too big and not enough.

There are protests happening in Baltimore, Maryland at this moment, because yet another unarmed black man was killed by a police officer. Thousands in the streets.

An earthquake in Nepal has killed over three thousand people.

A person very dear to me is sick. The bad kind of sick, the kind that isn’t going to get better.

I feel like I have nothing to say.

For the first time in awhile, I feel like I have nothing to say.

It’s not just me, is it? Who can’t imagine what they could possibly say, when it’s all too much?

I keep breathing and I keep walking around and I keep trying to solve the minor problems of my life, but not with any direct intention, not with any significant drive or determination. My car broke down? Okay. I’ll sort of google some stuff and I’ll ask my parents for their advice and their help, but I secretly just want them to tell me what to do, because I can’t seem to focus on it, because I don’t want to solve this problem on my own. I’m feeling a little fat? Okay. I’ll eat fewer carbs and I’ll say no to beer for a few weeks and I’ll stare at my stomach and do a half-hearted few situps and wish for everything to magically shrink. I haven’t updated this blog in a few weeks? I’ll cast around for a topic and I’ll start to imagine the piece I might write, but truth be told, it all sounds so insignificant, and I’m tired of my own voice before I even put the words on the page. I want to tell you all about going to this conference, about standing up and giving this speech and feeling like I might be a decent public speaker after all, about the thrilling electricity of making a room laugh, go along with you for the ride. I want to tell you about sitting in a hot tub drinking a margarita at the end of a long day, having conquered some fears, and feeling beautiful and feeling like everything just out of reach was so very possible, that everything was going to turn out okay. Feeling like I was right on the cusp of something Big and Important. Looking up at this big open sky, feeling so aware of the sensation, “I am very happy right now,” wondering where it was going to go from here.

But then I don’t write about that thing, because I sit down and there’s this little critic voice, which sounds exactly like my own, saying, Must be nice. Poolside margaritas, huh? Fuck you. People are dying. 

I think about the backlash leveled at CNN for their coverage of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, refusing to cut away to show the protests in Baltimore.  Because “the most powerful man in the world was telling some jokes.”

I am somebody who tells a lot of jokes. And some days, I can’t shake the suspicion that I’m playing the fiddle and Rome is on fire.

Tell the truth, I’ve been feeling that a lot, lately. I’m a costume designer and a writer. And yes, of course I know, on some very deep level, that there is inherent value in those things, that art and creativity are what makes a civilization great, that culture is shaped and created by the wanderers, the poets, the outcasts, the dreamers. That making the world more beautiful is important, and valuable.

And then you think, Was the world honestly made a more beautiful place because I made some really great costumes for a play that was literally titled “Unnecessary Farce”? 

I keep breathing and I keep going and I wonder if people who work for Habitat for Humanity or the American Cancer Society ever feel this way. That all the problems are so big and all of the solutions feel so small.

I keep breathing. I keep going. I understand, in times like this, why people are drawn towards religion, this idea that someone else out there has a master plan for all of this, that we can’t even begin to comprehend. I don’t believe that personally, but I get why people are drawn to it. I read the news and there’s so much of it and it’s separated from me by a computer, filtered through a journalist, words on a page that are meant to bridge the gap between me, in my pajamas with a cup of coffee, and the stuff that is actually news: mangled flesh, torn bodies, rubble crushing limbs, nightmare screams, howls of protest and anger. Words on the page that become meaningless in aggregate: how many times can you hear about corrupt politicians or homelessness or poverty or income inequality or a natural disaster in a place you have never visited, before those words take on less and less meaning, before you start to hear just a buzzing in the ears because those words no longer cue your brain to feel outrage, no longer cause you to truly think, someone who is human, just as I am, is suffering? 

I write stuff like this, and I have no idea if it’s useful or not. I feel anger and I don’t know what to do with it. I feel paralyzed, feel the pressure of knowing too much information, aware of the paradox: the world is so big and I truly know nothing. I put the laundry in the dryer. I pay the gas bill. I keep breathing. I keep going. I wonder what will happen tomorrow. I wonder what I can do about today.

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49 thoughts on “too big and not enough.

  1. I love how you wrote this. I feel exactly the way you do at times. I guess we can do our part by spreading positive vibes to those who need it the most. I hope you cheer up!! X

  2. Feelings like that shut me down on the regular. Who the hell am I to be cracking jokes and making clever little observations when things like this are happening all around me. And I get that those same tragedies are occurring to normal people living normal lives just like ours, who were also making jokes and clever observations until their lives turned upside down–that’s why the tragedies are tragic. So we pause in solidarity but we also continue in solidarity. Two halves of the coin. I think a post like this helps because it holds space for the people in the midst of the suffering- we recognize the tragedy and our place in it and our response to it and all the guilt and futility that we feel. And truly those suffering people exist somewhere every single day whether we’re presented with their stories or not- there would be no days for levity or joy if we waited for the suffering to subside. If we stopped creating and living joyful lives, then there would be nothing but ugliness anywhere. So yeah. Pause and feel it and do what you can to help, and then feel the joys, too, and enjoy your successes and laugh at the ridiculous and continue to do what you do. Hugs. You’re brave to publish the good and the bad, even all mixed together.

  3. Oh, Katherine. I SO feel your words. It’s very hard to be empathetic to the plights of others in extremity, AND be happy. You and I are alike in that way. I don’t have any answers. At 64 I just try to keep some focus on the beauty and awesomeness that’s here for us all. A friend’s new baby, the sunny day outside, flowers. There ARE reasons to keep smiling, and to find ways to help others smile; to create, to drink margaritas and feel accomplished and beautiful. And maybe that’s our lesson.

    Take good care of yourself. I’m sending you a huge hug.

  4. I completely empathize with you on this, thank you for putting your thoughts into words. Every time I read your blog I’m struck by how my own thoughts/feelings/anxieties/insecurities/worries/etc are captured in your writing. I wish I knew what to do that would alleviate the feeling of helplessness when it comes to so many aspects of this world we live in, but I’m still brainstorming. Maybe the answer is to start small and let others be influenced by your actions, I’m not sure. But just know, when you write stuff like this, is it useful.

  5. An evocative post echoing my feelings. How much use is a mandala (what I paint) to victims of the earthquake in Nepal who are buried under rubble with no one to come to their aid…

    Although it can be painful and overwhelming to consider the suffering of so many in the world and it must be so, “And as a single leaf turns not yellow but with the silent knowledge of the whole tree.”― Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet, it is imperative that those who are fortunate stay away from despair on behalf of another.

    From Abraham Hicks…You cannot get sick enough to help sick people get better. You cannot get poor enough to help poor people thrive. It is only in your thriving that you have anything to offer anyone. If you’re wanting to be of an advantage to others, be as tapped in, turned in, turned on as you can possibly be. — Abraham

    Returning to the creative source for connection is the best way to be of service…and for the record, your presentation at PressPublish in Phoenix was outstanding, humorous, informative and inspirational.

  6. I always read your posts, I never reply. But you have usually held my point of of view and I appreciate someone out there having my view. You have inspired me to think more about life going on outside of my 4 walls and I appreciate someone out there making me think. You have caused stimulating conversation in my house with my family and/or friends and I have appreciated that you helped create a starting point for those conversations.

    This post again, has connected with me. I had to post a response this time. I completely understand where you are coming from on all points. Life throws curves at you that you have to catch, without dropping the ball sometimes. In many instances your posts have brought me back to the reality in life. They have caused me to realize that, even though my feelings and my life happenings are important, I could be worse off. It is obvious that something has hit home with you, It is obvious that it is a difficult thing. I don’t know you personally, but I do know that whatever it is you are dealing with, you will get through it. You appear to be very strong-willed. Whatever it is, it won’t be easy, it won’t be fun, it will be stressful, and it will take a lot of energy. But, you can get through it. I will be praying that you find the strength to get through every day.

  7. Please don’t be discouraged. Please keep writing, even if it’s about margaritas or costumes.
    I go through this, my friends go through this, we all go through this. We just have to find our way to the other side.
    As I write this, I still haven’t found the other side.
    Here’s the thing though: the world has always been this way. It might always be this way, though I hope not.
    Now that all information is instantly available over almost the entire planet, there is just TOO MUCH to process. And unfortunately, bad news riles us up and makes us watch – so people who want to sell commercials and other advertising will show us all the bad news we can stomach, even if we can’t stomach it.
    The world used to be a simpler place, but only because we just didn’t know what was going on everywhere all the time. It’s been one atrocity after another forever. We’re evolutionarily wired for empathy, and now there are too many people to feel empathy for.

    I’m rambling and going in circles because I don’t have an answer.
    All I have is “Don’t give up; don’t be discouraged.”
    I know that feel.
    A lot of us do.
    C

  8. I really like this piece. Thank you for being honest and vulnerable with your emotions. It’s nice to see another side to you than just your humor. Yes the problems of the world can be a bit overwhelming, but if we all try our best to make the world better than we have done all we can do. Even it’s distracting people and making them laugh instead of crying for an hour or two.

  9. There’s nothing more tragically beautiful than brutal honesty. It’s hard to share one’s innermost thoughts, especially when you feel overwhelmed by the shit life throws at us. I don’t know if everyone has been there, but I know I have. I may be a stranger but I understand. Thank you for sharing your honesty.

  10. I appreciate this heartfelt and totally relevant blog. Thank you.

    Jenn Laskin Student Attorney University of the District of Columbus School of Law Jericho/ NLG Legal Observer

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  11. http://www.brainpickings.org/2014/05/06/e-b-white-letters-of-note-book/

    E.B. White’s Beautiful Letter to a Man Who Had Lost Faith in Humanity
    by Maria Popova

    Dear Mr. Nadeau:

    As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.

    Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society — things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.

    Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.

    Sincerely,
    E. B. White

  12. “Was the world honestly made a more beautiful place because I made some really great costumes for a play that was literally titled “Unnecessary Farce”?”

    YES! Yes it was – you were instrumental in bringing light and laughter into the world, which is a gift.

    Not everyone has the emotional makeup to be able to look evil in the face and DO something about it without destroying oneself in the process; I know I don’t. Understanding those limits about yourself is a good thing, because you will not make the world a better place if you destroy yourself in the process.

    But for whatever you can do, you can only do what you can do (duh). You cannot let it weigh on your conscience that you cannot do more than you can do. It won’t magically allow you to do more, and your guilt won’t make the world a better place. Even – especially – if your big contribution to the world is making people laugh and making them happy from time to time.

  13. Katherine, I was at the conference. You are more than a decent public speaker. There WAS thrilling electricity in the room. You inspired your audience and made a difference in our lives. When you are given an opportunity where there IS something you can do to help others, you seize it. Maybe that’s as much as we can expect from ourselves.

  14. Pingback: too big and not enough. | myspokenheart

  15. It’s hard not to feel like taking responsibility for the world’s problems. Just do what you can to help when you can, and then let yourself off the hook. Some might think that sounds bad but no one can or should try to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. Just do what you can.

  16. But your posts keep me going. I am so happy to see a new addition to my mailbox. You are doing your part , in this crazy, crazy world. Please don’t think that all these global problems are yours to solve…….If everyone of us did our part everyday, it would be enough. Please do not despair. You bring so much thoughtful sunshine to my world. I can’t wait to buy the book you haven’t written yet.

  17. This is actually the best “rant” type post I’ve ever read. I actually think this way a lot but it always seem too jumbled to every put it down in words. Somehow you made it all make more sense than even in my own head. What impact do we really have? What do we really deserve in the moment when there’s so much else happening in that same moment, too? It’s all just so confusing but I guess that’s what makes life exciting and ever-changing. But as for your last comment… this was definitely helpful. It’s great to know I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

  18. You keep going and choose to do positive things on a moment-to-moment basis to keep, and hopefully improve, the balance of positivity in the world. You may not be able to jump on a plane to Nepal, or change generations of police DNA, but you can choose to respond negatively or positively to the moment you are in. Art and culture do create joy and beauty, and present alternate viewpoints, as well as give us moments to breath and consider, and sometimes laugh. The human race would most likely be extinct if we had not dreamed up artistic expression in millennia past.
    Your approach is considered and valuable.

  19. Katherine, you and what you do matter because you love so well.

    I’m a witness to your extraordinary love that you shared with a conference full of strangers when you presented at Press Publish. When you answered my question with kindness and charity, you filled me with love that I can take and share with others. This world needs love.

    My husband, Dave, and I have done a lot of fulfilling, some would say big, stuff. For example, I taught emotionally-disturbed kids, managed domestic violence shelters, and served homeless women and pregnant teens. Dave cares for SMI (serious mentally ill) clients, is a suicide prevention expert, and has deployed nationally and internationally for disaster relief, to include the Indonesia Tsunami of 2004.

    We’ve also done things that go mostly unnoticed, like care for our kids, smile at the neighbors, and tell a joke or two to lighten someone’s load. We’ve discussed this very topic of “mattering” for almost 30 years and have concluded that big or small, it’s about love. It’s not about “feeling” like what we’re doing matters, it’s about doing good and making what we do matter through our love.

    Many have come to a similar conclusion, such as Mother Teresa (Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier), Thérèse de Lisieux (Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love), and Teresa of Ávila (It is love alone that gives worth to all things.)

    Keep loving, Katherine. Keep writing and designing and presenting and caring. You and your love are needed ❤

  20. This is a direct reflection of how I’m feeling of the chaos in our world right now. I don’t feel it’s going to get any better, only worse. The only thing we can do is keep on keeping on. Love your blog by the way.

  21. As others have already said, this really resonates with me. Thank you for sharing.

    This is something that has been on my mind a lot, ever since the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon. I live in Boston, and I kept thinking over and over again that good people have to stand up really tall and loud and be Very Good in order to combat even a tiny amount of all the sadness and pain in the world. And I didn’t even know where to begin being Very Good, and it felt like everything was just going to shit.

    But I think what I’m learning is that the moments that bring me the most comfort, when I’m in pain, are when someone was genuine and showed me warmth. I think empathy drives the most change–recognizing the humanity in others. And we prove (and experience) that on a small scale. When passing someone on the street, when someone holds the door for us, asks us how we’re doing today and means it.

    Grand gestures are important, too, but I think change actually accumulates when we are lower-case very good to one another.

  22. was about to post a comment very similar to Athena… yes, your work does make a difference… it does bring light to the world… some days the sheer volume of horror out there in the world weighs us down..but.. for me it puts my problems into perspective… Worrying about the rent.. at least I have somewhere to live…and I’m not digging friends and family out fo the rubble…
    want to help ? think ahead.. people out there will be rebuilding their lives, and businesses..can you tell someone’s story, help someone who can’t write as eloquently as you can….can you use someone’s skills, trade with Nepal in any way.. ?

  23. I’ve been there. I’ve been in a similar emotional/depressed space before – When I was in school in an art class in the 60’s, the prof would often say similar thingsm but then, as if he had to justify his choices, he would say he had no choice. He felt he had to teach and to paint. But he hated the way humans seemed to be programmed to act. How can you smile in a world like this, he might ask on a particularly dark day – It was just after the assassination of JFK and many of us were moping about in despair of and for the human race.
    My history prof helped a little. He told us that in the past there were times that in most so-called “civilized” nations, the chance of a child growing to a year or two (much less to adulthood) was less than 50%. A hundred years ago (this was in the ’60’s and 70’s) the life expectancy of a woman in the US was 34. All through the history of the world, disaster was woven into the universal life. Wars happened. Natural disasters happened. Crops failed. People died in famines. The rich and powerful abused the poor and weak. Infant mortality rose and fell. Disease decimated populations. Like now. Like always.
    Some things have changed, however. Television, for example. We can no longer ignore these awful things. We are able to help, because we know about what is happening to our neighbors. We can do our bit for the environment, for cultural acceptance of everyone, for our own health. And we can put our heads out the window to check the weather before we go out our doors and we can smile at our friends and neighbors and strangers on the streets. And we can share some of the universal things that humans seem to have always had – laughter, joy, humor, beauty, love. Yes, even when others are suffering. Maybe even more when other people are suffering. Because life goes on and when others are moving toward recovery, we want joy and beauty to still be here. That’s not a light responsibility. It’s a difficult job, but someone HAS to do it.
    So … trust that the world knows that you know things are awful in general … and continue to make us smile, laugh, cry with joy, and look into the clouds and see bears and angels and big-nosed cartoon characters.
    Love to us all –

  24. Well said. As a singer, I often felt like this. Is my job as an entertainer really relevant to the problems the world is facing? I never came to a good enough conclusion, and lost some of my passion because of it. As I write, I feel like my opportunity to connect with people and tell them they’re not alone, however I do that, be it in humour or in seriousness, I feel I have done something better. I hope you can find the meaning in either or both of your passions. Keep going. You are touching people.

  25. I often feel like that. Sometimes when you feel too much, you can’t just explain it to the people why and how you’re feeling. And then you feel like you’re not doing enough. And then you feel lonely and terrible, unable to reach out. And no one understands.
    Excellent blog.

  26. We all have a day/days or weeks or sometimes months and/or years of feeling how you do – which is so debilitating when it is more than a day or days… I have been there more times than I care to remember. But now I think… it’s just a game… we are playing this wonderful, crazy, scary, exciting, exhilarating, fascinating sad, happy, what a ride! game of life – and none of it really matters in the long run… it’s how we play the game that counts and that we are all somehow getting out of it what we want – whether we know it or not in the moment – and we can change how we’re playing anytime we want. I love that 🙂 So… turn off the tv and the computer (until you want to blog again 🙂 ), run a lovely bubble bath, light some candles, and drink some champagne while you soak in lovely hot deliciously scented water – and let all your cares and woes go down the drain when the bottle is empty. Then get into your favourite pj’s and climb into your most comfortable sleeping place and get a good night’s sleep. Everything will look better in the morning.

  27. Pingback: Sunday links, 5/3/15 | Tutus And Tiny Hats

  28. I know exactly how this feels and it’s so difficult. I really connected to your musings on religion in this post. Many times I am jealous of my friends who have a sense of religion and therefore feels as if they can make sense of it all. I recently came across this Albert Einstein quote that I felt like gave me a greater sense of purpose and guidance given my lack of religion, and I hope it helps you too:

    “A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

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