Administrative Notes: I’m learning how to make my blog more accessible and in pursuit of that, I’ll be including a recording at the top of each post. If you’re a blogger, I’ve listed some resources at the end of this post that can help make your blog more accessible. Also, if you’re new to this blog, I can be profane and sacreligious on occasion. Today might be that day.
I’ve been walking shortly after sunrise about my neighborhood. With the snap of Minnesota cold in the air, I ritually prepare before leaving the house – lotion on my face and chapstick on my lips and layers of hoodie, windbreaker, hat, and gloves. The streets are nearly empty at this time, bringing to mind T.C. Boyle’s “After the Plague”, a post-apocalyptic story with few survivors. The high school parking lot, empty of posturing teenagers in their parents’ cars, is now a popular stopover for southern-bound geese and a raucous hangout for ring-billed gulls. There are always a few people out with their dogs. I have a mask stuffed in my pocket, but it’s pretty easy to cross the street, avoiding unwanted viral particles and awkward interaction. I’ve taken to giving a quick wave and a smile, social niceties streamlined and silent.
The sun, orange and smooth, is climbing by the second, visible through bare tree branches. I settle into a comfortable pace, able to see that there is no one else for a good half mile. My mind disengages from its surroundings and I am in that place where stories emerge. Putting one foot in front of the other and drifting through a fog of random thoughts, I am briefly unworried.
I joke-not-joke about the nesting matryushka dolls of anxiety, one inside another, from one’s most interior worries to the world outside. Like a child dressed by an overprotective parent, the more layers, the less functional one becomes, until you are waddling about, useless and easily toppled. A lot of us talk these days about the paralysis – the inability to think, write, read, sleep – feeling powerless and uninspired. I’d like to believe that I hit bottom and now I’m emerging from this crisis coma, but it’s more like I’m bouncing lightly across the baseline surface. Each bounce just a little bit higher and slower on the rebound. This is resiliency, a product of circumstance and rarely of character. Persistence and the art of having nowhere else to go.
As I slowly peel off the tentacles of media – the news that feeds on itself, the socialization that really isn’t, the onslaught of red flags and dog whistles and noise, noise, noise, I find two things waiting for me that had been lost: time and space. I sit and stare off more frequently, lost in a mindless meditation, a callback to childhood daydreaming. There is a space between wakefulness and sleep that gets lost in these agitated times, the place where the mind settles down and becomes whimsical, bemused for its own sake. The mental version of swinging on the front porch, hanging a fishing line off the dock, sipping a drink slowly, laying on your back in the grass watching clouds float overhead, staring out a bus window, flopping on the couch in silence making out weird shapes on the textured ceiling. These are times when we create space our minds need to become fanciful, solve a problem, give ourselves a break from whatever reality awaits us at the edges.
Great ideas come into the world as gently as doves. Perhaps, then, if we listen attentively, we shall hear, amid the uproar of empires and nations, a faint flutter of wings, the gentle stirrings of life and hope.
I think of all the things I do to distract myself from the moment, how I fill every nook and cranny with music, bingewatching, busy-ness. What we do to escape our own thoughts and emotions is an Olympic sport unto itself. I began to ask myself about what I was trying to avoid. Perhaps it was my own imagination, working overtime in predicting logical outcomes of authoritarianism and climate destruction. Or thinking about what if my daughter’s chemo drug doesn’t work. Or the stress I feel when I think about the aging process that seems to be accelerating exponentially. Not to mention the very slim chance, despite our abundance of caution, that one of us gets hit by coronavirus. I’m avoiding fear and in doing so I’m generating corrosive and exhausting anxiety.
There’s a trick to it all and nobody I know likes it. Open the door wide to your fears. Look at them. Feel them. Exaggerate them. Give them their due. I’ve been practicing this, inevitably ending on Well, screw it, the world’s on fire, what am I going to do today? It’s a nihilistic mantra that unfreezes me from anxious paralysis. Allowing myself to pull out each fear and figure out if I have any choice or control over the matter, defuses a lot of anxiety. All that nervous tension from an event that may never happen or is completely inevitable. All that time and space just slipping away.
Beyond the frank stare at our own fears, there must also be tenderness. We are human. To expect ourselves to be consistent and productive during these times, is a rigidity bordering on cruelty.
I keep reading accounts of other people’s quarantines: they’ve written a novel (fuckers), lost weight (bastards), perfected homemade bread (peckerheads), read Wallace or Joyce start to finish and are now waxing on about their artistry (wankers). Fine. Let’s brag up Michelle’s time in quarantine: I’ve taken 4,532 bad pictures of the birds in my backyard. I have a stack of books, all with bookmarks, a sign of starting and not finishing, but still hoping. I now wear a t-shirt to bed from a site called Effin birds that says You Dim Motherfucker, Science is Real. It was not a gift from someone else. I have faked technical difficulties repeatedly during Zoom calls, so that I can disappear and be left alone. I have watched the entire series of The Office at least twice through since February. I’ve made 14 bad vegan dishes and one good curry. Get me an Instagram account stat!
This time is such a strange time and when I imagine it ending, I know I am changed. From the distorted politics to pandemic cooties, it’s hard to imagine that going forward there won’t always be a before and an after. But many of us felt that way about 9/11. Resiliency sometimes comes in the form of forgetfulness, the pull of habit and routine, the exhaustion from worrying all the time. For me, it is simply a desire to not spend my days on this planet distracting myself. I want to look directly at my fears, saying to them: I see you and I understand you, but I must be getting on with things.
Resources to make your blog more accessible:
WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation This tool is very easy to use – just plug in your website address and it will show you tips and tools to improve your accessibility.
“10 Ways to Make Your Site More Accessible” by WordPress