What a Black anti-racism writer's comment inspired me to write about energy
Dear Reader: This is a rather long journey, it's intentional. This article was inspired in part by a tweet by writer Hannah Drake when she realized that she didn't HAVE to respond to every comment. Please note, I don't have the pleasure of knowing Hannah; I don't use other folk's smart comments without letting you know who they are and where to find more of what they have to say (see end of article). Wonder what on earth that has to do with Energizer Bunny energy? Everything. Stay with me here. Or not, up to you.
"Your energy level is just....OFF-PUTTING."
Look. I was born this way.
That doesn't make others bad and me good.
That also doesn't make me an asshole and them righteous.
As with all things, it simply means we're different.
I am not made to move slowly. I've been told this my whole life:
"YOU NEED TO SLOW DOWN."
"YOU NEED TO CALM DOWN."
I don't tell others to speed up or get excited. WTF, people?
I have a great deal of energy and am guilty of zoomies. It's irritating as shit to some folks, like the ex. This article speaks to where I get that extra energy, which is even more than I got birthed with. I'm usually happy, optimistic and focused. That allows me to get one hell of a lot of work done. That said:
I'm not ignorant of the world. There are huge ugly issues which require our full attention. We need to put our good strong backs behind those we believe in, and when we allow others to derail us, we lose time, our agency and our voices. This is why Hannah's comment struck me as particularly important.
I write regularly on a variety of topics, including racism and diversity, which gets up folks' noses. I get my fair share of ugly comments, but what I get pales in comparison to those Black writers whose cut-to-the-chase style of writing has an excellent way of slapping us up'side 'o the haid, which is how we say it where I came from. I do not have the time to bother with such cretins. Don't like my shit, don't read my shit. But not everyone does that. That's why this article.
We cannot, cannot CANNOT do the work if we allow people to bleed us dry. The world- and the time vampires in it- don't have permission to suck the lifeblood out of me or you. I'm nobody's free Happy Meal.
This is where Hannah Drake's tweet comes in. She wrote that she realized that she didn't HAVE to respond to everyone. Precisely. This is the essence of critical boundaries on social media, which can be and often is one enormous energy suck. Especially for those out-loud anti-racism writers, feminist writers, folks writing bravely about tough topics, holding your headspace away from Time Vampires is even more critical. More on that in a sec. But first, the larger picture around energy.
People attack different. Different viewpoints, ideas, ways of perceiving. That's how ancient scientists and mathematicians got executed, imprisoned, and worse. We're no different today. Anything that seeks to rewrite a fundamental narrative is deemed a threat.
People don't like different. Fearful folks will try to hamstring different + power + excellence every single time. Bet you can relate.
Energy level is just one more way we differentiate ourselves. However, there is far more to it than that.
First, let's go large on the issue of energy.
What animates us, according to the science
First, this monumentally smart piece in The New Yorker:
This paragraph caught my eye and delighted me no end:
Many of the variations on such ideas are pseudoscientific, the purview of quacks and crazies, or of spiritual adepts who may have been mistaken for them. Esotericism encompasses a variety of impossible-to-substantiate phenomena that persist best, in our quasi-scientific era, as metaphors or abstractions. In the eighteenth century, Franz Mesmer introduced his concept of mesmerism, or animal magnetism, involving a universal vital fluid that passes in and out through our pores. Baron Carl von Reichenbach, some decades later, described an electromagnetic substance he named the Odic force, after the Norse god Odin, which sensitive souls could perceive emanating from others’ foreheads. Early in the twentieth century, the French philosopher Henry Bergson identified an “élan vital,” which impels consciousness and evolution. Schopenhauer had his “will to live,” and, of course, for Freud, the source of the oomph within was the libido. Freud got some of his ideas from the work of the American neurologist George Miller Beard, who, in the years after the Civil War, had identified a condition called neurasthenia, arising out of the exhaustion of the nervous system. Headaches, fatigue, and impotence were the symptoms of what Beard called “American nervousness.” The cause, he proposed, was the stress of modern civilization, the most salient manifestations being “steam-power, the periodical press, the telegraph, the sciences, and the mental activity of women.” (author bolded)
Well of COURSE women are the cause of all the world's ills. Why didn't I think of that?
Hannah's comment made me think about the cost to our available energy when we get sucked into totally useless arguments with trolls, haters, doubters and other time vampires who want us to do all the research for them.
"Show us proof," they write. Delete, block. Do your own damned research, Sparky. Most of these women are PhDs anyway. As if they need to do more research to satisfy someone whose primary news source is usually their Twitter feed or Alex Jones.
Paumgarten's New Yorker article also addresses the typically American attitude about energy as though "all you gotta do is X" (usually buy this or that or enroll in Guru Krishnafoolyouallday's Special Energy Programme) like so many of the slick prosperity gospel converts. The problem is that magic potions don't cut it, and if you aren't aware of where and why you're leaking, you will continue to leak whether you have the energy of twelve reactors or an ancient bulldog. Science speaks to this directly, but pseudo-science thrives in this area.
To that he writes:
Clearly, despite our best efforts, energy is not evenly distributed, whether because of genetics or fate, nature or nurture. People blessed with it may ascribe it to their own virtue, perseverance, or self-discipline, and will sometimes wield the descriptor “low-energy” as a slight, as though Eeyores are contagious. The idea that you can train, will, or even medicate yourself into a permanent state of pep, charisma, and accomplishment lends an atmosphere of piety to the energy-assessment dance. It’s all a matter of attitude, they say, as though attitude were not itself determined by energy. Think positive! It takes energy to change habits and alter circumstances. One can adjust certain knobs, but it can feel like a chore to deduce which knobs do what. (author bolded)
There is nothing particularly virtuous about being more energetic or less so. Those humors, if you will, came with us as part of our chemistry at birth. Anyone who has ever taken DiSC or Myers Briggs can attest to how differently personalities harness our energy. What's challenging, and what you and I have a great deal of choice about, is how much energy we leak.
To that, here's a thought. The people I read most, those whose work has changed my views and helped me see and perceive differently cannot afford to be derailed. If we have any kind of notion about doing good work in the world, we can't either.
We get sleep, and sleep gives us rest time, rest time allows us, as do both naps and meditation, to recharge. We also recharge with others of like mind and those we love. Exercise. Time alone, time in nature. How we expend that energy is critical. When you and I allow others to manipulate us with outrage, it's very much like pointing a blow torch at the night sky to warm the earth's atmosphere.
Kindly mind that I am not speaking of Hannah, I am addressing all of us, as writers in particular here, and as readers, and as with all my articles I most certainly include myself in this.
We don't get that energy back. So if folks start their day doomscrolling, they've just poured their entire day's store into anger, hopelessness, rage, being a victim, on and on. Or, if we allow ourselves to be ripped off point by a pointless ugly troller comment, we're exhausted with the loss of time and emotion. And we wonder why we're tired? I've done it. And am bloody well done for the day if I let this eat me alive first thing in the morning.
If we get angry or even violent it might take days or weeks to recharge. Do it daily as a way of life, changes are good we never ever make up the deficit. That is the goal of the troll: get us off message.
Far worse, however, is how we leach our energy from the inside out:
When we think we're owed, how angry we are about life, how pissed off we are about the fact that the world doesn't kneel at our feet or recognize our brilliance also sucks energy out of us. We can create all kinds of debit systems of how we're owed: money, fame, recognition, respect, admiration, the value of my oh-so-obvious superiority.
These things are like internal blood donations to the Count, because all we can count is how the world owes us something for our mediocrity.
I just described a country full of angry White folks. Others too. To some degree we all fall victim to the ego's desperate need to feel important, but right now the ones barking the most seem to be those most threatened by brilliant intensity, most especially female, most particularly female and of color.
All I can address is how to conserve what we do have for the critically-important work that has to be done.
These "debits," above, are like hookworms, the parasites that we invite into our bodies and souls which leach the lifeblood from us. Interestingly, hookworms were the scourge of the Deep South, until Rockefeller found out where the the "laziness germ of the Southern worker" came from: walking around in their own fecal matter. Don't believe me? See:
We still wander around in our own fecal matter: all the viciousness, racism, hate, jealousy, misogyny, oh I could go on. We remain infected. People who are seriously infected by their anger go on the attack, and when and if we allow them to suck up our precious time we get similarly infected.
Southerners had no idea that they were walking around in fecal matter until someone did the research and pointed it out.
To complete the analogy, a great many very smart Black folks are doing the research and pointing out what you and I and the rest of the world bloody well need to see, realize and heal ourselves of. That's why it's sacred work. Not too many folks want to do it any more than a whole bunch of researchers particularly cared to go exploring around the trees where Southern folk shat regularly.
You and I cannot imagine, assuming we are White, what walking into the line of fire as an anti-racism writer entails. Read the comment threads of the writers listed at the bottom to see what they deal with. That's on top of daily racism.
Those early Rockefeller researchers couldn't have done the work if they were constantly derailed and sidetracked by non-issues. That's what happens too often when we feel the compulsion to respond to every single comment, thereby allowing a parasite to relieve us of precious productive energy. We can get mad at them, then mad at ourselves for allowing those parasites to suck our time away from sacred work.
Okay. Take a breath. No, really, a deep one.
Breathing, which is involuntary...okay, most of the time, unless we're so wound up we can barely take a full breath...gives us life. The breath is sacred, say most ancient texts. When we're tight like a piano wire, irritated, angry, tense, gripping our coffee cups until the handle snaps, we can't breathe.
Our breathing is shallow, anxious, and hardly of help to the body's cells. Deep breathing is relaxing and empowering. Hard to do that when tension is like an iron lung.
Want a quick lesson on claiming your energetic birthright?
It might do nothing at all, but if you practice it, you might just find that you're creating that magical "outhouse," if you will, that protects you from the sewage at our collective feet as a society.
We LOVE to bandy about the term mindfulness. FUCK mindfulness, because it has been corporatized (I made that up) to the point that even the goddamned Veteran's Administration uses it. As if, people. Like the culturally-hijacked term "woke" we have no clue what it means. Let's talk about something you can do. Or try to do, and then learn to practice. Few do it. Just look around.
Most of us can get derailed without even realizing it. That's why this article. We start with noticing. Observing ourselves.
That starts with a deep breath. Just stop everything.
Observing is different. If I can learn to observe: my clenched hands, my frown, my rapid pulse, my shallow breathing, I can learn to slow it down.
Ask: what on earth am I so upset about? How on earth did I just lose a whole HOUR responding to this nitwit when I have a deadline?
What on earth am I allowing to drag me around, subject to rage at every single offense and whim that comes my way? Why on earth am I allowing some ignorant person's clearly provocative comment to control me? Derail me from what I came here to do?
How is this energy usage of benefit? What is the cost? Who else does it cost?
WHAT and TO WHOM am I giving my energy right now? What does it get me?
Sure, anger makes us feel like a big mofo. AND it burns us from the inside out, fast. That's another article. This is simply suggesting that we learn to observe. After all, we do live inside that skin suit. That means we can learn to manage what comes in and goes out.
Who is owning me right now? Because if I am this upset about this minor, stupid comment, then someone else owns my ass. Someone else is drinking my life's blood and I am letting them.
The moment we observe, the moment we notice, is the beginning of taking control of our energy. Breathe, refocus, block, delete, redirect.
You can take the energy that you feel about, say, the Rittenhouse verdict, and channel it. You can take the energy you feel about the burning of the world's forests. Cruelty to animals. Whatever it is that hurts you. If you bleed big for those important issues, that blood might be better spent in some potent endeavor which works against such things. That not only makes you feel powerful but it also argues against the idea that one person can do nothing.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the lie.
Didn't say it was easy. Didn't say you can do this overnight. But as with all things that are deep, this takes real work.
Life quality is defined or defiled from the inside out.
When you and I read provocative writers, we have hope to change. When we are willing to change from the inside out, that is where hope lies. But we have to read and listen to voices which shake the shit out of our trees. If those voices get sidetracked or shut down, we all lose. We've been losing for centuries.
I highlight and link to brilliant anti-racism writers. They are on fire because they HAVE to be. They are channeling that Black brilliance to good purpose. Rebecca Stevens Alder has leapfrogged to approaching ten thousand followers in about a year writing her unique brand of iron-fist-in-a-velvet-glove anti-racism. She is getting it done. What happens to her and those like her is painful and universal. She turns that pain into prose that changes how people see and think. That is the very definition of owning your energy.
Sharon Hurley Hall writes about and interviews other remarkable folks. She just passed her first thousand subscribers. You cannot do that being derailed by energy and time vampires.
All real change begins with astute observation. Energy is available to all of us, in whatever form, whether we're a twelve-hour sleeper or ultra marathoner makes no difference. Chances are we were born that way, just as some of us were born to be thin and others born to be big. Ascribing moral superiority to any of it is just being an asshole with a hand up your ass telling you what to think and what to get pissed off about.
Being more energetic - having more precious energy for your life and your life's work -begins with learning how you leak. That starts with observing. Why do we HAVE to respond to every commenter, back to Hannah's point? Why do we HAVE to comment on material that doesn't concern us? And forgive me if I go large here: Why do we HAVE to march in parades which don't really speak to our values (all you so-called BLM allies, where are you in 2021?) Precisely. And to that, an aside:
If you're a BLM/George Floyd dropout, you are likely an outrage puppet. Pick something you really care about, folks. You'll know it, because when things start getting rough you dig in rather than head out to the next issue where you can center yourself instead of the issue at hand.
We all have energy. We leak all the time if we aren't careful. The single best way to stop the hemorrhaging is to ask the hard questions, as above. Then make a decision. Shut that shit down, and point that energy somewhere to do good.
You might find yourself buzzing around the room just like I do every morning at 3 am. It's irritating as shit.
Then, when you slow down, you can put all that intense focusing on changing the world. That's where we need you.
Here are some of the folks mentioned above as well as a bonus round, for you long-form survivors:
You can find Hannah Drake here: http://www.hannahldrake.com/
You can find Sharon Hurley Hall here: https://www.antiracismnewsletter.com/p/anti-racism-reading-list-25-october?r=92ygc&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web&utm_source=
You can find Rebecca Stevens Alder here: https://rstevensalder.medium.com/
And because I can't leave her out you can find MarleyK here: https://marleyk.medium.com/
This is why I follow MarleyK: