It Takes a Worried Woman

The Green Study Blogcast: It Takes a Worried Woman

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.

Flock of geese flying over bare tree.

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. 

Albert Camus

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.

My favorite boy-man-elderly gents band.

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 Blog Accessible for People with a Visual Impairment” by Holly at Life of a Blind Girl

10 Ways to Make Your Site More Accessible” by WordPress

21 thoughts on “It Takes a Worried Woman

  1. So much anxiety, so little time! Getting out into the natural world and out of my head makes everything less fraught and productivity a tad more achievable. I keep thinking of the zen quotation — not sure from where — that says “if you are anxious you are living in the future.” And of course, much of that future we cannot control, like your daughter’s chemo response or my husband’s immunotherapy response. The double Cs of cancer and COVID make quite an anxiety cocktail, and I just have to be in the present taking each day one at a time as the cliche reminds.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Being outside definitely helps and I made it a goal to get outside every day, regardless of temperature, if only to get some vitamin D. I’ve exhausted my anxieties I think. I really do just want to get on with things. I have a lot of writing projects and volunteer work. COVID did do one thing for us – they extended the drug another six months for my daughter because it’s working and they’re afraid if she comes off it and has a resurgence of tumors, we’ll be smack dab in the middle of decimated medical resources. Anxiety delayed is at least one thing off our plates for now. Hope you and your husband are able to stay safe and well during this time. And yes, some truths, like taking life a day at a time are very useful now!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is the sentence that spoke to what I’m feeling right this minute:
    “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 may need to get this tattooed on my body to remind myself to stop expecting so damned much when functioning is so hard right now. But, I too want to be able to produce that mother-flipping novel while stuck in quarantine. It certainly has to be easier than losing weight while I’m baking like a mad woman myself.

    Thanks for this.

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    1. You’re welcome. Yes, if there were any time to be kind to ourselves, this is that time. I think being able to produce anything right now is worth celebrating. Lower your expectations in a way that allows you to regularly exceed them. I know, I know – easier said than done, but it provides a way to feel more, not less accomplished and capable. You know me, not a happy chef, but after watching that British bakeoff show, one can’t help but have aspirations in the kitchen…definitely keeping my expectations low!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well, a line in your post gave me some comic relief from this pandemic paranoia I am battling: “I have faked technical difficulties repeatedly during Zoom calls, so that I can disappear and be left alone.” Actually, I could relate to that whole paragraph and it made me laugh. I needed that today. Thank you!

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    1. Zoom group calls are the worst! I have meeting narcolepsy as it is, but trying to stay focused on a screen to act like I’m attentive and listening is exhausting. Even worse, trying to get out of virtual baby showers and committee meetings about superficial issues is really hard. Your excuses are more limited. “I’m sorry, that’s the day I’m scheduled to go without pants, so I can’t make the meeting.” Glad that I was able to make you laugh, because really, that’s about all we can do about so much of this right now.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Love this, especially your quarantine chronicle on the heels of damning others.:) I am predictably both entertained and soothed by your characteristic blend of intelligence, humor and wisdom. Thanks, Michelle. A happy Thanksgiving to your family.

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    1. I do sound a little bitter about other people’s AMAZING quarantines, don’t I? The bar is set really low for me. I met it this morning by showering, so everything from here on out is just gravy. I hope you have a lovely Thanksgiving as well. I don’t think it’s going to look remotely different from today (except more food) and I’m okay with that. That is my pandemic upside – no need for excuses to get out of peopled events and fortunately, I very much like the ones I’m trapped with.

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  5. We should all be changed by 2020. We’ve learned which workers are essential, and that they don’t earn what they should and don’t get the support they need. We’ve learned that 70M+ people aren’t really committed to democracy. Some of us learned that it takes sacrifice to do our part during a public health emergency. Some of us learned that spending time outdoors in nature is marvelous self-care. We are in a continual loop of coping and changing how we cope. As much anxiety and loss as this year has produced, It’s a time we should never forget.

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    1. Oh, there’s no doubt about that. I’m hoping, too, that many of the people who are able to work remotely are never forced back into a cube again. A huge advance for work-life balance if you can forgo a commute. What I’ve learned from this quarantine is that we’re very lucky and that healthcare shouldn’t rely on luck. Politically, we are just beginning – there’s a lot of work to be done to right this ship. I’ve been really thinking about my activism plan moving forward. After 2016, it became so scattershot and anxious. I’d like to be more focused moving forward, but that’s a post for another day. Hope you are doing well and able to find some moments of joy in all of this chaos.

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  6. Love the Chad Mitchel Trio! My parents had one of their albums when I was a kid and I recently wowed by husband when I explained how I learned about the John Birch Society via their song. Guess I was a lefty from a wee age.

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  7. I so love your writing, Michelle, and it was nice to hear your voice today also. With each of your blog posts, I take away a morsel of food for thought. Today, it is, “Open the door wide to your fears. Look at them. Feel them. Exaggerate them. Give them their due.”

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    1. Thanks so much for your kind words! The audio version was a little rough and I was on my 6th run-through when I finally just gave up. Those audiobook and podcast speakers have skills. Practice, practice, practice… I’m glad that I gave you something to mull over – I take that as the highest compliment. I’m grateful so many people do the same for me – my rusty gears are always turning!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Your reading works well to personalise the content, Michelle. As always you seek to universalise your experience with honesty and humour and I salute your ambition. Only connect, as somebody once said!

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  9. Yes Michelle– That T-shirt, and the succinct comment: It was not a gift from someone else. Cracked me up. Hope you had an enjoyable holiday. And thanks for the resources on blogging. If I ever get back to writing I might try to implement some of them.

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