Wise Words As an Antidote to a Wintry Morning’s Doom Scrolling

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I have a thing I called as a child “the ball of wax in the pit of my tummy,” AKA feelings of dread, guilt, anxiety that seem to lodge in my abdomen, causing what feels, aptly enough, like heartburn. I am a child of loss, and that ball of wax feeling was the way my body processed grief and alienation. As I scrolled through my Twitter feed this morning, that ball of wax sat, once again, uncomfortably behind my navel. 

I read that Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi has concluded, before President Biden has even announced his nominee, that the choice of any Black woman to fill Justice Breyer’s seat would be an “affirmative action” pick, clearly underqualified being the implication. “We’re going to go from a nice, stately liberal to someone who’s probably more in the style of Sonia Sotomayor,” Wicker said. Umhmm…how to combine racism, misogyny and a stunning personal insult to a two-time Ivy League graduate in the same short sentence. 

A few tweets down came this from Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin about childcare subsidies: “Well, people decide to have families and become parents. That’s something they need to consider when they make that choice. I’ve never really felt it was society’s responsibility to take care of other people’s children.” Umhmm…how to rank human life lower than ethanol, big meat, big oil, big pharma, those “corporations are people” entities that receive subsidies from the federal government. Also, how to assume that all pregnancy that results in a live birth is a choice, given the GOP’s attitude toward abortion.

Back to the ball of wax feeling. 

Why dread? Because when these two senators and their like-minded colleagues are back in the majority in the Senate, instead of merely blocking every piece of legislation that isn’t about tax cuts or deregulation or war mongering or subsidies to big corporations they will actively promote their conservative white male social and cultural agenda legislating against women’s bodies, black bodies, immigrant bodies, Muslim bodies, Jewish bodies, poor bodies … any bodies they deem not to be “real American” bodies.

As a retired, financially comfortable white woman I am presumably not at immediate risk, but I do feel assaulted every day by the effort at social control exerted by what used to be the fringe and is now the heart of the Republican Party, by the toxic public discourse, by the literal threat of catching COVID from some unvaccinated arrogant superspreader like Sarah Palin, by the selfishness of it all.

Why guilt? Because I do not feel I am doing enough to combat the sexism, racism, bigotry, “me first” philosophy that is now the quiet part said out loud. The part that is couched in the words “white discomfort.” The part that advocates banning books like Maus and Beloved and To Kill a Mockingbird. The part that encourages snitching on your child’s teacher for offending your ahistorical white supremacist views. The part that equates compassion with being a radical leftist. The part that is fine with the death of fellow Americans from a preventable disease. The part that funds the military with no questions asked but can’t pony up for paid leave to care for an ill family member or a new mother.

It is obvious why so many people like me feel anxiety in the face of the deterioration of social cohesion, community-mindedness, even in some cases family comity. The feeling of loss is so hard to shake off, and in my case so deeply ingrained in my body that it is like a cancerous dolor that recurs time and again, resistant to repeated doses of hope, of mindfulness, of actions to make just a small contribution to making the world a better place. 

I am tempted to numb myself, but to do so would be to give up on my humanity, my optimism, my bulwarks against complicity. I remember the wise words of the brilliant Willa Cather: “The test of one’s decency is how much of a fight one can put up after one has stopped caring.” To keep up the fight, to fend off indecency, to melt the ball of wax in my tummy I ride out the dread, the guilt, the anxiety by writing it out. From that first black and white marble covered notebook to this rose gold MacBook Air, putting words to the feelings has made them lighter, dispersed them, invited fresh thoughts to fill the vacuum, allowed me to keep up the fight.

That, and returning to the wellspring of whatever faith I have, the plain words of my Quaker forebears:

  • “Thee lift me and I’ll lift thee and we’ll ascend together,” goes the Quaker proverb I learned as a child. 
  • Next, the seventeenth century version of “Let peace begin with me” from William Penn: “If we would mend the World, we should mend Ourselves; and teach our Children to be, not what we are, but what they should be.” 
  • And last, but certainly not least, as Penn wrote and lived, “Right is right, even if everyone is against it, and wrong is wrong even if everyone is for it.”  

Stand fast for the future, for the children, for the right I tell myself, and you, too dear reader, so that we may all ascend together out of this moment of uncaring, of indecency.

26 thoughts on “Wise Words As an Antidote to a Wintry Morning’s Doom Scrolling”

  1. The day Trump won the republican nomination, I joked on twitter: the headlines this morning remind me of the last sentence of the first chapter of a really scary dystopian novel. It’s almost absurd how prescient that turned out to be. What would have been shocking and appalling seven years ago is now commonplace. I’m personally beaten down by it. Your quote: “The test of one’s decency is how much of a fight one can put up after one has stopped caring” really speaks to me. it’s exactly where I am now. The ongoing swing towards indecency–which once made me pissed–now just makes me sad. I’m resigned to it. America has shown it’s true colors.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Trish, you have captured so beautifully what so many of us feel. As I write often about politics and social issues—not because I want to but because I feel I have to—I am constantly trying to figure out how to do more, say things more persuasively, etc.

    It’s exhausting, I know, and my mindfulness meditation doesn’t always help, but so many are suffering…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh Trish. This is . . . what? It’s so good: so righteously, furiously, frightening good. I stopped watching the news for a while, a good while, because I just couldn’t stand the horror show shit show any longer. I’ve been watching again because I figure the least I can do is be aware. I missed Wicker’s comment, but heard Johnson’s, and both are appalling. How can we still be here, or be back here? How can every single Republican vote against every single bill, which at least half of them surely must know would help this be the best country it can be? I just don’t understand. Thank you for writing down the story. I will share it.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Yes, yes, yes.
    Thanks for the articulate way in which you make these points. When I find myself talking about these things I can feel my blood pressure rising. I don’t think I’m doing enough either. Fury isn’t futile, but as Ben Franklin said “never confuse motion with action”. I will look to do more, and in the meantime I’m sharing this, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Bonnie. We must keep on keeping on! I am watching much less news as well, but I refuse to become complicit by being apathetic. Maintaining the balance between self care and civic engagement is hard but essential.

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  5. Trish, your remarks are spot on and so wonderfully stated. After the 2020 election, I got involved in the Indivisible movement, even chairing a committee. For an introvert, it was an unsustainable commitment. Does guilt then come into play? If you care about people at all, that seems a given. But when people keep electing these selfish, bigoted pricks into office, it becomes clear that we really are on a downward trajectory of our own devising. I just hope the kind folks do their best to keep doing what they do. You can’t fight hate with hate.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Exactly! It is so hard to stay positive, but we must continue to envision the kind of future we want for generations to come, and continue to work toward it despite the day-to-day difficulty. When good people get demoralized, evil takes over.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. So brilliantly stated, Trish.

    This is a topic I’ve struggled with my entire life. With each new injustice, assault, stupidity, I encounter, I ask myself how should I react, act, push back? It feels overwhelming. There’s just too much to react to.

    I finally decided that I – one being – can only choose a small piece of the world on which I can focus, for which I can advocate with energy. Others will choose their own small pieces. As we each individually do what we can, collectively – unknowingly and lacking coordination – the impact might, I hope, bend that arc toward justice. That’s the best my mind can grasp.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your description is exactly like what James Madison envisioned in Federalist No. 5. Shifting interest/advocatacy groups that in the totality would represent every need. As someone who wants to be decent in this world, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the number of wrongs to be righted, but also have decided that I cannot take on everything or I will accomplish nothing.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I will try again now. Although my post doesn’t always keep to its title of “Saved By Words,” I do espouse the second line from Adrienne Rich ” When a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her.” Clearly your post does that. I refuse to roll over and let a minority try to “take back” “their” country. It wasn’t and isn’t owned by this minority.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Ron Johnson is anti-abortion and anti-childcare. Makes NO sense to me. Biden’s comment about choosing a black woman? IMO he should, simply, come up with a slate of candidates — including black women — and then choose one. When I heard him say that, my first thought was, “That’s no basis for choosing a Supreme Court Justice.” Fortunately, it can’t be the only reason and I’m sure, even for him, it isn’t. But his statement gave the noisy idiots fuel which made me wonder if he enjoys the split, the divisions, the distractions. I don’t know. I supported him whole-heartedly, but I don’t think he’s the smartest person.

    My thoughts now about all of this is that it’s too easy to become paralyzed by a feeling of “What’s going to happen next?” and be flotsam and jetsam in the chaos that is — I think — often manufactured by the press which has its own imperative (make money). It’s so easy to get sucked into that mire; I’m sure not invulnerable to it. The media has not told the stories about the success of this administration and all the things that are working. The difficult (but obvious) explanation for current inflation isn’t sensational or interesting. Rump keeps himself in the news by saying things like if he were elected in 2024, he’d pardon the insurrectionists. All the inflammatory stuff gets the crowds excited. Bread and circuses. I AM blaming the media (including social media) but the real culprits are us.

    I went to an eye doctor in my town and walked out when all the magazines in his office were Newsmax and he had photocopied signs taped to his wall about his passionate support of veterans. I get THAT; his daughter was killed in Iraq and he’s inconsolable. But his belief in the ultra-right wing pro-veteran language gave me the sense that though he might be a Doc of optometry, I wasn’t going to trust him with my eyes. One of the few attorneys in my town has similar printed signs in his window about how anyone who comes in there wearing a mask won’t be allowed to use his legal services. There are “Let’s Go Brandon” signs in various inappropriate places like in front of the Baptist church. It’s really really messed up; we are really messed up. The crazy thing to me about all this is that these are all for profit entities who are willing to lose customers over their idiot media-driven beliefs.

    SO…I decided the best I can do is be nice to the people around me, write my story, walk my dogs and while that might sound like “giving up” it seems to me that every one of us who doesn’t make things worse and persists in living a good life according to our lights has done a LOT. Keep writing and don’t let the bastards get to you. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Life is full of trade offs, isn’t it. You live in an absolutely beautiful little corner of the world, but then you have to deal with being in Lauren Bobert’s district, and with the kinds of people you describe. Of course you need to protect yourself from that onslaught. I live surrounded by people who share my views, for the most part anyway, but the trade off is dirty streets and more noise than I sometimes find acceptable. I do live near the Hudson and beautiful parks, so I am not in the concrete jungle per se, and that keeps me sane, as do the pets, especially Dev. I am getting very frustrated with the news coverage too — the both sides nonsense, the negativity for clicks, the inside the beltway perspectives, the horse race coverage rather than substantive information. But at this point even if that weren’t the case the silos we all live in would mean that your eye doctor and local lawyer and Baptist congregants wouldn’t know the difference anyway. I’m just writing, reading, loving my family and friends, staying informed but trying not to get too obsessed with things I cannot control.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Trish – a brilliant one!! Loved this so much. You express so many of my own feelings. I thought – she needs to have an Op Ed position at a great newspaper! Anyway – thank you. And the Willa Cather quote was also brilliant.

    Take care! And I guess they’re still delivering some packages because you have a big one outside your door this morning!

    Sue

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Liked by 2 people

  10. You have put so succinctly the internal struggle many of us are feeling as well as the feeling of helplessness around how to create change. When a problem feels so big, it’s hard to think about individual actions making a difference–and yet I believe they do. Thank you for sharing–it was brave to be so vulnerable (Brene Brown is applauding:)).

    Like

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