And the danger is that in this move toward new horizons and far directions, that I may lose what I have now, and not find anything except loneliness. ― Sylvia Plath
A friend who is far away is sometimes much nearer than one who is at hand. Is not the mountain far more awe-inspiring and more clearly visible to one passing through the valley than to those who inhabit the mountain?- Khalil Gibran
Those are the same stars, and that is the same moon, that look down upon your brothers and sisters, and which they see as they look up to them, though they are ever so far away from us, and each other. -Sojourner Truth
Obviously, given that this is a blog the implication of what I’m writing is that it’s personal, but just to remind the reader, what I am about to share is, of course, my own personal opinions and experiences. That being said, I personally found this list of advice, a bit basic as it might be, really helpful, so if you find this helpful, that’s fantastic, and if you don’t, I totally understand. And if you aren’t on the same page with me politically, please, you are SO much more than welcome to stop reading this blog. I would much rather you not read this than say something horrible. As my hero, spirit animal, celebrity crush and person I would love to play me in the movie version of my life, Gina Rodriguez of Jane the Virgin says: mean comments will get blasted by my vagina. Also, if you haven’t at least tried watching Jane the Virgin, well, see the above comment…
I know from my Facebook feed (more on THAT later), that I’m not alone right now in feeling alternately helpless, sad, enraged, destroyed, pessimistic, wounded, and did I mention helpless? I knew in November that this would be hard, but I didn’t really understand how it would feel being outside of the US for long periods of time during this presidency. Man, we have to find a different word for this. Unfortunate incident? Difficult time? Presidency just doesn’t seem appropriate here, does it.
On one level, being in India, or abroad anywhere, is actually kind of great right now. After all, I have a clear strong sense of distance, and it’s a relief sometimes to have that. But on another level, it’s really challenging. I’m really far away from everything that is happening, and I’m lonely in my pain in many ways. So here are some things I’ve learned so far being abroad during a political situation that upsets me. And if you are abroad, or even in the US, and you find these revelations or insights helpful, I’m very happy about that. And if you don’t, again, I would refer you to the words of Gina. I really think she and I could be friends, like, in real life. Anyone know her and want to pass that feeling along? No? Okay. Cool. Thanks.
Here are some hard things:
- I live in the future, but that doesn’t always do great things for me. What I mean by this is, I’m 10.5 hours ahead, 9.5 when it’s not daylight savings time. Why that half hour? Wellllllll the thing I heard was that India doesn’t want to be in the same time zone as Pakistan which, if that doesn’t tell you something about a government run on spite I don’t know what will, but of course this might not be true, in which case you are welcome to tell me the real reason, but the fact that I’ve been told this by more than one Indian here feels like a real litmus test for diplomatic relations, now, doesn’t it? Anyway, the point is, being off by most of a day can be nice, but it’s also panic-inducing. I wake up behind, in the sense that I’ve lived that day in India, and wake up to that day ending in the US. I’m always behind, even though I’m ahead, and it’s like Alice in Wonderland, I have to run as fast as I can just to stay in one place. I am always missing everything, even though I’ve already lived that day, and I feel obscurely guilty that I lived that day in my blissful happiness while so much was happening. Additionally, this screws me in the reverse. I live the whole day waiting for new news, but that’s insane, because my Monday morning is still America’s Sunday night, and nothing is going to happen while most of the country is sleeping. In my panic over information, I end up either reading too many things, many of which I’m not taking the time to parse through and verify, or throwing up my hands and shaking my head in dismay because everything is terrible. Then I share a bunch of stuff on Facebook, more on that later, and try to move on.
- I’m not home for marches. I can’t attend protests. There so much I would like to be doing but I’m not physically present for it. Now, I know that that really doesn’t matter on any level but my own sense of sadness, and that’s totally selfish and self-centered. But it doesn’t change the fact that it is isolating, and difficult. I am so grateful to every person chanting and protesting and being in the space of conflict, putting their bodies out there in the world. No one in my life is making me feel guilty about that but me. But I do feel guilty, and apart. Every instagram post of friends and their amazing signs, every #resist I see, I am so proud of the people I know and know of, and so sad that I can’t be present. That’s not anything but a personal problem, and I know that. I split my time between the US and India, so I know that I can go back and be there for so many things, and that nothing is about me and my presence, that’s not the point of the protest, if I’m there “experiencing” it. Still. Still.
- I’m having a hard time feeling happy. That is, I feel happy, and I have a sense of “what the hell is there for me to be happy about”? Well, of course, lots of things. The two baby goats I saw nuzzling today. My cat, and the sleep positions he adopts. Women learning how to monetize their centuries old crafts in rural Bihar. The amazing meal I had on Sunday. My mom, and the hour I spend skyping her every week. My life, and the things that make me happy. But what right do I have to be happy when, as one Facebook friend (and life friend) said, “The world is burning around me”?
But that’s the thing I’ve been thinking about, and maybe it’s the distance being abroad gives you, but I will say that at the very least, I have more of a sense of the United States from afar, which while isolating, also reminds me that nothing is the center of the world. Is the United States a powerful country and will the political implications of our government have far-reaching global consequences? Yes, God help us. But it also isn’t the only place that exists. It is a grim thought, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently, that the place I am now has its own problems, and while it’s impossible to compare, that is what we, as humans, do all the time. For example, I am vitally worried about women and their rights over their own bodies in the United States right now. But I’m also living in a place where marital rape is legal. And yet India continues the fight, women continue to wake up every morning and push for decency, not just equality, but basic human rights. This is a country of wide scale media censorship. And yet people wake up every morning in rural India and use the one smart phone in the village to record corruption, sending it to newspapers miles away, risking their lives so that someone will know what is happening where they live. Now, I know that there are many things that make a comparison between India and the US unequal, but this is where I am physically right now, and this is the comparison I can currently be making.
And here are some good things, some things that I find comforting and inspiring no matter how far away I feel and am.
- After the election I vowed the Facebook could not become my news cycle. It just can’t. So I signed up and paid some money to some newspapers and they send me news reports directly and I also go to their websites and sit and read articles. And I’m giving that about an hour a day. Not this piecemeal as it comes thing. I’m giving it an hour. As I told you, I’m ahead, and behind. So I can’t wait for the news to come. I have to give it time, and space, and think about facts. I’m not saying I’m really good at this. This resolution is like three days old. I fell right on back into that trap of checking Facebook all the time, and that led directly into using it as my news source. But the anxiety that gave me wasn’t productive. I think the anxiety and pain are normal. But the lack of productivity make me feel helpless, then useless. That’s not a positive place or useful for the world.
- So I am taking time to read the news, sign a bunch of petitions, call my senators, whatever the daily action plan I signed up for asks me to do, and then I’m continuing with my day. So I can be productive, and write, and work, and enjoy my cat, and the nuzzling goats, and everything. Because if I never stop thinking about what’s happening, it will become normal. And that would, I think, probably be the worst thing. For what is appalling to feel normal. And in that way, India is a help, because there are a lot of things I see here that I don’t want to normalize either. I don’t want the extreme poverty, the naked children on the street, the heartbreaking things I see, I don’t want them to become my reality, and they are my reality, and I have to find a way to keep seeing them and feeling them without bleeding all the time. It’s been good practice, actually, if you think about it.
- I am remembering that there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than exist in my country. Yes, it’s vital and important and essential, but the world is a large place, and a global perspective is helpful. There are many issues, many problems, and I’m a part of them globally, not just locally. I can’t fix them all, but I can work to be a part of solutions. II can remember that there is no one center of the universe. I can appreciate things that are happening that are good. I am allowed that, and so are we all.
- I felt, for the first time in my young life, when President Obama (#stillmypresident) was elected, that this was the first time I was truly proud to be American. When speaking to my mom recently, in yet another totally self-centered statement, I mentioned that I had been proud to be American, and now I didn’t feel that way anymore. But I have to say, recently, in the past week, I’ve contradicted myself. Because maybe I’m not proud of our current head of elected office (again, not saying it, #notmypresident). But I’m proud of the thousands who marched on Washington for the women’s march. I’m proud of government officials going rogue on Twitter because they refuse to be silenced. I’m proud of the ACLU, and the thousands waiting, law-abiding citizens making sure the law protects all, peacefully resisting a ban on immigration that is against everything the America I’m proud of stands for. I am proud to be a part of that, even from afar.
So for all of you on vacation, extended stay, traveling, splitting time like I am, living abroad, whatever you are doing and wherever you are and however far away your native country feels, the close-but-far, happy-but-sad, relieved-but-guilty or whatever combination of things you are experiencing, I hope you find your coping mechanisms. And I hope these keep working for me. And I hope India outlaws marital rape soon.
And I hope, for your own good, you check out Jane the Virgin. That’s a coping mechanism in and of itself, for real for real.