Shiny objects

distractions in the summer of our discontent

Shiny objects

Last week, struck with the realization that the additional $600/week Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation would be ending soon, I decided I needed to make two frivolous purchases immediately. The first was a cute, reasonably priced hat that I’ve been coveting for several actual years. I’d never committed to because I had a few other hats, so I always told myself it wasn’t a necessity. The second was a beautiful, sparkling figurine that I’d stumbled across on social media only a week or so before I purchased it. At $55, it was more of a splurge than I normally feel comfortable with for something that serves no purpose besides decoration. But I admired the care that the artist had put into crafting it, and it was so beautiful that I felt moved by it.

I was exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 a little over three weeks ago, and I’ve been stuck in my apartment ever since. My results are still delayed due to the testing surge, so I’m staying put until I know for sure that I’m not going to infect anyone. It’s certainly possible that my need to buy things that make me happy is tied to my weird, stir-crazy past few weeks. I’ve felt my mental health waning in isolation. A Zoom hangout with some friends yesterday initially felt disorienting, like stepping out into the bright sun after days in darkness.

In June, I’d been protesting consistently and taking actions like donating, petition-signing, or calling my representatives on days off. It felt like I was actually doing something to help. It’s been weirder since I’ve been staying inside. Now all I can do is absorb information about what’s going on all around the country, and I’ve been overwhelmed by the causes needing my attention and money. July has brought all kinds of external problems in my life, from multiple problems with my apartment to my upcoming end of my lease and resulting decisions that will need to be made, plus I knew that time was running out on the extra money I’d be getting every week. So I shifted my attention to buying useless things for myself.

I’m not trying to write about guilt or anything like that. I guess I’m trying to write about fatigue. We’re in the middle of several different ongoing existential crises. There’s the fact that a deadly airborne disease has swept the planet and the science-approved way to stop it has become politicized in America. There’s the record unemployment rates with no protections in place for people who can’t work. There’s the continuing terror of police brutality. Also! Don’t forget about the creeping fascism and white supremacy.

It’s the high-stakes hopefully-finale of the Trump presidency, which has been so fucking exhausting because his only tactic is maintaining a constant cacophony of distractions. While you were worried about the Muslim ban, he’s stacked the federal judiciary across the country! You got so angry about those kids in cages but have you noticed he’s rolled back food safety measures in place? Also he’s tweeting unhinged babble like “covfefe” and “OBAMAGATE” and picking petty beefs, and also he controls the Supreme Court. It’s like being subjected to never-ending sleight-of-hand tricks by a sadistic octopus. And that’s just the distractions that he controls! The internet offers so many other things to catch your eye!

But the Black Lives Matter protests are still ongoing. Despite a pandemic, despite escalating violence, protesters are still showing up.

So it’s possible to stay focused if you have a specific goal.

I guess the thing to remember is that when you’re marching on the streets with a sign, you can’t be scrolling through Twitter and panicking about everything. So I’ll just try to structure my days to include actual action on things that seem the most pressing. I’ll set up a new budget and donate what I can. I’m going to try not to get distracted, because it is so hard to focus for too long but I can put my attention on something instead of everything, and then I can do something instead of nothing.

You can read more about abolishing the police here. You can support the Portland Bail Fund here. You can find a mutual aid network near you here to support those in need in your community.