One Hot Mess

Libby Bakalar





By One Hot Mess by Libby Bakalar

One of the most-read One Hot Mess blog posts of all time was from February 4, 2015, called “Why I Stay.”

About 20,000 people (mostly Alaskans, I assume) read and shared this post, presumably because they could relate to the reasons I cited for wanting to live, work, and raise my kids in Alaska. Among the reasons listed there, two continue to resonate: that my kids are rooted here, and that Alaska is big enough to get lost in, but still small enough to make a difference.

More inside

Obviously a lot has changed since 2015. But these two reasons for sticking with Alaska amid the current political/fiscal gyre are deeply intertwined, and they ring truer for me now than they did even four years ago.

Life in Juneau is the only life my kids have ever known: they were born here, they love it here, all of their friends are here. And while I know they would probably thrive anywhere, I don’t want to uproot them in the middle of their childhoods just because few powerful men who don’t endorse my constitutionally-protected speech illegally fired me from my job. I’m determined to stay put and get beyond that, for my kids, if nothing else.

Which brings me to the next reason I stay: that Alaska is big enough to get lost in, yet still small enough to make a difference.

Even as the state bakes under a heat greater than any in recorded history, the result of decades of slavish devotion to nearly unfettered resource extraction, I am still awed by the landscape here. The glaciers are smaller, the fish are less abundant, and the sky is hazy with wildfire smoke. Even the loudest climate change deniers cannot plausibly dismiss these realities any longer.

Yet we still go out on the water, bike to the glacier, or hike into the alpine just to get a little bit lost.

It’s in these places that I do my best thinking, and I consider the cost-benefit analysis of continuing to stay somewhere that I am clearly not wanted by a lot of powerful people.

I have watched with grief and dismay the flagrant violations of constitutional doctrines, ethics, and norms that I previously took for granted; the deliberate starving and purging of intellect and expertise from our state because critical thinking and ethical conduct pose an existential threat to vested corporate interests. The persistent effort by our national government--mimicked now quite aptly at the state level--to make Alaskans meaner, dumber, sicker, more afraid, and gone.

Yes, the budget vetoes will do more than hemorrhage jobs and brains, disappearing people in that way; they may actually kill people like seniors, the homeless, and Medicaid recipients--disappearing them not just from Alaska, but from life altogether.

Living here is a conscious decision every day. It’s hard on many levels. I have to revisit that choice periodically. I’ve revisited it repeatedly over the past few months and I still want to call Alaska home, because I believe Alaska is a unique place that is worth fighting for.

I strive to remain kind, smart, healthy, fearless, and rooted precisely because I am being pushed to the brink of the exact opposite of all of those things, and because I want to set a good example for my children and at least try to leave them a state and a planet that I feel okay about.

It is deeply draining, depressing, tiring, and unnerving to live under the normalized cruelty and sadism we have experienced since 2016. Nothing makes sense anymore. We don’t know who to trust or what information is real. Some of our closest relationships have fractured, perhaps irreparably. Empathy feels more endangered than winter. And so I have a new mantra that I am applying not just to my choice to stay in Alaska, but to my life in general:

Take care of yourself because they want you to be sick. Read because they want you to be ignorant. Be kind to each other and seek common ground, because they want you to be mean and divided. Be brave because they want you to be afraid. And stay and fight for the place you want to live--whether that’s Alaska or somewhere else--precisely because they want you to retreat and disappear.

Doing those small things alone, I think, can make a big difference.

Libby Bakalar is a Juneau blogger, attorney, and former assistant attorney general for the State of Alaska. Her blog, ‘One Hot Mess Alaska’ can be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/onehotmessalaska/

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