I like thinking about media consumption habits. The often unconscious choices we make about what we allow space in our brain say a lot about what that brain looks like in that moment, and if you get good enough at noticing those patterns, they can be canaries in the coal mine for your mood. I track my reading habits pretty closely on Goodreads, so it’s easy for me to notice when I’m on a streak or going through a dry-spell. For example: when I’m anxious, I read detective stories where there is a logical reason for events and the bad guys get caught in the end. When I’m depressed, I stop reading new fiction because I don’t want to be potentially disappointed in a new world I’ve put emotional investment into. When I’m angry, I read non-fiction in the hopes that if I just understand our world a little better I can get a little better at helping solve its problems. And when I’m feeling optimistic, I buy new dead-tree books. I’m normally an e-book reader and I only get physical copies of books that resonate with me in some way, so if I’m buying a physical copy of a new book it’s because I feel like I have space in my life for the potential of something wonderful.
I’ve been noticing shifts in these patterns since the election. For one, I’m in school full time, so I’m already doing a lot of difficult new reading, which doesn’t leave a whole lot of time or brain space for leisure reading. For another, running the TinyLetter means that when I see things on the internet, there’s always a part of my brain that’s thinking about what ought to be included in the newsletter. It feels like an indulgence to read a long piece about something non-political on its own merits. I find myself automatically filing away articles that are not immediately salient in favour of Yet Another Explainer About Our Current Political Nightmare, and feeling guilty that it’s taking me months to work through The New Jim Crow while the fiction books on my nightstand gather dust.
This is, of course, damaging. Because one of the important things to keep in mind is that the capital-S Struggle is not enough for its own sake; there must be something to struggle for. And though it may be a small sliver compared to Big Complex Problems like human rights and equality and health care and climate change, the freedom to create and consume art that brings us joy is an essential component of the end goal, too.
We talk a lot about self-care. (Or, well, I do.) And it’s easy to take an afternoon off and unplug from Twitter and go for a walk and take a photo of the sunset and pretend that’s proof of mental serenity, but it’s a lot harder to practice mindful self-care on an ongoing, day-to-day, hour-to-hour basis. I’m not even talking about actually sitting down to read that cool review of a video game you’ll never play. I’m talking about exorcising that reflexive dismissal that such a thing could even have space in our lives, the foregone conclusion that we can no longer afford tiny beautiful things. We can, and we must.