I must admit that I had the idea for this article a couple of days before the news broke about Supreme Court Justice Kennedy retiring, so when that horrifying story found its way to my feed, I considered discarding this piece. Any semblance of positivity I could conjure up that day felt utterly forced and defeated my own point. Hell, what was the point, right? But the work still needed to be done, and the message was still clear. So, here it is.
Almost everything about our current climate is disheartening to the extreme. It’s tough not to be completely smothered by one’s own sense of hopelessness. Around every corner, there seems to be a new low for our political discourse.
One of the most emotionally draining aspects of this spiel is how it guilt-trips you over the most frivolous things in your life. You start to feel bad when you do things that make you happy, even if it’s just for a fleeting moment. Engaging in anything that isn’t related to news or politics begins to feel pointless at best or actively detrimental at worst. You become shrouded in shame for taking a few minutes out of your day to read a book or bake cookies or geek out with your friends over the latest Marvel movie. Sometimes, you get mad at yourself for not using that precious time to do something ‘useful’, while other times, you’re overwhelmed with apathy. What’s the point of anything, right? Even self-care doesn’t make you well now.
I have now been a professional writer for about 18 months now, and I am immensely proud of what I do. I spend a lot of time fighting to legitimize the particular kind of pop culture journalism I do, and I maintain its worth and importance in the face of doubters. Still, even I can’t avoid those occasional feelings that what I’m doing is fluff of no merit. There are times when I log onto Twitter to share a film recommendation or talk about a really interesting celebrity profile I read but then I take one look at the bleakness of my feed and decide there’s no point. It would be a distraction or inappropriate for the moment or insulting to those who need something more than light entertainment. If it’s not important, it’s not worth doing, so they say.
So, I’m here to tell you that, even during this age of Dollar Store Gilead and gold-plated fascism, you’re still allowed to be happy. You are allowed to enjoy your life and be proud of it, and you’re allowed to talk about those things publicly. You’re not banned from self-care or simply finding the light in-between the all-consuming shadows. Nobody will judge you if you turn off the news, unplug Twitter for the day and go do something that’s designed solely to please you. You’re allowed to, and indeed encouraged, to engage with pop culture and sweet hobbies and things that aren’t directly tied to the state of the world.
You’re allowed to find joy.
Of course, this isn’t an invitation to totally disconnect yourself from the world at large. Alas, that is not a luxury we can really embrace right now. You have a duty to care, and to deny that would exacerbate an already festering problem at the heart of our world. But the weight of it all does not rest on one pair of shoulders. It is not a burden any of us can or will bear alone. You have to get up and carry on, and to have the strength to do that, you need other things to think about.
The silly books you read are important because stories shape our world and remain one of our best tools in creating empathy. The crafts you make matter because they give you a calming focus and the ability to mute the noise around you for a while. The food you cook matters because it nourishes you and deepens your roots to the world. All the walks or runs you take matter because your body appreciates it and it fuels the mind to see the sunshine.
One cannot live on fury alone.
I understand that by saying this, I am toeing a very fine line that could easily slip into condescension or wilful ignorance. For some, it’ll probably be highly aggravating to read me saying this, and I wouldn’t blame them. I get that. You don’t need me to lecture you on where your limits are and I’m sure nobody is rushing to me to get permission on anything.
Still, I’ve seen a lot of people struggle with these issues lately, and I’ve seen plenty more be slapped down by others, well-meaning or otherwise, for doing something as innocuous as tweeting about a song they like instead of sending out political calls to action. I remember tweeting about a problem I had with a film’s representation of women and having someone I know quite well tell me it didn’t matter because Trump was doing something awful that hour. I liken this phenomenon to the attitudes that can make an appearance when something big in celebrity news happens. When Amy Winehouse died, an event I was heartbroken about, I was repeatedly chastised for apparently caring too much about one woman’s death when there were other people dying around the world. My empathy was apparently a limited resource and should have been applied more sparingly.
You do not live under an empathy quota. You can care about more than one thing at any given time, and the way you choose to express that is a judgment call you alone can make. It’s crucial that we care and that we fight and that we use that anger as effectively as we can, but you can’t be in that state forever. Happiness is not forbidden, nor is it incompatible with everything going on in the world, even when joy feels like a startling impossibility.
Do what you have to do. Find your route through this ceaseless hellscape. Get the balance that works for you, and make sure you have people to talk to. And if what you need right now isn’t happiness, then so be it. Forced joy is detrimental to the real thing, so feel what you need to feel. Things are dark but you’re still allowed to embrace the light.