SCOTTY MONTGOMERY

JULY READS

Resilience and Compassion Fatigue: How to Keep Being Angry

July 28

Social media gives us access to stories from every country, every situation, and every perspective in the world. It can become too much to handle pretty quickly. As Michael from The Good Place once said, “every day the world gets a little more complicated, and being a good person gets a little harder.” Following Michael’s logic from the episode in question, in the past mailing our grandmother flowers might have seemed an indisputably food thing but nowadays we’re flooded with ramifications we never knew about: the cellphone used to order the flowers was manufactured in a sweatshop, the flowers were grown with toxic pesticides, the CEO of the flower company is racist and sexist. It’s consequences all the way down. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “if you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention”, and to an extent that’s true. What else motivates us if not frustration and anger when something so grossly breaks our moral standards? Yet being angry every second of every day isn’t sustainable, nor is it actually productive. 

 

Compassion fatigue: what is it and why does it happen?

 

The term compassion fatigue typically refers to healthcare workers and people in caregiving positions; these people are in closest contact with the traumatized and hurt. But the internet has given us access to so many people’s stories and hardships that compassion fatigue has its hat every corner. The American Institute of Stress defines compassion fatigue as a sort of “emotional residue” resulting from close exposure to “those suffering from the consequences of traumatic events.” The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project supplements that “emotional, physical, and spiritual distress” are common symptoms. 

 

An online artist depicts her experience with burnout and the conflicting feelings of exhaustion and guilt in this webcomic. The ‘tired’ vs ‘wired’ feelings of working too hard for too long can often manifest themselves outside of our jobs and work. Psychologist Charles Figley distinguishes burnout as a similar stress injury to compassion fatigue yet colored with a personal environment stressor closer to home. As author of Guardian article “Is Compassion Fatigue Inevitable in an Age of 24-hour News?” voices of her experience with compassion fatigue, “there’s a sticky note on the wall by my desk that says: ‘BE AN ACTIVIST.’ It has been there so long that I hardly see it anymore. I worry sometimes that I haven’t paced my outrage.” Trauma on the screen and in the page can start to feel despairingly personal and this feeling of lost control can start to trickle into your everyday life. According to Figley, this state of dysfunction can trigger desensitization and lead to higher risk of anxiety and depression disorders

 

When you think about what caregivers and healthcare workers experience on an everyday basis that cause this kind of emotional burnout, it’s not too far off from the anguish and trauma we are exposed to everyday in the media and news cycle. It’s a different kind of exposure. Younger generations especially, whose whole lives have been proliferated with technology, are “subject to social, technological and economic pressures that threaten to overwhelm the nervous system and wear out all our coping mechanisms.” Stress from cultural changes isn’t exactly a new problem. In fact, 19th century psychopathology writers penned the term “neurasthenia” to describe the overwhelming effect that the new urban industrial society had on the nervous system

 

However similar our current world is to 19th century industrialism, I think it’s fair to say we have a few more complicating factors to deal with. Everytime we see a video on instagram of violent police escalation or systemic mistreatment of detained immigrants the empathy circuit in our brains (the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex) activates our emotional response and prompts us to action through our distress. We imagine ourselves in their place and in that moment start to feel their pain and trauma. But when we feel the pain and trauma of others everytime we go on twitter or instagram, we start becoming numb to it. Our brain can only handle so much and develops its own coping mechanisms not unlike victims of PTSD. When we start to numb ourselves to these experiences, it takes more and more for something to draw an emotional response from us. A media consumption habit of seeking out sensationalized and aggrandizing stories in order to evoke the same response can distort our perception of reality; it undermines the nuance and complexity of real issues that real people are going through. People often seek to educate themselves about these news stories because of their empathetic desire to help, a fact Figley regards as “the most insidious aspect of compassion fatigue.” 

 

But do we really need empathy to do good? Not necessarily. People with antisocial personality disorder (one of a small few personality disorders characterized by a lack of empathy) are more present in caregiving and humanitarian careers than you would think. Monikers like ‘psychopaths’ or ‘sociopaths’ are commonly ascribed to these folks but the terms carry more Machiavellian and manipulative coloring than is reality. The 10 most popular jobs for those with antisocial personality disorders include surgeon, clergy, and civil servant. It seems counterintuitive, but jobs that would suggest a requirement of compassion for patients can actually benefit from people that are immune to the stressors of vicarious emotional distress. Take surgeons with antisocial personality disorder, while their bedside manner might leave something to be desired, these surgeons are able to perform complex and important operations without performance disrupting anxiety or distress to inhibit their quality of care. These folks are able to push forward in the face of hard decisions that might ordinarily be emotionally debilitating. 

 

Sometimes it’s okay not to have an emotional stake in every story you read. It’s okay if your anger runs dry from your activism. You can still do incredible good even when you feel like you’ve got nothing left to pull from. Activism doesn’t have to be loud and raging, sometimes it’s better to lend a quiet and purposeful gesture of good will. Resilience isn’t keeping the anger but rather the acceptance of your own limits and the work you put it in to take care of yourself.

Self Care and Self Comfort: Some Suggestions for Self Soothing

July 30

Defining self care: “the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health, the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress

 

Defining self soothing: “the ability to calm oneself when faced with a stressful situation, or when in a state of high arousal... the ability to self-sooth

 

Self care and self comfort seem like hot commodities in a global pandemic and an emerging modern civil rights movement. Spaces online seem to be constant sources of panic and stress over current issues, but if you know where to look you can find a spring of positivity and peace. It seems a common point of discussion oftentimes to preach self care lifestyles and aesthetics, an emerging topic reacting to our complex and crazy world. Self care doesn’t always have to be luxurious or indulgent, in fact the principle of “taking an active role in preserving one’s own health” seems more self medicating than lavish and lush. People in high emotionally stressful careers like hospital workers or EMTs are often required to take classes on maintaining their emotional hygiene and preventing vicarious trauma

 

It’s each person’s prerogative to make the decision about what exactly is going to provide them the most healthy experiences but the word has taken on a different sort of meaning than its basics. In times of stress, anxiety, depression, really any sort of mental health scrape or bruise you could be having, we need to make sure we pay attention to not just comforts but the necessities. 

 

Divvying up the components of our health can be helpful in better understanding our necessities and comforts. Though there is some debate, these components are broadly categorized as five dimensions of wellness: physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual. Some other sources cite occupational, environmental, vocational, and financial as well but for today we’re going to stick to those main five. 

 

No one can maintain being anxious or angry or aggravated indefinitely. Our minds and bodies are only flesh, with finite limits. Resilience isn’t necessarily a character trait as much as it is a habit of self caring and self soothing.  

 

Physical

  • Shower 

  • Clip your nails

  • Wash your face

  • Change your sheets

  • Do the laundry

  • Stretch 

  • Get your heartrate up, exercise

  • Clear off the dishes from your desk

  • Brush your teeth

  • Don’t hold it, go to the bathroom when you need to

  • Wear comfortable clothes 

  • Have a warm drink

 

Intellectual

  • Do sudoku or a crossword

  • Google something interesting

  • Debate with someone

  • Reorganize something in your house

  • Drive somewhere without directions

  • Consider making a Rube Goldberg machine

  • Try to educate yourself on a current political topic

  • Go to google maps, plop yourself down in a random place, and using street view try to find the nearest airport to get home

 

Emotional

  • Punch a pillow if you feel like it

  • Walk away from an argument before you try to resolve it

  • Journal about yourself and your feelings

  • Talk to a friend about your week

  • Practice mindfulness

  • Practice how you talk to yourself, are you compassionate and forgiving?

  • Sit with your feet on the ground and your arms on the arms of a chair

  • Think about the ways you self soothe

  • Do something with your hands

  • Avoid too much caffeine or sugar

  • Focus on your breathing

 

Social 

  • Send your friend a good meme

  • Ask a friend about their day and really listen to the answer

  • Play a boardgame with someone

  • Cook a meal with someone

  • Perform a seance with your friends

 

Spiritual

  • Go out in nature

  • Spend time with an animal or a pet

  • Meditate

  • Do some thinking about the world or your place in it

  • Watch an inspiring movie

  • Try to conceptualize how big a whale actually is

  • Practice prayer if you’re religious

  • Hang out with kids

JUNE READS

The Gay “Sip-In”’s Tipsy Triumph for the LGBTQ+ Rights Movement

June 14, 2020

The Stonewall riots in 1969 were one of the most influential and transformative moments in the history of the American LGBTQ+ rights movement. It was practically the queer big bang. The explosion of righteous indignation among patrons of the raided Stonewall Inn enflamed the movement and changed the way we think of queer activism. But LGBTQ+ people existed and fought for their rights before then, so why don’t we add some color to the poster child of the gay rights movement? In order to fight homophobia and form supportive communities two formative organizations opened their doors in the 50’s: the Mattachine Society (1950) and the Daughters of Bilitis (1955). Created to fight the good fight and allow gay men and lesbians respectively to find community, these groups systemized queer American acitvism. Dick Leitsch, the leader of the New York chapter of the Mattachine society and protagonist of our “sip-in” story, describes the history of gay activism in an NPR interview like this: 

 

“In the gay world we're missing a couple of generations here who died of AIDS, so there's not the continuity. And history has always been a problem for gay people because we're a different sort of minority. You know, black people have black children. Irish people have Irish children. The gay people tend to have straight parents. There's no generational hand down sort of thing here, you know. 

 

Leitsch sought out activism that spoke to the unique position of queer individuals but also connected to the rest of society in a constructive way. His idea for a protest? Drawing from the Civil Rights movement’s lunch counter sit-ins, Leitsch wanted to similarly assimilate gay individuals into the communities across America that pushed them away. Where better a place to start than the bar?

Gay bars are nothing new, in fact the first ones in America trace their origins well into the 1930’s. The problems arise when societal discrimation of the LGBTQ+ community becomes  systematic and institutionalized, that is, slithers its way into laws and regulations. New York, which was the backdrop for both the gay “sip-in” and the Stonewall protests, has never actually had any specific law prohibiting gay patreons of bars. Instead, like a lot of discriminatory practices, the injustice and inequality comes from interpretation by law enforcement. The way it worked in 60’s and 70’s New York is police officers arrested people on “disorderly conduct” infringement. The police department operated on the notion that any hint of homosexuality or homosexual behavior was inherently disorderly. The corruption in enforcement of this “law” went so far that officers would purposefully flirt and lead gay people on in order to reach their arrest quota. According to George Chauncey, Columbia University history professor and author of Gay New York, gay men had to be constantly vigilent that “the cute guy coming onto him might’ve been a plainclothes man who was trying to reach his arrest quota.” 

 

Leitsch wanted to set the police straight (ha). He was looking for this “sip-in” to be more than just a cover photo for gay discrimination, Leitsch was looking for a lawsuit to prove that the way the law was being interpreted was unconstitutional. So April 21, 1966 he gathered a gaggle of gay men and fellow Mattachine members to invite rejection from bartenders. Leitsch ended up recruiting three by the names of Craig Rodwell, John Timmons, and Randy Wicker, along with four different reporters from newspapers like the local Village Voice and the New York Times to document. Which bar did Leitsch choose? One by the name of The Ukranian-American Village Restuarant which had a sign in the window saying “if you are gay, go away.” In the words of Leitsch, “we thought that would be very dramatic.” Yet, as Leitsch goes on, “being gay we got there late” and by the time the Mattachine crew rolled up, one of the reporters had tipped off the management of the bar and they promptly closed for the night. Leitsch and his gaggle of gay men hopped to two more bars before landing in Julius’. 


Randy Wicker, one of the boys in Leitsch’s party described Julius’ as “a rather dull neighborhood place which was about three-quarters gay… a closet-queen bar.” And it was because Julius’ had a history of harboring queer patrons that it was the perfect spot for their “sip-in.” Julius’ had already been raided just the night before, and was at risk of losing their liquor license (which is exactly what happened at the Stonewall Inn). Just as they had at the last two bars, Lietsch and co sat down, declared themselves homosexual and asked for a drink. As Leitsch recalls, the bartender remarked “‘hey, you're gay, I can't serve you,’ and he put his hands over the top of the glass, which made wonderful photographs.” The scene was captured in photographic form by Fred McDarrah for The Village Voice. A moment crystallized in posterity and power for a movement still finding its footing.

The next morning the Mattachine men awoke to the headline: “3 Deviates Invite Exclusion by Bars.” Their publicized protest nabbed them the court case they wanted. William H Booth of the Commission on Human Rights picked up the case and carried it all the way up to the supreme court of New Jersey. In a bittersweet victory the court remarked that “well-behaved homosexuals” should not be denied service--“in our culture, homosexuals are indeed unfortunates,” but “their status does not make them criminals or outlaws.” 

 

A gay bar isn’t built in a day, but all the same each brick is piled on one at a time. Small, tipsy steps forward might not seem as monumental or effective as riots and raids but their presence is the foundation of a powerful punch in the gut to discrimination. Leitsch’s victory changed the lives of every gay individual that stepped foot in Julius’ and every other bar in New York and made the Stonewall riots three years later possible. 

 

“I always said the goal of Mattachine is put ourselves out of business… And Mattachine had nothing to do with Stonewall. That was something where the people rose up and did it. And that's the beginning of the gay movement.”

 

A 1966 guidebook to New York catalogued this under Julius’ entry: “They call it Dirty Julius, because the dust of eighty years still clings to the cartwheel lamps and moldings. Gathering place for the ‘improper bohemians’ of the 30’s. Now attracts theater nobles, an amazing quantity of attractive men. On weekend evenings, tables reserved for couples only. Beer from 15 cents, their famous hamburgers 50 cents.


Today, a reviewer of “vanishing New York” landmarks describes Julius’ as a “Gay dive bar… a vintage bar experience… the patrons will not tolerate idiotic, yuppie behavior. These guys went through Stonewall -- they are not afraid to kick some hetero ass.”

Cottagecore and Its Place in the LGBTQ+ Community

June 30, 2020

You’ve probably seen the TikToks, or maybe the aesthetic boards on tumblr or pinterest. Chock full of gardens, quaint shanties, baked bread, and strangely a lot of frogs. Yes I’m talking about cottagecore. In case you’re not aware of this niche Gen Z subculture, cottagecore tends to its gardens and peacefulness on most of the popular social media sites, though most commonly on the ones that have visual and customizable platforms like Tumblr, Pinterest, and TikTok. Cottagecore cultivates a space away from the complexities of modern ultra-industrialized life and into simple, soothing experiences. Wikipedia describes it as “a pleasant portrayal of country life, an absence of advanced technology and industry, an appreciation for nature, and turn-of-the-century cottages”, “these works offer a form of escapism into a calm and comprehensible world.” I know it’s an academic faux pas to use wikipedia in research but I think its description captures an insightful analysis of this cultural moment. Cottagecore directs its focus towards the things that our current, hyper globalized world lacks. The accessibility of the internet and globalization of news and information constantly bombards us with more information from more places in the world than we could possibly know what to do with. And most of the focus of that news and information is on capitalistic ventures and industrial advancement, something which almost all of us feel we have little to no control over in the grand scheme of things. Cottagecore offers respite from the big complicated world that Gen Z has found itself growing into. Living in a quaint cottage with your own garden, your closest friends, and a self sustained little home provides a certain amount of control over your life and your environment that most people don’t feel they have.

 

Because of its therapeutic and calming nature it’s no wonder young people in the current times have flocked to the Cottagecore aesthetic. Some staple influences on the cottagecore scene are childhood classics and whimsical bedtime stories like Winnie the Pooh, Little House on the Prairie, Studio Ghibli, etc. Pieces of media whose “narratives revolve around friends and neighbors interacting in emotionally-supportive ways” go a long way in soothing a restless mind. “The characters regularly engage in domestic activities like sewing and baking, as well as social activities such as writing letters and visiting each other's homes” as wikipedia puts it. The cottagecore moment does a lot of work in fulfilling the peace and stability promised to younger generations in these childhood stories which the ‘real world’ pointedly lacks. These pieces of media have this very therapeutic and fulfilling component called unconditional positive regard. Unconditional positive regard is a principle in positive psychology that therapists use that help to instill support and understanding in their clients as well as build a positive and trusting relationship that incorporates genuine acceptance and understanding. First coined by Carl Rogers, unconditional positive regard means accepting “without evaluating or judging” and operates on the belief that “every person has the personal resources within to help themselves, if they are only offered the environment of acceptance to foster their own recognition of this”. 

 

Cottagecore creates this “environment of acceptance” in online spaces away from current global conflict that antagonizes struggling and marginalized groups. While Cottagecore has a historical element to it with the lack of technological and modern global crises, it rejects the outdated systems of oppression from the eras it is mimicking. It might be better to think of cottagecore online spaces as fantasy worlds like Lord of the Rings or those created in the role playing game Dungeons & Dragons. These franchises take the warm and whimsical impressions of historical life and weave them into narratives completely distinct from those that would be occurring in an accurate timeline. Many cottagecore enthusiasts in fact incorporate traditional fantasy elements into their internet presence like @rachaelwilsonmusic on TikTok who dons elf ears for most all of her videos and calls herself “Freckled Zelda” (referring to the Legend of Zelda fantasy video game franchise) a “Music Fairy”. ‘Fantasy stories and games provide an escape but wouldn’t it be so much better if I just lived like that?’ cottagecore fans seem to be asking. Upon being asked if she would travel back in time by Paper, @nellahillxx eloquently comments:

 

“The lifestyle is beautiful but the times also had a lot of problems and discrimination that I would never want to be a part of. A lot of the cottagecore community can get lumped in with the tradlife/tradwife community because of this. We want to bring back the simple life of making jellies and living in the country but don't want to go back to the times of bigotry like racism, classism, or sexism that people have worked so hard to get us out of.”

 

In a way the current times seem to be living in a fantasy world, but on the opposite end of the spectrum. A dark sweeping pandemic was probably the last straw in cottagecore’s handmade wicker basket to really push its popularity. There is a need for love, support, and escape now more than ever so cottagecore sought to fill it. It’s no secret that certain brands and companies have flourished because of COVID-19 while others have floundered. One of the things people seems to be pouring their time and money into besides toilet paper and hand sanitizer are forms of cottagecore escapism. The most recent iteration of the virtual reality video game Animal Crossing, Animal Crossing: New Horizons which involves such cottagecore approved activities as bug catching, gardening, and diy furniture, was released March 20th; in the preceding 6 weeks the game sold over 13.41 million copies, “already passing the lifetime 12.55 million copies sold for its predecessor Animal Crossing: New Leaf”. As global outlooks sour, people are turning to “new horizons” of therapeutic fiction. 

 

No one has more of a need for comfort and escapism than minorities and marginalized groups. The recent surge of activism and outcry in the Black Lives Matter movement is exposing systemic racism and injustice that has been festering stagnant in American society for too long. Our current modern civil rights movement is shedding light on other forms and victims of oppression. Women and members of the LGBTQ+ community have found homes and safe havens in the cottagecore scene as places to be free, vulnerable, intimate, and open. The second item on the list when you type ‘cottagcore’ into the TikTok search bar is ‘cottagecore lesbians’. Lesbians or any wlw (women loving women) have the unique position of experiencing the oppression of a male oriented society but also the homophobia and fetishization of their attraction to women. Cottagecore really represents a reclaiming of activities and roles that are unfortunately maintained by the status quo as being done for men and not the woman or wlw in question. Women are asked to cook, clean, and manage families not for themselves but for others. A 2020 Gallup poll showed that women are still more likely than men to maintain household chores and manage household activities than men. While wlw are constantly being sexualised and objectified for male consumption. In a 2017 article, PornHub Insights sites ‘lesbian’ as the most searched for and consumed category of porn over the past ten years since their launch in 2007. Cottagecore allows women to self sustain and self care by gardening and baking for their own enjoyment and being intimate and in love without the feeling of performative exhibition. 

 

Self care and sustainability can sometimes find unorthodox role models. As I was doing my research I came across a common trend among the cottagecore lesbians of the internet: Sappho (and frogs). On tumblr the number of users or blogs dedicated to “cottagecore lesbianism” under some interation of the name Sappho was honestly surprising. On tumblr there was “Sappho’s Pet Frog” by user infaredss, “The Sapphic Muse” by user the-sapphic-muse, “Sapphic Cottagecore” by user sapphoscottagecore, and “A Warm and Safe Space” by user sapphocottagecore among many others. So I sought to understand why Sappho was so closely cherished by this fledgling movement and to say I learned alot about Classics in academia would be an understatement. To make a very long story short, the only things we really know about who Sappho was is that she lived circa 610-570 bce on the island Lesbos (which is actually where the term lesbian came from) and wrote brazen and beautiful poems sometimes on the topic of attraction to women that attracted attention from all over the ‘known world’ at the time. Sappho’s poetry, that is the parts of it that have survived, ooze of intimacy despite the fact that most greek poetry was expected to be read in the “communal voice” by a greek chorus. Daniel Mendelsohn writing for the New Yorker describes one of her poems as follows: 

 

“Slyly, the speaker avoids physical description of the girl, instead evoking her beauty by detailing the effect it has on the beholder; the whole poem is a kind of reaction shot. The verses subtly enact the symptoms they describe: as the poet’s faculties fail one by one in the overpowering presence of her beloved, the outside world—the girl, the man she’s talking to—dissolves and disappears from the poem, too, leaving the speaker in a kind of interior echo chamber.” 

 

Mendelsohn refers to Sappho as “the speaker” here to signify the “communal voice I mentioned before but also the fact that we do not know if Sappho was writing from the point of view of another person, probably more specifically a man. But this analysis really captures the intimacy of Sappho’s poems, especially her poems about women. “Leaving the speaker in a kind of interior echo chamber” of one’s own emotions is exactly the kind of intimacy and vulnerability cottagecore seeks to provide. And I think the way people envision Sappho affects the way they incorporate her into their posting online. We will probably never know that much about who Sappho was and her real and true purpose behind her writing but the iconography of her image, a woman writing her brazen and intimate truth on an anonymous greek island, speaks to wlw culture.  

 

Cottagecore is blooming to fill a need in the crazy and unfair world we find ourselves living in, a self soothing gesture of peace and acceptance. Baking bread and tending to flowers in a quaint cottage might not fix systemic oppression or institutionalized injustice but it does wonders in creating an environment for growth.

a little about me...

Hi! I'm Scotty and I would consider myself a pancake enthusiast. I love theater and podcasts and aspire to write passionately about topics that empower. I am a writer of cool and interesting things at 40 Years Since.

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