One Baltimore #27, Spending Ourselves


This column has been a mini-research-project-of-the-week for a while now… it’s satisfying to do that, but PHEW, a lot of work too, and not necessarily what I intended to be doing non-stop when I started out. One thing I’ve always liked about the column format is that it can be different from week to week. This week, I’m just gonna write, without statistics or quotes or citations from other news sources. Time for a change of pace. And the topic, in fact, is pace.

Everyone is exhausted. I mean, there’s an exception to every rule, but I don’t think I know anyone (well, anyone remotely close to my age) who, when asked how they’re doing, would say “Ya know, everything’s on a real even keel, I’m well-rested and focused, calm and centered, finding myself sustainably balanced between work, play, and doin’ nothin’ at all, thanks for asking.”

Maybe I just know a lot of down-trodden people and that’s tipping the scales, but I think we can agree that whatever’s going on for a given individual, modern life is a lot. It tends to feel like we have untenable choices — disconnect and be isolated, or connect and be pulled in a thousand different directions. Disengage and feel useless, or pay attention and be enraged and depressed and terrified about the state of things. Of course, often there’s not much choice about one’s level of connectivity and activity, because to communicate at all is to be plugged into a firehose of information and distraction, and to survive at all is to hustle hustle hustle.

Our beloved town doesn’t make it easier. It’s hard not to feel sapped just walking down the street, seeing all the hunger and need, the folks huddled in blankets, the kids walking in traffic trying to make a buck, the girls on the stroll, all just trying to survive in a world without a place for them. Then there are the physical signs of neglect, the litter clogging the storm drains, the buildings crumbling down around us. You could throw yourself into any number of people and projects, but you’re running late, you gotta keep walking. Widen out your lens, and it doesn’t get any better — an epidemic of hopelessness and pain, a police state that’s out of control, corruption riddled through our government.

Even the things that make city life vibrant and beautiful can be overwhelming. That slam poetry night, that community skills-sharing class, that badass music festival, that civic-minded garden club, that new corner cafe… they’re all full of dedicated, fascinating people working to build their visions into reality, and they’re all imploring you to show up and take part, but you just can’t be there for all of it.

Especially not when everyone you love is in crisis (and maybe you are too). Wages are stagnant while rents are sky-high, so everyone is moving from one living situation to another all the time. Our food and air and water are poisoned, we’re stressed and losing sleep and not exercising enough, and on top of that healthcare costs are crushing, so everyone is sick all the time. Everyone is struggling and falling apart and trying to rebuild all. The damn. Time. We HAVE to be there for each other, we have to be there for ourselves… we do our best, and are crushed when we can’t.

I’m not even going to get into the national and global situations, the way they loom.

The other week, I had a bit of a crisis about the issue of time. I found myself lying awake in bed, turning my life over in my head, feeling stretched too thin and wondering if I really could do everything it felt like I had to do. Eventually, I turned on the light and found a pen and paper, because that’s what I always turn to.

I made a list of my priorities. Then I laid out a grid representing a four week block of time, splitting each day into two rough increments, daytime and evening. Fifty-six increments of time total. How do I spend myself?

Twenty increments of time to my day job off the bat. Sixteen total for the people in my life — significant others, family, friends, babysitting. Four for chores and self-care, two for community gatherings and events, one for a monthly meeting with my housemates.

That left the extra-curricular activities to which I’m most committed… there’s this column, my way of organizing my thoughts and ideas, communicating with the world, and practicing this craft I want to hone. It takes roughly two increments of my time each week for drafting and polishing it, so eight total… damn, that’s a lot of time I’d sorely love to use for other things, but it takes what it takes. Another four for Baltimore For Border Justice, the platform Opal and I are building to turn our desperate need for some kind of societal change into action… not as much as I’d like to give to it, but everything I could spare.

I left a single increment unassigned, because if I felt that my entire life was scheduled, I wouldn’t be able to handle it.

This exercise, as obsessive as it felt on a certain level, was incredibly useful in focusing my mind. It was also terribly sad. I know what’s most important to me, and it’s a huge relief to see that I can make a lot of things work… but I can’t have it all, and that’s a hard thing to face. There were things on my initial list that did not make the final cut, not least of which is more time to my damn self.

Artistic endeavors have to go by the wayside this year, that’s the biggest thing. I’m stepping back from community theater, something I already knew was going to be necessary but that I needed to see in black and white to really convince myself of. The other major takeaway is that I know I can’t take on anything new right now. No new classes, no new projects, very little in the way even of new friendships, which is a rough thing to accept in a world full of such interesting and inspiring people.

So if you’re wondering why I’m not around to help out or hang out as much these days, please know that it’s not you, it’s me recognizing that I have to try to more or less stick to that grid I drew in the middle of the night.

In addition to this personal message, what I want most to say is this — please don’t feel shame if you’re also feeling worn down, if you’re also struggling to figure out how to do it all. You can’t. I certainly can’t. No one can. We have to pick our battles.

I urge you though, if it’s not already a regular part of your life, and if you have an increment of time you can sustainably spare (it’s honestly ok if you don’t), to let one of those battles be about taking action on something that matters to you. There is a joy in action, a lifting of psychic weight. As much as it takes energy, it also replenishes it, especially when you can do it with friends and make it fun.

Yesterday was a great reminder of that for me. I went to bed late and woke up bone-tired, but I got up, made a bunch of hot cocoa, and brought it out to the protest that Opal and I had planned for the annual Mayor’s Christmas Parade in Hampden. Along with a crew of eight friends and fellow activists (we’d thrown this together pretty last minute), we waited several blocks down from the parade’s starting point, signs and banners at the ready.

When Mayor Young approached in his little yellow car, we jumped onto the street alongside him, chanting slogans about his refusal to enforce the anti-gag orders bill (explanation of the issue and a short video here: We’d just planned to do a quick action, but we ended up getting swept up in the moment and marching in front of him the entire rest of the route, passing by probably thousands of people (it’s a really popular parade, if you’ve never been). There were a couple of people who yelled at us but more who cheered and waved, which was heartening as hell.

The best part by far was when Young stopped to give a speech. We stopped too, turning to him and yell-singing “Hit the road, Jack, and don’t you come back, no more, no more, no more, no more!”, shutting him down and not letting up until he handed off the mic and started to move forward again. If he won’t let victims speak, he doesn’t get to speak either. At the end of the route, I gave an impromptu speech myself to the thirty or so parade-watchers lining the street, and they actually applauded.

Afterwards, I had the biggest, dopiest grin on my face, and we were all chattering away happily. Not all activist actions are going to be as pleasant as a walk in a parade where you get to bring a little karma to your city’s poor excuse for leadership, but every now and then, that’s exactly what it is, and damn is it a good and energizing feeling.


Cultural Events of the Week: The holiday parties are in full swing, and while you can’t make em all (as we were just discussing), here are a few that caught my eye:

If you’re a fan of the timeless genre of horror schlock presented by a cheesy but smokin’ undead host, check out Shocktail Hour With Aurora Gorealis, a monthly late-night film series at Golden West Cafe. They’re showing Two Front Teeth, featuring Claus-feratu (GROAN) this Thursday, 12/12 — bring a gift for the Naughty or Nice gift exchange with Santa and Krampus!

On Friday night, 12/13, party the night away in support of Baltimore Pride at the Pride Center of Maryland’s December Bash, featuring music, food, dancing, and prizes. You’re always in for a treat with host Rik E King of Pretty Boi Drag, and the Pride Center (formerly the GLCCB) does important work for the community.

After all that, drag yourself up early on Saturday, 12/14, because you only have until 12:30pm to enter your cookies into SugarBaltimore’s Naughty Holiday Cookie Bake-Off! Suggested shapes include body parts, sex toys, and intimate positions. There will be multiple winners, apple cider (optionally spiked), and, of course, cookies for all.

Green Event of the Week: What’s happening on the state level in the fight for a livable future? Find out tonight, Monday 12/9 at “Charting the Course for Environmental Change in Maryland”, a info/networking/action-planning session in Fells Point. The event is hosted by the Pearlstone Center and the Baltimore Jewish Council, and sponsored by community solar energy provider Neighborhood Sun. State Senator Sarah Elfreth is the keynote speaker, and a number of other local state representatives and non-profit staff will be leading breakout sessions. /

Marching in the Christmas parade. Photo courtesy of Odette T. Ramos, shared with permission.

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