Gratitude in a Brave New World

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This weekend, inspired by those who have been relentlessly calling their representatives on every issue from the ACA to the EPA, I sent 56 Valentines to government officials on behalf of my friends.

Each thank you Valentine is unique with cutout hearts on the envelope and card and a personal message on the inside. THANK YOU each one reads on the back of the envelope as well as on the front of the card.

I’ll admit I made the project more elaborate than it needed to be. Either because I harbor a nostalgia for handmade Valentines or because I really really like glue sticks.

“John McCain is never going to see this Valentine,” I thought, as I picked the perfect shade of metallic blue to address his fourth envelope, a different gel pen than the one used to address the next card I wrote to him.

Likewise, Congressman Jason Chaffetz will probably never see his purple-and-green hearts and with gold lettering thanking him for suggesting that a commander-in-chief who is mentally sound is a really good thing. If the DOJ doesn’t forward Sally Yates’ mail, those pink-and-silver hearts will probably just end up in the trash.

But with each card I wrote, I thought of all the people who would see them—from the mail carrier in Oakland, to the mailroom in Washington. Whether the envelope has been discarded or not, THANK YOU and a heart from handmade paper is sure to be visible.

So if you’re assigned to open mail for Rep. Beth Fukumoto or Rep. Barbara Lee you might feel a twinge of pride that you work for someone who stood up for what’s right and was acknowledged for it. Or perhaps you’re an aide for Senator Graham and you walk into the office of an aide of Senator McCain to work out the agenda for that investigation on Russian interference. The paper heart catches your eye and reminds you of the one you saw on your boss’s desk. You are making a difference. People are noticing.

Maybe you’re part of the custodial team and you see glittered envelopes in the recycling. THANK YOU. And it reminds you that you are a part of something bigger. Something that is changing. Whether that change is positive or not, that’s up to the people taking action.

Moreover, the ripple effect of thank-you card goes beyond expressing gratitude. These cards were a group effort. Chiara wrote “THANK YOU” on all the envelopes. My friend Fionnuala looked up addresses and wrote them on the all the envelopes (with the appropriately colored metallic gel pen, of course.) On top of all that, she donated all the stamps, too.

It was an opportunity to talk about the marches we’d both participated in and how empowering it was to take action. It was a chance to explain to Chiara why Senator Collins’ speech on Wednesday, coupled with Senator Murkowski, was so important.

This is how you become the change you seek. This is how a drop in the bucket becomes a splash.

Thank you to Leslie Ayers, who gave me the idea in the first place and thank you to all the Facebook friends who sent me suggestions.

Pledge for a Frantic Activist

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So I called some senators. I knitted a hat. I’ve marched, signed petitions, and typed a jillion angry emojiis on Facebook. I can’t keep up with the news, real or fake. It all feels like Whack-a-Mole politics. Idioms that used to be metaphoric are now literal: my head is spinning. I feel sick to my stomach. I’m so angry I can’t see straight.

I’ve become a frantic activist. A Franticivist.

At the same time, life is marching on as well. There’s the personal—lunches to pack and little people to take care of. There’s the professional: ballet classes to teach, submissions to read for a storytelling series, and a revision deadline for my memoir.

Something has to change. I can’t just ignore what’s happening in the world but I can’t neglect what needs to be accomplished in my personal life. Moreover, the phone calls and postcards are important, but I have a gut feeling that this is not the best way for me to make a difference. So, inspired by this article How To Stay Outraged Without Losing Your Mind, here’s what I’m going to do. Because the franticivsm is going to be the death of me.

READ
I used to get my news from the New York Times and the Daily Show. Now I get it from Lit HubTheir daily newsletter is a compilation of articles from around the web that keeps me informed. The diversity of voices and demographics is comprehensive with a variety of women, WOC, and prominent writers from all over the world, all are intelligent without being shrill or reactive. Lit Hub is where I first saw this article by Rebecca Solnit and this one from Roxane Gay.

WRITE
Last weekend I had to explain to my nine-year-old daughter why it’s called a pussy hat. Which meant we had to talk about personal space, innuendo, and what it means “take a word back.” We talked about the N-word and how words hurt. This story goes beyond pink hats. This is about finding a voice and using it. I want my daughter to take for granted that she can speak up. It starts with me putting that story down on paper.

LISTEN
Just before the inauguration I attended this Litquake event at the San Francisco Public Library in which writers such as Sarah Lapido Manyika responded to the current administration. As with reading intelligent commentary from authors I admire, listening to their words made me feel connected to a larger community. Online click-bait often makes me feel anxious and panicked but listening to nuanced analysis and opinions was inspiring. For those in the SF Bay Area, litseen provides a comprehensive calendar of where to go and who you’ll hear.

SPEAK OUT
Currently on my plate is an event at Kaleidoscope Coffee with the Write on Mamas and Michelle Gonzales. The theme is Plan B: Now What Do We Do? I’m also reading submissions for the San Francisco production for Listen To Your Mother in which ten percent of all ticket proceeds will go benefit a local nonprofit that benefits women and children. This is my opportunity to amplify the voices and stories that I think need to be heard. It doesn’t all have to be about politics. Compassion starts when someone else’s experience resonates with you. Now with the current political climate, I’m seeing that people (writers, cafe owners, librarians) are actively on the lookout for events and many have a community calendar already. There’s a lot of energy to be harnessed around creating a lit event.

RINSE, REPEAT, AND REVISE AS NECESSARY
This is a plan that I think can help me feel engaged, informed, and pro-active without feeling overwhelmed and frantic. But this could change. I know that new opportunities will present themselves and that might involve taking different actions. Until then, I’m going to cozy up with a copy of RAD Women Worldwide for an extra dose of Yes, We Can.