Pick a month, guys. Every month of 2017 has been a treat.
October 6, 2017 11:28 AM   Subscribe

MeFi's own, John Scalzi, writes about writing and the inability to focus, in this era of Trump.

"The thing is, the Trump era is a different kind of awful. It is, bluntly, unremitting awfulness. The man has been in office for nine months at this point and there is rarely a week or month where things have not been historically crappy, a feculent stew of Trump’s shittiness as a human and as a president, his epically corrupt and immoral administration, and the rise of worse elements of America finally feeling free to say, hey, in fact, they do hate Jews and gays and brown people. Maybe other people can focus when Shitty America is large and in charge, but I’m finding it difficult to do."
posted by standardasparagus (74 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
Yup, me too John, me too.
posted by evilDoug at 11:37 AM on October 6 [2 favorites]

posted by Navelgazer at 11:38 AM on October 6

And, when you add this hijack, I wonder whether we're even left with 30% of our own bandwidth
posted by infini at 11:43 AM on October 6 [2 favorites]

For others who too are struggling, consider this question from the green: What are you doing to deal with political stress? What should I do?

posted by standardasparagus at 11:44 AM on October 6 [2 favorites]

Indeed, infini, that article prompted me to post Scalzi's own experience. I feel it is a battle many of us are engaging on a daily basis, a struggle between awareness/"wokeness"/political action, and staying reasonably healthy and alive. These circles often overlap.
posted by standardasparagus at 11:48 AM on October 6 [3 favorites]

Just imagine how hard it is when you’ve got severe ADHD and an abandonment PTSD complex in full effect because—well, because your fears came true and you really were abandoned. It’s a hellishly hard time for caring about anything bigger than yourself and still managing to keep enough focus to manage the long term. I’ve had to just start tuning out on politics a lot more than I’d like just to keep the death wish fantasies to a manageable enough level I can resist the impulses when they come.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:50 AM on October 6 [14 favorites]

We propose that the mere presence of one’s own smartphone may induce “brain drain” by occupying limited-capacity cognitive resources for purposes of attentional control. Because the same finite pool of attentional resources supports both attentional control and other cognitive processes, resources recruited to inhibit automatic attention to one’s phone are made unavailable for other tasks, and performance on these tasks will suffer. We differentiate between the orientation and allocation of attention and argue that the mere presence of smartphones may reduce the availability of attentional resources even when consumers are successful at controlling the conscious orientation of attention.

standardasparagus, its good to see science back this up.

myself, lately, have been trying to estimate the cognitive cost by using ear worms as a metric - what is the bandwidth suck of one song stuck in your head for an entire morning?
posted by infini at 11:56 AM on October 6 [3 favorites]

Am currently working on a novel in which Nyarlathotep has moved into 10 Downing Street and the United States has been taken over by Cthulhu cultists.

(Can't help feeling that this metaphor is slightly past its sell-by date, but it's bread on the table and my editors expect finished copy on November 1st so there's no time to pitch something slightly more "out there" like, say, a second Spanish Civil War or maybe NAZIS NAZIS NAZIS ...)

Yeah, the background chatter is making it kind of hard to concentrate on writing fiction. I think I need a thicker tinfoil hat. And antidepressants.
posted by cstross at 11:58 AM on October 6 [72 favorites]

I am hoping to discover a tin foil hat hidden under a winter woolly
posted by infini at 12:05 PM on October 6 [4 favorites]

I suspect that sometimes it’s hard to focus when you’ve got the suspicion that your fiction is almost frivolous in the context of what’s going on right now.

I get where this is coming from, but as an attorney working with disabled veterans, I very much need people who are writing awesome books or making cool art in other media to keep doing it. I can't keep going without art and fiction to escape into, and I know a lot of people who are doing other social justice type work are the same way.

We need you. Your work is not frivolous, it is vital. Art and creativity are a great help to those of us processing trauma and stress.
posted by bile and syntax at 12:06 PM on October 6 [56 favorites]

jesus fucking christ, i'm not alone
posted by clockworkjoe at 12:07 PM on October 6 [18 favorites]

Yep. I never really understood why the US employed lots of "work hard or Fritz wins" propaganda during WWII. And now I kinda sorta get it. When the news is this "unremittingly awful," and has been for so long (seems like this shitshow really got rolling toward the end of 2015) it gets hard to get out of bed in the morning, every morning, and keep doing the thing.

It is extremely demoralizing.
posted by tehgubner at 12:23 PM on October 6 [24 favorites]

The daily news shitshow is a huge part of this, because every day brings a new genuine, serious, don't-try-to-tell-me-this-is-normal horror show. But with regards to writing, there are more aspects than the inability to focus. It's hitting my own writing very hard. I'm working on my eighth novel now. It ain't my first rodeo. It should not be this fucking hard.

But it's not just the inability to look away from the news. My barometer for reasonable human behavior is just gone. I can hold to realistic standards in fiction, but those standards ARE fiction now. The truth is, "expose the villain's crimes" isn't really a solution anymore. "People can come together in a crisis" seems childishly naive--I mean yeah, some people can, but not if their political party has decided to gamble on chaos unto suicide. We're stuck in a nightmare with a huge chunk of the country so deeply wedded to their racism and sexism and xenophobia that it's overridden their basic survival instincts.

(And yeah, people of color and others have known much of America was this deeply racist and crazy all along. I've had that sense all along myself, or at least sympathized, but I thought we might've gotten things to at least a level of "let's not destroy ourselves." I thought white people had at least invested deeply enough in the *illusion* to continue it. My hopes were based in part on cynicism, but I guess I wasn't cynical enough.)

Every political scenario I come up with that involves a deal or a compromise seems ridiculous now. Who would ever do that? Politics is about digging your heels in and throwing tantrums until you get what you want.

It's incredibly hard to write "believable" antagonists when you're used to antagonists who at least recognize things like science and math and facts. We don't even have that anymore.

I can't remember where I saw it first, so I can't credit, but if you handed any given news headline to a fiction editor these days, they'd hand it right back to you and say, "This villain needs nuance."
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:27 PM on October 6 [33 favorites]

During the 2017 eclipse, I kept seeing a factoid about how the event was going to drain billions from the economy in lost productivity.

Multiply that by the cognitive workload of most citizens forced to process the amount of shit expelled by the Living Avatar of Bullshit. Every day. We've lost trillions. What breakthroughs have we already missed because somebody looked at their phone and said, "Christ, what happened NOW?"
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 12:27 PM on October 6 [13 favorites]

Additionally: Part of me wants to work in Nazis or pseudo-Nazis to this book or the next, just so I can give people lots of Nazis getting punched and shot and falling into volcanoes or whatever. And the other part of me thinks, no, don't give them any more screen time than they're already getting, even as punching bags.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 12:28 PM on October 6 [2 favorites]

Thing about unplugging is that it's technically possible. Don't ask me how, but none of my plugged in techie Silicon Valley coworkers have any clue about any of this. And it's not because they're the awful bro types you picture when I say Silicon Valley. They're normal hardworking folks who are raising their kids and living their lives and they don't give a shit about any of this. I don't know how they manage it but they do, therefore it's possible. Somehow. I'm just sharing this as a data point. I guess because I personally haven't been able to focus at all and I don't get any understanding for it at work. They act like I'm distracted by the palace intrigues of some far away land.
posted by bleep at 12:35 PM on October 6 [16 favorites]

I may be finally starting to get back on the Getting Creative Work Done train. I took Twitter off my phone because I just couldn't even any more and it's felt freeing. And I've been re-building that habit of working on one of my comics for at least a half hour every day, often more - lately it's been the big mopey urban fantasy that's been on the back burner for a couple decades now, instead of, say, this backup for a mass-market book with actual deadlines to deal with, but it's something and frankly getting anything done feels like a triumph lately.

Posts like this - both Scalzi's essay and the other responses here - make me feel better about this lack of productivity. It's not just me, it's not my own special guilt, it really is just constantly draining.
posted by egypturnash at 12:36 PM on October 6 [4 favorites]

I can't say I've been less productive during this time, but shortly after the election, my output took a decidedly more open political bent, to wit, the album I'm releasing in a few weeks is called Lock The Doors and has a song callled "Guided by the Beauty of our Weapons" that includes the lyric "behold my terrible majesty."
posted by tclark at 12:41 PM on October 6 [3 favorites]

I'm not a writer, but I'm a reader, and my normal 140 pages a day has fallen to about 100, which is just weird to me. Like, it's more or less the strongest indicator of depression that there is, with respect to me.
posted by janey47 at 12:51 PM on October 6 [12 favorites]

Thing about unplugging is that it's technically possible. Don't ask me how, but none of my plugged in techie Silicon Valley coworkers have any clue about any of this. .... They act like I'm distracted by the palace intrigues of some far away land.

Well when you have enough money and an un-threatened juggernaut godzilla industry at your back, a LOT of things are possible that us regular shmoes, with our rapidly extinct professions and dwindling wages, can't manage.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:06 PM on October 6 [18 favorites]

This resonated with me, too. It's been really, really fucking hard. Some of the worst depressive weeks of my life since January.
posted by odinsdream at 1:18 PM on October 6 [7 favorites]

I’ve had ups and downs, but have mostly been OK. Today with the birth control rollback this morning, something broke and I cried in my office without meaning to. I’ve been useless at work all day.

I am glad I’m not alone.
posted by samthemander at 1:33 PM on October 6 [10 favorites]

They're normal hardworking folks who are raising their kids and living their lives and they don't give a shit about any of this.

Yeah? Well that's also called apathy. And it's why we have low information voters. And that's how we get into messes like this. They should very much fucking care.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 1:34 PM on October 6 [21 favorites]

I am hoping to discover a tin foil hat hidden under a winter woolly
posted by infini at 2:05 PM on October 6

Have I got a kickstarter for you, then?
posted by boostergold at 1:43 PM on October 6 [1 favorite]

Gonna sound like a completely old fart here but:

1968 was worse.
posted by Twang at 1:50 PM on October 6 [6 favorites]

God, even when there isn't something major in the headlines, I just see endless rehashings of the Hillary vs. Bernie primary fight and that's just as depressing. I live in Missouri, so one of my senators, Claire Macskill is up for reelection next year. Fucking purists just keep ragging on her for some of her meaningless votes and are going to primary her with an unknown. Also, plenty of "I'll vote third party instead of these corporate DINO sellouts" and when I pointed out that every Democrat was crucial in protecting the ACA THEY FUCKING CALL IT A CORPORATE HANDOUT. Like, jesus fucking christ, people need the ACA to NOT DIE right now and you would rather let a republican win than accept anyone who isn't 100% Bernie.

Sorry to vent but it just fucking never stops.
posted by clockworkjoe at 1:53 PM on October 6 [30 favorites]

Today with the birth control rollback this morning

Aw, fuck. I'm on a news diet after the news on Monday gave me crazy stress dreams all night and I had to miss work Tuesday. I haven't seen anything about that. RAGE.
posted by fiercecupcake at 1:59 PM on October 6

Am currently working on a novel in which Nyarlathotep has moved into 10 Downing Street and the United States has been taken over by Cthulhu cultists.

cstross, when did you start writing nonfiction?
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:00 PM on October 6 [17 favorites]

I'll tell you what I've picked up recently...

After 20 or so years, I'm playing Tabletop RPGs again.
After 10 years, I'm playing board games again.
I'm doing Sodukos for the first time since my father died... which was what... 3? 4? years ago?
I'm finishing Book 5 of Percy Jackson with my son. We started reading Redwall last night to gauge my daughter's interest.
My daughter and I just finished Rebekha Girl Detective book 8, we've read Ivy and Bean about 40 times.\
Personally I'm reading Gaiman's Norse Mythology.

I haven't read fantasy since before 1999. WTF me?


Is my creative productivity off? Yes. I'll pick something mind numbing and consumption based during my time off. I'm not building something like I used to, I'm not planning out my consulting business, I'm not taking more side work. I'm avoiding it. My work work does take more time from my day, but... I'm drained from my own creativity.

Wake up, toilet-> Youtube:-> Colbert, Noah, Bee, Oliver, Meyers, Maher, occasionally Fallon, Corden. They follow me through making lunches and breakfasts for the kids... I don't know...

I can't say there's a good way to avoid it and get productive again... but... meh.
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:08 PM on October 6 [3 favorites]

A friend posted an image from Las Vegas of bodies strewn across the killing field. Not up close or very graphic, but I am sick at heart all over again. Every week, almost every day, the news is not just bad but horrible. So I take news breaks, but I can't sustain that; what's being done in and by my country is being done in my name.

> 1968 was worse.
In 1968, there were still strong unions, banks were a bit more honest, wages were (inflation-adjusted) far better for workers, Wall Street hadn't been given free rein, and our protests made a difference. Global Warming was coming, but we didn't know it. It was worse because we were in a bigger war and more people were dying. Bush-Cheney was worse because more than 125,000 Iraqi civilians were killed for no reason. Protesting against the war in Iraq, post 9/11, was nearly pointless. But the daily awfulness of 2017, with 3+ years of Pres. Pants-On-Fire to go, with the corporate-owned Republican Congress, is still deeply and profoundly wretched. Comparing them is like comparing Las Vegas to Sandy Hook.
posted by theora55 at 2:11 PM on October 6 [20 favorites]

TBH, I'd prefer Cthulhu cultists over actualfax nazis.

I spent pretty much half the year consuming cozy mysteries in book and tv form. I never got the appeal of cozy mysteries before, but now I do. Now I get it. In a cozy mystery, the police are, at most, slightly bumbling. The bad guys always get caught in the end. The protagonist's friends are all quirky and fun, not secretly racist and cruel. The village is lovely and quaint. People use bicycles to get around town. Sigh. My fantasy and romance intake also went way up, over non-fiction, horror, and 'serious' novels.
posted by lovecrafty at 2:13 PM on October 6 [13 favorites]

I have noticed a precipitous drop in my ability to get anything done this year. I thought it was turning 41, but maybe not. I've just normalized and grown accustomed to the soul-deep existential angst that was palpable and new in January. :(
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:14 PM on October 6 [3 favorites]

In some ways, starting a farm this year of all years has been exhausting. I've missed most of the marches and other forms of activism because I am out weeding. My sister just had a baby, too, who has needed surgery, so it feels like everything is coming in at once.

In another way, the farm became ours at the perfect time. All weekend, out in the field, planning ahead and evaluating our crops. I love it. I wish I could quit my job and do it all day. At night I look at twitter and I grieve, and I write action emails to a list of 40+ people, asking them to call their senators and reps. But during the day, I have to give my body over to something else and there is never a shortage of work.
posted by Emmy Rae at 2:26 PM on October 6 [5 favorites]

I guess this is as good as any place to put this, but I'm listening to "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress", and just happened to finish "The Ghost Brigade" as part of my intersperse Scifi "masters" with more recent books plan. When Prof goes into his libertarian rant about how taxes aren't necessary, everyone will just pay for what they need! ON THE M-F MOON! And then Mann opines on how a bullet went between a young teen relative's "lovely budding breasts", I realize how these Scifi masters have totally f*cked us over, and I get mad all over again about teens reading this stuff (and Ann Rand, etc) thinking it's the way the future should be. The misogyny and liberal disdain probably would have felt quaint a year ago, but now feels like a mine left in a field for me to find. At this point, I'm going to really pivot to Le Guin and as an effort to clear out the macho-techno-libertarian crap.

The Ghost Brigade was much better, though I have a lot less tolerance for passages about massacring civilians and children now, even if it is in the context of intergalactic war. I've also soured on general dystopian fantasy, and now a lot of Margaret Atwood's stuff hits too close to home.
posted by Hermeowne Grangepurr at 2:31 PM on October 6 [9 favorites]

Here's a game! Not a fun one... but heck, why not play along? Are you:
- Waking up sweating and fearful several times a night?
- Angry at people for no clear reason?
- Angry at people for lots of clear, awful reasons (like they're Nazis)?
- Taking anti-anxiety medication by the jug?
- Not getting any writing done?
- Switching between MF and news and screaming into pillows?
- Yelling at the cats?
- Drinking all available booze?
- Gaining weight?
- Realizing how much worse so many other people have it than you and then feeling extra bad for marinating in your own lugubriousness?

You're either living in the new reality, or like me, you're living in the new reality and also starting peri-menopause! Woo! Your prize? Apparently every once in a while you will read a thread on MetaFilter that will make you feel a tiny bit better.

Or as jscalzi put it so eloquently "Knowing that you’re not the only one having a fucked-up world messing with your process might make you feel less alone." Indeed.
posted by WordCannon at 2:31 PM on October 6 [32 favorites]

word, WordCannon. You are not alone (for basically that entire list, and possible p-m)
posted by Hermeowne Grangepurr at 2:34 PM on October 6 [2 favorites]

I had big plans for this year, even after the election. I (very softly) launched my little serial fiction website in February, was going to post 1000 to 1500 words a week while I wrapped up revisions on Act 1 and moved on to revising Act 2. Figured I would wrap Act 2 up in August or September and get going on writing Act 3. I was thinking I might be able to run an ad on Still Buffering and get an ad in submitted for the Adventure Zone for 2018 when they open those up.

Fast forward to August when I finally wrapped up revision Act 1, with some scenes only getting getting to where I was happy with them a few weeks or in a couple of cases a few days before it was time to put them up. I am still “revising” the first chapter of Act 2, where revising actually means adding a bunch of new content, which will itself probably need to be revised before I feel confident putting it up. I’m almost definitely going to have to go on hiatus for a while after the last of Act 1 goes up in another month or two, because I’m simply not going to have enough of a content buffer to avoid running out of story in the middle of the Act. I won’t be able to start promoting myself while on hiatus, and until I can promote myself enough to build an audience large enough to maybe possibly fingers crossed support a small Patreon, I won’t be able to devote any more time to writing than I currently.

Everything sucks.
posted by Caduceus at 2:38 PM on October 6 [2 favorites]

My fantasy and romance intake also went way up, over non-fiction, horror, and 'serious' novels.

My writing genres are smutty urban fantasy and (liberal) military sci-fi. I'm working in the mil-sf now, and it's slow, and I'm kinda wondering if switching to the UF might be better for me mentally because it's a happier place, but I've been promising my mil-sf readers the next book for a while now. And as I said, it's dragging.

Y'know what I can really crank out now? Escapist fluff. I've been doing a lot of that just for my own mental well-being. Stories where somebody starts out in a bad sitch and then things get better because magic or aliens or something and then life is just increasingly awesome. Happy fluff is important, people can really use that, but these stories don't fit with my author brand so I'm not really trying to market them in any way. Also there are underlying problematic tropes I'm not comfortable spreading, and thinking about those and how to fix them starts turning it into work and that's not the point. But man, can I crank that out right now.

I feel like it really says something about where my head is at. A huge part of my imagination really wants to just pull the blanket over my head and dream of kittens and cupcakes and hugs.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 2:46 PM on October 6 [9 favorites]

And FWIW, the writers who really, really have my respect right now are the romance novelists. I have plenty of respect for them anyway, but man. In 2017? Or right after the election? Just getting a book across the finish line to HEA these days must take a lot of focus and emotional fortitude and I don't know what.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 2:49 PM on October 6 [6 favorites]

Yeah? Well that's also called apathy. And it's why we have low information voters. And that's how we get into messes like this. They should very much fucking care.

I don't understand why you think I am contributing to getting into this mess in any way, shape, or form by not reading or caring very much about day-to-day federal politics. I donate to causes you like, I vote the way you would like, and I happily advocate political opinions you would like to my friends. If everyone behaved like me, we would have the political results you want. So what's the problem?

I suggest that people voting and working directly in pursuit of the messes are "how we get into messes like this."
posted by value of information at 2:52 PM on October 6 [2 favorites]

I have always considered myself very good at compartmentalization (in fact, part of my official performance review). This has been one of the most challenging years of my life. My husband was diagnosed with cancer, my 2nd hometown of Dickinson, TX was wiped away from Hurrican Harvey, my corporate job supporting a retail company had its biggest reorg in history, my bank account being compromised - this has all just been in the past two months! Rinse, repeat, and do it again every day! I know I stooped to a new low in life when I was researching how to undo a curse.

Then, there is the President... I cannot be disconnected from the news. My way to keep up with friends and family is social media and have to have my phone on for important and serious calls from doctors or family. It's just not an option. I really feel like the Donald Trump brand is to be front and center every single day, intentionally. I'd like to fantasize that the dumb horrifying shit that comes out of his mouth is perhaps meant for 'ratings' and no one could possibly be that vile of a human being without trying to make the news cycle at least once a day. It feels like a personal assault on the only venue I have left to enjoy.

I'd be very interested in hearing the take of journalists and news reporters. I've countless times yelled in my car listening to NPR stories and the people they're seemingly forced to interview due to their position in our government. It's not like they're interviewing the redneck down the street. These people are dangerous. How can you be a reporter and keep the interview on track, first, and not lose your mind what some of these people are saying and even attacking YOU for being "the lying media"?

I am all open ears of a legit way to filter out, at least the megaphone twitter, anything related to our President - as a means for keeping productive in my life and keeping my mental health on track.
posted by hillabeans at 2:53 PM on October 6 [5 favorites]

Incidentally, I'm totally sympathetic to the argument that many other people are directly affected by short-term federal policymaking (long list for sure, e.g. immigrants) and they don't have the luxury of being checked out on a month-to-month level. That's true and I will never sit around telling those people they need to relax. But that doesn't mean I am contributing to the problem by not being one of those people.
posted by value of information at 2:55 PM on October 6

I really feel like the Donald Trump brand is to be front and center every single day, intentionally. I'd like to fantasize that the dumb horrifying shit that comes out of his mouth is perhaps meant for 'ratings' and no one could possibly be that vile of a human being without trying to make the news cycle at least once a day. It feels like a personal assault on the only venue I have left to enjoy.
posted by infini at 3:08 PM on October 6 [1 favorite]

I'm not a writer, but I'm a reader, and my normal 140 pages a day has fallen to about 100, which is just weird to me. Like, it's more or less the strongest indicator of depression that there is, with respect to me.

I'm barely reading books right now -- instead I'm going through lots of fan fiction online -- it's the perfect escape. And the stuff I choose has mostly happy endings (and, um, an "explicit" rating).
posted by trillian at 3:17 PM on October 6 [5 favorites]

Trillian, when you say “happy endings...”
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 3:19 PM on October 6 [3 favorites]

I've taken to watching The West Wing. I never saw it when it was airing given that I lived without a TV for most of those years. A few years back I started watching it but didn't get very far -- why, I can't remember, because I was enjoying it. Now I'm midway through the second season, and while I'm watching it I get to live in an alternate reality where Cheeto is not only not president but Dubya's administration never even happened. Instead, I get to watch intelligent, qualified, dedicated people manage the reins of government as best they can, and there's a president in the Oval Office who is on the right track much of the time, and listens to his advisors when they tell him he isn't.

And for another, much more realistic sort of comfort, I keep this tweet of mine pinned to the top of my Twitter page. It calms me a little whenever I see it.
posted by orange swan at 3:31 PM on October 6 [4 favorites]

It's like Trump found the secret main bridge ya know and is getting hallucinatory advice from Nixon and Captain Robur with no Charlie Bronson to cut rope and siphon helium.

Fucking Neganesqe ball of tar soaked yarn
posted by clavdivs at 3:50 PM on October 6 [1 favorite]

I lost about s good 10 month’s of work in my manuscript cause I belive my time is better spent fighting the good fight snd political organizing but yeah it’s hard to think goofy light comic novels are actuall what is worthy of my time and effort now.
posted by The Whelk at 3:52 PM on October 6 [1 favorite]

I dunno, I manage to shut it out for the hour or two a day I get to actually work on creative stuff. Yes, I'm distracted, but I love the story I'm writing and it's set 300 future where we've managed to survive all this crap but have other problems to conquer.

I suppose it helps that this isn't what I do for a living, that nothing depends on it as it does for you professionals (and I've heard this lament from people like Howard Tayler of Schlock Mercenary as well (the man is an absolute beast when it comes to productivity).

Nothing, that is, except maybe my sanity.
posted by lhauser at 4:41 PM on October 6

I can't be productive. I have to be productive, my life is falling apart because I need to be productive, but I just can't, because my adrenaline is pumping "you are in a war" at me all day and I'm not even sure it's wrong.

This article is pretty timely, essentially.
posted by corb at 5:03 PM on October 6 [15 favorites]

After reading that article, I harkened back to this photo of the golfers playing near a forest fire. At the time, a lot of comments expressed disgust about how people could play golf within eyeshot of an ongoing catastrophe, but now it’s like...what else can you do, sometimes?
posted by Autumnheart at 5:32 PM on October 6 [1 favorite]

I have been intentionally, specifically working on my compartmentalization skills. I've always been decent at it, but 2017 has made it a skill I value and develop. At this point I feel like there are three distinct Jimmy's: the one who gets things done at work, the one who keeps life moving at home, and the one who curls up in a ball and cries into a cat when no one else is around. Practically different people.

I really doubt it's good for my mental health overall, but at least I'm functional and my family is taken care of. If I can sustain it for a few years, I figure by then either things will get better or I won't need to worry about it anymore. At that point it won't matter much how I am.
posted by fencerjimmy at 5:32 PM on October 6 [3 favorites]

Is that what's going on?? I can't read my graduate school materials, I can't read books, I can't focus on anything, I just look at politics and news on (don't hate me) Reddit, and refresh Twitter at night and ....I feel like I've become functionally illiterate. And I can't even read the original articles (past the headlines) because the news is just so BAD. Every day, all day. I thought it was just me...
posted by bquarters at 5:40 PM on October 6 [13 favorites]

A huge part of my imagination really wants to just pull the blanket over my head and dream of kittens and cupcakes and hugs.

Yeah, this is me basically, but you know what I really hate? That even in my most self-indulgent, Mary Sue-esque daydream id-tastic fan fiction, there's a part of my brain going "no, you've gotta account for how awful people are, what would those trolls on Twitter say if this happened in real life, Fox News would be awful about this, Republicans would never let this happen" etc etc, and I hate that. I hate that this shit has colonized even my fantasy life. I just want a running escapist, probably maladaptive day dream to retreat into while I'm in the shower or stuck in traffic or trying to fall asleep, and I don't want to be thinking "but what about the NAZIS" during it, apart from mentally blowing them the fuck up.

I want to be able to at least dream and write about a better world still. But even that is so hard lately.
posted by yasaman at 5:44 PM on October 6 [3 favorites]

I tell friends that the only answer is to go full hedonist, but at a certain age sex&drugs&rockandroll becomes a nice baroque concert, followed by some sweet snuggling on the couch, and then an Advil before bed.
posted by twsf at 5:48 PM on October 6 [7 favorites]

Trillian, when you say “happy endings...”

Including that particular theme, in fact!
posted by trillian at 6:02 PM on October 6 [1 favorite]

I never really understood why the US employed lots of "work hard or Fritz wins" propaganda during WWII

At least WW2 featured external enemies. Today our enemies are . . . us . . . and we therefore are powerless to fight them, short of bodies upon the gears resistance, but ain't nobody got time for that now.

It's going to take decades to undo the damage the current Administration, Congress, and Judiciary is doing, assuming we even get the chance.


1924 . . . 1940 . . . 1964 . . . 2015
1925 . . . 1941 . . . 1965 . . . 2016
1926 . . . 1942 . . . 1966 . . . 2017 <--- You Are Here
1927 . . . 1943 . . . 1967 . . . 2018
1928 . . . 1944 . . . 1968 . . . 2019
1929 . . . 1945 . . . 1969 . . . 2020
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 6:25 PM on October 6 [5 favorites]

I think it's the knowledge of how much work has been undone, and how much extra damage has been done, and how hard the fight was to get the crumbs in the first place, and how hard the nazis (or republicans, as they're known here) are going to fight, and how people on "my" side are so trusting and soft.

The overwhelming message of 2017, Trump, the GoP, conservatives is:


That's a rough storm to weather even if you have a close-knit circle of friends. And if that's frayed...
posted by maxwelton at 6:42 PM on October 6 [10 favorites]

This year has been total shit for me in budgeting, too. For some legit reasons like housing two homeless trans women to get them out of subsistence sex work and into jobs, to just giving the fuck up on "planning" bigger purchases. Sure, let's get the nicer minivan, why not. Sure, I'll buy the awesome bike instead of being frugal. Why the fuck not. It's feeling really goddamn weird. Not to mention the unforeseen expenses in stocking up on survival stuff and legal fees on estate planning that I've been meaning to do anyway, but it suddenly seems much more urgent to handle now.
posted by odinsdream at 7:33 PM on October 6 [1 favorite]

I go out to do laundry every other week, and since I'm away from my usual diversions, I read regular ol' books; the one that I'm working on now is Rick Perlstein's The Invisible Bridge, and even though its central subject is Ronald Reagan, I'm still on the front part of the book which covers Watergate in some depth. Much of it seems familiar, especially the numerous people (explicitly including Reagan) who seem willing to forgive Nixon for anything or everything, or simply ignore it.

Here's the thing, though: there are also quite a few Republicans who were willing to hold Nixon accountable, no matter how much damage it did to their own party. I don't see that today, at least not to the same extent. Maybe I'll stop reading when I reach Jimmy Carter's election.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:13 PM on October 6

Thanks to bile and syntax and others for the encouragement. to keep up the work. Just today I was staring at the page...again...and asking myself what on earth good I was doing, and if my efforts might not be better served elsewhere.

But this afternoon. a service guy we had visiting the house told me how something I'd created had helped his wife and daughter have a bonding moment. Wow. Okay. So I contributed to a positive thing. And now I see this discussion.

And it reminds me that while it often seems inadequate, or futile, I can do this. It feels a lot like throwing tiny sparks into the darkness. But enough tiny sparks? We can light up the sky.
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 8:13 PM on October 6 [2 favorites]

Amidst all the misery of election night, one gesture I won't forget was the fanfiction author who posted "emergency fluff" on AO3 at 4 am. There are times that escapism is one way of dealing with the world.

... And, at the same time, jailers love escapism, as the saying goes.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 8:22 PM on October 6 [2 favorites]

"I'm not a writer, but I'm a reader, and my normal 140 pages a day has fallen to about 100, "

I'm reading books SO SLOWLY because I'm spending so much time keeping up with news, all my fiction reading time is being sucked down by my RSS feed and exposes and so forth.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:24 PM on October 6

Unplugging isn't a grand solution for everything, and I don't see how it would help an author who presumably needs to research stuff as he works.

But my policy for a few weeks has been that at dinner time every day my phone is switched off and left in another room and I have no Internet till the next day. (I have a Kindle for e-books). A few hours of freedom has definitely left me feeling better.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 8:59 PM on October 6 [2 favorites]

I’ve lost any ability I ever had to focus, and it’s screwing up my life. I start out to do one thing and before I know it i’m doing 12, none of them well. Or I’m doing nothing at all and even kind of failing at that. I hate to say I was glad to read this article the other day and glad to see all the responses on twitter and here, but phew, I am glad I’m not alone. I have seriously been wondering if I had a small stroke. My memory is shot to pieces, I can’t sleep, I can’t concentrate and I am spending money like it’s going out of style because I keep thinking that the planet has maybe 5 years left, so, hell, buy the entire kitchen organizing system. I will be an incinerated corpse with an empty bank account but by the gods my life will be accessorized. This has been good for my art actually - that’s the thing about photography, you kind of have to throw money at it at least occasionally and it helps to just not give. a. shit. But nothing is organized and nothing is getting processed in a timely manner and, oh, I want my brain (and my stupid annoying yet predictable and relatively law abiding old country) back.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:41 PM on October 6 [5 favorites]

So a moment of relative perspective. We are currently in a period of social and rhetorical strife because people who think of themselves as, 'white', are thrashing about as they lose an absolute strangle hold on Federal power. There is a general global rousing of right wing populism because neo-liberal economic policies caused real world desperation and what has passed for the Left has generally been both feckless and corrupt. We have polarized and confused politics, which should be about policy, with rhetoric based primarily in bullshit (I mean that in the Cohen reinterpretation of the Frankfurt sense, though there may well be much of it from the Frankfurt definition as well). Now is an ugly time. However, we are currently engaged in battles of public speech punctuated by acts of violence which is different than a Civil War or the race riots of the past. Now is better than most of American history. This is better than much of human history. Still, we can and should do better than this. Given the electoral system in the USA there is an opportunity to do that in the coming year.

Stupidity at the highest level has turned out to be extremely ineffective thus far. It is self-defeating, stumbling, and in the end we will need to remember to be very active in the prevention of power coming to the hands of narcissistic boobs. For those who have problems focusing or getting things done let me remind you that that is how the Stupid wins. It makes you stupid.

Cling to first principles. If you are no condition to help yourself how can you help others? You start by putting your health first. Your mental health starts with the principle that physiology shapes psychology. Remember to take deep regular breaths. If you start to breath quickly your brain makes you feel under stress and stress decreases the ability of the mind to function in a rational or creative manner.

The Mangled Apricot Hellbeast will be POTUS if you are stressed or calm so learn to be calm in the face of long term dumb. Remember that populism can cut both ways and that we need to mobilize friends and family by pointing out how he has failed. Talk about how the Oompa-Loompa King has failed to help working people and immediately reneged on his tax promises to propose a plan in which he and his rich friends could take a bigger share of the pie while the middle class would pay for it. Be calm about it. Avoid their expectations of the, 'shrill', liberal and just ask them if anything he has done has been for them.

Remember that Facebook is set up as a game with, 'Likes,' as points. You try to get, 'Likes,' and the more you get the more information Facebook can sell. It is a losing system for users. The only way to avoid losing is to skip playing. I have avoided ever having a Facebook account. If you want social media for friends and family I suggest setting up a GNU Social server and choosing carefully who you invite. If you stay on Facebook, turn off the news feed. They have to many problems running from being a news publisher to trust them. Control your news intake. Limit it if drives you nuts. lock the damned device you live your life by in a box for two hours a day. Never turn it on one day a week. Get a landline so people who need to can contact you. If you need to leave the device on, only answer it if it rings. Stop browsing and read a book, dig a hole, take up macrame, or learn how to make stone age technology. Let yourself be bored for ten to twenty minutes a day. Give yourself the breaks that allow for recovery. Save your passion for when you can take useful action.

Meanwhile, if you are a party member, start taking action in the local party and getting like minded party members involved. I recommend reading Thomas Frank's, Listen, Liberal to understand how the Democrats lost the working class. Then taking the lessons of how the people lost any representative party and fighting to get them back a functional and honest voice. If you happen to live in a State with Citizen Referendum Laws, I suggest you try and get Election day to be a holiday or to get a Vote by Mail system put in place. Then set up a system to monitor the Secretary of State, or whoever is responsible for the Electoral Oversight, and watch them like a hawk. Look for voter suppression and purges of the voter rolls. Support lawsuits against them for these actions. If you live in a State with an elected Supreme Court make sure that the Justices know that there is system of support for them out there.

If you live in a, 'red', county work to organize voters and get out the vote efforts. If you can get on the Election Boards and call out bullshit when you see it. Democracy requires the sacrifice of people actually using their power in the pursuit of responsibility.

Once you have done all that you can, take comfort. Avoid both hope and despair. Neither is useful and both mean you have given up agency. If you no longer have the ability to shape the aspects of the world that bother you then move on to the parts you can. Though I disagree with much that is in the full version, a modified version of the first part of the Rheinhol Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer may be useful;
Accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Have the courage to change the things
which can and should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
If you can not change it, if no one you know can change it, if there is no changing it. Let it go. If someone thinks they can change it and you think they are wrong, help them, you may be wrong. If you want a democratic republic to work you need to take part, and in doing your piece find peace and move on to your own life. This is in no way easy. Life is rarely easy if you care about something. Getting weighed down by the stupidity we have no way of stopping will hamper the forging of a better world.
posted by Ignorantsavage at 12:05 AM on October 7 [7 favorites]

The overwhelming message of 2017, Trump, the GoP, conservatives is:


That's a rough storm to weather even if you have a close-knit circle of friends. And if that's frayed...


I read this and nodded along, favouriting it. And then I moseyed on over to the "OMG I'm sick and tired of feeling like Chicken Little for no good reason that I can think of and I don't recognize myself anymore" thread.



So. There.
posted by infini at 3:57 AM on October 7 [2 favorites]


((hugs)); Dandelion Break!
posted by mikelieman at 4:13 AM on October 7 [2 favorites]

I want my brain and energy back already. I'm tired of looking up news sites for hours as my new hobby, but all day at work I keep wondering if anything's been blown up yet. I've stopped doing things I love doing. I don't write personally any more, all I do is chronicle today's disasters. Every damn day.

Scalzi has a followup.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:25 AM on October 7 [3 favorites]

I am still creating stuff at a pace I'm very happy with, but it's instrumental electronic music. I can mostly shut out the terrible voices while I'm doing that. But it's all, in a way, protest music even though that's all under the surface.

I've changed the kinds of things I do for entertainment. Some types of books get dropped right away if they have even the slightest whiff of Libertarianism or alpha-male bullshit. A lot of the angry industrial music I enjoyed I just can't anymore unless it's completely abstract. I've stopped playing games that involve shooting people. I need escapism.
posted by Foosnark at 9:49 AM on October 7 [2 favorites]

My problem is I keep thinking of the news as plot points. e.g. There are a gazillion guns in this country, owned by fanatics. That's quite the rifle on the mantle. What happens in the third act?
posted by bigbigdog at 11:53 AM on October 7 [4 favorites]

myself, lately, have been trying to estimate the cognitive cost by using ear worms as a metric - what is the bandwidth suck of one song stuck in your head for an entire morning?

I don't think that's a good metric. In my job, I've never lost any productivity or expended any unnecessary cognitive energy due to catchy songs playing in my head. I test the rains down in Africa.
posted by vibrotronica at 12:24 PM on October 7 [3 favorites]

My problem is that I am both a fiction writer and a writer in my day job, and my day job involves writing about the news in the most dispassionate way possible. Not just the national stuff, although I am required to be plugged into that in a way that has started to feel almost superstitious (the last time I took a 36 hour break, I tuned back in late on a Friday night a few hours before going in to work on the morning newscast to find the [first iteration of] the Muslim ban had happened and there were hundreds of protesters at the airport and I needed to spend those hours cramming information into my brain so I could get something coherent on the air 5 hours later when all I wanted to do was scream non-stop for those 5 hours instead).

But also the local stuff I report on and write about for other people to say out loud is just. Twice in the last week, I've had police shootings that (allegedly)
killed men who were clearly in the throes of full blown mental health crisis. Men whose families called the police begging for help and instead those men ended up dead on the other end of an officer's gun. Twice in less than a week.

I am trying to keep up with my art but my art is writing and my job is writing and right now ... I can't separate the two. My art is not remotely important and my work is falling on deaf ears. I'm glad Scalzi and other writers in this thread have expressed this with much greater impact but I had to just blurt this out.
posted by none of these will bring disaster at 12:48 PM on October 7 [5 favorites]

Boy, howdy. I can commisserate. As a non-fiction history writer with strict rules regarding accuracy, I must be vigilant in finding facts, verifying information, remaining mindful of the time line, and all of the other processes that sit in brain RAM while working. But the events of our current world consistently eat up a ton of my RAM, forcing the writing attention into the (much slower) page file on disk. My writing progress has been fitful and filled with spinning beach ball cursors. And my recent metaphors leave something to be desired. Floppy disk.
posted by Hot Pastrami! at 4:50 PM on October 7 [3 favorites]

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