“When you go out into the woods, and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.
The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying ‘You are too this, or I’m too this.’ That judgment mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.”
Strap in, people. There will be heavy-handed metaphors. Due to what can only be called the 2020-time-vortex, the past two months have felt both like a year and a week. In late May, I looked at the thistles growing through and above the bushes in front of my door, and decided to tackle them. I had seen one too many neighbors walk by and admire the beautiful irises only to visibly judge the massive weeds overtaking the whole plot. The leasing lady had told me that tenants can either garden for themselves or the maintenance crew would do it. Based on the height of the weeds and my recognition that their only method was a weed whacker, I took matters literally into my own hands. This would take time and effort, and no one was going to put in the time and effort but me.
Did I properly outfit myself first? No. I attempted, but the gardening gloves I got were not made for thorns. The thorns attacked my hands and thus they lived to see another week.
Did I endeavor to start under proper conditions? No. I first tried pulling the weeds after a stretch of warm, sunny days. The weeds immediately snapped at the ground. The roots stayed in the soil, to regroup and grow again.
Did I learn and watch out for ideal conditions? Yes. Did I get impatient and decide then to jump on ideal conditions despite not having proper equipment? Heck yes. Before long, it was raining for an entire night and morning. Did it look like an ideal day? No. Did it look like an ideal day…for pulling weeds? YEAH BUDDY. I grabbed my lil cat-grooming gloves (non-permeable though not optimal) and went to town.
These deserved better
The source of shame
And it was GOOD! The blooms were so heavy that the stalks couldn’t hold them up–their beauty forced people to look at them, if only to walk around them. I knew these flowers deserved less toxic neighbors. It was righteous work. The damp conditions made the soil more forgiving. Some of the bigger, more established weeds were still resistant, and I had to let it go when they snapped instead of coming out completely. I would just have to try again later. The medium/small ones came out, though, roots and all. I thought about how our brains are gardens, and the food we put into them has the power to influence or dominate. I thought about how efficient it would be to pay attention to small distress signals/thoughts, face and address them. How they’d give up their hold before taking root and growing powerful and entrenched.
This was a mindful act. I observed the spots of the soil that were more rigid (near the concrete sidewalk) and the spots that released. A wasp landed on a flower next to me and I nodded at it. We coexisted. The wasp did its wasp thing, and I left it alone and did mine, taking care that I didn’t bump/ripple the plant it was on. I saw those teeny tiny green bugs crawling on plants, on my arms, and then had the feeling they were crawling on me for the rest of the day. I pulled so hard, squatting over the plants, that I fell backwards when the target thistle relinquished. I laughed because of course I tried so hard and yanked so aggressively that I ended up hurting my butt.
All in all, I loved it. It was great for anxiety because it was mindful, sensory, tactile and it was a patch of green that I felt some level of control over. Not total control, because weeds are living things who are programmed to survive too, but I was glad when with each effort, the pile of thorns got bigger and taller. I made a visually measurable difference. I cleared the shame-weeds! I made room to honor beauty!
But yeah, a lot has been happening. Much political, some personal, but the common thread in my pandemic survival (in addition to/to balance out limited social encounters) is being outside. For YEARS (high school + into adult life) I would only be outside in transit or playing softball or when the sun was at an amenably low position to eat dinner on a patio. At some point I developed allergies, so the incentive to go outside for being outside’s sake dwindled even further. I’m a monthly supporter of the Sierra Club; I didn’t have to go outside to show my support of nature. Doing so might mean subjecting myself to sweat/precipitation/moisture. Best to avoid the whole thing.
Then this year. I had to get outside, if only because that was where/how I was allowed to see my friends without fear. I need my people, and the people were outside! If you had told me prior to this year that I would voluntarily go on walks, I would have thought you were crazy, but now I look forward to them. The outdoors is a place for observing and chatting and overall just being anywhere other than in my apartment, in front of my tv or computer. It can be lightly raining; I don’t care. I’m walking. It can be high 80s; I don’t care. I’m walking. I’ve made peace with my less than ideal conditions. It’s almost like I cannot control the weather, so I gotta do what I need to do to make the best of my day. Best not to avoid the whole thing.
To be clear, I have not become a professional or even a hobby gardener. I have planted zero plants. I have weeded two times in the last two months; the initial weed-slaughter was all I needed. But this experience made me put my hands on plants, and thus appreciate them. The strangest part is that I didn’t even have to go far to ‘find’ the nature/beauty. It was literally at my fingertips. Nature isn’t only found in far off destinations, full of hiking trails and recreational watersports or whatever else people take instagram photos of. It was within three feet of my doorstep.
So, obviously, plenty (both political and personal) has happened since this initial glorious gardening outing. The flowers have bloomed and shriveled in that cyclical way they do.
Fullness and decay!
Shriveled nubs of formerly full irises
I realize it’s an abrupt shift of topics, but…the country remains on fire. I used to just rail against the system of capitalism and the various ways corporations exploit their workers/the environment. This is to say, I thought I knew/did my part to be aware. But what I was ignorant of was that in this country, systemic racism (which is to say white supremacy) is interwoven into all of this. I used to avoid the discomfort that comes from learning about racial injustice just as I avoided sweating. I recognize this comes from a privileged place. But it’s time to face it, which starts with learning and leads to discussion, activism and change. The past two months, I’ve mostly just been reading and learning and talking to loved ones and just being human. If you want to know what I’ve been reading/watching with the frame of how to improve the country/world, here is a list:
Racial – film (included on service indicated, can rent on other platforms)
I exited a conversation with my best friend this week. We were chatting about how sickened we are that Minneapolis police murdered a nonviolent black man, George Floyd. I do not know how anyone under any conditions feels justified in taking another human life, much less when that individual is not threatening their own, much less begging for air. She lamented how depressing it is that humanity isn’t getting any better, that we don’t learn from history and continue being awful to one another. The conversation was too big and heavy for me to deal with during the work day. I felt my panic rising. Because that sense of futility, of hopelessness that nothing is getting better–those are my deep fears. Neither of us want to live in the type of place where police exercise deadly force without a threat to their lives. My brain grabbed for that one essay/chapter of a book where someone smarter than me addresses this concept and how it is a fallacy, but I came up short of the title. I tossed out a “think of the big picture” comment about how even though it feels that nothing is improving, I believe, as horrifying and terrible as every new racist murder is, overall the country is getting better.
It’s getting better because we are looking. This country was built on ugliness, on the trade, subjugation, brutalization and exploitation of enslaved people. Exploiting and murdering people of color is a truly evil and despicable part of this nation’s history, and though I don’t claim to be an expert, I know that race-based violence was far more mainstream and accepted the farther back you look. Now, we have the technology to record and share abuses of power with the world. Yes, racism is alive and well, but now we can expose it to the light of public opinion and demand change.
We are connected in our reactions (horror, mourning, rage) and our actions (signing petitions/calling/emailing the DA to demand that the people who perpetrated and who allowed the perpetration of this murder to be held accountable. Though I don’t condone destruction, I understand why Minneapolis is burning in protest. This is a reckoning.
What I didn’t have the time or the emotional energy to remind my BFF is that, as MLK made famous, the moral arc of history bends towards justice. This is not to say that the arc is a straight, ever-upward line. There are setbacks and tough times, and race-based violence has certainly increased since 2016. But systemic racism hasn’t gone anywhere, hasn’t decreased or increased. It is invisible. It is only there if we look. People choosing to stand up and mobilize on behalf of decency and good and refusing to tolerate bigotry and hate and inequality.. that’s how we bend the arc towards justice. Critical mass engagement.
I didn’t set out to write about this. I wanted to write about this amazing book I read called Kiss the Ground. Without getting too into the weeds, (is dad humor acceptable now that I’ve changed the subject?) it dealt with soil’s role in the carbon cycle, and it made me want to start a small farm and harvest it with my hands. I wanted to write about how nature is healing during the corona shutdown. I wanted to share a laugh at the “nature is healing / we are the virus” photos online. In case I haven’t been clear up to this point, I very much believe that we are the virus. We are the problem human-to-human, and human-to-environment. Our consumer- and profit-driven culture is killing the planet (specifically the heavy use of chemicals/factory farming and the omnipresence of plastics).
In this way, I have been so grateful for this insular time. (Yes, I am aware that being grateful for the pandemic is a privilege and acknowledge that I have an income and a yet-able-ish body.) I have barely driven my car, eliminating my guilt over burning fossil fuels. I have supported local businesses rather than monoliths. (At this point I almost entirely avoid Amazon, because this amount of money is sickening, crisis or not, when you consider how these companies pay SO little in taxes and how so many Americans are literally going hungry right now.) It isn’t easy to have our culture completely halted, and there’s that nagging fear that any time we leave our houses we will contract and spread a fatal disease, but the Earth is benefitting from this break from our fossil fuel addiction. This shutdown has disrupted our resource-guzzling autopilot.
Because yes, it is inconvenient and scary and uncomfortable being forced to stay at home and stop production/socializing/life as usual. But the air is clearing. Mount Everest is visible from 120 miles away whereas usually pollution obscures the view. This time is an amazing opportunity for clarity, for stillness. For observation and for recharging. But this clarity can only move those who look. When the world resumes again, we have the opportunity and responsibility to rebuild. I, for one, do not want to resume life as usual. I want something better. The status quo does not work for the critical mass.
Yes, there is a lot of turbulence right now, and it’s true that anger and violence in and of themselves don’t solve anything. But we have to take stock. We have to look at the problems we’ve been keeping in the dark. To recognize inequity, imbalance and their resulting rage. People in power can’t keep exercising ultimate control over other people, and they can’t keep exploiting the Earth’s natural resources. We can come out of this recentered, with a more inclusive, sustainable, equitable and engaged populace. I am appalled at how our government has responded to this crisis, and at how my fellow Americans are willing and eager to tolerate or perpetrate racist hate. If we look around, we must recognize that our country is not as great as we thought. We have to do better, in so many ways. If we look, we have to recognize that all people want and are made of the same stuff.
We can’t keep looking away from the problems in our country (same goes for the plethora of human rights violations around the world). Our government and industry have the power to create new jobs dedicated to sustainability and we the people have the power to elect leaders who have the powerless’ best interest at heart. Leaders who care about tomorrow and not just about profits today. Now is the time to reach out and help. To talk to people, even if they are hard conversations. To come together and demand change with this new clarity. If you look, there are plenty of people who share your fears, beliefs and hopes. Find them. Shine your light with them.
Though it seems like in many ways, we are getting used to the ‘new normal,’ there are plenty of ways this drastic change continues to be upsetting. My friends continue to have panic attacks and breakdowns of all sizes, and my empathizer heart is hurting. On a small scale, all my basic needs are met, and yet.. Fear looms large, and it blows my mind/fuels my rage/makes me sad that our food system is so broken that more people than average (!!) are going hungry right now in this country of plenty. I’m reassured that our quality of air worldwide is improved due to fewer cars on the roads and less pollution from closed-down industry. But more on my hippie tears at a later date.
I’m going to write about what has been helping me to cope, and what is inspiring me to change. As sometimes happens, I read the perfect book at the perfect time. After all, how many of us are simply struggling with how Not to Do the Things? How to deal with the limitations/unavailability of most everything but the virtual world.
How to Do Nothing made the hairs on my arms stand up. This woman artfully (she is an artist, after all) emphasized that our culture has largely lost our connection to place and our need for context. This is true on an ecological level; we need to get outside more–into our surroundings, to become familiar with the land that we occupy and the other creatures that also do. This grounding/contextualizing shows us that we are not the only ones here. We are part of a system and the system deserves our attention and respect.
This need for context also appears in our social [media] interactions. Modern comforts and technology have made it so we can curate our daily lived experiences and only have to interact with people who agree with us on nearly all points. [Information silos, old news.] The media lives on sound bites that are designed to enrage and distract us, further driving us into our polarized opinion camps. I took the time to manually transcribe this part of her book because it spoke to me. She states that if we only interact with people who agree with us we:
“never run the risk of being surprised, challenged, or changed. Never seeing anything outside of ourselves. Including our own privilege. That’s not to say we have nothing to gain from those we have many things in common with, on paper. If we don’t expand our attention outside of that sliver we live in an I-it world where nothing has meaning outside of its value and relation to us. And we are less prone to the encounters with those who turn us upside down and reorganize our universe… Those who stand to change us significantly, should we allow it. Of course having encounters entails risks that not everyone is willing to take.”
Holy wow, yes. Now is the time for change. If you haven’t done Anything Different this entire quarantine, who even are you? It is a time for thought and discussion. For dismantling the egocentric views we hold. To interrupt our regularly scheduled programming and do Something different instead. Something caring, something creative. Something revolutionary.
Because when I’m worried about the Fate of the World and all the big, Capital Letter Things, I have to focus on specific actions to take. I have to break it down into manageable, actionable pieces. What can I do? What effect does staring at my phone, scrolling through instagram or facebook really do for me? What can I do instead? Do I really need to buy more clothing/home goods/products? I understand the temptation to hunker down and feverishly, anxiously repeat the usual distraction purchasing patterns (and I am very guilty of doing this myself). But if you have the expendable income to spend right now, I hope you consider others. I hope you donate to organizations that feed and care for others. Because just as thinking too large-scale is harmful, so is thinking too small-scale. Think outside of yourself, and consider that this is a terrible time for everyone, and that your help for others will help them and you. No, I do not mean to minimize your suffering. I am just saying we are all suffering. And suggesting that you contextualize it, and allow it to serve you and others. Allow your suffering to help Something. Ask for help. Reach out. Do something different.
So I’m doing some familiar things, and some new ones. I’m talking more than usual on the phone with my family. I’m reading. I’m wildly busy at work, so I’m doing overall less mental berating of myself. I’m playing Words with Friends, going on walks, fighting with the skunk who keeeeeps spraying directly outside my window (not all nature is good, I concede), cooking, baking, or just making macaroni from a box and not judging myself about it. I’m not immune to the simple allure of tv (but try to be social and talk about it afterwards). I love exchanging letters with people, so I’m trying to do a lot of letter writing when I’m in the mood, especially because I know people like getting fun mail. Because I’m not always in the mood to be my best self. I’m trying to work out/journal/meditate one per day, but sometimes I am lazy and cranky and don’t. I have virtual therapy appointments, and I’m still moody and easily irritated and mad at myself for trying to multitask (usually looking at my phone). I too do not particularly trust the person who is living their best life at this weird, isolated time. But if that’s you, good for you!
This time is unique in that it is allowing us more than ever before to hone in on what matters, and to opt out of the parts of our society that do not serve us (or anyone). It is providing us the opportunity to help others, to reach out and strengthen personal ties, time to heal ourselves and our brains and how we think of ourselves (as helpless or capable, isolated or part of a community). There is not much else to do other than go outside and walk or run, familiarizing ourselves with the species in the area. Noticing that we are not alone. You have neighbors, and postal workers, and all sorts of animals and plant life around you (some of which might be blooming these days). It’s a time to make the best of what’s around. It’s not easy, but there’s no getting around it. We have to go through!
Today, something fun happened. On my lunch break, I made a sandwich, perilously close to the start time of meditation. I debated not “going” to meditation. Instead, I reasoned that being three minutes late and eating a sandwich did not bar me from virtual attendance where I would have my camera and audio muted, so I shuffled back to the computer, finished eating and closed my eyes.
Not long after, the gentleman who guides the meditation paused from his regularly scheduled broadcasting about breathing and addressed the group. Two people had their sound turned on, and he asked everyone to check that it wasn’t their own. Barbara and Aaron did not check. He asked them by name to silence their computers. Another few moments went by, and Barbara still did not check! “Barbara, please silence your computer!” he implored again. And again.
And I loved it.
Now, before you think I am picking on Barbara, or you want to give her the benefit of the doubt (maybe she had stepped away from the computer), no. The default was not to display video or audio (because only one person needs to be talking, and it is awkward to display yourself on camera when all you are doing is closing your eyes), but Barbara had enabled both. I watched her keep her eyes closed despite the guide speaking her name. Eventually she fumbled with the phone and after a bit of phone-fumble-breeze sounds, then a view of her ceiling fan, she was gone.
Nay, it is indeed human to make technological mistakes. Though it is rude to not consider your impact on those around you (especially in a silent setting), this Babs thing made me chuckle more than anything! I appreciated the person in charge for his quick action to resolve the issue. He knew that everyone was in the session to tune out as much noise as possible, and didn’t want to let any extra in on his watch. He defended the peace! Non-judgmentally, directly, and quickly!
I’ve been in many meditation sessions where this is not the case. Even the best teachers may not recognize or know how to handle the conflict of one participant causing a distraction/disruption. And maybe it is easier in the virtual class, because all are equally muted, contrary to, how is someone supposed to police the volume of another’s breathing? (However, one could argue *cough, I would argue* that when an instructor says to breathe quietly, the person taking giant lion breaths and sighing forcefully is knowingly being a dick.)
Or maybe it’s just quieter right now! Ordinarily a cough or other auditory distraction will pull me out of precious silence, out of focus, and make me mad. The bonus of workout/meditation classes from home is that no one has to hear anyone but the instructor. Everyone is free to do their own thing (but should all be paying attention, if this is a work video call ;). In theory, this applies to work, personal life and projects too. Less noise = fewer distractions = more focus. I have a task to complete, and if I need to call or email someone to complete it, I can, but otherwise, it’s all me. Obviously, some days it’s easy to get out of my own way, and sometimes it’s incredibly not. Yes, in the case of meditation, the Equitable Mute was threatened, defended, and ultimately upheld. (Justice!) BUT: what if the loud exhaler is me? What if the loud background noise is coming from inside my head?
Several of my close friends deal with anxiety too. A few of the ones who identify as introverts are having a really tough time with self-isolation. One told me, “okay, yes, I like to recharge away from people, but… now I’m fully charged! What am I supposed to do?” Another is struggling with boundaries; as much as she resented interacting with unpleasant people at work, she has to defend a new boundary of people calling and emailing her nonstop because they can now. Yet another told me she was cutting back on watching the news. THE NEWS! During a pandemic! Where the conspiracy theories, political vitriol, and uninformed opinions are flying all around!
There is such thing as too much information!
I’m typically the last to know everything, and I have been keeping more current with news since rules and standards are changing by the day and I don’t want to get turned away from the grocery store. But no way will I watch the news. A) I don’t like certain people’s voices, and those people are often featured. B) having more information is not going to improve any aspect of my life. Ultimately, I choose to tune out the theories and focus on the facts (what to wear/do when out in public), seeking information that will serve me. As long as I get the bottom line/know the safety regulations, I am tuning the rest out. I donate to charities, I purchased gifts and stamps from the USPS, and I sign the petitions about absentee ballots, incarcerated populations’ release and whatever I can mentally handle.
I’m not checking out, or sticking my head in the sand as if this isn’t happening, but choosing where to look for what types of information. I’m also trying to send out more than I take in (mostly in the form of mood-boosting things like letters and phone calls). This tuning out of non-essential information is helping me to pare down and tune in to the essentials: what I need and how to connect with/be “there” for my friends and family. A wise lady recently told me that this pandemic situation is all about who you are in a room by yourself, and I’m determined to enjoy the company.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I resist writing even though it is beneficial to do. Now, though, as the world is seemingly falling apart, I might try harder. Even before I would write this blog today, I spent 30 minutes on hold for Apple Care to change my password in order to update my iOS (non-essential but on to-do list for literal years), I went to the grocery store (carefully) and I made tapioca pudding. Scraping the bottom of the to-do barrel just to put off writing. I do not understand (but greatly respect) how people do this as a career.
In the interest of maintaining my sanity and eating my peas, I need to actively recognize that there are some things I don’t want to do, that feel like a hassle, and I have to do them anyway. This is ridiculous, because I really LIKE writing, but sometimes it just feels tiresome to talk about myself and my life and my thoughts and maybe my handwriting isn’t great that day and blechhh. I prefer to blog and share entertaining anecdotes or stories.
I don’t have any current stories right now. This upsets me. The library has been closed for a full week, though we are answering emails/phone calls, and people are in various states of panic and sadness. My heart goes out to the college kids who can’t return to campus for the rest of the year and have to endure professors attempting online instruction. I am not jealous of people with school-age children going stir crazy with cabin fever, but I am happy to hear parents acknowledge that teaching is HARD and teachers are UNDERPAID. And, these safety precautions aren’t going anywhere in the near future. I understand that people are sad when events they looked forward to are canceled. There is a grief in not being able to throw your small child a birthday party, not being able to attend a concert three months away, or a milestone college reunion. Some people have to cancel their weddings upcoming soon, and women who give birth right now are not permitted to have their partners with them. I really wanted to celebrate my mom’s 70th birthday with her family and friends, but that is not happening. These things range from heartbreaking to a shame to a small price to pay in order not to contract or spread this virus.
The anxiety also makes sense to me. Anxiety over the turbulent rule changes, the closures of restaurants and businesses, anxiety over possibly catching or spreading deadly disease. Anxiety over making rent/bill payments after losing non-salaried work. For the general anxiety, I would say follow the rules suggested by health professionals and limit the information intake (aka only look at news updates once per day at a designated time, or only read articles if tv news stresses you out too much). Essentially, control what you can control. For the money anxiety, figure that shit out! You can’t control the fact that you’re out of work, but you can sure as hell sign up for unemployment or look for other work that doesn’t compromise your health.
All that said, I’m lucky. I have a salaried job that I can do from home. My office was ramping up for at least a week ahead of time getting us set up with the technology to feel like we were in the office. I don’t have school age children, and I am mobile enough at least in theory to take walks and exercise in my home. I have a car and so don’t have to deal with public transportation being germ-ridden or closed. My biggest complaints to date are that I miss my coworkers and my fancy desk chair & I’m eating too much/moving too little.
I try to have anecdotes for the blog, which I like sharing, but even in personal writing for just myself, I drag my feet. One of my professors in college preached to us the virtues of her own daily morning ritual: to fill a page. I thought it was silly; what could possibly be so different from the day before? How is that interesting to write, much less read???
When I avoid journaling, I tell myself that what I’m thinking and going through is repetitive; I’ve been here before and flipping back a few pages reveals similar themes and patterns. Why bother writing it down? I talk to my friends and my therapist about my inner world, and I write in my journal when I have something particularly weighty on my mind. Why make it a daily habit?
And maybe this is a “duh” moment for you, but I never really put together that daily journaling is the meditation of writing. Writing every day to assess the quality of my mind seems to me like an affirmation that my thoughts/feelings have power and that I should pay more attention to them AND an outlet for them so I can clear the ones that don’t serve me. After all, just because my thoughts are boring and repetitive, they’re still swirling around in my head, and my motto is better out than in! Since I have been trying to meditate every day (to mild success) I am working journaling into my as-often-as-possible routine too.
Not coincidentally, this happened when I received a gift from my cousin. She, a practicing clinical psychologist, published her own journal to help people write, reflect and grow. So if you need to build a new routine now that everything in life is drastically different, I recommend it–I like the open-ended prompts and the focus on being present. Check it out!
If you are struggling this week, reach out to your loved ones. Reach out even if you aren’t! And now that we have a little more alone time, maybe look inward too. Grab a pen and paper of some kind and see what happens. Of course, you may just write me a letter bitching about this whole situation, and that would be fine. I love mail 🙂
At some point within the last month, I have been both on a roll and in a funk, and today marks day 19 of a 19-day streak without a day off (3×5-day workweek + 2 straight weekends = 19). Oh, and, the world is ending.
The weird: a skunk sprayed directly outside my bedroom window. Three. Weeks. Straight. Always on Sunday! The smell was so strong that it woke me from total sleep. And it lingered. No, lingered is too gentle a word. It sat, chokingly heavy in the air in my bedroom. Stayed for almost a full week despite 24-hour air purifier and vinegar water to draw it out. I was convinced I was wearing the smell out of the house. JUST when my room stank only faintly, it would strike again. For three weeks. It was the closest thing to torture I’ve ever endured, and if it were an interrogation, I would have cracked. My favorite place (my bed) was not relaxing, and it was not safe from this nastiness.
The good: I was feeling kind of bummed out when I wasn’t hearing from a couple close friends. For some reason, it is still unfamiliar to me that even though I reach out when I have a lot going on (because I need to be out of my head and into the world) close friends might want to retreat from the world and go into their heads. The good came from finally making contact with said close friends, understanding where they were coming from, and spending loads of quality time together. GOOD, aka the calm before the storm.
This good was influenced by reading an empowering book about diet/health: Brain Maker by David Perlmutter, the author of the book that made me go gluten-free (Grain Brain!). More fermented foods (hello, kombucha!) and more healthy fats (hello, avocados!) and I was feeling calm for the first time in forever.
During this time of joy and such, I attended meditation and the leader guiding the meditation had a cough. As I sat there, I was still peaceful despite his intermittent startling cough. I remarked to myself about the unconditional positive regard I have for this man, and how with my “good list” of people I will waive annoyance that readily pops up in response to the same behaviors by any other person. How do I get more people onto the good list? If nothing else, that would spare me more annoyance…
The bad: Just when I had gotten into a rhythm of working out at lunchtime, our employee workout classes were canceled. All fun has been canceled this week. At first, I pouted, sad that this was “taken from me.”
Not only is one of my coping mechanisms not available, but the anxiety is ramping up. Just when I had finally found places to hold end-of-year events, now we are unsure if they will take place. Almost everything I have been working on is now on hold because of drastic changes to the very core of the student experience. There are known cases of coronavirus in my community, and I work two places in the community. In short, people at work are freaking the fuck out. All week, I’ve been hearing about how there is no toilet paper at the stores, and that people are stockpiling, preparing for being on a multiple week lockdown. I generally do not fall prey to public panic, and I typically resent the behaviors and mindsets behind them. In short, people outside of work are freaking the fuck out.
And instead of resenting those people, and instead of bitching about every change in policy, and while only minimally judging (because unless you plan on eating toilet paper, there is no need for you to purchase that much of it).. I’m listening.
I’m hearing a lot of rational, caring people on conference calls trying to mitigate and support others through a messy situation. I’m hearing a lot of compassion and a lot of flexibility from my supervisors when I mess up various things because my mind is not at full strength or focus this week. I’m hearing my coworkers tell me their children are feeling a lot of fear and anxiety. And that they are too. It helps to know I’m not alone (but honestly how could I be?).
And I listened to myself today, and advocated for what I needed (aka asked not to come in to the library due to the anxiety I was feeling). And I was met with support! It was great!
Since the new year, I thought we wouldn’t have to hear about 19 ever again. It was a trying year, and it seems to be extending its disasters into 2020. This public health scare is crazy, and it requires precautions that make sense. I am not alone in my fun being taken away. Pro/college sports, theater, comedy.. it’s all put on pause. And though social distancing is extremely hard and uncomfortable and sad for me, maybe it forces me to really take care of myself. Yes, working out is now part of my mental health regime. Yes, I need it and yes, it will be unavailable to me in organized groups for the foreseeable future. Yes, I may still brave the yoga studio, and yes, I may choose to still go to the grocery store or out to eat (one or the other!).
Even though I would like to consume less, I need to be a part of a social fabric, and saw this poem today and love it so much. It reframed this whole stay-at-home crisis for me. Obviously, when people get sick, it is scary, but my anxiety lessened when I thought of the precautions in these gentle, respectful terms rather than scary, disease terms.
The grammar nerd in me wants to point you towards the double entendres of the title: I am “dating” anxiety. Of course what I mean is that I have anxiety about dating, or that I am dating [with] anxiety. Since many of the other areas of my life I was unhappy with have fallen into place (my therapist would point out that I toiled and suffered and took chances and overall put a lot of effort into making these things happen) over the last year… so “the boyfriend question” is literally always on my mind. It is the next issue to tackle. The missing piece, if you will.
Maybe because my readership includes mainly my family and possibly my ex, I have only alluded to the ongoing drama of trying to find a stable, kind, human male with whom I have all of the chemistries for to settle down and make babies. And I do care what those people think. It’s hard to draw the line between anxiety and people pleasing; where one stops, the other one fills the gap. I care about making people I love/d uncomfortable or sad, so I won’t go into any gory details, though I still wouldn’t even if I didn’t care about offending anyone’s sensibilities (the internet is OPEN, y’all. Discoverable!). Nothing is secret, if a librarian (or god help me someone with more credentials or beef with me) wants to find it.
Some of my lack-of-relationship stuff is because I didn’t like my life, so I told myself I could compromise on what I want (for example: babies). Part of my lack of relationship is continuing to fall for the trap that is males who consider themselves attractive to the point that they have shirtless photos on their dating profiles. (They may say they are looking for a relationship, but are they? ARE THEY?) Those are easier to let go of. No, what they think about me is not as devastating as when I get excited about someone and think I have a chance and see them multiple times, only then to be ghosted because they were scared away by honesty (or by triple texting).
Because putting myself out there, over and over, for new dudes to fully see and judge me is exhausting. And nerve-racking. So when it seems to be going right, only to have the dreaded 24-hour-without-texting mark roll around, that stings. The rejection is very real and it hurts and however many weeks or months I looked forward to hearing from that guy now has been time wasted and time detracted from the search for MY PERSON.
And all of my non-attachment and let-it-be-ness goes straight out the window. Along with my pride. “Maybe that last text was too awkward/personal/not funny enough to get a reply; I’ll send a follow-up hedging it and trying to be more entertaining!”
Is it anxiety that I cannot let go of the idea of the object of my fixation working out?
…Considering that going through my head is an all-caps disaster script along the lines of: NO NO NO WE LIKE THIS ONE DONT LET HIM GET AWAY THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER MAN AS GOOD AS HIM… Yes. It’s fucking anxiety. Because, at least statistically, there will be another one as intriguing and promising. And eventually maybe even one who won’t be scared off by my anxious behaviors (or I can learn to manage my sky-high expectations and also to not text too much/get my hopes up too soon).
[Side note: the texting. FUCK TEXTING. People who have been monogamous for at least the past 10 years do not know the blessing of not being on dating apps and living through the hellish texting culture therein.]
I do not write this because I resent everyone in a happy relationship. Nay. (Nor do I write this to hear that I am loved; please let us avoid these awkward lines of dialogue.) Though I may not have opened social media this past weekend and so therefore did not ‘like’ your lovey-dovey posts, I still think it’s great that you found your person. I hope that you get to be your truest, weirdest self with them. If you do, you give me hope.
That’s the dream.
Perhaps the biggest source of the anxiety is indeed the fact that I want that dream so bad. I go into everything thinking this could be IT! He could be HIM! and that is an unhealthy amount of pressure to put on A) him B) me C) the whole situation. The only way to find my person is to wait. That’s all. I have to wait, and take it day by day (NOT minute by minute staring at my phone), and take the time to think about who I’m curious about. Who I want to get to know better. Who makes me feel like my best self and simultaneously like I can improve my best self. To watch and see who proves himself over time. Only when those things come together in one person should I get all aflutter.
So for now, I’ll go back to swiping, and trying to trust that what’s meant for me will not pass me by. If he passed me by, it is because someone better is on his way.
And, request to relatives: please wait for me to volunteer information rather than asking for date updates. Please!
Sometimes at work, we feel more like babysitters, or referees to the public. Our library offers beautiful study rooms, with collaborative tech that many ignore in favor of doodling on the whiteboards and moving all the furniture and using their own devices.
These rooms were designed for group study, and yet some people believe they are the space best suited to make private calls or work on silent work. No! These rooms are made of glass! With the direct purpose of enabling library employees to see what is going on in there!
There are spaces suited for silent/quiet work, and the group study spaces are not one of them. So, as occurred last week, sometimes we have a studious middle-aged person who takes umbrage with the teens having an idle chat (plus or minus music or laughter) and the volume thereof.
I try to tell people early and often that the rooms are not soundproof, and that anything they are saying can and will be overheard by their neighbors. My rule of thumb is that if I can hear you clearly all the way from my desk, you are surely irritating the shit out of your neighbors. Then, I shush you! Under that threshold, as long as there is a harmonious agreement (aka no one complains and I do not observe library violations taking place), it is a community space and the community may use it to their needs.
And that brings me to the markers. I cringe a little when I see kids aimlessly doodling on the whiteboards, in a fashion some might deem “wasting” the markers. When I find myself stressing over the marker ink and costs, I remind myself of my prior statement: within reason/barring violations of policy, the community may use it to their needs. And, in many cases, they leave art behind. Many do this intentionally, but it could also be pure laziness and avoiding erasing their nonsense.
Cry for attention
So-and-so was here? Dickish, but a call to be seen
And then my personal favorite, a stream-of-consciousness commentary/word poem:
I think there is something precious about these glimpses into (what were likely) teen artists’ heads. At the very least, they leave a little personality behind on what would be sterile white surfaces. They claim “I was here!” and “I think I like doodling” and “we are ridiculous together” and sometimes even “we were productive today” (but those look a lot like notes/maths sooo I don’t take photos of them-boring!).
I love when there are good doodles left behind. I love the creativity, and the freedom of expression. I love that the kiddos feel at home enough to leave their arts on the walls. I love that they are goofy and themselves. Teens are not great at everything, but they are admirable in their them-ness. A better way to say it might just be authenticity.
Not that I did such a great job at being a teen, but when the conversation turns to “would you go back to do high school over again?” I say yes every time. Not only because I would do it with so much more confidence, but I genuinely loved high school. (All school up to grad, actually 🙂 I had the immense gift of a tribe of weirdos who, when we were together, we were total smart idiots, confident and off the wall. All of us had issues (mine being desperation at even the slightest of glances from a member of the opposite sex) but together, we were unstoppable.
And so, it still being January, I’m adding to my goals for this year. I want to be a little more like (the best parts of) me as a high schooler, with the benefit of both wisdom and legal age to purchase alcohol… Being goofy and myself, creative and at home in my surroundings. Learning all the time. Loudly in love with my friends. Friendos, let us gather and have bonkers conversations and general merriment! Duolingo is in progress, there is a nebulous plan for learning to make jewelry, and I might even purchase some film here someday soon (and a new gym membership…one that I’ll actually GO to!).
The dream is that I’ll be so immersed in creative pursuits that anxiety won’t even take root. And of course, I’ll hold myself accountable here, making the private more or less public!
As the clock struck midnight on January 1st, I sat, like many others, watching the ball drop. As the cameras panned the crowd at Times Square, an announcer held a microphone in front of a group of young women who exclaimed it was “SO CRAZY!” how it was a new decade. I laughed with someone I don’t know well but respect, as he said “it’s not crazy! It’s how time works!” My thoughts exactly. Literal! Practical!
Though it’s easy to critique merrymakers in varying states of intoxication, and though in general I am an advocate of remarking on wonder whenever it strikes, time really does work minute by minute and hour by hour.
Anxiety would have me fast forward through future days/hours/minutes until I know all the answers and the ways everything plays out. Depression and obsessive thinking would trap me in the past days/hours/minutes and replaying all of the cringeworthy mistakes and missteps I made, all the people who I lost. And it’s easy to look at a month, a year, a decade, in those terms.
Ten years ago, I was reeling from the most traumatic and destructive event of my life. I was paralyzed by fear, doubt, isolation and loss. I could not let go of the plan I had made and outwardly insisted I was fine, marching forward into the worst year of my life up to that point.
It is my hope that over the last ten years (especially the past one), I have learned to let go of the controlled plan and to deal with reality before I move forward. To stop forcing it. It is my goal to take each day as it comes and do my best with it, which is to say mindfully advance through, while prioritizing my needs as well as the people I care about. It is also my hope that when (not if!) I fail to do that, as I feel about this holiday season, I won’t punish myself with a constant stream of internal criticism but instead show some compassion.
And some of the minutes/days, compassion is out of my reach. I get trapped in my habits. And those are the days when I need to surround myself with the amazing humans in my orbit. New Year’s Eve was one of those days: I needed a shock out of my head. And I got it, in the form of social connection and warmth. (Note: NYE was not exclusive in this–I needed and got social connection and warmth over the holidays as well, from my amazing long-distance friends too.)
A lovely co-guest at my amazing friends’ dinner party brought a jar of questions for us all to answer, ranging from light and conversational to reflective and emotional. We were talking about the tribulations and triumphs of the year, the people we are grateful for and the lessons we’ve learned. And, like any good event, we quoted Titanic (to making it count!) It was a great end to the year, and it did feel crazy that I was into this sentimental, sort of mushy activity. It felt crazy and wondrous what a difference this decade has made.
And speaking of counting, 2019 was the first year of the decade that I didn’t meet or exceed my reading goal. I couldn’t be prouder of this shortcoming, because it means I was doing other things! Some fruitless, some counterproductive, but overall I was trying to take in a variety of media, and to output/create to counterbalance what I took in. There are many ways I can do more, or better, or more compassionately, but at the close of one HARD year and the start of another, I am okay with how I’ve done. A far cry from being in love with my life and free from fear or regret, but at least on that side of center.
Last week at the library, an older gentleman approached me and asked if we had a certain title. I helped him, and he challenged me to guess how old he was. He was excited and proud to show me his drivers license, stating his birth year of 1926, making him 93 years old (2 years older than my grandpa would be if he were alive). I was shocked, considering how mobile and lucid he was, and he wanted to share his ‘secret:’ he swims and rows 3 times per week, and has for years. That, and he dyes his hair 🙂 He seemed, overall, to be in love with his life.
This year, I’m going to take a page from him. I’m going to capitalize on any youth or strength I feel and celebrate the (sometimes painfully few) ways my body serves me. I’m going to be open and friendly with people I know and people I don’t (within boundaries). I plan to take pages from my friends and family, by creating (artfully or not) and putting people and pets first; from my colleagues by thinking before speaking and taking pride in my work.
This decade, I’m reclaiming my time. I’m getting my shit together, and keeping it that way. I’m falling in love, with my life if not more. And as long as I can, I’ll be working on being mindful and making this happen every minute and every day, because that’s how time works.