Consuming, producing, and trying to make the best world for all

A looooong time ago, like maybe two or three years (a long time for a draft to sit in my blog-drafts folder!) I started writing something about consuming vs producing. I’d imagined it to be a piece about how easy I was finding it at the time to fall into what I consider “consuming” mode, especially regarding stuff on the internet: where I read and read and read, or observe, or take in other people’s thoughts or words or pictures, but don’t give back anything of my own.

That’s a dangerous place for me, because it makes me 100% not the stasia I want to be in this world. I am an unhappy me if I don’t feel like I’m doing anything productive — not productive in a capitalist, make-profit kind of way, but in the way of having my own thoughts, synthesizing ideas, taking the raw material of what I — hopefully consciously! — consume over the course of life and turning it into something of my own creation, ideally something ultimately helpful for more than just me.

Sometimes that creation is public, like a blog post, though sometimes it’s in my personal journal, or maybe a in a letter, or something for one or two people only. Or maybe it’s time spent volunteering in some capacity, or who knows what. Something where I’ve taken the sum of the parts I was given or happened to notice and made something new — which is hard to do if I’m spending the bulk of my time just consuming what other people have produced. (Not to discount consuming entirely! Obviously I want input into my life of thoughts and experiences not my own. Though I might make a distinction between simply consuming and digesting/allowing myself to be changed by. There was a great analogy in my original draft of how if I just sit and eat junk food it might feel satisfying and delicious for a second, but ultimately it leaves me feeling empty and gross; mindlessly consuming things on the internet rather than giving myself space and time to digest them feels the same way.)

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(picture by James, from the Apple-Store-turned-memorial downtown)

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That saved draft strikes me as particularly re-relevant right now. For the last few months, I’ve really admired people who have been taking all the craziness and uncertainty of these days (“these uncertain times!” as every mass email loves to say;) and turning them into art. Or at least creating something to grab hold of amidst the craziness. Kim Stafford is an early example for me — the former Poet Laureate of Oregon, he’s been writing poems a few times a week for as far back into pandemic as I can remember. I’m sure you all have your own examples too of some kind of art or creation to which you’ve found yourself turn in the last few months.

Coronavirus was the first time I thought of it a lot. But I’ve been thinking of it even more in the wake of George Floyd (only one of so, so many). I’ve been reading an awful lot. And as it seems like every organization that ever lived sends careful public statements about their commitments to anti-racism, I meet them with a mix of gratitude and skepticism, depending on how seriously and how in-it-for-the-long-haul it seems they actually are. Some of them are also a form of art to be grabbed onto — a push to the radical re-conception of our society that we need. And I really admire those organizations or people using their platforms and their words and their images to at least begin to (or even better, continue to) create something better.

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(even if it’s just signs put up in the neighborhood:)

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I don’t feel like I’ve done much to make any of that helpful public art. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve never really thought of myself as having a “platform,” but I have found myself turning — not inward, not away, but personal. I’ve turned, like I think I wrote about before, to conversations, to letters, phone calls, emails, but not the anonymous “public.” And that has felt right to me, but then I also second-guess myself, because I DO have public space, even if I don’t really think of it as such (hi to the three of you who read this blog, ha!), and as a white person I am de facto granted public space, and shouldn’t I be using that too?

White silence certainly is violence, as many signs point out — and, speaking isn’t only on the internet, and speaking only when everyone else is speaking, though also important, isn’t the real work. I guess that’s what I’ve been thinking of as I watch everything play out, as James and I have gone to protests, as I’ve emailed my brother a million and one links and articles to try to encourage him to use his actual platform for something bigger. My work, as it often does, feels to me like it happens behind the scenes, inconspicuously. But I don’t want that to be a cop-out, either (interesting turn of phrase, there, “cop-out”); as always, I don’t want to find that I’ve made excuses for being complacent, or for not doing enough.

So that’s what’s been stewing in my world. I haven’t felt that writing here makes more of a difference than what I’ve been doing not on the internet; I haven’t felt called to write even though I’ve been really admiring others who have. I hope that instead I’m living my life in the way that I’d want to read about — and that means long-term, lived, and ongoing commitment to the values I’ve always had and always continue to evolve of equity, anti-racism, and shared humanity (let’s add anticapitalism in there too;)

This blog has never really been the space where that explicitly plays out for me, but it also feels weird not to say anything.

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(another picture by James, from one of the ongoing protest marches in Portland)

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I’m not sure I’ve tied back to consuming vs producing the way I imagined I would when I started writing, but I guess I feel, as when I wrote that initial draft so long ago, like I’ve been doing a lot of consuming lately — of news, of others’ opinions, on and on. But unlike before, I do feel like I’ve been digesting all that and producing as well, but mostly away from the internet. And that has felt right to me, but I also don’t want to look back and wonder why I didn’t say or do more. And I’m not sure what the balance is.

So, let that be the inconclusive post for the day. And the wrap-up for a two-year-old draft, too;)

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A few thoughts to leave on. If you are a white person reading this and want some more immediately helpful thoughts, there are many, many resources on the internet to help you make sense of white privilege and how to act more productively than just feeling bad for having privilege (or, worse, denying that you do have privilege, or, maybe even worse than that, thinking that just because you realize you have privilege, you’re magically acting anti-racistly). Here are a few that come to mind:

  • If “anti-racism” rather than just “not being racist” seems like a weird term to you, this article by Jen Bokoff does a really nice job of breaking it down and providing easily-understandable resources.
  • White Nonsense Roundup has the hugest (though sometimes awkward to search) list of resources I’ve maybe ever seen.
  • Anti-Racism Daily is a great spot to get a daily infusion of information about specific topics, including action items you can practice right now.
  • I’ve also really been digging Melanin Base Camp, which I highly recommend respectfully checking out as a counterpoint to the typical and implicit narrative of outdoors-as-a-space-for-white-people-only. It’s a great jumping-off point, too, to all sorts of organizations you’ve maybe not heard of doing awesome work in the outdoors.
  • And lots of other stuff too, but I’ll leave it to you to do some research on whatever grabs you. Remembering, of course, that if you can not think about race, that is a privilege, and I think we owe it to each other to take that privilege and use it to dismantle the systems that gave it to us at the expense of others.

2 Comments:

  1. Your best, most effective, most far-reaching contribution — write a book. Such talent as yours should not lie hidden, here.

    • Aw, thanks! Though I don’t know, I don’t really think books are the future either (nor do I think I have that kind of stamina anyway;) (I would think given all your podcasts lately you would say start a podcast or something;)

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