You know what’s painful? Reading things that your younger self wrote.
A couple of months ago, our area got about 14″ of rain within an afternoon, and unsurprisingly, basements across town started to flood. Our basement (perhaps like yours?) is full of stuff. Kids’ toys. Bins full of yearbooks and letters (remember letters?); all those books that you have no room for, yet somehow hold out hope you will read again one day.
I’ve been writing since I was 11. I have saved almost everything I’ve written since then. No, I’m not kidding you.
Faced with the possibility of flooding (though, luckily, our sump pump kept us dry), my husband urged me to go through my old boxes and bins of paper to cull a bit and put it all into plastic bins, which we would store up high for safekeeping.
I don’t fear for much in my life. But the idea of going through all those journals and poems and essays and thoughts was horrific. So, I decided there were certain things I wouldn’t sort through. No teenage angst journal reading. No. Diaries were transferred from one rickety picnic basket to a waterproof bin.
Love letters? Bin. College notebooks? Recycle. Poems? Anything from Junior High or High School? Recycle. Grad school poems? Bins.
So why am I telling you about my great (and God-awful) sorting and de-cluttering in an essay that talks about America?
Because we have an image of ourselves as a country that is based on our ideas about ourselves. Our ideas about ourselves, our identity are based on bins that we don’t take out very often. Yes, even the most “woke” of us.
We generalize and extrapolate to consolidate room in our minds.
The choices we made at another time are not the choices we would make now. But, my lord, who wants to go through all that shit? Who wants to be confronted with the mortality of our own self-concepts. Fifteen-year-old me thought I wrote great stuff. Fifteen-year-old me was also a hormonal mess, probably functionally depressed and unmedicated. Fifteen-year-old me didn’t know what she didn’t know.
I know a lot of us have been soul searching the past two years since the presidential election. Just today, I came across a post that I wrote a couple of days after the election. I am honestly aghast at its positivity. Yet privately, I know that my mindset was anything but. I was trying hard to reflect to everyone who was losing their shit that we still had the power to fight.
Two years later, I’ve become less Polyanna-ish on the outside. My calls to action are less based on positivity and more drill sergeant. I’m not sure how, but every day my outrage is fresh. I still believe we can change the course of the country, but it absolutely will not come without changing ourselves. And I still see people who are clinging onto their old notions of self and country. Yes, still. Even after the relative good news of the midterm elections, disillusioned liberals are still saying, “I’m just so sad that we’re not better than this.”
Me, too. I’m sad we’re not better than this. But I know we can be better.
2018 me is better at handling what comes, at bouncing back from adversity into action.
2018 me knows what’s at stake.
2018 me is still appalled, though not surprised, when she sees blatant injustice and abuses of power and cruelty.
Maybe I’m a strange bird, but I actually believe 2018 America is a better America. Not because of all the horrific things that have happened and are planned by an administration hell bent on our destruction. But because good people have their blinders off. We are literally being forced to page through the shit that we wanted to forget was there– the history and current reality of racism, misogyny, colonialism.
When the flood comes– would you rather know what is really at stake, or would you rather lose it all– the good and the bad? Because those are the options. Floods come. They are the natural history of the world. They are the history of our history. They are the present of our history.
No one likes to shovel muck. But shovel muck, we must. In our personal lives. In our houses and communities. In America. As America.
Baskets to bins. Haul out all that has lost its value. Don’t mourn. Organize.