The news has been ugly lately, terrifying at times. It’s hard to turn away and yet necessary if we are going to keep our minds healthy and our work on track.
Here are a few strategies for staying sane, for keeping ourselves from being swept away in anger and despair.
Let me know if you have other tactics that are working for you, and we can keep a running list.
Laugh and Tell the Truth.
Saturday Night Live has become a second religion in our house. From the Saturday night following the election, when Kate McKinnon sat at the grand piano dressed like Hilary Clinton, and sang Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah — without drawing on an ounce of her considerable comedic talent — we’ve never missed a show.
SNL has become the place where we bring our weary hearts to rest from the fear, frustration, and grief about what is happening to our democracy in the Trump era.
Alex Baldwin, dressed as Trump, making “O”s with his mouth, Melissa McCarthy, hair pulled back and stuffed into a suit, mocking Sean Spicer’s sad attempts at defending Trump’s policies. Kate McKinnon seated on a park bench, playing Jeff Sessions as a Forest Gump of the government. We recognize the snippets of truth inside absurdity.
We also enjoy Late Night with Seth Myers, who was the lead writer for SNL for years. Night after night, calling out the president on his bullshit in an endless cascade of jokes, and then occasionally breaking from the fun with utter seriousness about the danger and degradation brought on by the president.
I’ve appreciated the laughs and the lift in spirits. Beyond, that I’ve been proud of the tribe of writers who create this material. Writers at their best are truth-tellers. These folks have been fearless.
Write it all down. Get it all out.
I’ve been watching my daughter trying to digest her life on the page — in addition to process the crazy world she is inheriting, there are changes in body and mind, the starts and stutters of independence, social expectations, the outsize emotions of adolescence, not to mention the OCD monster that lives in a corner of her mind.
A few nights ago, while Steve and I were making dinner — he was cooking steak in a cast-iron skillet, while I baked kale chips and whipped up some guacamole — Shira sat hunched in her bed over a notebook.
“Are you ready to join us?” I asked.
“I’m not hungry yet,” she said. “And I have to finish writing this.”
Later, she asked me to read the entry she had written in her journal. It was the whole mess of her mind, everything she had on her plate. On the one hand, I could see her struggling. On the other hand, she was clear as to what was vexing her.
I saw in her journal what I knew from 365 days of continuous writing practice. The page can be a container for your mind, a place to bring it all, lay it out and let it settle.
Between the daily struggles of life in the 21st Century and the bombardment of crazy coming from Washington (or Maralago or New Jersey or wherever 45 happens to be), it’s easy to get bogged down. It can be hard to see our way out. The page can be a path to our own sanity.
Not easy in Texas, where the temperatures this week are hovering around 102, the heat index coming in around 107. I was fortunate to get away to New Mexico last week, to rent a house in Canada de los Alamos, looking over stretches of mountains dotted with pinon trees. Despite the chronic pain in my feet, I went out everyday and breathed the cool, clear air, felt the dirt under my feet, and took in the beauty of the landscape.
It’s not always possible to get away. But we can go to a park, even in the Texas heat, and walk on the grass. Connecting to the ground, to the earth that has been here millenia before us and will continue on after our deaths, we remember that Trump is nothing in the face of a mountain.
Dig in the Dirt and Don’t Squander Your Precious Life Force on a Fool.
In Andy Warhol’s memoir, “From A to B and Back Again,” he wrote that the most beautiful art you could make was to buy a piece of land and do nothing with it. Warhol left a lot of mysteries for art historians to puzzle out, but this statement needs no explanation.
When we buy or rent houses with yards, we are responsible to shepherd the plot of the earth we are fortunate to inhabit, to keep it clean, to make it beautiful, to preserve, protect, and cultivate new life.
It is also healing to dig around in the dirt.
When I was in New Mexico, I got to spend some time with my teacher, Natalie Goldberg. She had just returned from a trip and asked me to help tend her garden, which had gone a bit wild while she away. I hauled water and rotten vegetables for her compost heap, cut back dead growth and weeded the paths, while she trimmed trees and cut flowers for bouquets.
It felt good to work, to be connected to the ground and witness new growth. We talked a lot while we were out there — about friends and family, about writing, about death. At some point, the conversation turned to politics and we found ourselves ranting about Trump.
“Enough,” she said. “I don’t want to give him my energy. I don’t want to waste my life force on him.”
We turned the conversation to deeper matters. We continued to weed and trim and cut, to stay in the land and turn our eyes and minds toward beauty and other matters of ephemera.
I’m not suggesting we become apolitical or not step up to oppose the white supremacists or the vitriol coming out of the White House.As a Jew, I’m aware of the dangers of staying silent.
But how much of our life force will we give them?
Where will be devote our precious energy? How will we create and contribute in this crazy, beautiful, broken world?
How will we hold it all?
We continue laughing and writing and telling the truth. We go outside and connect with land.
We live our best and most beautiful lives. We stand up with the truth in our work. We are fearless. We resist, but we also rest. We continue caring for our loved ones and our planet.