Sunday, July 17, 2016

Reaching for Joy in Times like These

92º feels like 101º ~ the world here is all sun, blue skies, small breezes, and heat heat heat, the neighborhood full of sounds of saws as folks continue to clean up after Thursday night's severe winds

This past two weeks have proven, again (as if we needed more proof), that we live in dangerous and difficult days. I've spent a lot of time thinking, thinking about what makes someone reach for hate and violence, and I've done a lot of reading, especially reading reactions from writers of color about race relations in the U.S., which led to more thinking, this time about my own white, upper-middle-class privilege and what is required of me to make positive change in this world.

Hard on the heels of police violence and domestic terror, came news from Nice, a beautiful city I was lucky to visit once upon a time. So many stories of people reaching for hate and violence. So many deaths that it all begins to feel unbearable and all I want to do is sleep and eat junk food and watch endless loops of Law & Order and Midsomer Murders because in those shows, I find an outlet for my own sense of injustice (even when Jack McCoy loses), but also because I know that these are stories, fictions that reflect the part of humanity that reaches for hatred and violence, but still fictions (MM especially, where the "bad guy" always gets caught). When I'm watching, I don't have to confront the real-life human stories being played out (and often exploited) on today's media outlets.

And so I come again to this question: how can I, in my privilege, continue to reach for joy in light of these terrible tragedies?

For me, this question is complicated by the fact that "to reach for joy" for me means to be a poet. Aside from family and friends, the thing that most fulfills me in this world is writing poetry, but who needs more poems of place and a white woman untangling how gender shapes and defines her, how she resists and embraces womanhood? And who needs to know my publications and accomplishments, which also bring me joy? And more importantly, what right do I have to pursue my joy when there are so many others without that right or with obstacles at every path?

Answering these questions is touch and go here. Some days I succumb to turning away from the world (one of my many privileges) and allow the small waves of mini-depression to win. Some days, like today, I approach the desk and draft a poem or create a collage, and I find joy in that. Some days, I take up a book from my never-ending supply of "to-read" material and I lose myself in the viewpoint of another, engaging in empathy with writers similar to me and as dissimilar as can be. And I know in my heart that this is "winning" against the terror forces. I know in my head that continuing to reach for joy and continuing to engage in the world is the right step forward, but sometimes knowing that and acting on that are two very different things. Sometimes I lose.

I will say that I'm thankful that I have this summer self-ekphrastic project going and that this project requires a Summary Report (official, official) to be turned in to the University Research Council at UCA, which graciously supported me with a summer stipend in support of creating these collages and writing these poems (privilege!). I fear that if I didn't have a firm deadline that I would have abandoned this project in favor of turning away and letting myself be borne on the drift of an unencumbered summer (uhm...even more privilege!).

Finally, I'll say that for me the word "privilege" in this context is closely tied to heavy feelings of guilt. Here the Midwestern curse of my birth follows me, telling me that no matter how much I do to be a better citizen in this world, no matter how many students and readers I reach, extending the work of empathy & citizenship, it will never be enough, especially in light of what the world suffers.

So, here's to the days when we manage to reach for joy, when we are able to celebrate our accomplishments, while always holding the knowledge in our hearts about the hurts of the world, and always trying to shine a light where terror, in all its forms, attempts to reign.


Kathleen said...

Thank you for this, and I understand and identify. I, too, turn to reading or to viewing things where bad guys get defeated or good can triumph over evil. In terms of what I can do, I keep returning to the thought that I must be responsible to my own gifts and use them.

Sandy Longhorn said...

K. Thanks for reading. I think to be responsible to our gifts and to use them is such a solid way of going forward. Thanks for that, too.