Staunchly, vol. 13: Usefulness is the Sofrito of Happiness

(Originally posted: 2/3/17)

The week after the election, I heard Zadie Smith speak about her new book Swing Time at Sixth and I, a synagogue and cultural gathering space in Washington, D.C.
The past few days had been a blur of carbs, whiskey, and nihilism. I slept till 2. I listened to “Tubthumping” by Chumbawumba and “Rise Up” by Andra Day so much in a 48-hour period that both songs made Spotify’s round-up of my most-played tracks in 2016, which is a really mortifying fact I can’t believe I just shared.
The world felt dark and new and the wounds fresh—in my case, literally: my “Staunch” tattoo, which I had impulsively attained post-election, was healing into a scabby constellation of ink and itch. And my ankles, which I had sprained falling down a slippery triplet of stairs leaving my birthday party two days after Election Day (my actual birthday) and two blackberry bourbon lemonades past my limit, were swollen and achy.
Which is all to say that I was caught off guard when Smith, the goddess of light and beauty and accents that sound and feel like warmed milk with honey, said the following:  “It might be fun to unite against a lunatic.”
People in the crowd laughed. I did too. But really I thought: how could this ever be fun?
Jump cut to this week. Filling up my planner with protests, forums, organizing meetings, small acts of resistance, I had to admit: this is pretty fun.
Then I immediately felt guilty. This isn’t a game. There are rights, lives, a planet at stake, a universe of critical programs Trump threatens to gut every day. Isn’t it a sign of your dense, sickeningly rich privilege—your cookies and cream fudge of privilege—that you’ve found something to smile about?
I mean, yes.
There is a convincing case to be made that the only emotion anyone paying even a lick of attention should be feeling right now is anger (and fear—anger’s parbaked cousin). But, while anger can be energizing, it is even more depleting. Rage makes a nice spark but shitty fuel. And we have a very long drive ahead.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said that a basic requirement of happiness is engaging yourself in service to the world:

Usefulness, whatever form it may take, is the price we should pay for the air we breathe and the food we eat and the privilege of being alive. And it is its own reward, as well, for it is the beginning of happiness, just as self-pity and withdrawal from the battle are the beginning of misery.

In short: Make yourself useful. Usefulness is the sofrito of happiness.  
It is a truth I have experienced in protesting, which has made my life vastly more flavorful over the past few weeks. I’ve found that it’s really kind of a blast to be with people who want to make the world better and to take these small steps together. Drinking wine with girlfriends, painting signs, brainstorming ways to throw our bodies into the fight, and then, critically, throwing them—showing up, being loud, being heard, being counted—has made me happier. And that is sustaining me.
I guess this is my way of saying to you, and to me, that it’s perfectly acceptable to enjoy yourself in the revolution. Anger may get you to the march, but joy may keep you marching, and that’s okay. Anything that moves your feet in this garbage pit of quicksand we call America 2017 is sacred.

Staunchly yours,