"We must read Shakespeare and authors who are women, Arab, Muslim, queer. Most of the world is neither white nor European, and the United States may be a majority-minority country by mid-century. White people will gain more by embracing this reality rather than fighting it. As for literature, the mind-set that turns the canon into a bunker in order to defend one dialect of English is the same mind-set that closes borders, enacts tariffs and declares trade wars to protect its precious commodities and its besieged whiteness. But literature, like the economy, withers when it closes itself off from the world. The world is coming anyway. It demands that we know ourselves and the Other....."
Welcome to the Central Virginia Chapter of Writing for Peace!
I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder and clinical depression in 2014, and while I have it mostly under control, there are still days where I’m paralyzed by irrational fear (I recall a particular evening where I found myself in fetal position on the floor because I couldn’t figure out how to use my friend’s washing machine). I even had a good cry over what to write for this blog post.
So how does an individual with anxiety live an activist lifestyle?
Life with anxiety does mean that we are weary of many things in this world, but often the only thing of which we are more weary is doing something about it.
The thought of marching in a rally (particularly one that could become violent), making a poster, or even writing a post on Facebook can be enough to shut me off from the world.
There’s a lot of evil in the world, but what if someone hears me? Worse, what if they disagree? What if I go viral and now I’m receiving death threats?
Now, here is where I’ll digress for a bit.
I recognize that this line of thinking is partially a result of my privilege.
I walk this world as a white woman, which I realize affords me the ability to successfully avoid activism. I could live out my entire life without “getting political,” and still feel safe, happy, and fulfilled. My life does not depend on me fighting for my basic rights. I am capable of sitting at home, feeling scared to post my beliefs on Facebook, ultimately deciding not to, and carrying on my day without a hitch.
I know there are those who are not clinically diagnosed with anxiety, but live with the very real fear that they will not survive to see the next day. Afraid to wear a sweatshirt, walk on a particular street, or simply be alone. Being silent could turn to being dead.
So in one of my less anxiety-ridden moments, I pondered my thought process: what if someone does indeed hear me, but what if, instead of my slightly irrational fear of death threats, they actually agree with me? What if they, too, have been afraid to speak up because they thought they were the only one who felt that way? What if now they feel empowered to speak or act because they are certain that they are not alone in their thoughts?
And that is my challenge to anyone like me who struggles with anxiety, but desires a life of activism. Refocus: away from those who might stand against you, and towards those who might stand behind you.
It’s not a change that happens overnight. I’ve been working on myself for years to be more intentional about leading an activist lifestyle. And I’m nowhere near “cured.” Rallies still terrify me, and I still hesitate sometimes to make comments on Facebook or broach certain subjects.
I have found the most growth in starting conversations with those I trust-- a kind of activism practice. I identified those people in my life who will react respectfully to differing opinions, and topics that make me cringe transformed into easy, open dialogues. In this safe space of trusting dialogue, you can more easily identify what you believe, and become more comfortable with vocalizing it.
For some (and I include myself in this category), standing up for what you believe will always be scary, especially with realities of division, injury, and death looming in the back of our minds.
As an individual with anxiety disorder, I discounted myself from an activist life, but even those of us living with anxiety can create methods of overcoming paralysis towards activism.
Courtney Rose studied English & Creative Writing at Longwood University, and her fiction has appeared in Sante Fe Review. She is an aspiring wedding planner, currently pursuing that dream as an intern, and member of the Central Virginia Chapter of Writing for Peace.
Hobbies are important. We need escape from the stress of what can seem from tweets and headlines to be a spiraling out of control society.
This is to say nothing of the pressures of work, school, friends, and family. Some people watch or play sports. Some read and many of us mainline TV shows from various streaming services. Me? I sit and yell about dragons and elves. I love tabletop card games and my main obsession is Magic: The Gathering. Most weekends I can be found slinging spells in hobby shops and in kitchens over drinks.
If my mentioning the 25-year-old trading card game summons images of entitled man-babies casting cards between misogynistic slurs that’s… not entirely unfair.
Magic, like much of nerd culture, is having to come to terms with its “boys' club” reputation.
While less high-profile than the recent kerfuffle over Star Wars daring to have strong female characters, and then the toxic mess that was “Gamergate,” Magic has had its fair share of scandals.
To their credit, Wizards of the Coast (the game’s publisher) has stepped up their social justice game. The YouTube content creator who was responsible for driving a cosplayer from the game was banned from organized play for life. Wizards have added LGBT and neurodiverse characters in several recent sets. While obviously still evolving and imperfect, it is nice to see this effort on a corporate level.
It’s too easy for me, a white cis straight man, to sit back and ignore the ongoing toxicity in the Magic community at a local level. “Society is progressing,” I might say, “it is only a matter of time before these issues are erased.” After all, I deserve to enjoy my hobby, right?
But the diverse gamers with whom I share tabletops deserve to enjoy it as well, and to enjoy it now.
Contrary to stereotypes, I play with kids and adults of multiple genders, races, orientations, and gender identities. The kids on the spectrum I play with deserve to play without hearing casual ableist slurs. The LGBTQ players deserve to play without hearing that an overpowered card is “gay.” The women that I play with, who are already asked too often which players’ girlfriends they are, as if that is the only reason they have taken an interest in the game, don’t deserve to have to sit next to cards sleeved with pictures of half-naked anime girls.
This where I have to be better.
I have to remind myself that, even it’s uncomfortable, I have to tell the kid at the next table that his racist joke isn’t cool. No matter how bad my work week has been, I have to call out casual utterances of “f*ggot” and “r*tard” when I hear them.
The game does not just belong to me, and as an enfranchised player, I have a voice to make the community better for everybody involved.
I have to do this even if it means having awkward conversations with store owners and tournament organizers. I cannot be perfect, but I have to be better. Now, especially now, hobbies are important for everybody.
Stephen Ownby is a member of the Central Virginia Chapter of Writing for Peace. He graduated from Longwood University in 2010 with a BA in English with a Concentration in Creative Writing. He writes, hopefully with increasing frequency, poetry and nonfiction about politics and culture. Stephen lives in Henrico County with his wife Carey and their two spoiled cats.