Writing in the Apocalypse of 2016

“2016 is the year that killed satire.”

So many people have said it in the past few months that I don’t even know  who I should attribute this quote to. But it’s true: nobody can tell the difference anymore between awful reality and caricature. 2016 is the year that extinguished many of our heroes and filled the swamp with bonafide jack-booted villains who half-joke about rounding us up.

I’m not going to mince words: the world feels unspeakably grim right now. I know that my feelings are not 100% a reflection of reality, but they are a reflection of the uncertainty the US and the world are facing. They are also a reflection of the fear I have for  my own personal safety, and the safety of people I care about. A lot of things many of us were fortunate enough to grow up taking for granted, like universal human rights, are up for debate on a scale that only the most maligned among us truly saw coming. Nothing about this situation is normal.

Trying to peer into the future is incredibly scary, because the worst might actually come to pass. No one knows if it will or not, but it’s no longer out of the question. It’s a possibility. A deeply terrifying possibility.

So what do I do with that, as a writer?

Well, there are a lot of things: I brainstorm ways to help those with fewer resources and connections, and I lobby for them to retain access to affordable healthcare. I work to uplift the words of women writers, writers of color, disabled, queer, and working-class writers, and writers of a wide variety of religions or no religion at all. I consume the work of the above, at full price. I keep in mind that many, many writers live with more precariousness than I do, and that they are using far more bravery and resources, and facing more harassment in order to keep writing.

 Please keep writing- the world needs your perspectives now more than ever.

This fulfills the part of me that needs to think about others to stave off dark thoughts of a coming apocalypse. The anxiety-prone part of me would rather care for others than produce thought after nerve-wracking thought about the worst that could happen.

Then there’s the other part of me- the part of me that demands I take the time to think about myself and what the future means to me.  And that part has become increasingly certain that it does not have any time to waste. No time! No time to do things I don’t care about. No time to spend with people who don’t mean something to me. No time to network for the sake of networking. No time to waste my life.

Now, those who know me know that I’ve always been a bit like this. I’m more on the brusque side sometimes, because I’d rather be writing than at a party, or I’d rather be with the people I love than talking shop over wine and cheese. I’d rather be reading something incendiary and soul-freeing than doing mundane tasks. I think most of us would, but most of us don’t feel that we have the right to.

Well, you know what? Nobody knows what the world is going to look like and how things will shake out.

So really, there is no more time to waste, and there is no more time to worry about what people will think of you. Let me tell you something that you probably know deep down in your bones to be true, but you may not have verbalized before because it’s a little scary and can feel overwhelming or unfeasible:

You deserve to be doing exactly what you want and need to do with your life. I repeat: you deserve it.

What do I mean by that? I mean you deserve to find a way for your need for survival to align with your interests, values, and skills. Life is way too unpredictable and precious for anyone to put off this course of action because it sounds too scary or risky.

In concrete terms though, what do I mean by that?

I mean that you should start now the process of finding ways to get paid to do what interests you, what aligns with your deepest values, and what matches up with your skill set. That stuff doesn’t happen overnight, but through careful, decades-long restructuring and reorienting. And if that sounds really scary, because money is tight and you don’t have a safety net, you can start small. You can start however small you need to. Can you find one hour in the week to claw back for yourself and your dreams? Protect it fiercely, and use it to plan your internal freedom.

Because something magical happens when you start. And I’m not talking about the wishful thinking airy-fairy prosperity theology sort of magical. I’m talking real magic- the “fortune favors the brave” kind of magic. Because once you take small steps toward aligning your skills with your values and your passion, other steps will appear as if from nowhere. To borrow one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s metaphors: You may not be able to see the whole staircase yet, but the next step will materialize, and then the one after that. Trust that it takes you somewhere you want to be.

Sure, do what you have to do to pay the bills and keep yourself and your loved ones safe. But never stop looking for those small steps that allow you to go further with your skills, interests, and values.  Because if you do this long enough, eventually someone will pay you to sit in the middle of that beautiful Venn Diagram.

And right now, in 2016, the time when everyone is circling the wagons and retreating and watching the sky with terrified eyes, is the perfect time to defy that fear and do something that makes your heart sing. You may as well.

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