of atoms. You need jobs, admissions to graduate schools, research support; you want a healthy planet, space, choices. Individually, you will be called by many names: spouse, partner, teacher, professor, writer, representative, president, CEO, doctor, judge, regent. Some will be called scientists. For those of you who teach science, I hope that you will welcome, as students, those who do NOT intend to be scientists, as well as those who DO. We need senators who have studied physics and representatives who understand ecology.’
– Vera Rubin, pioneering astronomer
︶⁀°• •° ⁀︶
Attitude is the most important choice any of us will make. We made it yesterday and we get another choice to make it today. And then again tomorrow.
The choice to participate.
To be optimistic.
To intentionally bring out the best in other people.
We make the choice to inquire, to be curious, to challenge the status quo.
To give people the benefit of the doubt.
To find hope instead of fear in the face of uncertainty.
Of course these are attitudes. What else could they be?
And of course, they are a choice. No one does these things to us. We choose them and do the work (and find the benefits) that come with them.
‘Always be a little kinder than necessary. It’s the only way we’re going to climb out of this hole.’
-“Peter Pan” author J.M. Barrie
‘Without hope there is no meaning. Without meaning there is no hope.’
‘For me, hope without memory is like memory without hope.’
Critical thinking without hope is cynicism. Cynicism without critical thinking is naïveté.
The moment passed long ago, but despair, defeatism, cynicism, and the amnesia and assumptions from which they often arise have not dispersed, even as the most wildly, unimaginably magnificent things came to pass. There is a lot of evidence for the defense… Progressive, populist, and grassroots constituencies have had many victories. Popular power has continued to be a profound force for change. And the changes we’ve undergone, both wonderful and terrible, are astonishing.
This is an extraordinary time full of vital, transformative movements that could not be foreseen. It’s also a nightmarish time. Full engagement requires the ability to perceive both.
There’s a public equivalent to private depression, a sense that the nation or the society rather than the individual is stuck. Things don’t always change for the better, but they change, and we can play a role in that change if we act. Which is where hope comes in, and memory, the collective memory we call history.
You row forward looking back, and telling this history is part of helping people navigate toward the future. We need a litany, a rosary, a sutra, a mantra, a war chant for our victories. The past is set in daylight, and it can become a torch we can carry into the night that is the future.
We make one.
‘Shannon Weber decided that there wasn’t enough love, recognition or connection in her world, so she did something about it. When she finds an unsung (don’t say ‘ordinary’ hero) she makes them cape.
Caping people, catching them doing something right, shining a light on a familiar hero.
It turns out that this is way more difficult than being cynical, or ironic, or bitter. Being closed is a lot easier than being connected. It takes guts.
What kind of impact does one act of kindness make? It can last for years.
Go, cape someone.’
‘Today the obligation is on us to make our own magic. To find two sticks and turn them into a game. To organize our own conversations, find our own connections… most of all, to bring generosity and energy to communities that don’t have enough of either one.
Freedom and leverage is great, but it comes with responsibility. We’re all curators/concierges/impresarios now.
If the association or the chat room or the street corner isn’t what you need it to be, why not make it into the thing we’re hoping for?’
“Sometimes it’s when we feel that all hope is lost that a better life begins to emerge.”
When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.