Monday, December 23, 2019

Solstice Goals

On midwinter, I went and watched the sunset over the water, and as the longest night began, I considered the road ahead and my own moment of rebirth and renewal.

As much as I've never really done resolutions, and I'm not a particularly big fan of this time of year, I have found a lot of comfort in creating a little solstice ritual that involves a bit of a mental and emotional inventory and the setting of new goals to start the new year. I was going to just post the goals themselves on Facebook in a cross between accountability and telling my friends what I'm up to, but it ran a little long for FB, fit a little TOO well under "navel gazing," and it seems to me that sometimes the posts I think are almost gratuitously personal and uninteresting to almost everyone turn out to be some of my most popular. So I figured....what the hell. Let's make a post of it. 

As a disclaimer, both these goals and this ritual are intensely personal. I don't think everyone "ought" to do any of them. I don't think they have moral value. I don't think they bring me any closer to humanity's true nature. At the most, I think they involve listening closely to myself and trying to move closer to what would make me happy.

Woo and the Skeptic Writer

I keep most of my metaphysical thoughts pretty close to my chest. Once in a while a peep buys me lunch (or just kisses me so often that I have a big soft spot for them) and if they're curious, I'll spill it. Suffice to say that if they don't know what unmanifest Brahman or Taoist metaphysics are, we probably end up talking about Babylon 5 and Star Wars more than anything.

The important part to understand why I'm running around on solstice with a charm necklace and trying to both bend and be bent by "the will of the universe" or some shit, is this: I don't capital-B "Believe" in very much (outside of widely agreed upon cross-cultural empirical human experience). I don't waste time making sure everyone knows I DON'T believe either. But with most extraordinary claims, I consider the verdict to be out until/unless more extraordinary evidence is presented.

Perhaps as a writer who finds language to be just so amusingly elastic, or perhaps as just a skeptic who found one too many atheists insufferable to be willing to count myself among them, one thing I've seen evidence of time and again is the focal power of symbols and metaphor, the reorienting strength of ritual, and the ability of the mind to shape reality. I know that sounds pretty woo, but all you have to do is change the language, if you want to tuck your resident atheist into bed without giving them nightmares. The Placebo Effect is a real, measured phenomenon of the mind affecting the body. Our "Rorschach Inkblot" interpretations of random patterns around us provide personal psychological insight into ways of thinking we might not even be consciously aware of. Our ability to focus on an idea can be enhanced with a physical object that jogs our sensory experience with tactile and visual reminders or by repetitively doing something that reminds us. You can talk about meditation reducing cortisol inflammation and anxiety without ever getting into balancing your energies.

So that's what's going on. If you're one type of person, I tell you that I'm going to clear my head and mindfully focus on some symbols while I enter a non-drug-induced altered state of consciousness through mindful breathing. If you're another type of person, I tell you I'm going to take my fetishes up to a place of power to do some solstice magic.

Of course, to a third type I say only, "Blasphemy. Pure unadulterated, Claude-Frollo-sentences-you-to-be-lashed-in-the-public-square-for-heresy blasphemy."

Now, When I Say Goals....

Some people are taskmasters with their goals. They are going to quit this. Learn those. Lose that. This is the day their life changes, by God. I think that's one of the reasons I'd rather leave "resolutions" to other people and find a day a little more personally meaningful for me than one where I'm mostly watching everyone nursing hangovers and being appalled that the brunch place isn't open until 2pm. Most folks want their goals to hurt because it's time to live life differently and if they have to wear leather with spikes and yell German at themselves, they're going to make it happen.

It's not that kind of movie, kid.

I mean, I could do that. I certainly have in the past. I am nothing if not overdo-it capable. But I find the Venn diagram between people who set taskmastery goals and people who are back to their old ways by Jan 8th is aaaaaaaaaalmost a perfect circle.

For me, solstice goals more like deliberately fiddling with the knobs. I may have a goal to get something done but I'm not going to stand over myself with a riding crop. (I let other people do that....erm perhaps another time.) These goals are not supposed to alter my entire lifestyle or be hard to keep up with. Often they're things I want to do––those little inner voices all year long that say, "You should do more of this," or "You should do less of that." Last year I set goals to work on my novel and hike (both things I really want to do), but also just to see more movies and stop working so many double- and triple-booked side gigs.

I feel like most resolutions––certainly of the New Year variety––are people slamming themselves into a wall in hopes that they hit it hard enough to break through like they're fucking Bugs Bunny or something. They hope to leave a little them-shaped hole in all those obstacles. And usually they end up smashing themselves more than anything. For me, solstice goals are more like redirecting the force of what's already there to something a bit more aligned with my objectives and values.

And Up I Went

It's a two-mile walk to the reservoir and then a ten-minute hike up the hill to get to the water. Then it's about another quarter of a mile to get away from the cement dam, and find a dock with an empty bench or picnic table. I sat down with a touch over an hour before sunset; faced out across the water; watched the sunset, the clouds scudding across the sky, the shifting pinks and purples; the ripples from the wind on the surface of the water that (from a distance) looked like a chaotic teeming mass of worms, listened to the birds talk about how bad they want to get laid, and began to breathe very, very slowly.

This is the actual place.
It's not a Dawson's Creek
But if you want to sing some Paula Cole, it would   
probably be appropriate.
Perhaps most importantly, I listened to me. It's funny how seldom I do that. I spend all day with me and my internal monologue and my various voices, and this brain that tries to synthesize every experience immediately into language, but being so still and quiet that I can actually hear ME is sometimes a conscious effort.

I sat and thought about the past year and the one coming up. I thought about the therapy I concluded eight months ago and if I was keeping up with the strategies I'd learned, and where my defenses were weakening. I thought about what I want my life to look like––not pipe dreams but actual hopes. This time next year. In five years.

I talked to some things that arguably weren't there (but it was the talking that mattered). Only the birds answered me, but I understood.

I thought about where my time and energy have gone and places where those things do not align with my values and objectives. I thought about what would make me happy.

I thought about some things I have not the heart to tell you.

And when the long night grew too deep and cold, I made my way up the trail by cell phone light and began the two-mile walk home.


Last year I set four goals (write book, more movies, hiking, and fewer hours working), which I did reasonably well at hitting given the circumstances. My least successful was the book because even though I worked fewer hours, I still had a bit too many. This year I had a lot of little tweaks I wanted to make, but I didn't just want some arm-length laundry list of rando goals, so I spent a lot of time going through them and deciding if they were important or just me wanting to do everything (which is not, like, outside the realm of how I sometimes handle things). It LOOKS like a lot more than it is, but it's really a new four goals with a few specifically-articulated components each.

  • Work hours 
  • Prioritize Book
  • Reading More Fiction
  • Side Projects

The linchpin of my writing goals is getting more time to write. This last six months I had 20 hours a week on paper, but 30-35 hours most actual weeks. While it was great for my wallet, I had a hard time keeping up with any writing goals. I have pulled the trigger on lowering my availability to my clients starting in January. I handed them my ideal schedule (12 hours) and my maximum availability (18 hours). My savings account is going to take a hit, but I would rather have the writing time.

My novel has to take a high priority this year. Acknowledging that I have severe ADD, I must make a tweak. I will always expand to fill up as much time as I give myself for this blog. After seven years I must admit this and redirect force instead of trying to meet it head on with willpower. While on occasion, there isn't enough time, there is never too much. There is only just enough. Because my brain doesn't work very well until the screws start turning. So if I have six hours to write a post, it gets done at 5:55. If I have EIGHT hours to write the exact same post, it gets done at 7:55.

This is the way.

So starting now, I do my novel first. I have to, or I will never get to it. The end of the day will always be getting something in right under deadline and I have not managed to rewire my brain to finish blogging with an hour or so to spare. The fiction must come first. I'll probably start with a page a day and see how that feels. The important thing is that writing happens first.

Like many people, I found my ability to read fiction was severely impaired after the 2016 election. I just could not get into it. And I have probably read something like ten books a year since then. (That is like....almost a tenth of my usual rate.) I still read voraciously, but mostly non-fiction articles, think pieces, news, and such. I still ENJOY reading fiction when I tie myself to the mast and ignore Facebook's siren call. So I'm going to start slow––one book a week––and if I'm not quite up to that, I'll readjust, but just thinking about it as a low-key obligation might help crowbar me off of screen time. 

I began several side projects over the summer, all of which had to be put on the back burner when the true impact of watching the baby became apparent. I want to begin pursuing them in earnest. Writing About Writing merchandise (complete with a snazzy new logo) will probably start showing up in a couple of months. There is also a compilation ebook of a couple dozen earlier articles in the works that will go on sale for just a dollar or two. (They'll always be free here. It's just if you want them all in one easy place.) It's time to renew giving all these things a little bit of time each week.

  • Hiking/Walking (25 miles/week)
  • Tai Chi (Once a week)
  • More Water
Last year I had a wonderful time incorporating hiking into my life. It's a thing I enjoy, so it wasn't a burdensome obligation to go find a trail. I even hiked up a mountain in the summer. I'd like to do some more ambitious hikes this year if I can get in shape for them, and to that end I want to try to hit 25 miles a week if it's not raining. That is pretty close to what I'm doing now, but it will encourage me to get out and take a shorter walk most days, so I'm not trekking down to San Jose on Sunday to try to do it all last minute.

In college I took Tai Chi to fulfil a physical education requirement, and that chuffed my Maguffs. My ADD brain is not good with the sit-still brand of meditation ("Oh good luck with THAT!" my brain says), but the kinds that involve repetitive moving are really quite wonderful. (I think that's half the appeal of hiking.) The YMCA that I was given a membership to––so I could take the kids I nanny swimming––has a Tai Chi class late in the morning. I'll have to be a little more deliberate about my writing time, but that's usually not a bad thing.

When I got out of my last relationship, I didn't pay much attention to what I was eating or drinking. I was in survival mode. So I just drank however many Diet Pepsis and didn't think too much about it. Last year I started to phase out regular sweetened soda (except as a rare treat), and this year I want to extend that to the diet stuff and start carrying around a water bottle and just being better about drinking more water. I'm not thinking cutting it out completely or anything. Just bringing it down to one or two a day at most. I don't know how to parse through the studies about phenylalanine (beyond to people with PKU, which I don't have) or gut flora being trashed by "fake sugar." My doctor says it's probably mostly okay but that water would definitely be better. 

  • Less "dribble"
  • More fun––Netflix and video games
  • Cooking
  • Photography
  • Keeping up with calendar
  • Pare down
My online life is an amazing balancing act. I'm not amazing AT it, understand, but if I didn't spend most of my time flat on my face, the act itself would be impressive. I can't walk away from "online" because that's where I promote my work and most of the reason I get paid. (I also wouldn't want to because that's where 95% of my social interactions are.) Any effort to reduce online time usually lasts only a couple of days. And yet I am often "stuck," refreshing Facebook or reading ONE MORE article. And while I am comfortable with my political and ethical convictions, I know that my biases are being stoked to make me angry all the time by algorithms that monetize my anger. 

What I want is for my life to be more deliberate. So much springs forth from that. From more writing time to reading to potentially taking up an instrument (below). But when I'm stuck online, I feel like I'm dribbling. I'm not really working. I'm not really playing. I'm not really enjoying myself. I'm just there scratching that itch, sometimes on bad brain days for HOURS. I don't know how much it will work to just think about this and commit to "not getting stuck as often," but if that doesn't work, I can install some Facebook monitor apps or something. Sometimes just being aware of something helps. But also....

To that end I want to "play hard." Or at least harder. Instead of four hours doing nothing on Facebook, I want to close the window and do the things I want to do––that I LIKE doing. Watching Netflix. Playing video games. Reading (above). I have so many games I'm itching to play and so many shows I'd like to see. I'm going to start putting PLAY time in my daily schedule to help encourage me to spend more time away from FB. Maybe I can't do it by just willpower and have never had much luck from simply saying, "Must.....not.....Facebook!" However, it's very likely that working WITH my brain, I can find success in saying, "Oh that's my 4pm alarm. It's Fallout o'clock!"

I bought a meal kit from Amazon on a whim this year––just to try to get more vegetables into my diet, really. I really enjoyed making it. So I bought another. Then another. Suddenly I'm going through two or three a week and loving the shit out of cooking. I never knew how much pleasure and comfort it would bring me (especially feeding peeps). So what I really want to do is try to find some recipes for those kits I've really liked, start buying those ingredients, and learn to make those recipes from scratch. I'll start with one and then keep going. I'd like to try to cook one meal from scratch at least once a week, but it'll probably start with once every two.

Similarly I recently got a camera. (Like a real one, not just the cell phone type. An older model as a "starter," but no slouch.) I have gotten to play with it a bit, and it makes me really happy to try to find the shot (even if I'm no good), but I really want to sit and read the instructions, learn what it does, find a cable so I can upload them to my computer, take LOTS more pictures and kind of go all in on this. If it turns out to be one of those things that kind of fades in time, I'll let it go without trying to hardass myself about it, but if I continue to dig it, I'd like to be knowledgeable enough by the time I buy a "Yes, I'm really serious about this" camera to know what I want.

My 2019 day calendar was perhaps my most important tool in keeping myself from feeling too much like I was spinning out of control. Therapy was great, and one of the enduring lessons I took from it was to do what kept me feeling in control before I felt OUT of control. When I kept up with all the little aspects of my day calendar (scheduled posts, planned writing, budget, adulting), I knew how much money I could spend and be okay. I knew what blog posts were going up and when. And I knew when I was going to take care of that thing. When I let it slide, some of those things made me anxious. ("Someone canceled a $5 Patron. How will I afford food this month?") Having a thing I can look at that basically says "That fear is unfounded. Chillax!" helps profoundly.

I went through a breakup a few years back. It was an adult relationship, and I had a lifetime worth of stuff that I then had to move into a single room. It's a BIG room, but it's still just a room. And there are days I feel a little bit like I'm in a clown car with my stuff. It gets messy so quickly, and there are spots that just kind of become staging areas for junk. The fires this year made me think about how much I wouldn't take if I had to up and leave, and what I really want and need. I'd like to start getting rid of something every day––something that I don't want or need. Even if it's just one T-shirt that doesn't fit anymore or textbook that I'm kidding myself I'm ever going to read again. Just ONE thing each day.

I will have to keep ruminating on the possibility of getting rid of my bed. I love this bed, but it is a king, and it takes up SO much room. 

  • Sleep
  • Learning Shit
  • Keyboard(?)
Sleep could really go under physical, emotional or mental, so I just picked the one with the least other entries. I've been doing so much better this year about getting good and proper sleep. No more sleepwalking. No more diagnoses of exhaustion and orders to bed. No more dire warnings that I'm slowly killing myself. However, that balance is still very up and down. I make sure that I get naps or sleep in when I have a sleep debt, but I want to start being better about just getting the right amount of sleep every night. The easier schedule means I get to sleep in, so the most important thing I can do at night is to stop doing things that DON'T END after about 11pm. (Online stuff and video games.)  If I'm watching a show, the show will end and I can look at the clock. If I'm reading in bed, I'll probably fall asleep right away. But video games or Facebook are too stimulating and don't have an END, so I can look up and realize it's three or four. I'll set a few alarms for 11pm. 

There are a few of things I really want to learn. I don't necessarily know that they will bring me joy and count as self-care (why this is mental and not emotional), but I have wanted to learn them for a while. When I was fresh out of college Spanish, I could keep up with most simple TV shows, but these days I miss a lot of what is said. I know I need to keep studying and practicing if I don't want to forget, and particularly if I want to get better.

The other two things are a little more rarified skills. I keep a chain around my neck with a LOT of charms, and I bought a jewelry kit, but there sure are a lot of little rings and wires that I have no idea what the fuck they even are, never mind how to use them. I don't need to be a master jeweler or anything, but being able to make a jump ring or keep one charm from clacking too much against another with some spacers would be a useful skill.  

The other thing? I want to learn to tie knots. And not for Boy Scouts, you feel me. I have a book. I have some nylon rope. But I need to sit down with some YouTube videos and my book and practice. 

The trick is going to be not doing too much at once and also not perpetually procrastinating these as things I'll do eventually. None of these is like a "One hour a day of rigorous study and three hours a week practicum...." When I have a good feeling for how my schedule is shaping up, I'll fold some modest time in.

I have this keyboard that I bought like ten years ago and all these good intentions to practice piano. I've even had time once or twice, but there is really NO place to put this thing right now. There IS a space that it would fit. I would have to set it up and break it down after each use, but that wouldn't be super tough. (The bookshelf I could lean it on is right there and I don't often need access to the books.) I'm not going to commit to this yet because there's a lot of other stuff going on and I don't want to overdo it, but as the year matures (perhaps at the equinox), I would like to come back to this. Musical practice has always helped me think more clearly and be more emotionally centered when I've done it regularly. Plus I just fucking love music and creating it is the bees knees.

I will take inventory of my progress at the summer solstice and on the equinoxes and probably find I'm doing well with some things and need to be more deliberate about others. And the world will keep hurtling around the sun. The days will shorten again, and this year will come to a close and I will again think of where my life is, where I want it to be, and how I can get there. But for now, the longest night is over, and our hearts and our ambitions begin to unfurl again. 

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Quad Shot Grande Salted Caramel Mocha Latte with 2 Pumps of Vanilla for......"Thor" is Ready

[Mild MCU spoilers.]

One of my partners likes Captain America. Not just likes the movies, reads the comics, and enjoys the social commentary, but gives that name at baristas and to the hosting staff at restaurants. She can be found dressed up as Captain America when she goes to protests. Cap is kind of her patronus. If you and I are going to go down into the sound-proof bunker, I will tell you that at first I found this a little embarrassing, but when I noticed how much joy it seemed to bring everyone, well, it's hard not to realize it's actually kind of awesome.

It's made me think about my own MCU patronus a lot.

At first, I didn't really think I had one. I mean it's cool to relate to characters, but there are entire franchises with characters I love but don't really resonate with. "I like all the characters." "They are übermenschen and I'm just a peep (and that kind of character has some aristocratic implications when you're talking about a world where you really want to be organizing power to the people, not waiting for someone to fix your problems for you and......)." "I'm not really that into comics." "I guess Cap is okay. He looks jingoist, but he acts more like a pissed off parent who knows his country isn't living up to its potential." "I like Spider-Man. Will Spider-Man show up?"

Then the MCU just kept cranking the movies out.

I found I related to certain characters and their humanesque struggles, and that the characterization of each of them as a metaphor rather than simply a "person with powers we wish were real but aren't" was MUCH stronger, and more tightly crafted than I'm given to understand their portrayals in the comics tend to be.

If I was going to have one at all, I wanted it to be Spider-Man. Oh, I LOVE me some Spider-Man. He's always been a favorite in casa de Chris. Even before I knew that the Avengers existed, I was slinging imaginary webs and keeping Manhattan safe from baddies. I was not that into comics when I was young, but I liked the ones popular enough to be turned into TV shows. Though the animation from the 1967 cartoon was a little too clunky for even very smol me, I don't think I missed a single episode of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends* and I loved the 90's cartoon. I've seen almost all the movies. (I only missed the Andrew Garfield movies after Tobey Maguire's third left an awful taste in my mouth, and they got lambasted by critics and audiences. One of these days I'll catch them on Netflix or something.) I would beg my friend Shawn to tell me the plot arcs of the major comic book series. I basically have my hand on the button to watch Into The Spiderverse with The Contrarian, asking his parents "Is he old enough now?" "Is he old enough now?" "Is he old enough NOW?"

(*You'll never get me to admit this, but Firestar may have been one of my first crushes.)

And what's not to love? A hyper-agile geek and a nerd with ever a sarcastic quip on his tongue who explores the tension (that we all deal with in our society) that exists around our tacit approval of evil––in allowing bad things to happen when we have the ability to stop them. What could be more relatable in a world where we flat out KNOW slavery still goes on and who is doing it or exactly which companies are destroying the planet. Even now when I'm much older, I relate SO FUCKING HARD to this kid who is so overwhelmed with trying to hold his life together with two hands––who delivers pizzas, has two jobs, can't get to class on time, is barely functional, doesn't even know what self-care is, and should NOT have to worry about saving the world all the time, but he does. Because he has the power to do something about it.

If I could pick...I would pick Spider-Man.

But one does not "pick" one's patronus.'s Thor, actually. This character I didn't really know about at ALL until 2011. I didn't actually SEE Thor on screen until I saw the Avengers. Then I went back and caught Thor, which (if I'm being fanboy-enragingly honest) I thought was sort of like a two-hour version of one of those promotional TV specials they used to make to hype a movie before it came out. (Trust me. It used to be a thing. Though they were usually only a half hour and targeted to kids.) People would tell me about Thor––that he was the actual Norse god (after a fashion) and was in the Avengers, and he just didn't ping my interest-dar. I liked him well enough in The Avengers, but I liked every other character a little more.

But then the movies kept coming out. And I started to realize that as much as I *LIKED* Spider-Man, Thor was really where the harmonic resonance lived.

Here's a guy who would rather have a drink and make a joke. He would rather love and laugh than use Mjølnir on someone's face. He really doesn't want to have to kick your ass, so please sit down and don't be such a frost giant. Sure he's "brave," but it's kind of superficial and what he starts out really wanting is to have everything stay mostly the same for all of time and not have to think too hard about it. And when he was starting out, a little brash and a little arrogant, he may have thought that was mostly possible. But then he learned about putting himself in harm's way for others.

He's got a good heart and good intentions, but is a product of enormous privilege, and often has trouble at first seeing the scope of the problem and possibly even his own unconscious contribution to it. But he learns. His understanding becomes richer and more complex. And at each level of comprehension he tries to do the right thing.

He's an unrepentant jokester, but unlike Spider-Man, there's something not-entirely-innocent in Thor's humor. He weaponizes it to deflect from psychological pain and also to "emasculate*" his enemies.

(*Talk about a word with inherent sexist baggage.)

There's always a big bad, and the MCU is pretty predictable about having an internal character arc that is at least as important, if not more so, than the external conflict, but Thor's character arcs tend to be particularly focused on his own self-knowledge and understanding of what he is truly capable of. There's a concept in Joseph Campbell's Monomyth––mostly recognized as The Hero's Journey––of the ultimate treasure. (Often a sword). In Thor character arcs, since Thor tends to have more "mythological" (get it?) beats in the hero's journey, the Monomyth structure is cleaved to more closely than with other characters. The "ultimate treasure" part of the Monomyth (though it is often a hammer or an axe instead of a sword) is more precisely followed than the Monomyth is with other characters. Thor always learns in the third reel what he really cares about or how the power was really within him all along.

He's loyal to a fault to those he loves. Sometimes forgiving people who really shouldn't be forgiven. He sees the best in people and sometimes they let him down pretty hard.

He struggles (hard and constantly) with the moments in his life he feels like he should have done more. 

From the use of humor to deflect and my best moments in life coming when I confronted who I really was or what I really cared a personal loyalty I've spent some time in therapy learning to turn down from eleven because I'm letting people get away with too much...Thor is like a checklist of me.

And there's a damn good reason writers going off on a tear with the full power of their platform often call that "bringing the thunder." Sometimes I even listen to "The Immigrant Song" when I'm pounding out one of my takedown pieces.

And there's that GIF when I swing "the banhammer" at people from My Facebook Page. (Yes, I even call it Mjølnir.)

But here's the moment I knew it was Thor––that it was always going to be Thor. That I would just have to LIKE Spider-man but "Thor" would be going on my sandwich and barista orders from now on:

Thor struggles with his feelings of self-worth. I mean he REALLY struggles with that. Literally, much of his power that isn't just from being an average badass Asgardian comes from his hammer, which he can only lift if he is being "worthy," and so that's something on his mind ALL THE TIME. I hope none of you have had to live in an emotionally abusive relationship where you have had to deal with criticism, rejection, and attacks on your self-esteem that eventually became your internal voice of self-doubt, but it leads to a powerful feeling that your basic needs, receiving the slightest expressions of love, even your very right to take up space must be EARNED––that you must be "worth" it. Years of therapy have helped me, but it's not a mindset that ever goes away completely. That trauma sticks around. In my life I have convinced myself that I was not worth support, comfort, friendship, or love but when I reached out, those things came to me regardless. In Avengers: Endgame (despite Thor's entire arc being sullied and nearly ruined by what I suspect was a script doctor who thought fat jokes were hilarious) the moment when the lightning flashed to "transform" Thor into his "worthy form" and the only damned thing that changed at all was his beard became braided was for my "patronus resonance" a VERY close second....

But the moment I really knew was when his voice cracked in his own joyous disbelief that despite his trauma, his hammer had come to him. "I'm still worthy."

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Keyboard Warrior

One of the most common complaints I get (usually from people with a lot of privilege) is that I am a "Keyboard Warrior." That I sit here and write and I don't actually get out and do the protests. 

For starters that's just not true. But why let a pesky fact mess with a good narrative. After all, it can really take the wind out of the sails of a good, “You people should actually DO something,” rant to find out one is, in fact, doing the something that has been deemed to count. So let’s set that aside for a moment and imagine that someone were JUST posting on social media.

Let's play pretend...

Back before I set my comments to "friends only" on Facebook (and still on many walls of many friends that have not), it was (is) a common sight to see the usual suspects to come out of the woodwork and complain that people should DO something instead of impugning a good social media experience with issues of social inequality and injustice. Actually, that's only partially true. See, it's not the injustices themselves that are upsetting people. It's the fact that so many of their friends are posting about it that has them upset. They aren't nearly as upset about the issue as they are that they have to KEEP BEING REMINDED OF IT when they're looking for cat pictures and Baby Yoda memes. So in fact, most don't care if anything "real" gets done or not. What they actually care about is that they stop being reminded of it.

Imagine being more annoyed by a post you have to scroll past about injustice than the injustice itself.

It's the usual "slactivism doesn't work" mantra. Which isn't really new either; it's just changed with the times. The thing is, you hear the same thing no matter what you do. Twenty years ago when there was no FB and I marched in the streets, the same basic kind of people (usually white, usually male, usually straight who are telling me today that I should go march in the streets) would show, be annoyed that I was blocking the streets or something, and ask me, "What good are protests, anyway?" "What good is this fundraising anyway?" "What good is blocking traffic anyway?" "What good is campus activism anyway?" "What good does 'raising visibility' really do? "What good...."

While I think, in theory, SOME of these people might have an image somewhere in their heads of a truly "proper" way one could work toward equality (that is probably based on the sanitized version of Dr. King), these folks, who have never been to a protest themselves or joined a grassroots movement or so much as told their racist friends "Not cool,” probably have not suddenly been possessed with a keener insight into what makes for effective protest than those who've spent a lifetime on the front lines of fighting for social change.

I know it's hard to believe. But they are not actually experts on what works and doesn't.

For most the real message is "please stop talking about it." The usual sort of SQuiD "shut up" that people who don't suffer inequality are wont to make. Please do this quieter. Please do this somewhere else. Please don’t disturb my comfort. Please be juuuuuuuuust inconspicuous enough that I can easily ignore you. Please move over there…..a little more….just a little more. Great, now I can’t even see you. Perfect. 

Please don't ever implicate me in benefitting from the system that marginalizes you or you will hurt my feelings.

Even when this criticism is actually, genuinely sincere (and it rarely ever is), it has the flavor of "concern trolling" baked in. (Gosh, I'm just really SO DARN worried about how effective this tactic might be. You know.....for the cause's sake. For the cause? For the cause! FOR THE CAUSE!!! I want you to succeed, and I'm just so worried that this will make them REALLY mad. I’m just not sure this is the way. I'm really worried about the cause, you see...) As if a person who has never had to face discrimination on a daily basis suddenly woke up and realized that of all the tactics tried for the entirety of oppression, no one had ever tried asking nicely. (We fought a civil war with eleven states who were absolutely willing to go to war to keep slavery, but did anyone think to say ‘Please’?)

But let's pretend...

Let's pretend for a moment that social media hasn't been cited as the single greatest driving force behind most of the social justice gains of the 21st century, the most effective tool for making people aware of injustice, atrocity and even news since television, and hasn’t even been the literal engines of some actual revolutions in Asia.

[This is because online, all voices are considered equal and there are fewer ways for people in power to gatekeep what they consider important or not. (While this can lead to a lot of “fake news,” it also means that you can find out the thoughts of communities who have historically been silenced. People can't control online forums or social media in the way they can physical spaces, airwaves, or mainstream media.]

Feminism, LGBTQ+ rights, racial awareness–they've all cited social media as a powerful force in their modern movements and efforts. They use them to spread awareness, discourse, and organize. Not despite their failure, but rather BECAUSE THEY WORK! It's called “the democratization of media,” and social media is front and center in the new era.

Let's pretend that cases like Laquan McDonald, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray would have gotten just as much coverage on mainstream media owned and controlled by powerful corporate interests, and that it was not PRECISELY social media that caused these stories to go viral. Let's pretend that shocking brutality and police reports that conflict with reality did NOT suddenly magically start popping up all over the place pretty much at exactly the same time cell-phone cameras became ubiquitous. Let’s pretend that was a big coincidence and that social media isn’t used to expose what used to be covered up quickly and quietly.

After all, we managed to pretend the same thing a generation ago when we acted aghast that Rodney King got the crap beat out of him, like it was the first time the LAPD could have ever overstepped, not maybe just the first time someone had a camcorder at the right place and time. So let’s do it! Let’s pretend that we would have been just as outraged (and even aware) of these stories if they hadn't gone viral on Facebook and Twitter. Let’s pretend they would have made it past local mainstream news if they hadn’t first been viral on social media. Let's pretend that social media isn't the most effective tool for raising awareness of issues that people who don't own newspapers or TV stations can wield.

Let's pretend that everyone has the same resources, capability, skill sets. That, like you (who....I have noticed are almost always white when the issue is racism, male when the issue is sexism, straight when the issue is homophobia, etc....), these people who ought to be going about achieving justice and equality in the way you have deemed proper have money to donate, physical ability to march, and time to volunteer. Let’s pretend that that it isn't a little bit classist, ableist, elitist, and maybe a few other “ists” to tell someone what the pre-approved way to help humanity is as dictated by someone not really dealing with the issue.

Let's pretend that no one has different proficiencies. There isn't anyone who is maybe better at writing than at working a phone bank, or who is better at reading through dozens of articles and sharing the good ones than at organizing a protest.

Let's pretend that social justice isn't experiencing a renaissance of allyship because of people who have had their eyes opened through social media to their privilege, to the incredible double standards, to how bad it really gets.

Let's pretend that no one who does use social media to discuss social justice issues has EVER had anyone tell them that their words changed their minds, shaped a new opinion, informed them, gave someone else the strength to speak up, or even comforted the group affected by the injustice by showing them entire communities of people in their corner.

Let's pretend that before the days of social media, those who struggled for social equality in the "right way" never needed to interrupt your day, call at dinner, or put themselves in between you and your grocery shopping in an invasive way in order to raise funds for or awareness of an issue. That the social justice warriors of the halcyon days, doing it the "right" way, were always tucked away and easily ignored.

Let's pretend that the "right way" to champion for change has been effective. I mean just look at all this equality. The "proper ways" never suffer from being shut out of spaces by people who don't want to be bothered or marginalized by being called the fringe of a movement or silenced in favor of more moderate voices.

Let's pretend that every grinding, gutting, horrible step forward throughout the entire arc of human history hasn't had an entirely predictable, equally loud contingent of moderates  saying, "this is overreach," "this is too far," "this is too loud," "this is too caustic," "this is too angry," "this too soon," and "this isn't the right way to get what you want." "Sit down. Be quiet. Don't rock the boat. Don't challenge our thoughts. Don't be overbearing. Don't be rude. Watch your tone. Do it only in the ways we deem worthy of attention (and please fail to realize the fact that all those ways we like are the same ones that are most easy to ignore). Do nothing that inconveniences even our FEELINGS and then....THEN maybe, we will deign to consider your redress."

Let's pretend that in all of human history, there was a single instance of systematic social injustice that was corrected by asking nicely.

Oh and also, we’ll have to pretend for a moment that there aren't scams and bait to get clicks and likes and shares. Because for these things to be "absolutely meaningless,” we would have to ignore the incredibly intricate pains people go through to procure them as well as their motivation for doing so.

And not to put too fine a point on it, but you're going to have to pretend that Russian psyops aren't changing the political landscape of the entire world through ONLY social media.

Let's pretend ALL these things...

All of them.

Are you pretending? Okay good.

It's STILL utterly fucking obnoxious to presume what other people are or are not doing in addition to being a “keyboard warrior.” Unless you know for a fact that they're not donating money or volunteering time or that they're helping someone more directly, what you’re really doing is exerting your social capital to try to silence someone.

And even that is only after we do ALL that pretending.

So let's please usher in a new era of SQuiD honesty and simply tell the truth, which is this: "I don't even want to have to FLEX my finger in order to scroll past all this social justice stuff because it clearly doesn't directly affect ME. I would be happier if you would be silent about this.”