Tuesday, December 31, 2019

My 2010's Retrospective

Enough with the lists, let's talk about me. Everyone's doing their past-decade retrospectives and I didn't mean to follow the crowd but what can you do? Humans love round numbers and the 2010's contained most of my 20's, which were a very strange time. Almost as strange as the decade before that!

Anyhoo, I've been thinking a lot about the person I was at the beginning of the decade and who I have become. I graduated in late 2010, just a couple months after experiencing my first real heartbreak of my life, and not long after that I met the person I hope to spend the rest of my life with. I had to leave Bellingham to find work and for eight and a half years I've been dreaming about moving back. Literally, I have dreams all the time that I've moved back to Bellingham and am happy, though over time my feelings in the dreams have become mixed and sometimes I want to move back to the Seattle area.

I had three jobs post-college that were all very weird in their own way before I scored my first full-time writing position. Nearly two years later I left the world of marketing behind because I hated it, but during that period of barely actually working and feeling guilty for barely actually working, I found social justice.

I started off as a liberal feminist who engaged in White Feminist (TM) rhetoric and bumped up against TERFdom for a minute, but I soon learned about privilege and to shut up and listen to my fellow women. My politics evolved as I learned more about capitalism, communism, and anarchism, and now I'm pretty comfortable calling myself an anarcho-communist. I rejected reform politics and came to believe that radical change is the only acceptable change for our society, which is set up in a way that harms most of us, some more than others, for the benefit of a rich and powerful few.

I tried content writing and got bored. I tried another office job and got so bored and antsy I was dipping into the suicidal spectrum. I got into daily news writing and in spite of, or maybe because of, the instability, I've been able to remain mostly content.

During all that time, I worked through a lot of emotion. I explored and learned to accept my anger. I dealt with periodic depression and, as always, plenty of anxiety. I grieved a vision of my country that turned out to be a lie. I learned things part of me wishes I could unlearn.

Just this past year, I smoked a lot of weed and fell into an intense existential crisis that I'm just coming out the other end of. I grieved a future that I once envisioned for myself that might never come to pass. I came to accept, as best I could, that the future is uncertain and that my life might be cut short due to climate change.

So who am I now, and who do I want to be? So much of my pain from the last few years has come from learning about the injustices festering around the world and how many people are suffering because of them. I've had to face the facts that so many of the things I'd been told were unacceptable evils from the past are either back today or never left. Slavery, still alive and well in the U.S. via prison labor. School desegregation? Never happened, and schools here are more segregated now than in the 1960's. Concentration camps? Not relics of the 1940's that ended with the nazis. Oh, also, the nazis never ended and are making a comeback!

I don't think I'll ever stop being pissed off that I was raised on the mantra that the U.S. is the greatest nation on Earth and had to learn the truth about its horrific origins and its continuous and horrific oppression of anyone who's not a rich neurotypical able-bodied cishet white man throughout its history in my 20's. Nor will I ever stopped being pissed off that I was forced to learn what I would do if concentration camps existed during my lifetime in my country. That I was forced to just have to let myself push it out of my head and not think about it because I couldn't stop them from existing.

I spent a lot of my 20's telling people to take care of themselves first, believing that you have to take care of your own mental health before you can effectively help others. I spent so much time telling people that they're not bad for not doing more, that they're doing the best they can and can't possibly do better than that. But I couldn't take my own advice.

It took nearly 10 years for me to realize the obvious. I spent my childhood in the middle of a lot of conflicts and took on the role of the fixer. I developed poor boundaries and have a hard time being okay if other people are not okay. Teddy from Bob's Burgers? Me. So it's no wonder I came to question whether I could ever be happy in a world with so much suffering and injustice. It's not so surprising that I lost the ability to enjoy the things that used to make me happy. The world became dull, and it felt like I could no longer derive pleasure from the little things.

I started to experiment more with cannabis and experienced some drug-induced euphoria, which if I'm honest with myself, I've been chasing for over a year now without success. Now, weed just brings out whatever emotions I'm already feeling, whether they're good or bad.

That brings us to now. These days, I still spend a lot of time pondering the question, "who am I?" The person I was right after college feels like a stranger to me now. But am I even all that different? I'm still so fearful, held back from what I apparently think of are the only worthwhile forms of helping people by social anxiety and a general low tolerance for stress. Or an ability to stress myself out more than most people, I'm not sure. I still feel like I'm not good enough, though that feeling has transferred from being about writing skill to being about moral goodness.

But I am different. After a whole lot of raging, I'm not as angry as I once was. I still respond to injustice with anger, as we all should, but I've seen so much injustice to such an extreme degree that barely anything shocks me anymore. I still get angry when I see people acting badly who should know better, but I've learned to self-reflect and the anger doesn't burn as hot or as long. I don't know if this is good or bad.

I feel like I want to be kinder. I will always know that anger is an important emotion that we need but I want to react better. I have improved a ton on the whole fighting with strangers on the internet thing, though I do slip back into the habit now and again. But I think I'm pretty much sick of it. I've seen how it goes nowhere. And I'm not proud of many of the things I've said over the decade to people who probably didn't deserve it, particularly in the comments of Facebook posts sometimes made by my friends. Some of it needed to be said but too often I slipped into being mean, even cruel. And I did that simply because I wanted to hurt someone. I felt hurt so I lashed out. I don't want to do that anymore.

Unless you come after the people I love. Then all bets are off.

I've spent so much of my life trying desperately to understand people. I thought if only I could understand them, and understand why people caused pain, I wouldn't hurt so much. But, like every other person before me, I found that every answer only opened a door to a hundred other questions. Still, I keep asking those questions and pursuing answers, or the closest thing I can get - understanding. As futile as it might seem, it feels right. I think the meaning of life might be the endless cycle of trying to understand crap only to find that the only certainty is that you don't know shit. Or something more eloquent than that.

Or not, who cares?

What I want from that pursuit of understanding is empathy and an increased capacity for kindness. And I don't mean treating those who already have a ton of power with kid gloves. That's not kindness. I don't mean going easy on celebrities with tons of public influence when they cause harm. I don't mean being kind to the people I like but don't even know personally at the expense of people who are already struggling every day. That's not kindness. But I think it's time for a little more patience and empathy with those who are a lot like me but haven't had the same laser focus on social issues as I have. I want to work on my defensiveness and remember the hurt and rage that plagued my young adulthood and consider how that might have manifested without some key influences in my life.

I might even have to be kinder to myself.

But I will still be calling out bigots by directly naming the bigotry involved and if you have a problem with that, you can leave my space.

Who am I and who do I want to be? I'm the person who wants to be a person who helps. I want to make the world a slightly better place than it would have been if I had never existed. I can't possibly know if I accomplished that, I can only do my best to try and make it true. And in order to that, I need to function as a human being. I'm sure I will figure out the specifics of all that over the next decade.

Happy New Decade.

No comments: