If we weren’t both trying to do something way bigger than us, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. We’d be having brunch, maybe, talking about shoes…which is way easier & probably why so many people opt out. If I hadn’t walked by a human being sleeping in a stairwell with a pizza box for a pillow on this cold November day, I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog.
Forgive my response to your two paragraphs of “Why bother?” I know you wrote it out of frustration. You’re working retail at the holidays, exposed to base human impulses of capitalism. I took it as personal criticism, became defensive & responded curtly, which was mean & not terribly enlightened. I do know better. For that I am sincerely sorry. I am; because I adore you–because you are funny, & smart & you give a damn & get out in the streets (Ah, pity we in the streets because we’re not sure what else to do alongside the phone banking & meetings & letters to congressmen). You, Phyllis, fight for what’s right, over & over, even though you are tired & just sick of it all & sick of everybody & wish people on the sidelines would get up & provide some relief & maybe it’s all just futile, like you said.
On a good day, I would argue that it is not, the fight, the protests, even if the only value is symbolic, a shout out that we’re not all crazy Nazis…that’s worth something in my dog-eared, coffee-stained book. Anyway, you’ve done that for years, because you’re a good person with a good soul & a living beating heart. You get out there & do whatever you can with spirit & so much panache’ that I greatly admire– when so many people, people in a position to do something, people with stability & resources & half way descent health can’t be bothered. You’ve always been on the front lines of Good. It’s how I met you–on the barricades.
You wrote that you ‘need convincing,’ which is not the same as, ‘want’ convincing, which (I fear to venture a guess) is maybe what you meant. Or you wanted to back out without disappointing anyone…me, which is totally fair. To want convincing is a plea for encouragement while to need convincing is a challenge, a throwing down of gloves. The two draw on very different energies. One of which I have the other of which I do not. I have very little power or sway over anyone in this world. I can not convince anyone of anything, beyond myself. Whether or not a body at this point in history chooses to oppose tyranny or capitulate, how one choses to do what, that we will each have to figure out at 3a.m. on our own. It’s a wearying & sloppy job, resistance to Big Power…fighting evil…not like Marvel Comics at all, really.
It is among my failings, lapsing into unfounded flair ups of enthusiasm. At times, that enthusiasm meets other people’s enthusiasm and something good grows out of it, sometimes. Other times, I run out of gas & am a grave disappointment to myself & others. I am sorry I disappointed you. And please, be assured, I think no less of you for not wanting to go. You are a solid peace warrior…absolutely commendable. Self-care & pacing have to be top priority for people like you who have taken it upon themselves for years to advocate for a sane, humane society on top of the demands of the excessively demanding human world we live in.
As we all are, I’m concerned that Hitler 2.0 is tottling into the greatest seat of power the world has ever known in about 40 days & there is no one to stop him left but us. And I can’t say with any conviction that we’re up to the job. I wish we were the Meek, here to inherit The Earth, but I’m almost sure we’re not. I don’t know that The Meek ever get to call the shots. The Dems & UN don’t seem up to the task…can’t be bothered either it seems. Very busy.
In spite of how depressing that is, I’m also thrilled to see how many people aren’t having it…all over the world, people are standing up to challenge capital ‘P’ Power. I’m emboldened by the courage I see of people like the Water Protectors. They make me think humans can be as beautiful as they are horrible & maybe we are worth fighting for after all. If I have to go out, I want to go out trying to be a fraction as good as they are…in that spirit of conviction & defiance of evil. (‘Evil’ is fair lexicon game these days as far as I’m concerned.) At the end of my life, I want there to be no doubt I was on the side of the Protectors….even if, as I often suspect, we may have already lost. (Sandy Hook was the turning point we all kept waiting for…it’s just that, well, we lost that one, and the next and the next.)
There is nobility in the Good fight. Hell, yeah, more than I don’t, I DO want to ride a stinky bus 18 hours to take a selfie on the Mall with my 1 million sisters & friends. I DO want that documentation that I opposed Fascism & White Supremacy with everything I had in me, however inadequate everything left in me is. In all my vanity, I admit, I want that down for the record, even if there is no one left to know & no one I know really cares all that much, even if I ride the bus with strangers. I want that for myself.
I apologize sincerely if my enthusiasm led me to mislead you & others into thinking I am competent enough to organize a train trip, a bus trip or my own sock drawer. I may have not come straight out with that disclaimer. Perhaps I should have. As Kira once said, “Don’t put me in charge. I’m irresponsible.” Better late than never, maybe. I should have just signed up for a bus, shut up & left the driving to the Experts. My ambitions, once again, outweigh my means. These are the perils of my grandiosity, of reaching beyond my station. Usually I contain these reveries, don’t let them seep out of my studio apartment. Occasionally, one gets loose on me. I am sorry I got you involved.
It is a weakness of mine that I am quick to hurt. I am easy to knock down & when I fall there is nothing but pavement to break my fall, only me to dust me off. I am “overly sensitive,” which is a pejorative & dangerous thing in a dog-eat-dog world. I am ill-equipped for such a hostile, high-maintenance world & rarely measure up. I am on to myself that way, you know. A person living on $4/day, just doesn’t have any business trying to be in charge. I’ve got half a slab of bacon & a box of Ferina cereal meal from the food pantry & $9 to get me through ‘til Dec. 3rd. Who do I think I am thinking I have the power to change anything, let alone the course of history? I wake every day asking myself, “Why bother?” And then, every day, I don’t throw myself in front of the train because who would feed the cats?
Plus, there’s a million things I want to do, like work on that new painting or hop on a bus to D.C. and join the fight, go meet a million sane people who have hearts, see with my own weary eyes that they truly exist. In that I am lucky & rich, in possessing curiosity, in never being bored. I have been taken down at the knees & killed more times than I can count for hoping against hope. So every day I have to ask myself, “How can you be so fucking gullible?…Again.” “Why bother?” We didn’t come into the world with, “Why Bother?” in our hearts. We gave that to one another until we learned to give it to ourselves. Ubiquitous screens blink Perfect People we can never be at us 24-7. The Perfect People hover above us, billboard Gods flashing unnatural Chiclets-white toothy smiles, sizing us up, winking & saying, “Why bother?” As I write this one cat is howling, the other, throwing up in my discarded shoe. Why bother.
So, yes, when I saw a huge, “Why bother?” coming from you—you who are consistently optimistic, I should have been encouraging, kind. That it felt like a slap in the face, an indictment, blinded me to my generous impulses. I wasn’t strong enough to get past that. When you needed encouragement, empathy & light-heartedness, I came up short with retribution & a heavy heart. It felt like the voice I hear every day when I pick up a paintbrush or dare type a word that says, “Who do you think you are?” I responded curtly to your discouragement being dumped on my feeble bus trip organizing project. You were annoyed that I didn’t have a good plan or even a solid Plan B. I interpreted your words of discouragement as one more external, “Not good enough.” You hurt me so I hurt you back which is never helpful, or what grown ups are supposed to behave like, & seems to be happening all over the place these days, even as we cotton on to what lousy communicators we really are. We who amusedly scoffed at the squeaks of dolphins are starting to think they’re the ones who got it all right. And, with all that…we keep trying to do better.
Phyllis, I value your friendship. I apologize. We are both threadbare. I think anyone in the World with half a soul left is. I always want you to express yourself, whatever you’re feeling. Your fearless candor is one of your greatest attributes… even when it’s directed at me, even if it’s that you’re mad at me, even if it hurts. I am sorry that I made you mad at me. I am sorry I hurt you back. Attempts at honest communication are critical for human survival right now. Secrets & lies, false faces of strength, denial & conformity got us all where we are now. That is why your particularly honest voice, Phyllis, your candor, is so powerful and cutting when it wants to be. I must say, I did not like being on the receiving end of it one bit. I’m sure you just said something like, ‘Likewise.’
And. And… well…water under the bridge. We’ve bigger fish to fry, haven’t we? This is all safety pins. I’m ashamed of myself for dwelling on it, really. And yet I do. I’m sorry we hurt each other. I’m sorry humans hurt everything. I know you & an awful lot of living beings are carrying heavy loads, so many carry far worse than my own. Being alive is hard. I’m sorry for all of it. I certainly have no solutions. Trump’s team has an arsenal of manipulation tools at his disposal that Hitler could not have dreamed possible. It’s no accident we’re squabbling over safety pins. It’s a tactic. We can resist it. Luckily, for the moment, we have access to some of those same tools. The Water Protectors, for example, are PR geniuses. Thank the gods.
We could, as so many do, unfriend one another, avoid eye contact & easily get lost in the crowd from one another. I hope we won’t. I hope we both keep showing up to our friendship– placards & voices raised together in, “The people united will never be divided.” That’s what I hope. That’s why we bother, maybe. I could be wrong about all of this. The old cliché’ comes to mind, “Don’t follow me, I’m lost too.”
I hope this letter finds you well & is received with the spirit of reconciliation with which it was conceived. Though I can’t say with any confidence that I have succeeded in communicating effectively or without ire. I hope I did. The only thing I can say with certainty anymore is that I wish I were a dolphin.
Humbly & Truly,