Activism for the Socially Anxious and Despondent

Hello, terrified and exhausted people!

Let’s talk about what it takes to change the world.

We have two situations:

1. When good stuff happens, we celebrate.

2. When bad stuff happens, we mobilize.

After the U.S. election, The November 10 chapter meeting of Show Up for Racial Justice contained so many people that we put away the chairs and crammed people together on the floor just to fit in the building. But even as many people as we had at that meeting (about 300), there are way more people than that who care about racial justice. That night, they stayed home.

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The holidays, particularly in the United States, are a giant hypestravaganza.

In 1967, psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe developed the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. It’s a questionnaire to measure your total level of stress by tallying up a weighted sum of 43 events that might have happened to you over the past year. They identified 43 life events to put on that survey (no, I don’t know how they isolated the variables), and one of them was “Christmas.”

Already. And this was in 1967, before modern technologies and social changes had amplified the hype to what it is today. Back then, Christmas did make the list of 43, but just barely….it was number 42 in terms of weight.

So what about today? In the UK, Christmas has risen up the list to somewhere around number 6.

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Four Years Ago:

It’s a Saturday morning. I break into my collegiate coach’s van, steal the bathroom scale from under the seat, and hurl it into the woods. I am sick of being weighed again after official weigh-in for no other reason than to be called fat. The final race of my career is in 8 hours and I am not magically 109 lbs, just like I haven’t been all four years of college: what difference does it make at this point? At 5 PM, my boat races. When we get off the water, I retire from cutting weight forever. At 11 PM, one of my teammates finds me curled up on an ottoman in the rowing house, making out hardcore with an M&M McFlurry.

Three Years Ago:

It’s a Monday. My car got broken into for the eleventh time since I moved to Miami. This time, they ate my brand new bag of Sun Chips and left the empty bag in my car when they departed. Today, I have a phone interview for Palantir Technologies. I take the call, pacing barefoot on the faux-wood floors of my almost-empty apartment with the phone in my left hand and an eight-inch chef’s knife in my right. When I hang up, I stab my queen-size air mattress in the guts, then slide the knife all the way down her side to the corner. I leave her deflated body in the dumpster. The supermercado near my house sells Delta airline cookies in bulk. I buy myself a full box, then head for the highway and speed north at 89 mph. I run right over a loose couch cushion on the road. For the entire 16 hour drive to Louisiana, I sustain myself on the box of Biscoff cookies.

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“The street is closed for the parade, ma’am. I can’t drive you all the way to this destination.”

“That’s all right. Just get as close as you can, and I’ll walk the rest.”

It’s normal to get nowhere by car in New Orleans on Mardi Gras. Conveniently, I packed light: one bag for shoes, one bag for everything else. So I stepped out of the cab and into the Big Easy.

I would have been content with an uneventful walk to the hotel. I did not start the shenanigans: the shenanigans ambushed me.

The shenanigans appeared while I was trying to sneak across the parade route. The N.O.P.D. try to prevent you from doing this because, I guess, you could get run over by a float. If you cross fast enough, they just yell at you and then leave you alone. I noticed a large gap between a marching band and a float, and I went for it.

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It all started with one innocent puzzle.

I bought it on a whim at Target. It came in a box of ten puzzles, each portraying a wizard/unicorn/flying ship image that one might expect to see on a Lisa Frank poster. Or on a fan art site. Or in the sketchbook of someone with a penchant for LSD. Use your imaginations, because I can’t find a picture of the box online.

This puzzle had 100 pieces. The image was one of the less trippy ones — a yellow-eyed tiger relaxing with three blue-eyed cubs. I wanted to see, if I left an unfinished puzzle on the table at work, whether people would work on it together.

Our office has developers, project managers, and designers from our company and from our client companies. We spend all day together: in effect, we have created a privately owned coworking space, not unlike 1871 or 1776 or New Work City. But we don’t spend a lot of time talking to people staffed on other projects. The puzzle, I figured, might change that for a day or so. And if it didn’t, it only cost $1. So, when my mother came to visit me over Thanksgiving, I took her on a tour of the office and had her help me assemble the edges of the tiger puzzle. We left it on the table, partway-finished, on top of a cardboard square with “FINISH ME!” written in Sharpie.

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I tried getting…a massage.

Technically this isn’t my first massage. Last time, a woman named Erin injured my shoulder, then a sales lady tried to double-talk me into a year-long indenture. I was not thrilled. But I’m giving massages a second chance. My therapist comes to get me from the waiting area. I have to say ‘therapist’ because ‘masseuse’ is innuendo. Apparently.
My therapist asks where my perceived problem areas are. Answer: everywhere. It’s all a problem area. Quads? Check. Hamstrings? Yep. Shoulders? See above. Add it to the list of problem areas, Jimmy. Jimmy is the name of my masseu…therapist.
Jimmy leaves me alone in the massage room to undress. I pull my shirt over my head and hold it in my hands.

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