The first Existential Dread Club conversations happened in July, 2021. Things were bad, then, too.
In those conversations we talked about what was contributing to our experiences of existential dread.
Here’s some of what we said in our first meeting conversation;
I don’t know if existential dread is quite the right word for it, but like, a feeling of hopelessness and overwhelm and uncertainty about the future, because it seems like every time we do something to make some kind of progress – like we have the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and they generate this phenomenal body of work. We have the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2 Spirit final report and they generate this incredible body of work. And within that body of work, there is so much education, so much emotional labour of Indigenous communities, and then it does nothing! The government does nothing with it and that contributes to my feeling of like, “Why? And how? And what even is the future?”
We went through that historic heatwave just, you know, 10 days ago. And that left me feeling more intensified feelings. I’ve been thinking about what kind of world we’re leaving for the people who come after us, and what we have done to this planet.
I think capitalism and how to actually deal with capitalism so that we can do something about all of these different things. Because there’s not really any incentive under capitalism to stop making money quarterly.
I see a lot of initial momentum towards maybe challenging capitalism, but I fear that this is just people online, on social media saying ‘yes, this sucks,’ but thinking that there’s no actionable things attached to challenging it in any way. And so I fear that it’s this moment where it’s possible but probably not gonna happen. And that’s really tough.
Definitely the general feeling of, like, hopelessness that’s reflected back to me when I chat with folks… it’s a lot.
We talked about friendship and trust and hope, and the effect of feeling hopeless and despairing and lonely. And we talked about what helps.
We talked about not being able to control other people, and how that makes things hard – how the actions we see people taking that cause harm can invite us to feel both responsible and hopeless, and how turning our energies towards the relationships where we can make a difference feels more possible, more hopeful, more generative. In those spaces of relationship, where trust has been developed and care exists, it’s not about control, it’s about influence and connection.
One participant said, “The smallest things we can do are the things that just help us personally, that we can only do for ourselves not to feel so much dread. And then as you get bigger it’s about trying to affect maybe your friends and family. And then it gets to trying to affect society and that’s where it gets bigger and bigger, but it also gets harder and harder.”
A Weekend at the Existential Dread Club is my attempt to widen my circle of influence just a little bit, for just a little while.
I haven’t been doing much organizing lately. I have mostly been hanging on by my fingernails to this life. Doing what feels possible, acknowledging that what feels possible is most often the smallest, most personal thing.
But I feel an intense amount of dread these days.
Things are bad.
Things are so bad, in so many areas.
Issues around the pandemic, and how we are watching ‘the easing of protections’ (to use a phrase from a dear friend) sparked the idea for this second Existential Dread Club event. There is growing existential dread for those of us who are disabled, chronically ill, medically complex, or otherwise at increased medical risk (due to personal factors, sure, but also due to structural factors like medical racism, transphobia, fatphobia).
But between having the idea and actually organizing anything, so much more has happened. War in Ukraine. Floods in Australia. Cost of living shooting up fast enough that people I know and love can’t pay their bills. Texas coming after trans kids and anyone who tries to offer trans affirming care. The ‘convoy’. Anti-mask demonstrations every week.
Everything present in those first conversations, escalating. Colonialism. White supremacy. Climate change. Capitalism.
And alongside all of this, I really miss organizing. I miss facilitating events. I miss conferences and retreats. I miss community spaces and the conversations in those spaces and the documents that grow out of those spaces. I miss being the past version of me who had energy for that kind of work, time for that kind of work, space for it.
So, this is a virtual retreat. A weekend to talk about what we’re afraid of, what we’re holding onto, how we’re getting through.
There will be three facilitated conversations:
Friday, April 1 from 6:30-8 pm MST
Saturday, April 2 from 1:30-3 pm MST
Sunday, April 3 from 10-11:30 am MST
There will also be a gather.town set up for the weekend, where we can chat, post messages, maybe have a watch party together on Saturday evening. I’m hoping to capture a little bit of the casual conversation and social connection that I miss so much from facilitating retreats.
There will probably be a writing workshop, too.
You can join for whatever part of the events feels best for you and fits into your schedule. You can register here. There’s no cost, but there’s an option to donate if you want to.
For now, only the three facilitated conversations are formally scheduled, but as we get closer to the weekend, other events will be scheduled.
(Cross-posting from Facebook – I’m going to be posting over the next couple weeks as I work through Dr. Lynn Gehl’s Ally Bill of Responsibilities.)
If you are non-Indigenous and feeling overwhelmed and not sure what to do as you watch the ongoing colonial violence committed on Wet’suwet’en lands, consider this an invitation to find one specific and tangible action to take.
You can start with the Wet’suwet’en Supporter Toolkit 2020, which is full of resources and ideas. There are places to donate, articles to read, historical and contemporary information to learn.
If that feels daunting for you, and you’d like a single specific task, you can join me in spending some time with Dr. Lynn Gehl’s Ally Bill of Responsibilities.
There are 16 responsibilities listed in this bill, and I’m going to be working my way through these, focusing on one per day, for the next two weeks.
The first responsibility is –
“Do not act out of guilt, but rather out of a genuine interest in challenging the larger oppressive power structures.”
This requires us to examine our own hearts and find where guilt is our motivation. This is hard work, but it’s important.
What do you feel when you read stories and articles about what is happening on Wet’suwet’en land? When you read the racist and anti-Indigenous comments on articles and scattered throughout social media?
I think that many white settlers, like myself, are feeling guilt in these situations, and we know that we are implicated in the violence because we are part of the dominant group.
How can we recognize and validate those feelings of guilt, but NOT keep those as our motivation for being in solidarity with Indigenous communities?
Acting from guilt positions us as the ones with agency, the ones who can take actions to make things right. Acting from guilt can lead us to think that we’re the ones with the power to harm, and therefore the power to heal. It can lead us to think that our job is to “help” Indigenous communities. But this isn’t right. These larger oppressive power structures harm everyone, and challenging them is not an act of charity towards Indigenous communities, it is an act of mutual aid towards our mutual survival.
How can we shift our motivation so that we are acting from an awareness that these larger oppressive power structures must be challenged?
What will help us stay connected to an awareness of moving towards justice, rather than simply moving away from guilt?
Acting from guilt can also lead us into trying to gain absolution from our Indigenous friends and community members. Trying to be reassured that we’re not “bad”. Seeking out comfort for the uncomfortable feelings of guilt.
But acting from genuine interest in challenging oppressive power structures means that we can just do that work, without asking for reassurance and comfort from the people we are trying to be in solidarity with.
For myself, this responsibility feels more possible when I have other white settlers to discuss my feelings of guilt with, so that I’m not just ignoring or dismissing those feelings, but I’m also not allowing them to be the motivator of my actions. Accountability companions who share my white settler privilege and won’t be harmed when I talk about my guilt are important.
This is our monthly Shiny! speculative writing group letter. Our first regular letter! I’ve been thinking about who we are as a group, and what we’re trying to do, and the obstacles that we might need to navigate.
I decided on magpies, because I love magpies.
They are inquisitive, curious, and creative. These are skills we need in this group, as we explore and investigate the complexities of the present in order to imagine more hopeful futures.
And they are forever seeking out the shiny hiding in the gutters and the trash and the deepest, thorniest thicket. We need this skill, too. The little bits of sparkle that we find together in this group will help us build nests for the future. (It is important to note that magpies aren’t actually more drawn to shiny objects more than any other bird – if you are a sparrow or an eagle or robin or a turkey vulture, you, too, are valuable and necessary and you, too, will help build the nests to hold the future.)
And magpies are brilliant and adaptable – recognizing the faces of allies and threats, using tools, adapting to hostile contexts. Magpies are one of the species that have fully adapted to urban living, and that thrive in spaces that have been fundamentally altered by human intrusion. This is another skill – to adapt, to recognize threat and to thrive despite it. (And perhaps to swoop at the heads of a threat, like Australian magpies do!)
So, my lovely magpies, let’s dive into this letter.
You’ll find the craft lesson first, then shared writing from the February session, some recommended reading, the writing prompts for March.
Shiny! is open to writers of all experience and confidence levels, and the reason we are not engaging in craft lessons at our in-person meetings is because, although ‘steering the craft’ (to borrow from Ursula K. Le Guin) is important, first we must be invited in. First, we gather up our words and our threads of story. First, we learn the sound and feel of our own voice. That’s what we’re doing in the in-person writing sessions. Once we have gathered a rich pile of words and stories, then we can figure out what to do with them.
Then we learn how to string those words together in ways that are most effective, and how to use our voice in ways that are most accessible to our audience. That’s what we’re hoping to do in these craft lessons.
You do not need to engage with these craft lessons in order to participate in either the in-person or the online group. They are entirely optional. However, if you do decide to engage with the craft lessons and would like to chat about them or receive feedback on your work, you can bring them to the group or email them to me. (We will eventually have a dedicated online space, most likely a Discord server, but since this is all volunteer on my end and I’ve got a bit of a learning curve to get that set up, we don’t have it yet. Bear with me!)
So, our first craft lesson!
We are starting with dialogue, since this was one of the requested topics at our launch party in January.
One of our participants shared that they have lots of character sketches and settings and narrative ideas, but they struggle with how to write dialogue between these characters.
This was a shared experience for many of us!
There are whole books written on the topic of writing dialogue (including a wealth of books on screenwriting, which offer insights that can be translated over to other forms of writing). Many of us speak all the time – to each other and to ourselves. We play over conversations in our minds, remembering or rehearsing. We listen to other people engaging in dialogue, too. We are surrounded by dialogue!
But it remains challenging to write, partly because we are so immersed in conversation throughout our days, and what we write on the page sounds off if it is exactly like what we say and hear throughout the day. Our writing needs to capture the feel of conversation, and that means that we need to learn which parts of spoken conversation need to be cut away in order to leave the core intact and convincing.
Here are a couple exercises to work with:
Practice rewriting dialogue
Record yourself having a conversation with a friend. This works best if the conversation is about something, so that you have some clear themes to work with. I suggest recording five minutes of rich conversation (which may mean setting your voice memo recording and then chatting for twenty minutes, and choosing the richest five for this exercise).
Transcribe those five minutes of conversation.
As you’re transcribing, pay attention to all of the filler in the conversation, and all the bits that could be edited out in order to make the dialogue easier to read.
Once you’ve done this, rewrite the conversation. Keep the core of it – the meaning, the flow, each person’s separate voice. Work on shaping that dialogue into something that reads smoothly but remains true to the actual conversation you had with your friend.
Dialogue or description?
(This exercise is adapted from the book Writing Dialogue by the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto.)
Put two characters in a setting where they’re stuck together. (The book recommends a car, but I’ve also found waiting room, plane ride, or ticket line settings useful.)
Write the same scene twice, once using only dialogue (what are the characters saying to each other?) and once using only description or summary (what is happening around the characters?)
Which works better?
That wasn’t the plan!
Write a two-part scene.
In the first, have your character imagining what they will say in a conversation that they’re anticipating.
In the second, write them actually having the conversation.
We’ve all had the experience of anticipating a conversation and then having that conversation actually happen, and it rarely works that it goes exactly as planned. (When it does go exactly as planned, this is its own kind of shocking!)
If your character’s conversation does not go as planned, what are the variables that push the conversation off the anticipated track? What is the result of this?
If the conversation goes exactly as planned, what is the outcome of this? How does your character feel? What are the effects on their life or the lives of those around them?
One of our writing prompts was rolling three Magic & Fairytale Story Cube dice. We got a wizard, a treasure chest, and a knight. Agnieszka wrote three haikus, and has allowed me to share them here.
Cloaked in patient leadership,
They stand with courage
An alchemy of wisdom
The Knight (for Tiffany)
The pursuit of truth,
Through deepest sorrow of loss,
Your shining armour
Oh, the joyful abundance
Of being open
To the beauty of pleasure
If we are going to, as Walidah Imarisha suggests, write “fantastical literature that helps us to understand existing power dynamics, and helps us imagine paths to creating more just futures,” then we must be actively and intentionally working to decolonize, to be actively anti-racist, to be working towards justice. And I think that if we want to write good speculative writing, in any genre, we also need a sense of hope and possibility – sometimes our efforts towards justice, especially if we are writing from a place of privilege and trying to be in solidarity, can feel stripped of playfulness and joy. I think we need to find that joy. Our selected links for this month are tied to these ideas.
With the colonial violence being enacted against Wet’suwet’en by the Canadian government, knowing what is happening and how to be in solidarity is important, even if our writing is on other topics. These big moments in our collective narrative are important for speculative writers because in these moments, possibilities for other ways to be in the future open up. So our first link is not related to writing speculative fiction, but it is related to our goal of imagining more just futures. The Wet’suwet’en Supporter Toolkit offers a wide range of ways to support, including links to further resources. As you read through this, what becomes possible in your writing? Does the history shared here, and the story of resistance and resilience, change how you might write possible futures?
Our second reading is Kate Heartfield’s article at Article Magazine, Decolonizing the Future: How a new generation of Indigenous writers is changing the face of science fiction. This is a beautiful read, full of recommendations for books and articles and to read, and clearly articulating why Indigenous science fiction is so important. One thing I love about this essay is that it makes clear that Indigenous communities have been imagining possible futures for themselves that have always stood against colonization, and have affirmed Indigenous rights. Written a couple years ago, I think that this essay is a beautiful pairing with the Supporter Toolkit – the land defenders are holding the future, and Indigenous speculative writers have been imagining that future into possibility. “The concept of “the future” only exists in the present. It can be shaped by the same colonial structures and narratives that shape the North American present, or it can affirm Indigenous land and sovereignty.”
Our third reading is for those of us who want to write, and may not be sure what stories are ours to tell, and how to tell them in respectful ways. Amal el-Mohtar offers a brilliant and comprehensive answer to the question, “How can writers represent people on the margins in their stories? How do writers know when they are being allies and when they are talking over people who could be speaking for themselves? How can I tell, as a writer, when I’m telling a story that isn’t mine to tell?” It can be found in her essay, Writing the Margins from the Centre and Other Moral Geometries.
And lastly, the joy and playfulness, and how friendship makes the future possible. Read more from Amal el-Mohtar in her story Pockets, at Uncanny Magazine. The thing I love most about this piece is how it demonstrates what friendship can mean – the care that Tessa and Nadia and Warda take with each other, the way they check in about what they each need… it’s beautiful. It reminds me of some of my own friendships, the ones that make it possible to stay in this world even when the world is hard and terrifying. The friendships are my favourite thing about this story, but I also love the pockets!
In addition to the readings, I have an announcement!
The Spring 2020 round of An Unexpected Light is open for registration! Participation is limited in this six-month online narrative therapy and speculative fiction course. Shiny! is an offshoot of the first round of this course, which has been really well-received! If you’re enjoying this group, you might enjoy the course, too.
You can find out more (including a link to download the updated syllabus) here.
Our next in-person writing session will happen on March 1, 2020, from 4-6 pm at Loft 112 in Calgary, Alberta. We’ll be writing on the following prompts (probably not all three, unless we are a very small group!) Since our craft lesson this month was dialogue, our writing prompts are loosely themed around communication.
Shiny! is explicitly a speculative writing group, but “speculative writing” can encompass a vast diversity of genres and styles. Whatever you write, keep an eye on the speculation of it. What are you imagining to be different than what is currently known of reality? And Shiny! is also an explicitly justice-focused group, hoping to write our way into more just, more liberated, more possible futures. So if the dread rises up in you and the only future stories feel dystopian, reach in for your inner magpie, wise and adaptable and possible, and find even the tiniest sparkle to grab onto. Bring that sparkle into your story.
If you will be attending the March event, you can choose whether to write on these ahead of time and then polish them at the event, or write another piece on the same prompt at the event.
If you’re following along at a distance, you can write along with these prompts and share them by email if you’d like them included in next month’s letter. To write along, set your timer for 20 minutes and write! Feel free to edit and rewrite or keep writing past the timer, but also don’t feel obligated. Sometimes it’s worthwhile just to get a little bit of writing done, even if it’s not perfect or complete.
“I trust that help will come eventually if I persist in my curiosity, my investigation.” – Susan Power. Write about the help that comes to your character, and about the curiosity and investigation that made it possible.
A hand-written note from another time. (Note, you can take this in many directions – a note found in a book far in the future, a note sent to the past via time travel, a note from or to an ancestor, a note never meant to be found and discovered somehow, etc.)
The other day I responded to a post about politics and said:
I feel like the last couple years have really pushed me away from the faith I had in electoral politics, and there are times when I feel so much grief for losing that thread of hope. Most of the time I am thankful, because letting go of that opens up space to do other things and to imagine other ways of making change, but sometimes it does feel like a loss, and it is a feeling of grief.
Maybe there needs to be a little collective narrative projects for newly disillusioned folks to talk about this grief, which really doesn’t have a lot of space for expression.
Well, here is that little collective narrative project!
Over the next few weeks (until November 8), I’ll be collecting stories about our feelings about politics in 2019.
Submit your piece of poetry, art, or non-fiction by emailing me at email@example.com. Submissions will ideally not be more than 1000 words, but, as with all of these projects, I’m flexible.
If you are struggling with how to express your feelings or what to write, there are a few options. You can get in touch with me and we can have a chat that will hopefully help you clarify what you want to express, or you can use the following narrative questions to guide your writing:
When you think about the current state of electoral politics, what are the feelings that are evoked?
Are these feelings the same, similar, or not at all similar to feelings that you used to have about electoral politics?
If your feelings have changed, do you remember a specific experience or story that contributed to this change?
What do you miss about your earlier feelings, if there has been a change?
Do you have a sense of grief or disillusionment?
What are you grieving?
What feels like it is lost or more distant?
Do you have a sense of what you wish or hope that electoral politics could be like?
What does this hope say about what you value?
Where does this hope come from – are there particular political histories or thinkers who have inspired and nurtured this hope?
What do you hold onto when difficult feelings about politics arise for you? What, or who, keeps you going?
What are the actions that you are taking in your life that align with your hopes and values?
Have you ever had a moment of realizing the elected officials or the institutions of power were not responding in alignment with your values, and taking some kind of action? This action may be as small as reaching out to an LGBTQIA2+ friend when legislation threatens our safety, or it may be something like reading the 291 Calls to Justice in the MMIWG Final Report, or getting involved in community organizing and protests. People are never passive recipients of harm and trauma, and I would like to include stories of response in this zine!
My hope is that, regardless of the outcome of the Canadian federal election that is happening today, this zine will bring together stories of how we are continuing to do work in our communities, how we are continuing to hold onto our values despite our feelings of disillusionment and grief over the state of politics. I hope that it will bring our voices together, and give us a sense of how we can move forward together, organizing together, supporting each other, doing the work of responding to the problems in our lives regardless of the politicians who hold so much power (and the corporations who hold even more).
I’m looking forward to your contribution!
(Although this zine is inspired by the Canadian federal election, contributions are welcome from anyone. These feelings about politics span so many spaces.)
Collecting the self-care posts that I shared over the course of the April 16 election day.
It’s Election Day in Alberta! I’m going to be sharing self-care prompts throughout the day. We’ll be back to a more regular schedule of posting tomorrow. It’s first thing in the morning in Alberta, and I imagine that some folks are already awake and sitting with the intensity of this election. If you’re up, and you’re sitting next to an anxiety gremlin, join me in breathing for a moment. Not a “breathing exercise,” just a breath. I know sometimes that’s really challenging, for a variety of reasons that might include anxiety, or panic, or allergies, or congestion, or chronic health concerns. Whatever the breath feels like, just notice it. If you can breathe with some intentionality, do that. Can you bring the breath deeper? Can you feel where it goes on its own, or where it feels like it needs to be? Sometimes anxiety sits in the middle of my belly, and a breath helps. Sometimes my shoulders tighten up really tight, and a breath helps. Sometimes being told to breathe is just annoying. What’s it like for you, today?
Our second self-care prompt for Election Day in Alberta. Have you had anything to eat yet today? Are you hungry? Check in with yourself. Lots of folks will be volunteering today, working at polling stations or driving folks to polling stations or doing other important jobs. If that’s you, can you throw a snack in your bag on the way out? If you’re dealing with the emotional intensity of today and it’s making it hard to eat, what might help? Have you experienced emotional intensity like this before? How did you get through that time?
Are you thirsty? Have you had anything hydrating to drink yet today? What’s your favourite morning beverage? I’m in Australia today (I voted by special ballot before I left!) and when I’m here, I have a flat white with two sugars in the morning, and I love the apple juice over here. When I’m at home, I have my nesting partner’s amazing coffee – black, with maple syrup. What gets you started in the morning? Stress and anxiety can leave lots of us feeling wrung out. Staying hydrated sometimes helps. Is there anything you could do to remind yourself to stay hydrated today?
I really struggle with the way self-care is talked about in a lot of spaces – the way it’s commodified and individualized, and turned into yet another task for overburdened and marginalized communities to take on. I think that self-care is inextricably linked to community care, and that when we talk about self-care, we have to do it carefully. We have to be conscious of the ways in which self-care advice can actually cause stress and harm, and the ways in which self-care tools are differentially accessible to different communities. However, I also really value the way that people develop self-care strategies in even the most challenging situations! As much as I reject and critique the idea of individualized self-care (the idea that we can single-handedly make ourselves and our contexts better), I also really recognize and honour the ways in which people do exactly that! People are *always* responding to the hard times in their lives and the challenges in front of them. What are your favourite self-care skills or strategies? Is there a particular self-care story that you love to tell, or to remember? My very favourite self-care story is actually a community care story. When I met one of my most cherished friends, she noticed that I had a habit of speaking about myself in unkind ways. She designed basically a training program for me – for weeks, months!, she would check in with me about how my self-talk was going. She wrote me cards, gave me little gifts, and was basically a cheerleader for me as I worked to change that habit of unkind self-talk. I did manage to change that habit, and it was possible because I made it a priority, and because someone saw what was happening for me, and made an effort to support me in making changes towards something I wanted. Have you ever been supported, or offered support, through a process of change? I think that remembering some of these stories of care (self-care and community care) can help us remember how skillful we are at responding to hard times. No matter how today goes, we bring these skills with us.
Do you need to stretch? Sometimes emotional intensity can find a home in our bodies, and we can end up pretty uncomfortable. Where do you store your tension? How’s that part of your body doing right now? Can you give it a little gentle movement?
Whatever happens today, our communities will require care. We have seen that Alberta is not insulated from the kind of hate and cruelty that we’ve watched rise up in the States and in Ontario and across the globe. It will take time and effort to heal, and the process of healing will be an ongoing process because the hurts are also ongoing. I love this article by Shivani Seth on the topic of creating communities and contexts of care. If you need help imagining hopeful and possible futures, I suggest reading this.
Have you had any kind, supportive, one-on-one interactions with another person yet today? Intense emotions can be so isolating, and social media can leave us inundated with social information but isolated from social connection. What do you do when you’re feeling a bit isolated? How did you learn these skills? Are there any skills related to responding to the feeling of isolation that you’d like to practice? Would now be a good time to try out a new way, or a reliable way, of responding to feelings of isolation?
When was the last time you felt something really pleasurable? One of my favourite authors, adrienne maree brown, just published a new book called Pleasure Activism. In it, she includes dozens of essays by a wide range of writers on the topic of pleasure in a variety of contexts. The book is specifically about how pleasure can be, perhaps even must be, part of how we respond to oppression. Is there something you can do for yourself this afternoon that would be pleasurable? Can you find something soothing to touch, or something delicious to taste, or someone cherished to connect with? Is there a small moment of pleasure that you can invite into what may be a difficult and emotional day? You can read an interview with adrienne maree brown here. (Content note on this article for discussion of substance use and sex.) “In order to feel pleasure, you have to feel the whole breadth of your emotional spectrum and how to communicate [your] needs. There’s an aspect of it that’s also about surrender. If you orient [the world] around a collective community of care, then there’s plenty of stuff [available] if we know how to share it. A lot of pleasure activism is also leaning into the simple pleasures of existing, right here, right now.”
What is the memeing of this?!?! Share your favourite meme. Send a meme to a friend. Post a meme on your page. MEMES! I’ll start. (Memes are *absolutely* my favourite form of quickly accessible self-care.)
This post is a great resource to keep handy. It includes over a dozen questions and self-care prompts. It’s particularly useful if you are feeling intensely distressed, depressed, or suicidal. Getting through election day might be challenging. A lot of folks are scared, angry, and feeling uncertain about the future. Waiting for the result of such an important election, where the stakes are so high and hope has been low, can be overwhelming. I know that saying, “if you need help, reach out” is often trite and unhelpful. Many of us would reach out if we could, but intense emotions can keep us quiet for a wide variety of reasons. If you’re struggling, consider starting with this checklist. If you’re struggling and you feel able to reach out, the Calgary Distress Centre is available 24/7, with text-based support available from 3 pm to 10 pm. https://www.distresscentre.com/ The Edmonton Distress Line is also available. https://edmonton.cmha.ca/programs-services/distress-line/
Have you gotten any fresh air today, or spent any time with plants or animals? Can you find a way to engage with nature? Maybe you can actually go outside. Maybe you can pet an animal. Maybe you can water a houseplant, or look out the window and really notice what the sky looks like, or the plants outside the window. This world is amazing. We are part of this world.
Art can be resistance and response. Creativity can be resistance and response. When was the last time you did something creative or artistic? Could you break out the pencil crayons or the paint or the stickers or the knitting needles and do something creative this evening? Maybe take a cue from some of the folks who have been responding to hateful rhetoric in this election and take some sidewalk chalk out to share some strategic affirmations. Can you do some art that will, to quote my beloved friend Nathan, affirm your pain or support your function? Art can make our lives more possible, can invite us into a moment of agency, action, and creative choice. In the face of terror and overwhelm, this can be powerful. (I am a fan of stick figures, myself.)
One of my cherished friends reminded me last night that being helpful can really help the person doing the helping to feel better. If you’re feeling the emotional intensity of today and it’s starting to wear you down, know that you are not alone. There are a lot of things going on today, a lot of narratives running through many of our minds. It’s a lot. What are your favourite ways to help other people? Do you enjoy baking for friends? Do you like reaching out with a text, or sending a meme, or sharing an article? Do you prefer doing tangible acts, like helping someone tidy their house or running an errand for them? Do you like helping someone reframe a difficult situation that they’re facing? What is your favourite story of yourself as someone who helps? Is there anyone in your life who might need some help today, that you feel you might be able to reach out to? This election has shown us that there is a lot of hate and willingness to cause harm in our province, but it has also shown us that there are so many of us who are willing to step forward and offer help. There are many true stories of this election, and they do not cancel each other out. It has been hard and horrible, and it will continue to be hard and horrible. AND, at the same time, our communities are beautiful and resilient, and will continue to be beautiful and resilient.
This election has felt intense and overwhelming. And I think that part of this intensity, part of this overwhelm, is that this election follows a trajectory that we have been on for a while. We have been witnessing harm, and the escalation of overt acts of hate and aggression, for a long time. We have seen it in the States, and in Ontario, and in the UK, and in many other countries*. For some communities, this has been an unrelenting experience of oppression for many generations. For all of us, the impacts have become more visible, more overt. We see the changes happening in our environmental, economic, and political contexts. I am in Australia to convocate from my Masters of Narrative Therapy and Community Work program. For my final project, I looked at narrative responses to political distress. You can watch that video here. I’m sharing this today because I want to affirm for our communities that we have already been responding to hardship. We have skills that will continue to be available to us. We have cherished values and histories of action. Whatever happens in this election, and in the upcoming federal election, and in the global context – whatever happens, we will continue to respond. We will turn our hopelessness into action. We will weave safety nets for each other and with each other. As G. Willow Wilson says, there may not be a way out, but there is always a way forward. We will find that way forward together.#abvote
* I want to note that this experience of rising hate is *not* universal across our globe. Rwanda, Ethiopia, New Zealand, and many other countries have found a different trajectory. If you want to feel some hope, look up what is happening politically in those three countries. Women in Sudan have been the driving force behind ousting the president and demanding better representation. And even on our own continent, communities are finding ways to map a new path. This story of harm and rising violence is not the only true story of our time.
A while ago, I co-created and participated in the Tender Year project with Nathan Fawaz and Stasha Huntingford. In this project, which was powerful and life-changing for me, we had seven prompts, one per weekday, and we reflected on these prompts every day. On Saturdays, we wrote affirmations. Affirmations for ourselves, for our communities, for the world. We asked, what do you need to hear? What do you need to affirm for yourself or for your people? I struggled with the affirmations (I struggled with all the prompts at different times in the year) but I also found them powerful. So often, affirmations are demanded from people who are struggling, and affirmations are presented as a singular solution to systemic oppression. But when we uncouple affirmations from these ableist and capitalist discourses, they can actually be incredibly powerful. They can affirm for us who we are, what we cherish, where we have been, and how we want to be in the world. They can open up possibilities that feel closed off by the anti-affirmations so many of us are confronted with on a regular basis. What do you need to hear, today, this evening, as the polls close and the long count begins? What do you need to affirm for yourself or for your people? Nathan offers us these as a place to start: “Spend on the world you wish to create.” “Exile nothing.” “Call yourself home.” “Orient towards the possible.” “The possible is an exchange between heart and lungs.” “The possible first feels like relief, and then dares to be joy.” What are your affirmations today?
Is your body feeling nourished right now? Do you need to eat, or have something to drink? It’s been a long day, and lots of us either forget to eat during stressful days, or struggle to eat when the emotional intensity is present. If you’re hungry, or if you know that you need to eat, is there anything you can nourish yourself with? My go-to calorie-intake on stressful days or high-pain days is a London Fog. I appreciate the ritual of making myself a London Fog, and I appreciate that I can get some calories into myself without having to eat anything solid. What are your tricks for days when eating is difficult or inaccessible?
Friends. I see the panic. I feel it, too. If they’re right about the outcome of this election, we will grieve and we will rage and we *will* keep fighting for each other. I know you feel sick. I do, too. Breathe, beloveds. Put your hand on your chest and feel your good heart beating. You are alive. You have done everything you can to keep us and our communities and our kids safe, and now we will figure out what to do next. The outcome hasn’t been determined, the advanced poll votes won’t even be counted until tomorrow. But I know how bad it looks. I love you. We will figure out how to move forward together. You are alive. You are here. You are not alone. Your good heart is beating and you will continue to make a difference in the lives of the vulnerable and hurting. We are not alone. Unstick your tongue from the roof of your mouth. Breathe. Push your shoulders down from your ears. Squeeze your eyes shut for a moment and then open them wide. Let the feelings move through your good and knowledgeable body. Breathe. Find each other. We will weave safety nets for and with each other. There may not be a way out, but there is always a way forward.
How are your nerves right now? Feelin’ a bit frayed? Is there anything accessible that would be soothing for you right now? Although bubble baths and cups of tea won’t solve the world’s problems, there is absolutely sometimes a place for them in offering comfort and a moment of peace.
How was today for you? What is the story of this day? There can be some value in naming our acts of living, and in naming the values that we held close through a difficult time. What choices did you make today? What were the values that informed these choices? What were you valuing when you made the choice? Is there anyone in your life who knows that you made these choices? Who, in your life, would be least surprised to know what your strong values are? Did the choices that you made today make a difference in anyone else’s life, or might it make a difference in someone else’s life to know that you made these choices? What choices did you witness other people making today that align with your values or hopes? What values do you think they were holding onto, that allowed them to make these choices? Will their choices make a difference in your life? We are not passive recipients of trauma or hardship. We are always responding. We can hold onto that truth, no matter what happens in the near future. #abvote