Tidying up my physical world only goes so far. Lately, I find my psychic space being cluttered by the simple act of following the news. So I’ve started tidying up my interior landscape by consciously limiting my sources and consumption of current events.
While I’m still appalled at the hate and fear demonstrated by my fellow citizens, I CANNOT remain in a state of agitation and high-alert between elections. My mental and physical health simply can’t afford the stress of getting (and staying) angry at every little (or big) thing our leaders or countrymen say and do. Ignoring the latest atrocious words that one man or his minions have tweeted is a conscious act of resistance and survival on my part.
First, I reject any “news” source that yells at me or allows shouting matches between those espousing opposing arguments. I click away from inflammatory headlines and name-calling–no matter which side they come from. A little NPR (National Public Radio) in the morning while dressing or the few minutes I spend in the car keeps me up to date. Thank you, NPR for not simply focusing on the latest horrible thing. Thank you for providing context, in-depth stories, and interviews with authors, musicians, scientists, and historians. Thank you.
Secondly, but in the same vein, I’ve decluttered my Facebook feed by shutting down my privacy settings. I’ve hidden or unfollowed posts and people (even a relative or two, sorry) who repeatedly spew hate or misinformation. Name-calling by either side also gets ignored or hidden. And I’ve cut WAY back on reacting to or commenting on political posts, since that only feeds the beast. My friends know where my bleeding heart and I stand. Furthermore, I really (really) try not to read the comments section which is inhabited by trolls who have long-forgotten the basic rule of civil discourse–
“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”
A confession: I do indulge my dark side once in a while with a little dose of the snarky humor provided by Samantha Bee or Lewis Black. They get righteously angry so I don’t have to. But honestly, their humor (like others on both sides) strives too hard for gotcha moments that make the opposition just look dumb. I am increasingly drawn to Sarah Silverman’s Hulu series, I Love You, America. And I recently discovered a great podcast with Alan Alda in which Sarah talks about the series and explains her efforts to be more empathetic, even on Twitter.
Unlike some people, I really try to be even kinder on the internet than I am in real life. While I certainly vent among my like-minded friends and family, I don’t want to clutter up the universe with more rancor and awfulness. I know minds are not changed by arguments, but hearts can be changed by empathy.
Finally, I try to let go of things over which I have no control. Yes, I still write letters to my deaf Congressman and Senator, but I know my only real power is to change my response to what is going on. So I take deep breaths, listen to music, enjoy walks, practice yoga, or escape into a good book. I smile at strangers. I am generous with compliments and thank-yous. I vote.
And when the news is especially sad, I’ve been known to eat a few Dark Chocolate Peanut M&Ms. Just to take the edge off, you understand.
Here’s hoping for a week in which I don’t have to hit the hard stuff. Or buy a bigger bag.
Retiring certainly freed up my calendar but still, prioritizing my time and energy didn’t happen overnight. For a decade or more before I quit working, I tried to stop being the “Girl Who Can’t Say No.” I whittled away at commitments—both personal and professional. It took practice. I learned to say, “Let me get back to you” rather than giving an automatic yes. I handed off leading roles on committees and politely begged off a few social engagements.
However, the first year after I retired, I still found myself over-committed to political and social causes close to my bleeding-heart. And I continued to write Opinion pieces for our local paper, The Nevada Appeal. I joined clubs and attended meetings, but I soon discovered that meetings were rarely productive. For many attendees these were simply social events that accomplished little. After a career in education, I’d attended enough meetings. And with a large circle of friends I’d cultivated over decades in the same small town, I didn’t need to socialize with strangers. Heck, on a trip to the local farmers market I could easily run into a dozen acquaintances.
My time is precious. I mean, who knows how much I have left? Obviously, some organizations and calendar items didn’t make the cut.
Nonetheless, I did become a Weight Watcher leader. My rationale was that since I needed meetings to maintain my weight, I might as well get paid to go. I led meetings for eight years until we moved 45 minutes away. When leading meetings felt too much like a job, I stopped. I also bagged food for needy kids and played in a monthly charity bunco game. The money went to a variety of causes worthy of my time and energy–animal welfare, sexual assault, domestic violence, hungry kids. Bunco was fun and included dessert. A win-win. However, when we moved away those items slipped off my calendar too, along with contributing my columns to the paper.
Now ten years into retirement, I’m just as busy as I ever was, but even choosier about what goes on the calendar. Today it’s yoga classes, writers’ groups, my book club, bus stop duty with my granddaughter a few times a week, and volunteering in her classroom. Writing (and re-writing that beast of a novel), reading, and putting my feet up every afternoon have become priorities.
As I said before, time is precious and finite. I’m trying to spend mine wisely.
The recycling bin was especially heavy this week after I went searching for space in a file cabinet in which to file a few hard-copies of drafts and other pieces related to my current writing project. How-tos on scene building, character development, querying, and the like were tumbling off my shelf in our office. What I discovered was an entire file drawer filled with outlines, overheads, and handouts for presentations I’d done as a literacy coordinator and teacher consultant for the Northern Nevada Writing Project. All neatly tabbed, sorted, and archived. Mind you, I’ve been retired for over ten years and in that time, NO ONE has asked me to present. No one.
Yes, I had spent hours developing this pile of stuff. And it was all good. Really. But it has nothing to do with my life now. And no, burdening some young teacher with my old stuff would only add to their work. And it didn’t contain the current buzz words—Common Core or Standards-Based—which would be necessary for inclusion in today’s classroom. So yes. It all went.
De-cluttering has become a habit.
Two and a half years ago, when we moved from our BIG house (basement, attic), to a medium house (no basement, no attic) we tossed or donated about half of our worldly goods. The purge continues. These days, I keep a bag in the sewing/model train room to collect small items as I continue to edit my collection of kitchen utensils, bras, shoes, picture frames, baking tins. jewelry, scarves, doodads, and what-nots. When the bag is full–at least once a month–I drop it off at the nearby donation center. This week my donation will include two large wooden, thirty-year-old dollhouses and tub of furnishings. My granddaughter–the reason I saved them in the first place–says she’s outgrown them.
Nonetheless, some things—like my grandmother’s 1910 Queen Anne sofa with its down cushions—are pretty and useful and comfortable. But I recognize that there will likely come a time and place when having that and her cute old Singer sewing machine (in its cabinet!) are simply too much. And the jam-packed curio cabinet and Hoosier with my collection of Depression glass and vintage snack trays? That will have to go too. But not yet. They still make me happy, although less so as time goes on.
You see, I don’t want to burden my children with too many of these “treasures.” What 30/40-ish person wants three cut glass relish dishes? Certainly no one I’m related to. So, I keep whittling away at my material wealth. Perhaps by the time I am ready to move into assisted living (or am taken to the big garage sale in the sky) there won’t be much left. My daughters won’t have to worry about what to do with all my crap. I won’t be cluttering up their homes. And I hereby absolve them from any guilt about what they must give away.
Serendipitously, many of the meditations in my yoga classes lately have been about de-cluttering our lives and our minds to reveal what is essential, to find focus. I’m finding that particularly apt these days, not only in my physical environment, but in other aspects of my life. I’ll be focusing my posts on that for a while. Have you tried de-cluttering as a habit? What have you discovered?
Against all advice to the contrary, I very occasionally read the comments on political threads on Facebook. Surprise! Most of the time, I discover trolls–hateful, mean-spirited folks who seem to delight in starting and stoking fires. But a recent post on my local Nextdoor bulletin board caused me to wonder if many of us hadn’t become so accustomed to seeing only what we agree with that when something pops up we don’t like, we feel compelled to speak out against it.
If you’re not familiar with it, Nextdoor is an app that allows neighbors to find lost pets, announce garage sales, make restaurant and repair recommendations. They ask about strange noises or warn others about local vandalism and theft.
The point is it’s neighborly, not political.
Here is the official statement from Nextdoor:
“Posting about local events on Nextdoor is appropriate, even if these events are related to the election or other national issues, as long as it is done without campaigning…. It’s not appropriate for a member to make arguments either for or against…particular polices. “
Recently, someone posted this announcement for a crab feed called, “Crabbin’ with the Democrats.” Clever, right? Unless you’re a certain type of GOP (Grumpy Old Person), that is. Then you come out of your shell just long enough to make some snide remark or protest the absolute gall of the person posting about such an event. What was the response? No surprise, the comments got increasingly snarky, breaking the very rule they were so intent on reminding us all of. Wisely, the comments were closed before an actual war broke out.
Nevertheless, the brief kerfuffle got me thinking about how we consume our news. What comes into our view? How is controlled? And by whom?
If you use Facebook, as I do, you need to understand just how narrowly curated your news-feed is. When we habitually “like” pictures of puppies and kittens, we see more of them. When we “like” the ACLU (or the NRA), Facebook uses that information to send us more of that point of view. And of course, because it’s a social medium, we feel the need to “like,” “share,” and do whatever else we do with that information. We also get used to spouting off without fear of backlash because almost everyone and everything we see aligns with our own beliefs.
The trouble is, I think some of my Nextdoor neighbors simply forgot where they were. They also forgot common courtesy when interacting with other humans, even on the internet. I doubt they would have said anything face-to-face.
So, here’s my advice, especially to those in my demographic–those who are over-sixty-five, retired, and use the word kerfuffle. The next time you see something in your news-feed, imagine you are seeing it in an actual newspaper. Remember those? Is it so inspiring (or funny) you’d cut it out and mail it to your best friend? Would you pin it to your actual bulletin board next to photos of your favorite niece? Or is it so void of thought and human decency that it’s worth an actual letter to the editor? If not, kindly (and quietly) move along. The world doesn’t need more hate. We’re full up.
If you’d like to do better, here’s an acronym to remember while on social media or IRL (In Real Life). Simply hit your “pause” button and THINK.