on life in a rolling disaster
Writing mentor and friend Kristine Kathryn Rusch wrote a recent Patreon blog about the need for creative people to give ourselves some space right now.*
Breathing room is important. I’ve been watching people around me struggle. I’ve been watching violence erupting in the streets as anti-vaxxers and white supremacists rally, prepared for violence against anyone who disagrees. I’ve been watching people facing eviction. Hurricanes smashing city infrastructures. Floods. Fires. Wars. Mass displacement. Rising temperatures and water levels. Melting ice, dead salmon, shrinking habitats. Billionaires getting richer. Orange skies.
The toll is huge, in pain, loss, and in the emotional and psychic burden caused by simply caring about it all.
For some of us, it makes it hard to sleep.
For others, it makes it hard to get out of bed.
Others of us slow down or crash from anger or despair.
Some of us bury ourselves in work, hoping the problems will go away if we do something—anything—else hard enough.
Doom scrolling. Volunteering. Mutual aid. Raising funds. Helping friends and family. All of is happening right now as we scramble to figure out the shape of the world as it is.
And yeah, there is still fruit on the trees, flowers blooming, fledglings molting. There is still water to carry, and smiles to be had.
I’m grateful. Even in the midst of the pain.
And I’m once again reassessing, and cultivating ways to slow down inside.
Covid-19 and its variants and the consequences of the bungled response from governments and all the rest? Not going away.
Refugees? Not going away.
Climate disaster—which many of us have been shouting warnings about for decades? Not going away.
Greed and the consequently brutal poverty? Not going away.
We are living in the new normal, and we need to figure out how we can adjust to treating this as the long haul.
As an individual, I recently did a major reassessment, with the attitude that all this is not a temporary blip. These rolling crises are just the way life is.
This enabled me to add up my projected work projects, my health vagaries, the stress of current life, my physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, and the needs of folks around me, and folks experiencing crisis further away.
Then I reworked my business plan. I now have a flexible, adjustable plan that keeps me moving toward concrete goals, while including plenty of breathing room. Plenty of space to go for walks. To take photographs. To read. To watch a movie. To have the occasional outdoor dinner or writing date with vaccinated friends.
I’ve always been ambitious, but ambition cannot rule out the need to plan for hardship. If we are always working full tilt toward our goals? Not only do we miss out on life and learning and beautiful moments, we also have no capacity to deal with crisis, short or long term.
So I’ve tailored my ambitions to a less stressful pace. That adjustment meant that just this week, I was able to add something to my plate. A project that will both help me learn some things about my craft, and meet some ancillary goals.
Didn’t that add stress? No. It has done the opposite. Flexibility, remember? Long term goals. By adding this project, I’m internally taking stress off all my other projects. Putting them into perspective. Making them not “important.”
Creating stories, running a publishing company, and connecting with my community? They’re just things that I do, like prayer and meditation, my daily walks, drinking tea, and talking with neighborhood cats.
I’m in this for the long haul, inside this new normal in what could be a pretty terrifying world.
Just as I reassessed my personal business plan, we can do this as communities.
Look around. Who is actually helping people, on the ground? Can you find ways to support them?
Look around. Are there people at work you can organize with?
Is there a free pantry in your neighborhood that needs regular stocking? Does your neighborhood need a free pantry?
Do friends need childcare?
Are there immigrants who need help navigating local systems? Children who need tutoring? Elders who need wood chopped or medicines delivered? Are there pipelines to stop? Oil companies to disrupt? Trans or queer youth who need support? Unhoused people who need back up, or clothing washed, or support interfacing with City Hall? Generic Plan B to be purchased, stockpiled, or gotten to groups helping folks in anti-abortion states?
As infrastructure crumbles and is washed or burned away, setting up systems of community mutual aid is necessary for this long haul. For as many of us to survive and have a chance to strive, we must help one another.
Take stock. What resources, skills, or talents do you have to share? What resources, skills, or talents do other community members have? How can you network with each other so resources and skills are shared, rather than hoarded or gone unused?
What do your neighbors need?
What do you have to offer?
Slow down. Take a deep breath in. Pause a moment. Then exhale, slowly.
If the world we live in now is indeed the new normal, how can you adjust?
How will you adjust?
What personal choices and plans must you reassess?
What community efforts are possible?
Where do you fit in?
We all have a beautiful life to live, right now.
We all have plans, goals, and things to offer. We all need rest, and beauty, and time.
What is one way you can offer yourself more space?
What is one way you can lower your stress levels, and allow body, heart, mind, and soul to breathe a bit more easily?
What can you gift yourself, today, that will support your longevity and resilience? Did you drink some water? Take your meds? Talk with a friend? Get some sleep? Exercise? Escape into a book, movie, or music for a bit? Experience nature?
And what can you offer the world? If not today, then this week. If not this week, this month.
Don’t know the answers to some of these questions?
I encourage you to take the time to ponder, brainstorm, write things down. Then talk to your friends and neighbors.
If we’re in this—together—for the long haul, we need a plan.
*if you are a writer, I highly recommend Kris’s Patreon. It’s chock full of great insights. Kris also runs a weekly business blog on her website.
This is reader-funded writing. I am so grateful to all of my Patreon supporters that make these essays possible. They’re the best.