It occurred to me today that there are only two kinds of useful people in the world: those making art and those making change. Everyone else is pretty much crap in my book, and actually, I really only get along with people who walk both paths.
The people I love the most manage to combine the two, and not in some horrid fingerpainting-signs-for-an-Earth-Day-Rally sort of way. Some people live their lives with grace and style while incorporating their radical politics seamlessly into all they do – these are my people. Social justice lawyers who spend their free time in community bike shops. Feminist chefs who knit gorgeous sweaters from hand-dyed yarn and tend to intricate gardens filled with exotic plants. Radical doulas who run programs to help women in prison have healthy babies while educating their communities on the injustices inherent in the prison system – all while wearing ridiculously awesome vintage clothes.
It took me a long time to learn that all vegans, or anyone who had read The Sexual Politics of Meat, or all Greens, aren’t necessarily destined to become my best friends. Most vegans drive me crazy; it’s hard to know these days who is familiar with the works of Carol Adams; and 75% of Green guys are idiots. I’m still a proud vegan, ecofeminist, and Green, but I’ve finally found out that your little liberal badge of honor doesn’t really mean we should hang out. This seems a ridiculously easy lesson, and it’s taken me a ridiculously long time to learn it.
Even though it sounds sickeningly self-righteous, when I was a kid I knew I would devote my life to activism because I was seemingly born with the knowledge that the world was a horrible place. When I got really burnt out on traditional activism in late high school I got into this pleasure thing – that in addition to the horror, the world held lovely pink things that I wanted. In college I came to realize that my childhood had been barren of beauty and I craved loveliness like most college kids crave rebellion. My life since then has been a battle between the desire to make my life worthwhile and stay true to my radical roots and an all-encompassing lust for pleasure, prettiness, and happiness.
Most days I walk this line pretty well. But every week or so the phrase “I’m not doing enough,” anchors itself in my brain until I sit down and write in my little (paper) journal about where my life is going. And every week I write the exact same thing: my life is so good, truly a life I own and have carefully built, filled with hard work and lovely friends and a place I love. But I should do more to shake it up. I see friends slowly getting recognition for their hard work and my hard work isn’t the kind that will ever get recognition. I don’t particularly want to get recognition for my business, which I work very hard on for 3.5 days a week. The rest of my week is devoted to local politics and private projects.
The way I think of my life is that when I’m not trying to make enough money for school debt and prettiness, I’m working to stave off the apocalypse for one more day.
Local politics is a perfectly good way to spend one’s time, but it is a notoriously frustrating way to work for change. And there are embarrassingly big parts of me that want something big with this one life of mine. Those parts are constantly battling with the parts that believe that “wanting something big” is a symptom of the cult of celebrity that saturates our society and we need to remember how to live a fulfilling life in our local communities. A secret desire to be some anarchist lifestyle guru, some underground Martha Stewart, is a byproduct of the mainstream society I pretend to ignore. We need to get past lifestyle gurus and underground celebrities – the radical parts of the world have to stop replicating the mainstream. I firmly believe this. That’s what “resistance is fertile” is all about. It just makes living in the world hard sometimes.
So I write in my journal that I will start a magazine, or do a cooking show on the local public access channel, or a million other little fireworks of ideas that burn so brightly then fizzle out, because in the end I know they aren’t as important as the everyday business of keeping my head down and doing my best to artfully combine politics and prettiness on my small little local level. In my down times I console myself with the thought that at least I fit the qualifications I have for friends!