January wrap-up: staying busy in the darkest timeline

Sometimes I like to tell people I’ll be fine, but the time between now and “fine” is the real challenge.

One of the dubious joys of freelancing is having easy access to social media, and right now all my feeds are vertical suicide drops of bad news. My home state voted with overwhelming enthusiasm to install white nationalists in D.C. About the only good news I’ve heard all month is ACLU’s record fundraising weekend in response to the de facto Muslim travel ban (in countries where President Trump has no business interests, of course).

I’ve found a few ways to push back at this wall of bad noise to give myself space to breathe. I’m working on improving my public speaking and video skills. My little brother got a set of Warhammer miniatures for Christmas, and teaching him to paint rekindled an interest in the hobby I’ve left fallow for years. Detail painting can be a meditative act. The deliberate brushwork forces my mind into the present.

And I’ve written. In USA Today’s Personal Finance section, I re-examined the conventional wisdom about fat income tax return checks. I talked about who should use robo-advisors for investing. And I discovered a growing number of parents wreck their retirement plans as they take on the student loan debt of their children.

I wrote on LinkedIn this month. A lot of the articles people publish on LinkedIn read like a pack of harrumphing Old Economy Steves trying to figure out what to do about those ding dang millennials. It’s a “business” social network, which means it trends conservative by default. My writing there goes against the grain: it’s not a home for meditations on mailing a copy of the Babadook book to my mother, but I’ve put my values front and center.

I talked about how community news organizations — county newspapers and “hyperlocal” websites — should cover Trumpists. I urged brand managers to get off the fence and get out of our mentions. And I edited an older piece I wrote on Prickly Peregrine about what I learned from working at an emergency dispatch center.

(I chopped that one down by half. It humbled me to trim so much fat out of my own writing!)

Listen, no one enjoys enjoys political talk. It’s more like something you have to do, like lancing a boil so it doesn’t rupture. But I have yet to work in an office that didn’t trend conservative, or didn’t have Fox News running at all times on a wall-mounted television. I’ve come to understand that admonitions of “stay apolitical,” in this context, mean “be quiet, lefty.”

At this point? I’m honestly over it. I’ve had great working relationships with conservatives. I was a cop reporter for years, after all. But at this moment in my life I want to be around people who share my values. If my frankly mild expressions of left-leaning ideals scare away recruiters or screeners in human resources, I wasn’t going to be a good cultural fit, anyway.

But enough of that. It’s February. I turn 36 this month. Let’s see what I can do.

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