A friend of mine posted a question today: “Can we talk about how not to be paralyzed by the realization that you can never do enough?” I know these feels. It’s been a hard day in America. A hard day in a hard week in a hard month in what is almost the end of an impossibly hard year.
I was explaining to my college roommate, visiting from out of town, that there was a point some months back when I seriously considered uprooting my entire family and moving us — maybe into the city, to the Devon area (Little India), maybe some place else entirely. Maybe downstate. Maybe a red state. I’m good in front of a crowd; I think I could learn to do a pretty good job with the work of elected official at higher levels. If I seriously thought I had any kind of decent chance of flipping a red Congressional seat, or being elected as governor of Illinois, I might well feel that I had a moral obligation to do everything in my power to do so. The main thing that held me back from following up on it more seriously was being pretty sure that between spending my 20s writing erotica (most of which is still out there) and being poly now, I’m pretty unelectable in conservative circles. But I thought about it a lot. I still think about it sometimes, about how to make a BIG difference, about scope. Go back to school and try to solve the environmental crisis, or feed a country’s worth of starving children, or work to stop a war.
I understand the impulse to upend your entire life to save the world, because the world desperately needs saving. It does. But. We also need to take care of ourselves, and take care of our kids, and our aging parents, and spouses and partners and friends and neighbors. That’s all worth something too, and even though you’re talking about ten people instead of ten thousand, that doesn’t make those lives less important, and you are probably uniquely situated to make particular, effective differences in those lives.
I think we have to fight on every level, keeping our capabilities, our skills and assets in mind, doing what we have to in order to keep our own strength up, because if you exhaust yourself hurling yourself at a brick wall, I’m not sure you’re doing anyone any good. So what does that look like?
Tonight Oak Park had a Village board meeting that I would have liked to attend, where passionate advocates of various viewpoints came together to debate a controversial building development. But even though they’re on different sides, even though there was undoubtedly some frustration and anger in the room, what gives me hope is seeing how many people are tirelessly working, mostly volunteering their time, to try to make the lives of their fellow citizens better. We may disagree on the best path to get to a brighter future, but as long as we’re still arguing with each other, trying to understand, I think we’re on the right track.
For me, tonight, my battle was going into the city even though I was a little tired, to read banned books to raise money for the ACLU. I don’t know how much we raised — maybe a hundred dollars, maybe a thousand. Every penny will be useful. And the event fed my own soul too, because I got to hear a host of terrific writers reading powerful passages from beautiful books. Inspiring. Tomorrow night, I’ll go to a trustee learning event; I’ll spend two hours working to understand more about my community, so I can better represent their needs as an elected official. The night following, I have writing workshop, feeding my own work. And then I’ll take a few nights to rest, to spend time with Kevin and the kids, because I need that too, if I’m going to have the strength to fight another day.
It’s not really a matter of choosing which battle to fight, I think. It’s more about fighting all the battles, big and small, but also knowing the battles will still be there to fight tomorrow. We make progress slowly, with backsliding, and we have to be in it for the long haul. Do what you can, when you can. Don’t give up.