I spent a lot of time growing up in a dark, cold place. Over half of the year there was frigid and grey, and when the sun would come through in the searing chill of mid-February it would offer no warmth or comfort. The region had gone through a long recession as part of the Rust Belt; a once-proud steel town trying to find its identity and a new way to grow and profit, but mostly collapsing under the weight of population with no industry. It was not a good place for me to live.
We made it through the winter, though every year it claimed a few people. We kept ourselves warmed, helped out other people stuck by the side of the road or buried in their homes, and shared space when power failures killed our heating. We survived the winter.
We also lived through it. Adversity breeds creativity, and in a place where walking outside at certain times of the year were unpleasant or dangerous, we found things to do inside. Buffalo is well known for its drinking and partying. It used to be well known for its art and theater, which still thrive despite constant funding issues and cultural shifts. There’s a powerful cultural identity for folks from “Buffalo” (which is used to include the Greater Buffalo Area and sometimes other parts of Western New York), and I’ve always felt that it was forged in the desire to live and enjoy life despite the grey, and tempered to strength by the ice and chill.
(Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Since the election last week, I’ve seen a lot of my kin lose their warmth and hope. Most of the people I know belong to populations that are being targeted by an increased wave of hate crimes and hostility. We’re also those whose human rights are on the chopping block of the upcoming administration, despite what public figures might waffle back and forth over in soundbytes.
I haven’t known what to say that isn’t already being said by those more skilled with the language of politics. I reached out to the Lady and asked Her what She recommended. She suggested that I remind people of the reasons that they have to live still.
Love: Love came first to mind. No surprise; I’m a romantic. In a time when people feel betrayed and lost it can feel like there’s not enough love to go around. Fortunately love is not a finite resource. People turn to one another in the dark and cold times, and those connections form deep affection and understanding that can grow into the flames of love. Love being expressed against adversity becomes epic; most of our romances and love stories revolve around that. People also express their vulnerabilities to one another in times of adversity, and in my opinion that is the first and most important step to that sort of connection.
Art: Plato had a argument regarding the source of art; whether it came from the artist or the Gods. I don’t consider it to be as cut and dried as he made it out to be, but regardless of the divine or human source times of adversity create art. When we try to express feelings and ideas that standard word usage and emotional expression do not cover art emerges. Many become poets or painters or songwriters or musicians or any one many varieties of artist in the dark and the cold, and that drive to expression helps to warm and empower them. Skill isn’t necessary at first, nor is talent: these things develop over practice and time, and some of our best-beloved poems and images were wrought by novices. Find the things that you want to say that you have trouble saying, and help them to grow into the world. Share your feelings.
Beauty: Engaging in beauty soothes and warms your heart. The deep call that you feel inside when overwhelmed by beauty is a call to our higher natures; we want to be part of, to take in, and perhaps to duplicate it. Beauty can be found in many places and times by those with open minds, and it’s one of the most difficult things to rob someone of. Indulge in beauty. Surround yourself with things that make your heart leap. Seek out things that you suspect might inspire you to sing spontaneously. Strive to see beauty in things and people that you haven’t before. You will appreciate the world and your life in it so much better as a result.
(Pacific Ocean in central California. Picture by the author.)
Nature and Perspective: Having lived in urban areas for much of my life I often try to find both the small and large bits of nature that remind me that humans aren’t the beginning or end of this world; that we’re a small motif being played for a limited time in the vastness of Life and the Universe. That might sound depressing to some, but it’s soothing to me, to know that the struggles that we live through are small compared to the roaring of the ocean and the fury of the thunderstorm. Our hopes and fears and nations and politics are nothing compared to the continuity of life that produced the dandelions and will keep producing them long after the words we use to describe these things lose meaning. The smaller bits of nature can also be helpful to remind us of our responsibility to the world that birthed us.
Passion and Desire: Freyja lives in passion and desire. Desire is what ties you to the world, and while some religions believe it’s best to detach from it for just that reason that line of thinking has never resonated with me. Your desires range from the mundane to the exceptional, from food and shelter to beauty and lust to conversation and debate. Seeking their objects provides you with all motivation in life; receiving their benefits with all of your satisfaction. Your desires conflict and dance around one another, but focusing on and understanding them is the best way to come to understand yourself. Seek the things you desire, and especially the things that you feel deeply passionate about, and immerse yourself in them however you can. Bathe in your desires and passions to find reprieve from dark reality.
Devotion: Devotion to your Gods is free. Time spent with the Powers connects and enriches you. It has the quality of touching something greater that finding beauty in nature gives. It creates beauty in your life by bringing you closer to those that inspire and guide and empower you. It allows you to express your love, your reverence, your awe. It improves your relationships with beings that can be some of your best allies in adversity. It allows you to express your fears are concerns in a setting that sacrilizes that action and makes it part of the greater continuity of your life and the worlds.
Pleasure: There are small pleasures to be had in day to day things even when it is cold and grey. These are so individual and idiosyncratic that I am not sure I want to express them for fear of leaving anyone out. The simple pleasures of food, drink, sex, conversation, and even the right kinds of work ground you in the value of life and help to take your mind off of your fears.
(Courtesy of Pixabay)
Relationships: Family, friends, lovers, spouses, long-distance internet community; relationships are what make up our lives. Check up on the people you care about. Reach out to them more regularly. Remind them of your feelings for them. Try to make amends for arguments if possible, and if not, back away as gracefully as you can. Maintain the ones you have and build new ones; it’s only through community and mutual support that any of us survive.
Recreation: Although it may fall into other categories here, recreational activities are important to maintaining one’s sanity. Play games whether with your minds, with your words, with boards or cards or dice, with your bodies, with your computers. Drop the shame about bingeing a bit on Netflix. Play can be many different things, and even if you’re not in the mood to engage when invited give it a shot. Sometimes it takes a minute to get into the spirit of it, but you’re likely to regret it if you don’t at least try and engage.
(Courtesy of Pixabay)
I’m not saying that it’s not important to be afraid or grief-stricken; these are real feelings being brought about by real life situations. Just as with grief from the loss of a loved one or other powerful life events, we need space to process them. Part of that process is taking breaks from it because you can’t hang on to it all of the time without driving yourself mad. I’m also not saying that losing hope is invalid right now; there are a lot of dire things on the horizon. Without hope, though, it’s hard to keep up the fight.
Now is a time when we need morale, hope, and reminders of the things that matter and why we should fight for them. So build, prepare, and take action against the things that would harm you and your kin, but engage in life at the same time. All work – or worry – and no play makes you dull and grey too, and robs you of your ability to carry on. If it’s time to engage or even to fight, do so joyfully by taking the pleasures of the world where you can find them and letting them strengthen you. Find your passions and engage them. Aim not just to survive, but to live.