I just spent the last 30 days in Manhattan. A privilege.
Setting out to write, consult, and research, there was no structure to my day beyond what I created. I could wake when I wanted, sleep (or not) when I wanted, go where I wanted… Whenever. I. Wanted. My monthlong unlimited metro card started to show that little streak on the side indicating incessant use. My janky protest signs held high in activism literally lay shriveled on my floor, also incessant use.
I learned what I’m capable of, and not, in this environment of free rein combined with terrifying governance.
Basically, I learned that this daily untethered frenetic cycle is maaaaybe not the most healthy for me. And I now have the antibiotics to prove it.
As a writer, I sometimes wouldn’t sleep because I had so many ideas jotted on paper in 3 different notebooks, all justice related, ready to be published. I couldn’t keep up with the slurry of angry or (maybe) profound reactions I had to the poo-storm of current events. I got very little REM. Then I rudely fell asleep at a dear friend’s party and nearly choked on my gum, out of sheer exhaustion- my body just shut down.
As a consultant, I was in interviews and calls and events with organizations and media all over the city and world- The New Yorker, United Nations, Middle East Eye, Faith in Public Life, Center for Courage and Renewal, Snapchat, For Impact Productions. I had people I know and do not know contacting me daily asking for resources. One time I sat in the cold in Washington Square Park, computer on my lap, typing notes for a national phone conference on faith and immigration. I was dehydrated and shivering by the time I left.
As an activist, I always wanted to stay later, scream louder about intersectionality, attend every meeting, hold my sign higher, have more conversations on the subway. Then I physically lost my voice and was also in a needlessly dangerous situation that could have been avoided. (How’s that for vaguebooking? But it’s true.)
As a scholar, I was eating information: Films, salons, speakers, gallery openings, books. Miiiine! Nom. Then I was walking to an event across the river to Brooklyn in the unseasonable heat (it will be a metropolitan hiking adventure, I thought!) and I got a dangerous infection that knocked me out for days. Our family dog also died that night. Damn it so much. I love you Tucker the Dog. That sucked a lot. Enter those antibiotics.
So you get it.
My body was trying to tell me something:
Anna, you can’t do work for justice if you’re literally dead.
YOU CAN’T DO WORK FOR JUSTICE IF YOU ARE DEAAAAAAAAD. ANNNAAA!
You can’t be a good ally if your body is shutting down- this movement needs all of you. Every drop of healthy you. You need comrades, you need structure. See also viral activism quote, here:
“This morning I have been pondering a nearly forgotten lesson I learned in high school music. Sometimes in band or choir, music requires players or singers to hold a note longer than they actually can hold a note. In those cases, we were taught to mindfully stagger when we took a breath so the sound appeared uninterrupted. Everyone got to breathe, and the music stayed strong and vibrant. Yesterday, I read an article that suggested the administration’s litany of bad executive orders (more expected on LGBTQ next week) is a way of giving us “protest fatigue” – we will literally lose our will to continue the fight in the face of the onslaught of negative action. Let’s remember MUSIC. Take a breath. The rest of the chorus will sing. The rest of the band will play. Rejoin so others can breathe. Together, we can sustain a very long, beautiful song for a very, very long time. You don’t have to do it all, but you must add your voice to the song. With special love to all the musicians and musicteachers in my life…..#Resist“
In addition to friends imploring, forcing me to take breaths (thank you) there was one constant routine that, had I not had it as an anchor, I literally think I would have become very ill indeed and needed professional help.
Every day, I went to meditation class. Or several.
My dear friend and New Yorker Kelsey Youngman (follow her fancy Food & Wine Magazine awesome-self at @seejanebake. Seriously.) has worked freelance in food justice and meditation leadership; she is a remarkable and beautiful example of someone who lives a healthy life while also, like many New Yorkers, managing creative “side hustles” and pet projects. (See this excellent piece on side-hustles). Kelsey is a meditation instructor at MNDFL, a beautiful, innovative, booming drop-in meditation studio with three locations throughout NYC. Kelsey introduced me to meditation. It was love at first sit. (har har).
MNDFL protected me from my sometimes workaholic, protestant-work-ethic-till-you-drop self. I signed up for their 30-day meditation challenge. As I look at my account, I see that I attended almost 40 classes at 30 minutes each. (Pssst- THAT IS 20 solid hours of meditation OMG). Sometimes three a day. Classes on love, on breath, emotions, movement, intentions, from all traditions.
I clung to those classes, my anchor when the rest of my mind and heart were being whipped about the city and cyberspace.
I realize in retrospect that, at times like these with daily, hourly injustices—horrors realized, I’m at risk of spiritual decay.
I’m at risk of losing myself.
I have been at risk of losing myself.
But I’m no good to any movement, no good to any academic journal or march or magazine or NGO if I’m lost and floating and ungrounded and ill.
As I write this, I’m on a flight to Accra, Ghana. I’m about to spend another month there—writing, researching, and doing a faculty training for International Women’s Day at a school in the capital.
Accra is not New York City. It will be different. Very beautifully different, of course.
But I’m still me.
And I know what just went down the last 30 days. I know I need a spiritual anchor.
So, AHOY, I’m going to set up my own anchor, and guess what!
For those of you fellow Christians—LENT IS UPON US!
Instead of fasting, saying no to chocolate, or giving something up, I’m going to give something to myself:
That spiritual anchor. A practice that will sustain me, daily.
Aaaaand, well. I also created a hashtag. Because I’m a savvy millennial and social media is real and I want you to join me, etc.
Here’s that hashtag:
Basic premise: Taking a leaf from MNDFL daily 30 minutes, I’m going to spend 30 minutes per day (for 40 days, because Lent) writing about what I’m experiencing and thinking, and being honest about how I’m doing. Scholarly, creative, letters, op-eds, reflections, free writes. All that.
Maybe my writing will tell me that I need to sleep.
Maybe my writing will tell me that I need to interrogate my own participation in White Supremacy. (Duh. I need to do that Every. Dang. Day)
Maybe my writing will tell me that, actually, today my 30 minutes will be spent on a letter home to my family.
Maybe— well maybe anything. That’s the point.
I’m going to do it.
30 minutes a day for 40 days. Writing for my life, right here, right now. #WriteHereWriteNow40 (see what I did there)
(And- Psssst. That is 20 solid hours of writing OMG. We can do it!!)
Will you join me? Doesn’t have to be Lent-related. It’s You-related. And you can start anytime. Let’s stick together. Share yours with me and I will share some of mine with you. If you like what you wrote, send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, subject “#WriteHereWriteNow40” and I’ll consider it for posting & sharing on my blog: annaczarnikneimeyer.wordpress.com
Even if I do it all alone (but you won’t let that happen!), I know I need it, so I’m going to do it.
I’m even gonna make a little punch card reward system for myself and all of us (like I got at the meditation studio) then post about it.
Because who doesn’t love to check off a box for the day, and then get external incentives? Heck yes extrinsic motivation. It’s a real thing:
At #WriteHereWriteNowDay7: Go to a movie/show you’ve wanted to see, no matter how cheesy. Solo or with others.
At #WriteHereWriteNowDay14: Get favorite dessert and eat with a loved one. That loved one can be Y-O-U.
At #WriteHereWriteNowDay21: Unlimited hugs (take this for what you want it to mean. Hug yourself, ask for hugs, provide hugs. Look at a picture of hugs. Figure it out. But do it.)
At #WriteHereWriteNowDay28 Buy something worth at least $28 that you’ve wanted for a while. Don’t order it until you’ve hit this day.
At #WriteHereWriteNowDay40 Free-write (no editing, no critique) a letter to yourself about how you feel at the end of this. Seal it in an envelope and give to trusted human to send to you in another 40 days. Then plan to have a day where you get to do whatever you like. Plan a way to sleep in, talk to your best friend, go on a walk, order takeout, and breathe deeply. You did it.
Oh, and like anything good: you get cheater days. But just 4. Choose wisely and be kind to yourself about it.
Because this movement needs us alive. Let’s stay alive for each other. It starts now.
PS: Even though it was probably unwise, as you read above, I still had a chance in the last 30 days to connect with some incredible people and resources around New York and beyond. I’d like to share those things with you, below, so you can find out for yourself. Hey, maybe you’ll even write about it!
In the Last 30 Days, While in New York City:
Work I Published
Ms. Magazine Blog: “My #flightprivilegechecklist”
Center for Courage and Renewal: “Narrative Imagination: An Activism of Radical Empathy”
Appleton Post-Crescent: “Wisconsin Stories from the Women’s March Bus”
Work I didn’t Publish but Still Wrote and Maybe You’ll See it in a Place Soon (hint. publish me.)
-Something on Betsy DeVos & systemic justice/ teacher support (op-ed)
-Something about physical/metaphorical borders in life and country (creative op-ed)
-Something about what Christian clergy need to be doing now (op-ed, open letter)
Interviews & Consulting I did/ Places I was Featured
Media thing: #notmypresidentsday national Snapchat story
Art thing: Katie Holten’s #RiseResistRepeat photo exhibit
Interview: The New Yorker
Interview: Middle East Eye
Interview: Center for Courage & Renewal
Consulting: For Impact Productions
Orgs & Resource I partnered with or Learned From or Love
New York City Political Action Calendar
Stuff I Went to:
Church(ish): Church of the Infinite You
Church: Brooklyn Unitarian Universalist
Church: Trinity Lutheran Church of Manhattan
Film: I am Not Your Negro
Film: A United Kingdom advanced screening
TV: Detroiters advanced screening
Sunday Salons: Storytelling in the Anthropocene
Art Opening: Atta Kwami
Art Opening: Katie Holten #riseresistrepeat
Activism I did (and you can too)
-Stand With Muslims March
-ACLU Singing in the Park
-LGBTQ Stonewall Resistance
-Times Square Muslim Solidarity Event
-Stand with Planned Parenthood Rally
Books I Got for Myself or Others:
Milk & Honey
Walk Like a Buddha
Dear White Christians
Angry White Men
People I worked with/met that you should know about
Kelsey Youngman @seejanebake
Yadira Garcia @happyhealthylatina
Katie Holten @katieholten
Dr. Jennifer Harvey
Rev. Heidi Neumark