The paralyzing reality of the state of the world mixed with a touch of seasonal-affective disorder and impending student loan debt had me feeling bitter and stagnant, if not expressionless. To have writer’s block means to be uncomfortable with your own thoughts, and I was in deep. Whether out of fear of failure or some misplaced worry in karmic consequence, I wrote next to nothing. If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say it at all- at least that’s what I had always been told. But what am I to say when I look around and I don’t see anything nice at all?
From a purely objective standpoint, this world is pretty dismal: There’s a Texas-sized mound of plastic roaming the ocean, each successive year in the last decade has been the hottest on record and the Pacific Northwest is ablaze, a Nuclear reactor dumps radioactive waste into the ocean by the ton every day, one of the world’s largest chemical companies supplies nearly all of our food, the list goes on and on.
It’s hard not to get frustrated when those issues hit close to home; Enbridge’s Tar sands pipeline halves my home state, which is also home to some of the highest concentrations of factory farms and genetically modified crops. The Paper Industry also calls Wisconsin home, along with the frac-sand and other mining industries. Our governor has certainly not helped the social environment, and even somehow managed to use one of the most tumultuous, divisive Governor’s terms in Wisconsin history to propel himself into the presidential race. During this period of relative inactivity, I was also working in a medical clinic. For a number of patients, it was clear that the worldly malaise and suffering was taking its toll. I’m reluctant to speculate on the home lives of patients I had only barely begun to know and understand, but I think it’s safe to say a state of perpetual debt-anxiety and toxin accumulation could not have been helping their case.
These were the types of thoughts that raced in my mind every day; how the destruction of our world was so inextricably linked to the suffering of the people in it in an infinite number of ways. I guess you could say I was overwhelmed– but I never asked for help. Instead I bottled things up, and while I have moved on from it I sincerely hope I was never hurtful or disrespectful to anyone during that time- especially my family. It’s a universal truth that the things we seek are inside ourselves, but I’ll tell you friendship and listening ear get you there a lot quicker. Why didn’t I just confide in my family, who clearly would have had my back? And once I asked myself that question, things made a little more sense: This world can be so superficial that we interpret our own darkness as something to hide.
Refusing to acknowledge my own suffering made sense in a societal context, too. If we weren’t ashamed of our faults and downtimes, would we really care about having luxurious mansions, fancy cars, or a nice watch? I think not. If you need any evidence that this is the case, look no further than the latest mining disaster in the Animas River. Many will now lose access to drinking water and have their livelihood put at risk, for the sake of gold.
This disaster touched on a lot of things- water rights, governments role in regulation, tribal treaties, chemical dependency- but it always comes down to people. At what point did we become okay with the demand for coins and jewelry superseding someones right to clean water? It seems to me that collectively we’ve replaced our humanity with vanity, and this was just one example. I could have told you about the Guatemalan activist that was burned alive trying to stop a different gold-mining company. I could have told you about the tap-water lighting on fire in Pennsylvania so that we could have cheap energy. I could have told you about the criminalization of journalists so companies can protect their image. I could have told you so many things, but ultimately it would still come down to how we treat each other.
To be fair, writing necessitates a level of lucidity that often trends toward isolation, so I wasn’t alarmed by my lack of creativity. I write because I am not satisfied with the suffering in this world, and when I see a problem I’m going to bring it up. But writing angry has never worked for me. If my words are spiteful or lame I’m contributing to the problem. A scathing, vindictive editorial about how bad this year’s GOP candidates are might get me a lot of shares and popularity, but that’s paltry compared to putting something on the page that actually makes someone laugh, think, or feel inspired.
There’s never been a time in history with more fodder for the environmentally and socially charged writer, and it’s so easy to get lost in the numbers- most estimates will tell you that in just the past 6 months, 15.6 million acres of rainforest have been destroyed, 4.5 billion animals have been harvested in factory farming conditions, 650 million tons of food were wasted, over 500 people have been killed by police, and I’m sure if you scoured the web you could construct some even more frightening numbers. But numbers are malleable and impersonal; they can only do so much. The police brutality issue is a perfect example. Although our police force kills more of our citizens than any other country, we also have the most armed citizens. Violence begets violence, so when we decided to arm our police forces with federal military equipment it left me to wonder, what did you think was going to happen?
The debate over how to police the police will go on, but I personally share many of the viewpoints expressed by Michael Wood. He is a veteran who served overseas, and upon his return worked extensively with the Baltimore police department. During his interview with famous podcaster Joe Rogan, he makes some excellent points about the level of training these officers get. In many places, we are throwing ordinary citizens into what is essentially a full-scale domestic war, and they’re in over their heads. Many would seem to be offended by that (imagine that!), but let me use an example: In Louisiana there are more required training hours to become a barber than there are to become a police officer. I’m all for giving the benefit of the doubt, but there’s no denying that people can slip through the cracks- meaning the moral and intellectual equivalent of a Rod Farva could be walking around your town with an assault rifle and impunity.
When I see angry protestors march against things they seek to destroy, whether it’s police brutality or a toxic infrastructure expansion, I quickly lose interest in the blame game. Take the Koch industries, for example. I think it’s important to point out that the Koch brothers feel that their enterprise is as groundbreaking and vital to humanity as the civil rights movement .This perfectly encapsulates the absurdity of today’s world; everyone is doing the best they can in accordance with their own reality. An activist or writer-activist’s duty shouldn’t be to bash the ‘bad guys’, it’s to bring to light the inadvertent suffering being caused and offer a way for the perpetrators to be a part of the solution.
“I think it’s important to point out that the Koch brothers feel that their enterprise is as groundbreaking and vital to humanity as the civil rights movement”
At first glance, that may seem counterproductive. There is simply no place for Koch industries in a sustainable future- that’s just a cold hard truth. Paper disposables, with their associated chemical sludge and forest clearing, gotta go. Massive, risky infrastructure alongside our most precious freshwater resources, can’t happen. Corporate trade pacts and governmental coercion, please stop. But none of these are the Koch brothers, they are the Koch industries. Savvy businessmen who know how to accomplish their goals are sure to gain some influence in this world, that’s a fact. Rather than try to beat them at their own game, I suggest offering a transition to a lifestyle that doesn’t choke the life out of Earth.
Better yet, why not build that transition at the same time you are calling for it? For as many problems as there are, each has a solution to match. As it turns out, the ‘objectively dismal’ world I subjected myself to was actually an incredible opportunity. We have all the tools, technology, and capabilities to be living in a paradise if we’d only work together, and I get to try and play the facilitator. This world seems empty and lacking ideas, but it turns out that’s the same superficial, cynical thinking that has us stuck in the first place.
In my mind, it’s a matter of reallocation. Not just an economic one, either. GDP has been touted as the best indicator of human happiness and quality of life, but I disagree. I think the best indicator of human happiness and quality of life is human happiness and quality of life. What we really need is a reallocation of our priorities. To live simply so that others may simply live. Less stuff and more fun. Eating local food. Using a refillable water bottle. Biking to work. Paying for solar and wind energy instead of bombs and bullets. More bike trails and fewer highways- all the things that are usually brushed aside as airy or soft.
The film of pervasive aloofness and hair-raising Orwellian brutality is peeling back and each day there’s joyful news to counter the negativity. New Zealand recently recognized all animals as sentient, France no longer allows grocery stores to waste food, Burlington, Vermont is operating on entirely renewable energy, and California is helping its citizens convert their lawns back to natural fauna. These are just a few examples of a multitude of great ideas that people are trying, but one thing is clear: people are making an effort.
A massive, timely, and collective commitment to protecting our world is in order and the only scalable solution is participation. Humans are biologically inclined to be empathetic, community-minded, and happy. It seems as if all we need to do is be ourselves and the rest will follow. Grow food in your front lawn, organize a community energy project, host a benefit concert -it doesn’t really matter, just do something! It’s not hippy or cliché to want to see these things succeed, and you’d be surprised how many people are willing to help. If along the way we utilize and celebrate our passion, humor, individuality, and all the other great things about being human, we’ll have already succeeded.
I suppose what I’m saying in nearly 2,000 words could have been summed up in a few short sentences, but embellishment is one of the perks of being a ‘writer’. It’s okay to not feel okay, just as long as you know that it happens to everybody at some point. Writing is difficult and good writing nearly impossible; the trick is to keep writing all the same. Nobody wins the blame game, though the truth will surface. Yes this world is pretty bad, but that’s only half the story. Love more, be more, and do more. It’s good to be back.