I had a profound experience earlier this morning at a sushi bar eating a variety of sashimi on a blue glass platter.
Now, the profound experience wasn’t so much about the sashimi (or the blue glass platter, for that matter). But there was a TV on the wall in front of me, and on it, an old white man from the “Left” was talking about how Trump’s immigration views were informed by racism, and then another old white man from the “Right” was talking about how, no, it wasn’t racism, it was actually just about security, economic growth, and preserving the American culture. And they went on and on back and forth for a good 10 minutes, and they didn’t say anything I hadn’t already heard 1000 times, and I was getting pretty bored, but more than even boredom, my stomach felt like it was twisting with rage, and painfully so, and it’s important to catch moments like that — moments when ordinary everyday occurrences cause irrationally intense emotional responses — because a lot of the time, those irrationally intense emotional responses are cues for you to look deeper within yourself, and so I started to do just that.
When I was a kid, I looked up to political commentators. They were my heros. I wanted to be just like them. But as I grew older and I had consumed enough political commentary — everything from PJ O’Rourke, to Bill Maher,to even Ann Coulter — to realize that it was all repetitive, surface bullshit that ultimately (no matter how long the discourse continued) would never lead anywhere substantive, I began to think about going beyond theory and into taking action. And so when I was 19, I began work as an intern in the labor movement, and since then the labor movement has been my home and my sole employer for the last 5 years — my entire adult life so far.
Through my career my suspicions have been confirmed: stupid repetitive political commentary gets you nowhere. What does get you anywhere: is all the weird shit. Highlights from my career?
* A shy, quiet, old Filipino man who fiercely, loudly helped build his union out of love for his deceased wife: an abusive manager wouldn’t give him (the only immigrant in his department) a flexible schedule like everyone else, and so he didn’t get the chance to be with his wife when she passed.
* The white woman who left the Mormon church and an abusive family, and retained with her a disciplined dedication to fighting back against oppression, including her exploitative boss.
* The old Filipino woman who was going to retire anyway, but went against her own health to help build a union for her coworkers who she saw as her own children, deserving of respect, benefits, and higher pay.
Some of these people never got the chance to be children stuck in their head about bullshit political theory. Bullshit political theory was, and continues to be, a privilege.
(You gotta get out of your head and into your body.)
And as I watched these political commentators yacking off in front of me and my blue-glass-plattered assortment of sashimi, I began to feel bad for them, like you might tend to feel when you watch adults who weirdly and palpably and desperately never grew out of being children.
These commentators — never going through pain in your life (that sort of pain that shakes you to your core and changes who you are) is bad. Pain helps you grow. Pain — at its best — is weakness leaving the body. And these commentators were so weak. So, so weak, and so obviously weak.
(When I am at my deathbed, I know I will have lived a pained life, and that means I will have lived.)
What I realized is that the twisted pain in my stomach represented my desperate desire for those political commentators on the TV to grow up, in the same way that I wanted to grow up deep down as a kid. But it is *because* of my ability to feel that desire to grow up, to get out of my head,to get into my body, to have the capacity to feel pain, and to live, that I eventually did.
Maybe these TV political commentators just don’t possess that desire or capacity. Stuck, and forever children.
Still, try as you might, you cannot save everyone. And that is OK.
Growing up, too, means letting go. Maybe even being at peace with TV political commentators who trigger you.
And then I got calm again. I finished my blue-glass-plattered sashimi, paid my bill, then continued on with my work day.