Sunday, September 28, 2014

The achingly honest truth: What do we do when we're tired?

Yeah.  Still writing about it.  (If you don't know what "it" is, make sure to read part one...and if you're curious, part 2 and part 3).  As I start to prepare for Tuesday, and for going back to the classroom, and deciding what I will and won't say to my students...and deciding what I will and won't do to make myself feel safe...and deciding how I will and will not (or, more likely, can and cannot) mentally prepare myself for the challenge I know this will present for me, and my body, and my soul...I'm overwhelmed.  And I'm really freaking tired.

I'm going to be painfully honest here.  Painful for me, because I don't want to write this, kinda makes me look bad.  But I think honesty is important, because, I've heard, that my honesty sometimes illuminates truths for others, and that's something I can do, right?  I can write truth, even when I'm tired.

So here's the achingly honest, complicated truth: I wish I had not entered into this battle.  I wish I had been able to just chalk creepy-union-rep-dude up to just having poor social skills, and that I had never written about it, or talked about it, or emailed anyone about it.  I wish that every trace of that experience had never seen the light of day outside of that classroom. 

And here's the other part of that achingly honest, complicated truth: wishing that makes me feel like a bad person.  It makes me feel weak.  It makes me feel like a bad feminist.  It makes me feel like a fraud, and it makes me feel guilty.  How can I be this person who TEACHES about privilege and oppression and power and being an ally...and also want to sweep my own experiences under the rug and pretend they never happened, thus condoning and perpetuating the status quo?  How can I be a person who strives to be active in the world of social justice...and also actively silence myself and my experiences because of the very social constructs I want so badly to fight against?

The answer, of course, is startlingly simple: because I'm human.  Because even when -- perhaps especially when -- you are "awake" to these experiences, and can name what is wrong in them, and pick apart your reactions and identify them as being mediated by societal influences you want to fight...even then, you're still part of that sociocultural/political web of oppression.  Just because I can name these things, or write some semi-cogent thoughts about them, it doesn't mean I'm exempt.  It's easy to advocate for issues you do not personally live. 

I think, though, about how things never happen in a vacuum.  I think about how the response I received may be indicative of underlying issues throughout the organization that others are fighting (or maybe should be fighting, but are not).  I think about how I, as a teacher and not an undergraduate, may have a power and privilege and voice that would not be afforded to someone else fighting a similar concern.  I think about how I have been through a similar struggle before, and it may have given me knowledge and experience (and therefore power) that even other teachers may not have. 

Here's the final piece of that raw and throbbing truth: even though I don't want to, even though I know better, and even though I see entirely clearly what I am doing, I doubt my experience and the legitimacy of my concerns.  "Oh Autodidact," I say to myself, "you're making a big deal out of nothing.  You're just reacting this way because of things that happened in the past."   Or "you're just reacting this way because you're anxious."  Or even, I'm embarrassed to admit "you're just reacting this way because you're emotional and your hormones are out of whack."  (It's called internalized oppression, folks.  That shit's real).

And I guess that's the thing: I can academicize (is that a word?) the hell out of the thing.  I can talk theory, and rhetoric, and spew big words about these issues, and it doesn't change a bit of it.  It does not change my experience, or my reactions, or the way people respond to me.  When it comes down to it, I'm just as much of a fish in the sociocultural pond as the next person, and we're all struggling to see the water we're swimming in.  Even when you think you're seeing the water, you're not.  And even when you think you've accepted or rejected various components of the water, you haven't, really, because you're steeped in the stuff.  You're still breathing it, and marinating in it, and being subconsciously indoctrinated by it, even as you name it and reject it.  There's not a damn thing you can do about it, except continue to chip away at it and acknowledge that you're just another fish struggling to see the water we swim in.

That makes it all feel helpless, you know?  It makes me tired.  It makes me feel like it's not worth the fight.  I've been here before, in other ways.  I've lost here before.  This is perhaps both my greatest strength, and the thing that renders me immobile.

So my question, then, is this: how do we do this, even when we're tired?  How do we, any of us, continue our personal fights for justice and equality and safety as we continue to drink from the dirtied water and breathe the fumes of privilege, marginalization, and oppression?  How do we have the energy to fight, and to breathe, and to keep walking forward, knowing we walk into an air that is just as dirtied, and knowing that our streams are still polluted?  How do we have the strength to keep believing in the war when we lose battle after battle, and when we must come home and sit with those raw and painful truths? 

I'm not stupid...I know the answer is supposed to be "self-care."  It's supposed to be "supportive friends" and "breathing" or "yoga" or "smashing things like the Incredible Hulk" or whatever it is you do to make you able to re-engage.  But this...this is different, somehow.  This isn't just a "tired of people being assholes" struggle.  It's not just "sick of the jerks and their jerky-jerk ways."  This is a bone-tired sort of tired.  A world-weary sort of tired.

Other than writing...what do we do when we're tired? 


  1. I think all the great fighter/activist/poet/feminst people everywhere (especially those who are also clinical psychologists) have to do something equivalent to binge-watching Breaking Bad or re-reading Jurassic Park for the 10,000th time every once in awhile to turn off that part of their brain that is ANALYSIS, PROCESS, RADICAL HONESTY, PERSISTENT BATTLE, RAW TRUTH. Most of us can't survive without a little vacuousness now and then...

    1. Thanks, Lisa. I think you're right. I've just never been very good at finding the off switch for that part of my brain...even while binge-watching Breaking Bad or re-reading Jurassic Park. But you're definitely right...especially for those among us in the helping's important to get good at shutting the whole "THINKING INTENSELY ABOUT EVERYTHING" thing down.