Here I am again—filled with a sense of urgency to communicate with an increasingly angry, dismissive, punitive, and divided world. Some days I ask myself why I would want to take on such a task—why I would want to put myself out there to potentially be targeted and shamed by those who do not agree with me? I’m not fearless. I dread the cruelty that comes with expressing one’s own opinions. It’s unavoidable. But I realized something this week: I can’t let fear silence me the way I have my entire life. Consequences will ensue, but I would not be true to myself if I did not speak. I would not be showing the whole of who I am if I continue to only share art. That my art has given me a platform from which to speak is a gift beyond anything I ever could have imagined. After all of these years, I finally realize what sharing my art was leading me to all along—this. Actively participating in dialogue about the state of our world and being an advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves. Having a social media following because some people connect to my work has given me an opportunity I cannot pass up, and has led me back to the core of who I am. I am someone who, if we were put on this earth for any reason, is here to be in service of others.
Making art for myself, to cope with and express the inner-workings of my restless mind, and sharing it with others in hopes that it comforts and promotes a sense of connectedness is also one of my (self-decided) purposes in this world. So, although I am working to divide my time and between so many of my passions, there is no fear that I will stop making work or stop sharing it. Right now, I have taken a step back from sharing (see previous post), but I am still creating daily. I can’t wait for the day I am ready to share it with you all. Right now, however, I have to focus on my own wellbeing—a large part of which is determining my priorities and how I can be an effective part of society.
I fulfill some of that in my day job. I am a research scientist and my work focuses on developing innovative treatments to lessen unnecessary human suffering. I love what I do, but research is slow going. From the time you formulate an idea to the time that idea actually manifests in any tangible way is often years. Sometimes you never even see it manifest, and that’s something we live with as scientists. But we are passionate, and we proceed even though our chances of success are slim.
But—to go back to my point—something is missing and has been missing for a long time. Activism and advocacy on small and large scales. I have hesitated for some time to identify as a social/political activist for many reasons—but mostly because I feared being perceived as self-glorifying. I find that many people who preach about their “activism” are not activists at all, but rather desire to be seen as such. It’s what we’re supposed to be doing, right? It makes you a good and moral human, right? No, it doesn’t—but the idea of the millennial activist has become such a part of our generational identity that I think we have forgotten the meaning of the word “activism.” I figured that if I was going to identify with that term, I’d better have something to show for it first.
I do not look down upon people who identify this way but are not truly active. I really believe most people want to be active but do not know how to be. That’s something that is a priority of mine—as I learn ways of becoming more active, I will share those with all of you. I want to see all of you come out of the woodworks and find one single thing you are passionate about and run at it with such force that you feel more alive than you ever have. No one person, group, or government can address all of the issues facing society today. It is impossible. So, although most of us care about so many causes, we have to pick and choose just a few.
For me, I naturally gravitate towards humanitarian causes and animal rescue. I have been absolutely reamed for not being more educated or outspoken on climate change and the environment by some of my fellow “liberals.” It made me feel like a fraud and like I wanted to hide, but not for long—because through those experiences I realized that I absolutely cannot be effective in any way if I take up every single pressing issue in this world. The best I could do is rant about it on the internet, and that is not enough for me. Instead I have chosen to focus, right now, on the crisis in Venezuela; animal rescue; use of social media to encourage people to participate; and… American politics. I’ll get to the fourth in another post. But, my point is don’t let anyone tell you that the cause you champion is not good enough. Because people will, and the reason they do so is because they only feel good enough when putting down others in order to stand on top of them.
Animal rescue needs little explaining. I have rescued since I was a small child and will continue to do so. Right now, I focus on helping others understand that they, too, can rescue—and on teaching them how, whether that includes donating to reputable shelters or to taking in a senior pet who wants nothing more than to spend his/her twilight years in a warm lap. After I rescued JackJack, the cat who was on the verge of death in a high-kill shelter across the country, I realized anything was possible. So many kind people donated to Jack’s cause, and although I was prepared to take on all those medical expenses, thanks to you I did not have to go in alone. That experience also showed me that people are more compassionate and generous than I have given them credit for. And, that Jack (for short) was abused, emaciated, needed both eyes removed, and was hours or days from euthanasia or a natural death, was rescued by a team of selfless volunteers and rehabilitated by my friend Michelle at Milo’s Sanctuary gave me hope. What gave me even more hope was when I brought Jack to stay with my family while I was away for a month. My grandparents (who are like my parents) had not had a pet in decades. They volunteered to keep Jack for me, but within days they fell in love with him. They soon asked me if they could keep him because they had grown to love him so much. It was painful, but it was the right thing to do, and Jack has enriched my grandparents’ lives like nothing else ever could have. In turn, he is treated as a king and is unrecognizable from the cat we rescued from death row (and I still see him all the time!) My grandparents now donate regularly to shelters and helped me adopt the precious Lucio from Venezuela, who is also blind and had little prospects of finding a home in Venezuela. Now, he too is loved, cared for, and has found his forever home—where he continues to make us laugh to tears with his hilarious personality.
I went on longer than I wanted to about that, but it’s just one anecdote of why I keep hope that people are good, why I allow myself to be surprised by the extent of human compassion, and why I continue to take chances on advocacy even when the odds aren’t great. It’s also how I know that rescuing at-risk animals is important work. The mutual benefit between animal and human is incredible to witness and/or experience.
This leads me into the situation in Venezuela. I hope you’ve got a lot of time on your hands, friends, because the contents of my mind are spilling onto this computer and I must allow it to continue until its natural end.
Venezuela first came to my attention when I was in Chile a few years ago. We had the chance opportunity to sit next to a Venezuelan woman at a quiet coffee shop, and we naturally began speaking. She told me that she, her husband, and her baby had illegally fled to Chile because they could no longer afford to survive in Venezuela. She told me her family were upper middle class, but that money no longer mattered due to the hyperinflation. I had never heard a single thing about Venezuela. In my mind, it was still the prosperous South American country it had almost always been. So, I began doing my research and I was horrified. I was horrified at what was happening to my fellow humans, but I was absolutely infuriated that the media in my country had failed to bring attention to the humanitarian crisis that had already been going on for years. From that moment on, Venezuela has been in my heart and in my mind. I can’t explain to you why it’s Venezuela and not another suffering country. Sometimes we just feel connected to a place and a people, and we choose to do our work there, knowing that we cannot take on all of the suffering in this world. Mostly, it’s hoping that others are advocating for the place or the people they feel connected to, too.
I also made friends (through the internet) with Venezuelan people, who in addition to their kindness and warm nature (even in the face of the crumbling of their country), educated me about what was really happening there. It was a very different story than what the very few US reports I came across told. So, I felt compelled to disseminate this knowledge to others via social media—assuming other western countries were also largely in the dark about Venezuela’s crisis.
It has taken me too long to step up and do better at advocating for Venezuela. I spoke about the situation here and there, but I have not made it the focus that it should be. Over the past week, however, I have been deliberately changing that. I hope you all stay tuned and, even if you have no dollar to give, share the story. The world needs to know about the suffering of these innocent people, and we need to do whatever we can to end that suffering.
This brings me to my final point, and I will tread lightly when discussing. This is because my ideas are not fully formed, I have so much reading and learning to do, yet my opinions are very, very strong. It’s a difficult place to be in—to balance that passion with the knowledge that you are not fully informed. But I will take a stab at it.
Crises and horrors aside, I have observed an upsetting phenomenon amongst my generation as well as those older and younger. Here it is: We have been socialized to be selfish, apathetic beings. I scroll through my Instagram and most of what I see from others with modest to large followings is self-glorification—a sickening sort of narcissism that makes me question whether or not this world will end within my lifetime. Let me be clear: I am not in any way saying that you must be an activist or you are a bad person. Absolutely not. I do not judge anyone posting about their life, their travels, or what have you. Even when we are facing the crises we are facing today, we still have to have lives and take care of ourselves. If I didn’t maintain some time for myself, I would not be able to do anything I value. I also acknowledge that not everyone is capable of or desires to be in the middle of these difficult conversations, and that is also okay. I also acknowledge that there are wonderful, intelligent, effective people who would love to be part of the dialogue but currently cannot due to personal struggles, mental health, and on. I have to get that out of the way and be clear that I am speaking to a certain demographic (mostly to those with influence) and, more than anything, questioning why so many people remain dedicated to apathy and a sense of helplessness. Well—actually I can answer that. For the majority, apathy and helplessness are benign forms of avoidance. We avoid what we don’t think we can cope with. We avoid acknowledging atrocities that challenge our just-world view. For many, challenging that view is psychologically overwhelming, and they are not yet strong enough to brave that storm. I feel for you, I have been you, and I also hope that you are working to become strong enough.
I also don’t mean that every person with a social media presence must be advocating for a cause. That’s absurd. But here’s what I do mean: I see countless, countless people go far beyond apathy. These people have a ton of energy, spend their lives with their faces glued to their phone, post constantly, and it’s all for one reason: To quell their narcissistic anxiety by glorifying themselves, and in turn evoking glorification and sometimes near worship from other people. That must take a whole lot of energy and effort, and I can’t help but wonder why some people cannot look away from themselves for even a moment to consider others? If some people took even 1/10thof the energy they put into building and protecting their egos into educating themselves and others on what is happening in our world and what we can do about it, no matter how small, I think the sun would shine just a little bit brighter. (And yes, I do consider that some of these individuals may be doing important work and simply not talking about it. But I don’t think that’s the majority based on personal experience). I oscillate between anger and sadness on this issue. Anger that selfishness is so pervasive and sadness that I don’t know what to do about it. As long as the majority of people maintain a stance of apathy, blindness to the suffering of others, and a focus solely on selfish pursuits, things will only get worse.
Is it crazy to imagine that we can do both? That we can keep working towards our personal goals while also forcefully removing our heads from our asses and peeling our eyes open to see what is happening outside of our personal worlds, mostly comprised of desperate, childish needs to achieve success in order to feel okay about ourselves? I had my head stuck in my ass for a long time. I did not emerge into the world with the understanding of things that I have now. I regret that I spent a great deal of my twenties doing the very things I described above. But I can only describe them and have insight into these processes because I did experience this. I was so insecure, so lost, had no idea who I was—and in turn I forgot about the altruism that had characterized my earlier life and turned my gaze solely towards myself. I defined my self-esteem based on Instagram and I wasted so much time running from my anxiety, trying to reassure myself that I was a worthwhile person in all of the wrong ways. Social media was a movement towards this sort of existence. Don’t get me wrong—even without social media my younger self would have found a way to be a proper ass hat, blinded to anything but my own fragile ego’s needs. Social media was just the vehicle through which to express our collective narcissism, and worse, to be rewarded for it! I have to laugh at the whole thing sometimes while also trying not to invalidate myself (and others) and the very real internal struggles I dealt with during those years. But it is nearly laughable that my selfishness and the selfishness of others was not only capitalized on, but that social media REINFORCED IT. Some people still have not broken out of this and honestly, I can’t stand it and I kind of want to hit you and hug you at the same time. I do feel for you. It’s an agonizing existence—self-esteem and self-worth fluctuating with each post. And I’m obviously not immune to it now, either (see last blog post). I just forced myself to step away so that I could reorient myself to my life and tackle my priorities with all of my energy. I realized social media was killing my spirit and making an authentic life impossible for me.
So, here I find myself again—in the same place I was as a fifteen-year-old: An enthusiastic, well-intended but ill-informed PETA supporter, writing extensive essays about what I cared about and what I wished others would consider caring about, too. The only difference is now I have the self-confidence to share those essays, and I happen to call them blog posts. I also hope that a primary difference is that I do not expect or desire for people to agree with me and to share my same values. I also refuse to take a hostile, self-righteous tone— which is definitely a reaction and opposition to the way that most of us communicate to one another now, and a deep desire to NOT sound the way I sounded when I was younger!
Now what I really want is conversation—to normalize and even promote the use of social media to express oneself in whatever way is needed, and hopefully, maybe, to encourage people to take a few moments of their day to raise awareness of something they care about. I worry, truly, that if we continue on without having these conversations, without paying attention, that we may wake up one day to a terrifying, unrecognizable reality.