A small box, made of rose quartz, sits on one of my bookshelves. It’s nestled in among various other trinkets and signs of Someone Lives Here Who Likes to Remember Things. The wee handle knob on the lid is broken off, and inside it are about five mineral rocks of varying colors and textures. I never remember their names, but I like the way they feel in my hands and glimmer in the light. It was given to me in the seventh grade.
The girl who gave it to me was one of my best friends at the time, one of the few I could speak to about my father’s death while simultaneously discussing crushes and it wouldn’t seem odd. It was just…being 12 while also living with trauma. We went through awkward teenage years together by correspondence and lost touch after the first year of college. By the time we found each other again, adulthood had done a number on us both. One of us had a drinking problem. The other was dating someone with one. We lost touch again, but things were a bit calmer by the time we eventually reconnected. We had ill parents and eating disorders to contend with, but we talked through them and helped out where we could. Eventually, she got word that I was pregnant through my social media announcement. I hadn’t yet told her personally, and this was enough to sever the ties once more. We haven’t spoken since. My daughter is now 7.
The box remains in my care, the broken spot where the handle was is worn down smooth. I forget the contents often enough that they delight me with sparkly purple, smooth green, and glimmering white reminders every time I open it. I’ve moved it time and again to each place I live, always making sure it has a spot on some shelf among a collection of other Proof of Life items.
We all keep our lives in little boxes. Broken and dust covered, or well-used and constantly polished, they sit waiting for us to open them at the right time. If we didn’t, the contents of one would spill into one another and there would be chaos. We’d use our “professional” voice when hanging out with friends, tell our children about our sex lives, ask politicians to pick up milk on the way home. The disorienting feeling of forgetting our PIN at the grocery store or saying, “I love you” when hanging up the phone with a client (just me?) is so unsettling because it’s a merging of boxes. It’s a sign of the compartments starting to nest and possibly leak, and by this we cannot abide. Not without some kind of Scanners-type result, anyway.
So we move from box to box as carefully as we can. We try to perform well at work, be on time, follow dress codes and processes. We try to eat right, exercise, stand once an hour, drink enough water. We go home, we try to clean, to be patient, to be present, to catch up on tv, to get enough rest. We save and spend our money, anxiously checking balances to see if our one or five jobs will be enough to keep the avalanche of bills from crashing on top of us and wonder how anyone has ever taken a vacation, and long for it with shame we cannot afford. We create, we try to stay open and relevant, break new ground, inform a sense of urgency and empathy. We read the news. We see some version of ourselves being marginalized, beaten, tortured, punished, murdered, legislated into obscurity, oppressed, kidnapped, dismissed, sidelined; or (in the case of cis white men), we see some version of ourselves committing these acts onto people who do not look like us. We take a breath, put the phone down, and try to continue or begin our day, clear-eyed and open.
Then we open social media and see an echo of this news. Or, if we’re lucky, we see people shouting about the latest in pop culture (ideally with no spoilers) and, if we’re on board, we can focus there for a while. If we’re out of the loop, we scroll past to more familiar topics. But the familiar topic is news again, so we linger there. This time, the sadness and violence is peppered with pictures of friends out and about, seemingly able to have put that box away. They are putting Vitamin D and ice cream into their bodies, and they seem genuinely happy. So now, we wonder what we’ve done wrong with our lives, and we haven’t even finished our coffee.
Add to this a collection of people slowly awakening to the idea that small behaviors make a big difference - and they have the nerve to ask those around them to modify those behaviors - and you have a very unstable landscape. Our boxes, once kept in neat rows in separate rooms, are now stacked atop one another in cramped spaces, daring each other not to topple.
Recently, I had quite a spill.
I spent months collecting my thoughts, and the thoughts of some people around me, about the behaviors of people we love. I had to take the time to collect a bunch of examples of this behavior in a letter in order to say, “See, this is a lot. It’s very hurtful, and I don’t think you mean to be hurtful. Please stop this somehow.” It caused a lot of anxiety for me. A lot of crying. A lot of worry. a lot of anger. Why did I have to say any of this anyway? Why don’t they just know? Why don’t others see it as important the second I tell them? I had to ask my closest friends to stand with me, and some of them weren’t comfortable doing it for reasons of their own. Most were. I did not allow any of the people involved their own processing time, something I had months - even years - of for myself.
I knew that, once this letter was sent, people would be angry with me. Even if they agreed the behavior needed to change, they would not be happy with me for saying it. I was reassured by friends that this absolutely could not be the case. “They’re just tired.” “They will happily hang out with you again.” “Give them more credit.” So I waited. I tried to dismiss the signs of resentment.
I found out I was right. The anger was there. And that…that is ok. I know that now. I didn’t at the time. I was angry that they had any reaction at all, as though that changed my stance. It didn’t. It doesn’t. And everyone processes at their own pace in their own way.
I’ve been reading about Georgia. About the idea that it’s ok to make a law so outrageous that will punish women for miscarriages, because the plan is to take it all the way to the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade. I think about what I would do if I were to get pregnant now, and how I need to have the choice. More than that, I need every woman to have a choice. And these men don’t agree with me. Some women don’t, either.
I’ve been reading about how the right sees Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and how they minimize her for being a young woman of color who challenges them.
I’ve been reading about synagogue shootings. People who look like me being shot for practicing a religion I only marginally observe. I’ve been reading about school shootings. Kids my child’s age rushing into closets instead of worrying about math scores.
Last night, my child was in tears because she unfairly lost a turn at kickball. And because another child pushed her. I cried because I wished to Someone that this would be her biggest problem at school. Please, Someone. Let this be her biggest problem.
So I reached a spilling point. Everything was knocking into everything else. Personal pain became a reflection of our current state, and our current state was made even more terrifying because of personal pain. If my friends could hold anger in their hearts for my asking for better, if the world could still turn while women are treated as vessels for life they do not wish to make, if children dying isn’t enough to change policy…then we’re all a bunch of shitbags. Prove me wrong. Go ahead.
And with this hopelessness, I took to the place of Birthday Greetings and Cat Memes (truly the only good Facebook provides on a consistent basis) and demanded people stand up. I demanded voices. I said that if my cis male friends weren’t answering the call on Georgia, then we were lost. The only people the monsters will hear right now are cis men, so speak up now because we need to hear from you.
Now. There’s nothing wrong with needing to hear words of affirmation and support. There’s nothing wrong with asking for action. But to assume that someone NOT posting about an issue means they don’t CARE…well. Now we’re trying to investigate the contents of someone else’s boxes and that’s just unsanitary and dangerous. I’m usually against this policy, especially in our current timeline of Everything Being On Fire At the Same Time because I can hardly post about tariffs and shootings and Sandra Bland and Georgia and Mueller and climate change all at once because I am not the Washington Post. I am not Apple News with pictures of my kid for good measure. No one is.
On a day where my feed was overflowing with Game of Thrones talk, I was screaming into a void about activism. Demanding receipts.
No good comes of this. Not ever. To open the Pandora’s Box of silence (ONLY on social media) = complacency, but also simultaneously employ the Schrodinger’s Cat question about whether activism still exists without the advertisement and whether there is still genuine activism in the advertising of it…well now we’re having a damn yard sale of all the box contents, aren’t we?
Speaking of pop culture, this bit from S2E2 of Letterkenny about sums up the Shout Your Activism sentiment.
"Whatever you do, just make sure peoples know about it.”
“Yeah, like you're gonna want to have somebody come down from the paper, take a photo of it. “
“Tweet a tweet, snap a chat. “
“Well, if it's not in the papers or on the Internets, it's pretty much worthless.”
“You know what I think, we should almost be snapping a chat about us talking about doing the charitables right now. “
“Pump the brakes. Now, am I doing the charitables for the charity's gain or my own?”
“Well, you do the charitables for the charity, but the whole point of doing the charitables is that people think you're a good guy for being charitable.”
“Yeah, behaving charitably, you'll have people saying, like, - ‘Oh, he's a good guy. ‘“
“Oh, he's a real good guy.."
“Oh, he's a great guy.”
I don’t believe you have to tell someone you did good in order for the good to work. I do believe you can care about more than one thing at a time.
I also believe social media warps our brains into thinking singularly about our morals under the eye of Posts, Tweets, and Likes. If it isn’t your cover photo, do you even care?
But because of the current and cluttered state of my boxes, I made some people very close to me feel very far away from me. I made them question their activism because it wasn’t good enough if I didn’t see it. I am no one’s standard bearer. I am FAR from doing enough myself. Who was I to ask for this?
I questioned my friendships outside of this mess. “I wasn’t invited to X’s house. They clearly hate me. Fine. Great. I deserve that, too.”
It was becoming a very angry purging of all of my contents. And then I realized, I was crying through most of it. I was hurt. I was scared. I needed someone to say that I would be ok despite all of this micro and macro mess.
But no one can say that. Not without lying, anyway. Because none of us know. “We’re not ok. And that’s ok,” is a place I consistently operate from, happily knowing that there are no guarantees. In doing so, I forgot to allow space for the position of, “We’re not ok. And right now, that’s not ok with me.”
When I went to pick up my daughter from school, another parent and friend asked me, “How’s the rage going?” There’s never a good answer to that, which is an answer in and of itself.
Another good friend told me that he measured his friendships by asking himself, if he were to die tomorrow, who would be able to tell his child things about him the child couldn’t learn on their own? I realized that the people who could tell my daughter the kindest and best things about me were those I was pushing away with demands I myself couldn’t even meet.
When I ask others to do better, I have to ask what that means. Sometimes, as in the case of my letter, I am certain of what that means and that I’m right to ask for it. In others, I’m far less certain. And uncertainty is ok, as long as there’s room in the box for possible answers and other ideas. Otherwise, it’s probably going to topple under the weight.