I live with two adorable, hungry animals inside me.
Let's say they're lions.
Actually, let's say they're goats.
Let's say they're as adorable and rambunctious as Jollygood and Sunshine (pictured below).
So yeah, there are two goats inside me.
The first goat is an artist, who, for as long as she can remember, has wanted to tell stories. Stories that are true. Stories that make a person say, "that’s just what I’ve always felt, but you said it clearly". She likes the way her favourite artists make readers lean in and touch foreheads with the rest of humanity by using humour+heart as a connective force. She wants to try to do the same.
The second goat is an activist, who, for as long as she can remember, has wanted to suck less and help other people suck less too. Especially when it comes to the treatment of other animals. She wants to tell their stories, so people say, "I had no idea animals had it this bad. I don't want to contribute to that mess anymore." She respects the way her favourite activists have so fully dedicated their lives to their important causes. She wants to try to do the same.
But there are only so many hours in a day. And there's only so much "forage" (energy) to be chowed down on. Some days it seems like you can only be really good at taking care of one goat. So only one goat gets access to the most delectable pasture. Sometimes for weeks. But it always feels like cruelty to deny the one goat, and let the other feast. It feels especially bad to let the activist goat go hungry. After all, artist goat is just telling silly stories. Are stories going to fix all that's been so broken?
When I go into these guilt swings about the activist goat being fed too little, I go to extreme places. For years, I ignored artist goat entirely. Artist goat survived entirely on the nourishment of enjoying other people's art. She created almost nothing herself.
Don't let my goat metaphor confuse you about the seriousness of this issue for me. First off, I love goats. I couldn't be more serious about my love of them or using them in metaphors or one day living with a bunch of them piled on top of me. Secondly, of all the identity-based dilemmas I face, this truly is the largest one. I want for both goats to thrive, to be happy, to skip around, and to meet their goals. I even want them to be pals (like Jollygood and Sunshine), or to at least respect the importance of what the other is doing. And I know there are artists out there with their inner goats living in perfect harmony. But endless discussions with J. had brought me only a thimble-sized amount of peace in my own balancing act. Until a few days ago, when he texted me the following:
"Don't ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."
The quote is attributed to Howard Thurman, an author, philosopher and civil rights leader.
When I read it, all my bones shook. It was exactly what I'd needed: permission. To go in directions that make me feel alive. It's about nourishing each goat with the things that make them feel the most alive. By focusing on the feelings, instead of the output, I believe this is how any person with two goats living inside them finds balance. (And come to think of it, how any artist or activist avoids burn out.)
The quote also gave me another gift. It licked shut the envelope on saying 'Yes' to the forms of activism that drain me. Because Thurman's words made me realize this: it is coming alive that moves people. It is offering up authenticity that leaves people changed. I have permission to say "H to the ELL no" to the approaches/people/spaces that tire me. And "SHIT YEAH!" to the work that makes me buzz with energy.
In other words: I feel now like both my goats will be better nourished.
They'll feel freer to frolic and be the best goats they can be (in a non-military goat way of course).
Hopefully just like Jollygood and Sunshine.
I just have to let each goat go in the direction that makes her feel the most alive.