Friday, August 18, 2017

How can we write in the current environment?

I saw a tweet the other day that said something like "I hope I can put the 6 hours a day I spend watching the news about the U.S. destroying itself on my annual review."

Amen to that.  I know that this is a first world/academic world problem, and it's insignificant in the face of what Charlottesville has suffered and what continues to happen throughout the country,  but it's a problem nonetheless.

How do we keep calm and carry on, as the Brits say, when there's a fresh !@#$show every time we open our laptops? How can we develop consecutive thoughts about research when the country is being run on the reality show principle that every day is an escalation of the worst of the day before? When Nazis are back and racism is horrifyingly endemic? I might be ripped apart for saying this, but we were making progress on racism. Obama did give us a sense of hope. Now the president endorses white supremacy, and the Congress does nothing? Is this the United States?

And what if we are horrified by what's happening but express ourselves incorrectly? For example, Tina Fey did a sketch recently about eating sheet cake to drown out stress or to satirize people's desires to turn away rather than to protest. I didn't think it was hilarious but thought it was okay--until social media tore her a new one, pointing out the parallels to Marie Antoinette, branding her with the most heinous of insults--"liberal" and "neoliberal" and "racist"--and generally taking her down.

It feels disloyal or traitorous, somehow, to write about something other than the events that are happening around us. About the only non-news things on Twitter, for example, are those that are put out by twitterbots, which would churn out tweets if the sky was falling, which it kind of is.

If we need to write about our actual research, we seem unfeeling or uncaring (we're not). Ditto for teaching, with each fresh tragedy appropriately bringing with it a "syllabus" to teach resistance to the Nazis. Yet we have obligations that demand other kind of content, and we have to consider that, too, don't we?

I have research-related posts and writing that I want to do, but I keep thinking I'll wait for the !@#$show to end or at least die down. Like the never-ending heat this summer, though, it never does.


xykademiqz said...

I am one who doesn't really follow today's politics and I admit that I don't feel guilty about it at all (should I feel guilty about not feeling guilty)? I barely follow politics in the best of times and I sure as $hit am not doing it now. Enough of what's going on spills through to the secondary and tertiary sources that I hear about the bigger things that are going on -- as you note, they are unmissable -- but it doesn't seem like following all the commentary is either achievable or prudent. To me, national politics is something I have no control over and is thus not worth much of my energy. My husband follows and gets pissed much more, but when I suggest that he get active on the local political scene, he wouldn't for the world. My attitude is that if I truly have no control over something, I can tune it out; I am thus much more perturbed by the fact that my dean is an a$$hole than by the federal $hitshow. I couldn't believe that Hillary, who's a decent human being and a dedicated social servant, lost to a hateful piece of $hit. But she did, and that tells me what I need to know about the populace. People got what they wanted.

This is my attitude. I am not saying caring is bad, just that I have a hard time mustering any. Perhaps that's because I lived in a society that was much mode volatile than the US, so I know that people survive in far worse conditions, and they do that in large part by minding their own business. A small minority will engage meaningfully to affect change (by organizing protests, running for office, etc.), but most will not. I think the worst time and energy drain is this impotent worry, where you feel like you have to drink the $hit from the $hithose that is Twitter along with various news outlets, but have no ability, will, or resources to really do anything about it. This is worse (for an individulal's well-being) than disengaging.

Now, the question is whether everyone disengaging is actually part of the political design. Of course it is. However, that doesn't change the fact that I have one life to live and I am not wasting it on Trump's tweets.

undine said...

Bravo and amen, xykademiqz! Your attitude is the one I should take. I remember your great post about "low-trust" and "high-trust" societies; for me, the U.S. has always been the latter (not for everyone, I know, because racism etc etc etc), but this never-ending $hitshow has eroded that. It's seeing the country being destroyed not only by Trump but by those that could stop him and will not until they destroy it that is so horrible and compelling.

Impotent worry is about where a lot of people are right now--wanting to help, and, to be honest, fearing that whatever they say or do will be wrong (Liberal! Neoliberal!) if they take too optimistic a view. Getting off Facebook would be a start, and staying away from Twitter would be another. Thank you!

gwinne said...

I feel similarly about the Fey skit. Not her best, certainly, but it seems to me that anyone who thinks she's advocating disengaging (and eating cake) as a legitimate political strategy is willfully misreading her at worst, and at best, incapable of understanding the nature of satire. What she did gives a visual metaphor for I think what a lot of people feel. And I find myself getting increasingly frustrated that white women (starting with Hillary, of course!) are the target of so much animosity from *all* sides.

I'm still tinkering with the syllabus for one of my classes, which happens to present an opportunity to gracefully incorporate some of this as real content (I was already going to teach a unit about writing about race, anyway).

There was a rally in my town today. We didn't go because we were on the road. But Tiny Boy was clearly paying attention and overheard conversation. He said "If Hillary won, would we have rallies?" He's five. He knows our state capitol as "the place where we go for rallies." Astonishing to me. It makes me so sad. And even the fact that I can say that I know many would say is privilege. So maybe all I'm allowed to do is eat cake...

undine said...

gwinne, I hadn't thought of the gender aspect of the criticism of Fey, but you're right. Since writing that yesterday I've seen even more condemnations of her, and while there are legitimate issues with what she said, I feel like saying, "let's focus on the NAZIS, shall we? and the destruction of the EPA through stealth? and the lunatic in chief who's provoking the other most unstable leader on earth into nuclear war." Immediacy in wanting to jump on the most recent thing is distorting the big picture--something that Trump knows well with his manipulation of the news cycle via Twitter--and in their efforts to be the most outraged voice at the newest thing, everyone loses sight of the bigger ones: racism & destruction of the rule of law.

It's too bad that events have made Tiny Boy think that way of the capitol. Maybe there'll be a different vision eventually.

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

By trying to post/say things, or respond with my liberal beliefs, I have been reamed. I'm tired of it, so this past week I wasn't on FB as much and never checked Twitter. I have a course release this semester, so even if the end of the world is coming, I'm writing this goddamn book.

I do have WaPo breaking news alerts on my phone, so if something major happens, I'll know. But I've seen too much hate coming toward me to engage anymore. I make monthly donations so causes I believe in. That, and breaking news, is all I can handle at this point.

Fie upon this quiet life! said...
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Fie upon this quiet life! said...

Did you see this analysis of the Tina Fey thing? To me it's the best analysis I've seen of the bit.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

I have a friend who grew up in the Soviet Union. Being with her is very relaxing. We never talk about politics. She takes for granted that government is corrupt and the world chaotic, and has a lot of practice in getting on with her own life regardless. We visit museums and talk about art, go for walks and look at architecture, and share photos of our families and animals.

I don't have an account on FB and on Twitter I follow only professional organizations. Anything they send goes into junk mail, which I check no more than once a week. I'm sure this helps substantially. Nonetheless, I have been feeling unsettled lately, which I have attributed to personal circumstances, but maybe I should avoid the news even more assiduously. In general, I believe in doing the things within one's control and ignoring the others, but that is easier said than done.

undine said...

Fie, I've (once again--I'm a backslider) checked out of Facebook for a month & feel much more relaxed. I haven't seen the analysis of the Tina Fey thing but will take a look. Being off FB takes away a lot of the fear about saying something wrong, but you never know. Windmills, for example, are a thing around Northern Clime because they, and we, are in the middle of nowhere and they are good energy sources place far from any houses, but to defend windmills on my particular FB feed would be like defending the Khmer Rouge.

Dame Eleanor, that sounds restful indeed--never talking about politics. I actually welcomed a series of day-long meetings (well, almost) because that was 7 hours a day that I didn't and couldn't know what the news is. (Unlike Fie, I don't have any alerts of any kind turned on on my phone.)

What Now? said...

I just want to say "Yes, exactly" to your post! The new school year starts for me next week, and I'm determined to keep myself from being crazy from the news this year, unlike last year.

Anonymous said...

Well, I have felt for years that other things than my research are more important for me, and anyone, to read and write about. I've tried to change fields and careers for that reason.

More to the point, I've been feeling nervous for years about how, for example, we were ignoring global warming. Nobody else seemed to be distracted by this, and they all published a lot, so I don't see why they can't just keep on: the crisis is not new.

Repeat: the crisis is not new.