The line to ask Connie Britton a question stretched down the aisle at the theater in the National Museum of Natural History, where the “Nashville” and “Friday Night Lights” star was onstage for a Smithsonian Associates event. It was January, 10 days after President Trump’s inauguration. Sarah Leavitt of Silver Spring, Md., approached the microphone: “I just wanted a little life advice tonight.” ¶ Leavitt, 46, explained that she felt overwhelmed by a barrage of news since Trump took office, including the volume of opportunity for activism, such as phone calls to representatives and participating in the Women’s March. A few days earlier, she bailed on plans with friends to see “Dirty Dancing” on the big screen — it didn’t feel right on the same night that people were storming airports to protest Trump’s executive order for a Muslim travel ban. ¶ “I can’t understand how to talk about pop culture and how to be a citizen in this world that we’re in at the same time,” Leavitt said. “And I was just wondering, how do you calibrate your time, and think that we should calibrate our time now in this new situation?”
Britton responded, “I’ve been thinking about the exact same thing . . . . I think we’re all figuring it out.”
Six months later, the Washington news cycle rages on both sides of the aisle, with constant headlines about health care and Donald Trump Jr.’s emails. Political activism is especially alive in liberal areas such as Washington, a city where a third of the people have protested Trump, according to a Washington Post poll. And some still wrestle with the idea that it’s okay to step away. Binge-watch a show. See a movie. Listen to a podcast. Deep down, it’s easy to feel as though you’re doing something wrong for not focusing enough attention on serious issues.
After Britton’s response, the Q&A moderator, NPR writer and “Pop Culture Happy Hour” host Linda Holmes, had a metaphor to share:
“Did you see ‘The Martian’ with Matt Damon? He’s got a big thing he’s trying to solve, which is that he’s stuck on Mars and he has to get back to Earth. And they spent a lot of time in the movie on the fact that he has to figure out how to grow potatoes on Mars. The potatoes on Mars do not actually get him back to Earth. He’s not actually solving the problem. But if he doesn’t have potatoes, he’s not going to live long enough to solve the problem and get back to Earth.”
She continued: “So, to me, my hope is, the songs that you love, the books that you love, the TV that you love, the conversations that you have about people that are kind of nourishing to you, help you — those are your potatoes . . . and you have to have that stuff in order to make it long enough to get back to Earth.”
Judging by the applause from the audience, Holmes’s words struck a chord. And they hit a bigger nerve the next day, when I tweeted a transcript of her quote. It was retweeted thousands of times and responses poured in, with sentiments along the lines of “This made me cry” and “I really needed to hear this right now.”
“To me, it encapsulated and distilled a fairly complex idea into a simple one,” said Mike Nothnagel, 42, of Poughkeepsie, N.Y. “The world is a challenging and serious place, but you have things you like that can help you navigate it.”