“My battery is low, and it’s getting dark.”
– NASA Rover Opportunity, last words
Actually, it’s been dark for hours. I’ve been trying to write again tonight, using the post-midnight silence as a kind of mental blank page, a way to pull the thoughts and feelings that normally stream freely through my chaotic brain into a sort of order. I put on jazz and got some tea and wrote.
It’s lovely outside. For the first time in two years, a major winter storm has blanketed the ground with white, covering up an awful lot of ugly. This part of Maryland is your average overpriced suburban hell on a commuter highway, so there’s plenty of ugly to cover.
Normally, I’d be sitting in the dark, watching as the falling snow turns to ice and settles on the bare branches, generating perfect crystalline shapes and a growing beauty over what was dead and grey, refracting and reflecting the streetlights in a dazzling, scintillating display. But tonight, I’m barely stirred. I look out, say, “Hunh. That’s nice.”
Nothing I’ve written tonight said what I wanted it to, nothing for several days, come to think on it. It’s been one of those weeks turning into one of those months; I’ve been sick, and I haven’t slept well. The new Administration has given me plenty of ground to cover, from pipelines to stimulus, and nobody else has picked up on the oh so original “Lie-den” that I want to start calling him. His broken campaign promises began on Day One, and he’s pandering to the special interests that put him in office…
…and I find that I really don’t care. I’m tired.
After all, what difference will it make? If I expose his worst hypocrisies, people will either say “At least he’s not Trump” — true but meaningless — or, worse, “All politicians do that” — as though this statement somehow makes it acceptable. And if I take the alternate approach of cheering his positive actions, somehow I have to ignore the fact that most of his executive actions that aren’t actually bad moves are instead toothless — at best, small gestures in a direction that needs attention, not getting buried among fifty other flimsy scraps of paper.
I fervently believe that we, the average people, have the power to positively influence our government. We can support good people as candidates, good causes in protests and cooperative action. The recent GameStop market event should underline in a way that everyone can see the power of a few disgruntled people acting collectively… and we all know, there’s a lot of us that are awfully unhappy. And for good reason.
Now is the time I should be able to tell you all these things, to help inspire people to act as a force for change.
But I sense the vast wave of apathy and despair that’s sweeping our land in the wake of Trump’s departure… and upcoming return to the headlines, God help us — just when we thought it was safe! The division in our politics has gotten no better, and neither side is willing to actually represent our interests. Instead they’ll hold a vindictive show trial that’s moot before it begins — the second in two years, if you’ve been keeping track. And I just can’t bring myself to care about it.
Which is my problem: That fire inside of me is dying low. The reserves of passion, of anger, the enthusiasm and delight in explaining — it’s just not there any more. I’ve drawn on it for so long that the loss is acutely painful, like biting down on a cracked tooth. Usually, my no-post Sundays are enough time for me to recover, but not this week, and not last.
So here’s the thing about Opportunity‘s last words: That’s not really what it said. It didn’t transmit in words, and certainly not anything that poetic. There was a massive dust storm coming, thick enough to black out the sun, and the solar-powered rover was entering a hibernation mode that was supposed to be temporary. Once the dust cleared, the idea was that it would try to recharge and get back to work, because the storm would be over in a couple of days. So it sent a burst of atmospheric observations, its power status, and a notification of hibernation. Then it went to sleep, and never woke up.
It’s now just past five in the morning. I’ve got projects that need my attention, internet myths to debunk, and politicians to skewer. Plenty of work lies ahead of me, and I know that tomorrow will be an improvement over what is now a very long yesterday. I’ll get some sleep, and I’ll start to feel better, and soon the words will start to flow again the way they ought to.
But right now, my battery is low, and it’s gotten awful damned dark.
“Know what I pray for? The strength to change what I can, the inability to accept what I can’t, and the incapacity to tell the difference.”
– Bill Watterson, “Calvin & Hobbes”