mad world

i’ve been thinking a lot about what i can do to really make a positive difference in the world. when i mentioned midlife angst as a likely genre of blog post here on full of prunes, this is mainly what i was referring to. i’ve reached that age when it becomes impossible not to question what impact you’ve made and what’s possible with the time still left.

i tend to be high on the brooding spectrum and to think about these things a lot anyway. add a cancer diagnosis, a pandemic and a never-ending parade of human rights atrocities and social justice crises to the mix, and it’s pretty much the only thing i think about lately beyond the immediate needs of my family.

truthfully, though, i can recall exactly when it became a major preoccupation for me. the summer of 2018—when we all watched in horror as immigrant children were torn from their families, placed in cages and left in legal limbo, vulnerable to sexual abuse and every imaginable kind of exploitation—was the tipping point for me.

at that time, my husband and i were barely able to manage our own lives and care for our kids. in truth, we were on the brink of divorce and had been for a while over the stress of trying to keep it all together … two demanding jobs with nightmare commutes, two young children with boundless energy just as we were hitting middle age, seemingly endless responsibilities and so little relief—emotional, physical, economic.

don’t get me wrong, we were living a life of extreme privilege. the california dream. the dream i had left my life in boston to pursue almost a decade before. but the dream was slowly robbing me of my happiness, and under trump, increasingly robbing me of my soul. before california and before kids, i did a lot of protesting and volunteering, donating and voter outreach, so i slept pretty well at night feeling i was paying my way on this cosmic marble, even if it felt futile a lot of the time. but since having kids, arm-chair activism (at best) and virtue signaling (at worst) seemed all i had the time and energy for.

that summer, it felt sickeningly insufficient.

as anyone who knows me well would tell you, i’ve never set my goals based on what seemed possible. i have always set goals based on the deepest desires of my heart and then reconfigured my reality until the goal became feasible (or every possible avenue to success had been well and truly exhausted). in other words, i’m like a dog with a bone when i get an idea in my head.

but why wasn’t i applying that same approach to the problem of not enough time? why was i so invested in the path i was on, which clearly wasn’t working or resulting in a life i felt good about?

i don’t know why it took me so long, but what i can tell you is the day in july 2018, when i sat at my kitchen table crying and telling my husband that i couldn’t be at peace with myself if my answer to kids in cages was “i’m too busy,” that was the same day we decided to move to the east coast. it was to be near family, yes, but more specifically to be near the support that would allow me to do more to make the world a just place for everyone.

i still don’t know what that looks like. certainly, life has thrown us some curveballs since we moved that have slowed my roll, and i’m not where i want to be in regards to world-changing or life-balancing. recent events have me thinking that perhaps it’s time for another one of my dramatic life resets. do we up sticks to vermont, where we could get a modest house for peanuts, drastically reducing our need to work for money and freeing our time to participate more actively in world-changing? could i be of more use as a civil rights or immigration lawyer? (in vermont, taking the bar exam without going to law school is a thing, so a not completely implausible plan.) do our kids need an expensive private education, or should we somehow prepare them for a future that involves an entirely different kind of ladder to success? 

my therapist and i talk about chosen mediocrity  a fair bit. it’s the idea of living a small life on purpose, or breaking free from the “tyranny of excellence.” the idea resonates so deeply with me, but it also scares and repulses me at the same time. even if i could once and for all expunge the ego that propels me to external signifiers of success, does it make any sense in the context of innocent people being murdered by police without repercussions or kids in cages? isn’t it proper to strive for excellence when the stakes are so insanely high? having a small life right now seems like a privilege so many people can never enjoy for reasons well beyond their immediate control.

i sometimes wish i were the writer of blog posts that neatly answered these kinds of questions, where i explained how i figured all this stuff out. maybe even offered an online seminar where i taught you to answer your deepest philosophical questions and remake your life for $349. nah, $599—i’m worth it. (see, STRIVING!)

anyway, it’s not. far from it. (in fact, this may not be the blog for you if you prefer answers over questions.) i remain stubbornly invested in society’s prescribed definitions of success in a way that i don’t fully understand myself. i struggle to balance all the slices of the pie that comprise my life in a way that feels right (ethically and logistically) and to dismantle my mental models that make balance essentially an impossible goal (the awareness of which has yet to temper my striving). 

i am the writer of blog posts where i ask you to come along with me as i messily strive and then strive to stop striving, where i wrestle with what i owe the world vs. what i owe my own family and band , where i grapple with what it means to be enough—do enough—at this moment in history. 


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