On the Strange Split Between the Normalcy of Our Individual Lives and the Vicissitudes of Our Collective Situation

The last six weeks have been so full of dramatic news that, bizarrely, it feels like nothing at all has happened. The mind, perhaps in an effort to protect itself from whiplashing change, seems to stop processing huge news of great impact after enough of it happens. Or, maybe it’s just that no news is big news when everything is big news.

The only way I have to even discuss thoughts about the last couple of months is to compare the things that have happened with the story of my own life during the same period. Comparing things in this way has felt even more disconcerting, as my own life feels normal against the backdrop of national turmoil. I am disturbingly reminded of everything that I’ve ever read that’s written by those who live in burgeoning autocracies.

One of my brothers got married about five weeks ago. I remember my brother Adam and I playing when we were really little, usually pretending to be Sonic the Hedgehog or something like that (we were a Genesis family; back off, Nintendo philistines). As we grew up, we grew apart a bit. I went into band, technology jobs, and a humanities degree. Adam went into most sports that I can think of, and eventually science degrees. Seeing and talking to each other as adults, though, we’ve always been able to have great conversations about politics, science, or just talking in movie lines. Seeing him married to the love of his life was a really emotional experience. Likewise was the opportunity to see so many family members and friends at the wedding.

Likewise, I have something new going on at work as well. I’ve moved from the position that I’ve been in for the past two and a half years, into a new area. In my case, it’s a move back to an area that I’ve been in before, but in a new role that’s never existed before. I’m very excited about the opportunity that I’ve been afforded to help define a new role and to have an even greater impact on my team. So, even in my own individual sphere, life continues as normal, with career moves and growth happening.

Oh, and there’s that one other thing too…

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The feelings about this could fill up their own post, and maybe at some point soon I will try. In brief, it’s early, so it still feels a little unreal somehow. I’m also excited and scared in equal measure, knowing that a lot of life changes are coming. At the same time, it’s both joyous and normal. I’m 31, she’s 30, and it’s time; yet another milestone cast upon such a strange backdrop.

Meanwhile…

Of course, now we have to turn to that backdrop itself, with its whole cast of characters. In the last six weeks:

  • The President went on a foreign trip during which he deliberately didn’t commit to defend our allies if they were attacked.
  • The United States has withdrawn from a huge international agreement on climate change and traded our leadership for China’s in renewable energy.
  • The former director of the FBI, after being fired by the sitting President, testified under oath that that sitting President is a liar.
  • The Attorney General of the United States testified under oath that he could not answer questions that in fact he had no legal basis to not answer.
  • The Senate majority leader, having previously derided Democrats for allegedly crafting bills behind closed doors, crafted a health care bill behind closed doors that could cause utter chaos in the country’s health care system.

In any other era of American history, any one of these things would be major news, and in many cases a major scandal. In our case today, these are just the five most outrageous things that I could think of; I’ve probably forgotten a half dozen other crazy events that have long since been buried by the constant avalanche of news.

I can honestly say that I am fatigued, because the barrage every day is fatiguing. You can’t look away, though, once you’ve started paying attention. I don’t necessarily have a larger point to make; I can’t claim that the normal good things in our lives totally cancel out the wider turmoil, and I will never argue that our own everyday pleasures absolve us from caring about the threats that others face.

The best approach, perhaps, is to allow the great precious things that happen in our individual lives to give us hope and fortitude for the darker, more frustrating things that we have to encounter in the broader world. The best approach for all of us as a collective would be to likewise remember that we’re all just vulnerable people living precious moments, and to share in each other’s joys instead of engaging in ideological fights. Our politics needs to shift from politicians talking to us, to us talking to each other.

Daily Ways to Pick Up the Pieces

 

We’ve already discussed how the world is changed. For the past eight years, we’ve been reminded of the change in slow, smoldering ways. Seeing the creeping change, much of our society had slipped into a nagging, edgy fear. Now, what was smoldering embers is now a raging fire of change.

Indeed, when I started drafting this post, I had a short diatribe here decrying some of the things that were happening. Then I deleted it because all new things are happening now and it sounded pointless.

Since we’re all feeling like everything in the world is unhinged, I thought I’d share what I’ve been doing to stay alert, informed, and engaged. My mom suggested right after the election that we’d all just have to pick up the pieces. These things are my way of doing that.


First, take care of yourself. This post from last August details the tools that I like to use for fitness, if you need a hand. Even the day after the election, I went for a run. Whatever you do to center yourself and care for your body, you should keep being attentive to it, whether that’s working out or simply meditating.

Next, staying informed. There is a lot going on in the world, even beyond the indescribable situation that we find ourselves in in the United States. To gain a solid sense of what’s happening, with good writing that will help explain the nuances of complex topics, I strongly suggest a newspaper subscription. I woefully underestimated the value of paid journalism before the election, to my great regret. I understand now that seeking the truth and reporting it to others absolutely rely on a free press, and that the best journalists cannot work for free. I’ve very much enjoyed my New York Times subscription since the day after the election. I start every morning when I wake up with the Morning Briefing, in their (excellent) iPhone app, and follow it up on weekdays with the morning’s episode of The Daily. I’ll have more on podcasts that I listen to in a later post.

Try also to read books, as opposed to the news. This is extremely difficult for me, as plugged into the news cycle as I am. Lately, I’ve been reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari. However, I’ve been taking so long that I’ve got to return it to the library and check it out again later. My daily regimen should really include more dedicated reading time for just books, and I’m still working on it. Perhaps I’ll drop a Goodreads widget or something here on the site to help track my progress.

One last thing that has really stuck as a ritual for me in the last 8 months or so is writing up a journal entry once daily. I use an iPhone/Mac app called Day One for this. I have the iPhone app set to prompt me automatically at 11 PM each night. When I tap on the notification, the app loads a preloaded template for me to fill out some of the basics of the day, including podcasts listened, TV shows watched, games played, whether I worked out, etc. I fill these in, and add my own commentary on the day. Regularly reviewing these entries is a bit challenging, but my current system is to have OmniFocus remind me to conduct a seasonal review whenever the seasons change. During this review, I’ll read the whole season’s worth of entries, and compile larger themes into a new entry.

The last year has seen me return more regularly to writing on the web as well, instead of just in my journal. I’m hoping this is a habit that I’ll be able to build on and find value in as well.

There you have it: my everyday basics for staying centered, for picking up the pieces.

 

My New Home

This is a brief post to simply announce my move over to a new home on the web. I’ve owned this domain for a short while, figuring that it was a good idea for me to finally acquire it. More importantly, setting up WordPress on it means that I can consolidate all the writing that I’ve done on the web for the last 11 years or so in one place.

Needless to say, it had been a while since I had read the earliest posts that I had done, back in the early years of college. I remember myself being a lot more conservative, and having a lot more free time. My apologies if any of it is poor writing.

Anyway, Medium did not give me enough control over my own identity compared to my own domain and WordPress. So, here I am. More posts coming soon.