Making Space for Real Connections

As many of you know, the last year has been a challenge for me. I’ve been driven (kicking and screaming) into activism. This intense immersion in news and politics is new for me. New and overwhelming. As a writer my most important skill is empathy, but as a newbie activist, my empathy can be crippling.

Several of you have reached out to ask if I’m okay.
Yes and no.
I’m not deeply depressed, but I am deeply wounded by this broken world.

The hardest days are the ones when I feel powerless against my congressman, against corporate money in politics, against the racist history of America, against violence of all kinds, and against the men calling the shots at the highest levels of government—men who don’t care at all about me or mine.

This powerless has bled into my writing life. There are days when I question everything I’m doing. I ask myself hard questions: Does this book matter? Do I have anything relevant to say? How can I spend my days creating worlds when the real world is burning around us?

I have struggled more than ever with my relationship to social media. There are huge benefits online. Thanks to Twitter I can listen to activists around the world. I can learn from people of color. I can broaden my experience of the world far beyond my small, predominantly white, rural town. I don’t want to disengage from that learning, but there are also some huge downsides. I am often inundated by heartbreak and suffering and cruelty to such an extent that I begin to believe our American culture is damaged beyond repair.

At those moments, I would be wise to close Facebook and to shut down Twitter.
And yet…
I don’t.
Why is that?

Not because of masochism, I assure you. It’s because of hope. It is because you are out there. You and good people like you. I keep scrolling because I am hoping to see you—a bright pinprick of light in a dark tide. I keep looking for the connections we make, the lifelines that keep us above the water, the way we reach out our hands to one another.

So this is the purpose of my missives from here on out—connection.
I want to entwine our fingers.
I want to reach together to the brightness.
I want to work and learn and listen and stretch.

And I want to carve out a space for human connection that is outside of the social media networks, which increasingly control our lives. So I will write you letters and hold this  space, outside of the flood of bad news and calls to action, where we can talk if you want to. Maybe you could tell me how social media is impacting your life for good or ill these days.

I’ll leave you with another thought from Cedric Wright (1889-195). He was a violinist and wilderness photographer dedicated the preservation of the High Sierra. He mentored Ansel Adams, if that tells you anything. He was also a poet.

Our lives like dreams endure
and reach out over the universe.
Nothing real is to itself alone.
There are side streams to rivers; there are overtones to thought.
Great love reaches out
and is involved in the world’s purposes.

– Cedric Wright




23 thoughts on “Making Space for Real Connections

  1. Your letter rings so true, Amber. I feel the same, and I wonder how I can connect and converse—and withdraw— in the ways I need to. Thank you for articulating your wise approach. Sending love and sanity your way. xosue

    1. My view is to work on those things where I can make a measurable difference. I’m resigned to the foolishness in Washington, D.C.–we have five members of Congress and there are 430 more out there, many from the troglodyte hot spots.

      My choice is to focus on local politics–electing more Democrats to the Oregon legislature, electing more county commissioners, city council members and mayors and school board members. Example: we got involved in 11 contested races for school board and the like most recently and won eight of them, in some cases ousting incumbents who pretty much felt everything was hunky-dory and/or they liked the power of their office.\

      Half of my county’s legislators are Republican and half are Democrats. Ditto our state senators. We are driven to change that so we’re no longer in the hands of the big bidness dudes and all their influential money when it comes to changing social and fiscal policy. Yes, it is face-to-face with many people all the time.

      And it is our way of feeling we’re accomplishing something, not just putting our heads in the sand and ignoring all of this stuff because it is over our head, or out of our reach, or other excuses.

      Person-to-person politics is not everyone’s arena. Maybe its volunteering in one social capacity or another. Maybe religion. But religion hasn’t done much for our body politic, nor has volunteering to charities. That’s the route I’ve adopted. Others are seeking their own path.

      Thank you, Amber, for stirring the thoughtful pot on this driving question: How can I make things better for me and for others? Oops. Almost forgot: Social media? I’ve gotten to ho-hum on most of it as the fire hose outpouring of information–much of it contradictory or driven by blind vitriol–just adds another layer of “this is insane!” to my already overcrowded brain.

      Thank you, Amber, for stirring the thoughtful pot re: finding time and energy for ‘real connections’. Or: How can I make things better for me and others? Big question, many big answers. Best, Peter T in Clackamas Co

      1. Yes, a thousand times, yes. Local is critical. It felt good to work in the May special election for school board, etc. more of that for sure. I love hearing from you, Peter. XO

    2. So many structures in our modern world create isolation. It seems more and more true to me that the answer is to actively seek the connections we need. I am so blessed to have people like you in my life. xo

  2. Dear Amber,
    Your words reflect my own experience and feelings back at me like a mirror. It has been some kind of year. I was a tender teenager when the Civil Rights era and The Great Society formed me. I had so much hope for us! I believed that we could evolve into better, kinder, wiser people.
    I, too, feel I must speak out, use my words to offer ideas counter to the present situation. It has a cost–the anxiety of having shown my hand in a hostile world–but it would be so wrong to remain silent. Thomas Jefferson said the cost of freedom is constant vigilance. (And that quote has been misused a hundred ways, as has the word “freedom.”) Still, I take his call to vigilance as I understand he meant it seriously.
    But I am so tired. So weary. Like you, I have those little antennae of the artist that hear the thunder both near and far. My intuition is bombarded by the troubles of our beloved country and beautiful world. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the negative energies that have awakened and raised their destructive heads.
    So I thank you for your post, and the invitation to join in the conversation. What a lovely gift to offer! I can really use such a conversation right now.
    Take care of yourself, Amber, and I’ll try to do the same. Everyone, take care of yourselves. One thing I do is a gratitude meditation, and I encourage you to try it.
    My very best,
    Claudia Finseth

    1. Oh, Claudia, yes yes yes! It buoys me up to know you are in the world. Sending love to you. xoxo

  3. You are not alone. Early in my career I worked in politics (after being an editorial cartoonist for college and local papers as well,) for the Wisconsin Legislature. I grew up in a highly political household and thought about a career somewhere in the political world. After one year I had seen enough. I had seen the inner workings of the legislative branch and along the way worked on various campaigns. One small (think school board type, or county position) election had a great longtime local candidate. She was trusted, knew the community and had the best interests of the community at heart. And she was defeated by a person who had recently moved in and was backed by money from an out of state organized group with conservative POVs. I realized that being honest, having the best interest of the community, being involved was not enough sometimes. Along with being part of one or two other elections with candidates who seemed obviously better losing I decided I didn’t have the heart for that work. Co-workeers let it bounce off them and move on. I was devastated. I was not the right person to work in politics. I struggle with staying far enough away from the issues roiling the world now. But constant stress, anger, endless anxiety and worry – we know those things lead to nothing positive. And I take some solace that the world has seen its share of trouble in the past and -of course- will in the future. That we should expect it to not happen during our short time here seems rather ridiculous and boarding on selfish. Bad times and bad people will hold sway and that too is part of our life. I have doubled down on trying to be respectful, to not respond constantly to negative stimulus. To stress with students I meet and my own daughter the value of listening and understanding. Paying attention to facts and be willing to question ones own beliefs against reality. Unfortunately I don’t have a solution for myself that makes it all better, but I find limiting my exposure to the constant barrage of ‘news’ helps. Most of it isn’t worth flying into a rage over and again – what good a rage? Only recently have I felt the ability to sit down and work regularly again. I also think about history and find a calm knowing that the world has seen things like this before and to be part of whatever it is, good, bad, sad and funny reminds me that I am living now and that all things change. Sometimes even for the better. All my best. – M

    1. I too grew up in a political household. Mostly I saw good people working hard and trying to do the best for the most people. I never thought of our government as corrupt until now. Re: your point about the world turning and churning through tough times — sometimes that worries me; other times it cheers me up. One thing that definitely boosts my spirits is hearing that you and other creatives are finding ways to continue making art. It inspires me! XO

  4. Thank you for this letter and especially for the poem. I am struggling too, oppressed by news and empathy, and the lack of it within the power structure. This is a good thing you are trying. Welcome back home from your summer in paradise.

    1. Thank you. It was such an amazing summer, a gift to have that time with my kids and to be out of the news cycle for such a long chunk of time. I think we have to find ways to attend to the world and to ourselves in turn and with equal attention. xo

  5. Good post. Yes, we do need hope and can get that from friends and family and when we see good things happen. I also get mine from going to God.

    Loved the colors of rocks in the picture and the quote!


    1. It’s counterintuitive. I feel like hiding but reaching out brings so much love. And yes about the spirituality piece. I know that services at my synagogue have a different weight in these hard times.

  6. Love this. It prompts ideas. I don’t have anything to say because I’m in more of a questing than discussing mode at the moment, but will look forward to more letters. And connection.

  7. Hi dear Amber, I’m sorry your year has been a hard one. Being open and empathetic is what makes you so beautiful and present and engaged but to have you suffer so as a price is not healthy. I wish so much that I was closer and we could have a huggable friendship ? I try very hard to hold on to the good in the world, but this week’s shooting makes it very hard. I honor your activism and also honor your desire to have it be more balanced. Balance is the key, but the door is often jammed. I held a full moon meditation last night to help with my own desire for community; hands to hold, as you said. I wish you could have been there. So much love, Brooke

  8. Thank you, Amber, for your bravery in reaching out this way! I worked in University public relations for years because I hoped I could make a positive difference by telling the stories of the creative people working in many disciplines to make this world a better place. Sometimes that worked and, at the very least, that part of the job was always the most enjoyable and uplifting.

    But we need more. We need to inspire the upcoming generation so they will have the strength and courage to keep fighting even when things look as ugly and stupid as they do now. It’s so easy to doubt the creative pursuits of the mind when you feel like you need to be “doing something” to affect immediate change. But, even as I write this that sounds crazy. We need it all.

    For those of you with the voice and strength to lead change through politics, it is encouraging to hear of your victories at the local level. What a snowball effect that will have! Godspeed! We also need the sensitivity of those people who can give a clear and honest voice to the injustices in our world. And, we need those who can imagine the “something better.” This combination will create positive, informed change. (I’m still not sure where I fit in to all of this but I’ll keep at it until I figure it out!)

    As to social media, one of the things that was disheartening about my former job was this frantic concern that we need to put an immediate voice to every new media channel without really considering how (or if) that outlet fit our purpose. Certainly, we are no better off for having Twitter in politics. But, when we use social media to engage others in dialogue from across the world to build understanding and hope, what greater purpose is there?

    1. YES! We are all needed in this struggle for a better world. For those like me who grew up on “hero” stories, I think the default is to look for the hero (be the hero?) who will save the world. But really what a silly story… How often do things come down to one person? All of us working/dreaming/longing together, even while feeling powerless, is what it will take to move beyond this time of chaotic hatred. Thank you for joining me in this conversation. I am grateful!

  9. Thank you so much for this Amber. I feel similarly and am struggling with how to stay engaged while preserving enough sacred space around me to continue working. I don’t have the answers yet, but meanwhile, we keep dancing. 🙂

Comments are closed.