I don’t have anything much to add to the post-election cacophony. I know how important reflection is after a result like this, but in the week that has passed since I’ve found that I can’t bear to spend too much time thinking about what has happened, and what it’s going to mean for the next five years, for a country already tearing itself apart, for those who are already suffering and for the vague glimmer of hope I was holding out for decisive climate action.
I do want to record what I’ve found to be useful in dealing with the despair, mainly so I can refer back to it when I inevitably feel like this again in the future. Perhaps it will be of some use to others as well.
I found out the results about an hour before landing in my hometown – 16,516 km and 28 hours of solitude and mild discomfort and sleep deprivation away from my adopted home. Regardless of how long that flight is, I never think it’s enough. I don’t think that humans should be able to travel that far, that quickly. I always have about a week of spiritual jetlag, where I can’t quite believe the difference in weather, culture or people. Everything just feels vaguely unreal and I feel disconnected from everything, in two places at once.
The lead-up to the election was manic and completely exhausting, but I was buoyed up by the people I was working with, most of whom I’d never met before: a deep sense of shared purpose and vision of a better future. Finding out suddenly just how badly we’d lost this particular fight, I just felt completely adrift. An abrupt, seismic shift from feeling like I had agency, was part of something bigger than myself, to feeling powerless and completely alone.
This week I started reading Staying with the Trouble by Donna Haraway as a way of distracting myself from the political spectacle. Literally the first page of the introduction begins with exactly what I needed to hear:
Trouble is an interesting word. It derives from a thirteenth-century French verb meaning “to stir up”, to make cloudy, to disturb. We—all of us on Terra—live in disturbing times, mixed-up times, troubling and turbid times. The task is to become capable, with each other in all of our bumptious kinds, of response.
Mixed-up times are overflowing with both pain and joy—with vastly unjust patterns of pain and joy, with unnecessary killing of ongoingness but also with necessary resurgence. Our task to is to make trouble, to stir up potent response to devastating events, as well as to settle trouble waters and rebuild quiet places.
In urgent times, many of us are tempted to address trouble in terms of making an imagined future safe, or stopping something from happening that looms in the future, of clearing away the present and the past in order to make futures for coming generations.
Staying with the trouble does not require such a relationship to times called the future. In fact, staying with the trouble requires learning to be truly present, not as a vanishing pivot between awful or edenic pasts and apocalyptic or salvific futures, but as mortal critters entwined in myriad unfinished configurations of places, times, matters, meanings.
This staying present (mindfulness 101, I know) has also been the main thing keeping me together on a personal level as well. I usually deal with anxiety by just working more, but haven’t been able to as I just feel too tired and too sad. I start to feel okay again when I just focus everything on exactly what I’m feeling at that moment, focusing on my gratitude for abundant Australian sunshine or how it feels to swim in the ocean.
RB pointed out that this theme of resurgence can be found throughout The Mushroom at the End of the World as well:
One of the most miraculous things about forests is that they sometimes grow back after they have been destroyed. We might think of this as resilience, or as ecological remediation, and I find these concepts useful. But what if we pushed even further by thinking through resurgence? Resurgence is the force of the life of the forest, its ability to spread its seeds and roots and runners to reclaim places that have been deforested.
I like that resurgence inherently requires a period of dormancy. As badly-timed as this election was, at least it has coincided with a time of the year that some of us (in the West) have collectively decided is a time of dormancy. Although it’s incredible to see people immediately respond to this result by looking for ways to directly organise together and support each other, I also think that there is a lot of value to be had in being quiet, shrinking back, contracting, hiding, at least for a little while.
The other thing that has kept me going is talking directly to people in my network, both in the UK and Australia. I’m so grateful for the love and support and solidarity across all of these interconnected webs. I’m reminded of a chapter in Pleasure Activism by adrienne maree brown, where she’s talking to Monique Tula, who says:
There’s an exclusive, until recently, men-only club near Sonoma, California, called the Bohemian Club. Their motto used to be “spiders, weave not thy web here.” The spiders they’re referring to are women. Members of this club include politicians, university presidents, oil tycoons—basically rich white men who believe they own the world.
I envision a world full of spiders, weaving interconnected webs that resist patriarchal forms of supremacy that work so well at keeping us distraught, distracted, and divided.
I’m exhausted but looking forward to 2020, to resurgence and a world full of spiders.