Day 60

How is your heart these days?
What about your brain? 

My heart holds massive compassion and hope. It’s new every day. And I’m grateful for that. It makes me feel as though there’s some part of my life this huge mess hasn’t touched.

My brain is a different story. This is my brain, every day: “This is fine, it’s not so bad OH MY GOD I AM GOING TO LOSE MY SHIT okay it’s getting better, things will start to even out and then WE ARE ALL GOING TO FUCKING DIE, LONG, SLOW, PAINFUL, HIDEOUS DEATHS!!!!!!111!!!!11”

It’s confusing in here. And crowded. 

The cynics among us are simply disappointed romantics, as the truism goes. And I believe this. (Otherwise, how would goths even exist?) It describes me, no doubt. Swinging back and forth between these world views is, how you say, my jam. Or anyway it’s the only way I know how to operate. But it’s been years since it was this intense. In fact, it’s a little like reliving my under-18 years (a block of time for which, I’ve often said, there’s no large-enough sum of money to entice me into repeating).

Much has been said (out there, on the internet, where they say things) about how the current American president is a constant, low-level PTSD experience for those of us who were raised by a narcissist. And those of us living in the US with cognitive thinking skills have spent each of the last four years being unpleasantly surprised by ever-increasing levels of threat, stupidity, cruelty, and destruction, among other things. (I assume now that this situation is what David Bowie saw, 40+ years ahead of time, when he wrote “Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family.”) We’re nearing the end of this utterly dark presidency and so the kicks come more often and with ever-increasing unpleasantries. The latest of which includes a psychological return to a time in life when I had less agency over my person, when I spent hours in my head to avoid what was happening around me. 

I realize, of course, that this is one person’s experience, but writ large? It’s an effective way to break a large group of people down. And we can’t afford to be broken down. 

So, what do we do? That’s an earnest question. I don’t know what to do. Currently I’m giving myself endless pep talks, focusing on love and beauty and other truths, and indulging in escapism. (If you’d like recommendations on endless numbers of light, fluffy fiction to read, just let me know.) And when the crash comes, as it inevitably does, I let myself wallow for awhile. 

Please don’t think I’m unaware, however, that this is, actually, nothing—in the grand scheme of things, my little feelings don’t matter. I’m safe, I’m housed, I’m not going broke, I’m not going hungry. But I suspect the heart and brain operate on different equipment. 

How are you? How are you, really? I want to know

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Day 51

I was going to write words.
Then I changed my mind.

Just me, or nah?

Day 29

Let’s get together, yeah yeah yeah / We’ll have a swingin’ ti-ime!

Conversations are taking strange and unexpected turns with such regularity that soon none of it will be strange, nor will it be unexpected. This morning, on a call with my boss, I ended a conversation thusly: “Well, uh, I’m going to stop holding up pieces of my brain to share now, and hang up.” Time may not be linear, but conversations in real time probably should. Just for the sake of our collective sanity.

There are good days and bad. I worry about everything until I’m sick with it, and then I retreat into my head. We probably all need to upgrade our coping mechanisms, but is this really the time?

That’s a question I’m asking a lot lately, both literally and figuratively: is this really the time? Looking out at how we’re speaking to each other, how we’re spending our days, what we’re considering important, I hold up that frame and I ask those questions. And I think that probably yes, this is the time. For all of it. For any of it. We need to let people react however they need to react. We’re hurting in different ways, we’re wired in different ways, we’re isolating in different ways. Each of us requires all the patience the in world right now. I’m experimenting with that by not reacting when I see something or hear something that would offend me under normal circumstances. (If you know me in person you might imagine how colossal a task it is that I’ve set for myself.) I remind myself that right in this moment, that’s what’s needed. And I move on. Honestly, I lack the energy right now, anyway. If my tiredness can can be a contribution toward something useful, that’s not bad at all.

Have we all started having That Conversation? It’s one I used to read about a lot, since as a kid I enjoyed tales about people who were far from home for a variety of nefarious reasons: they’d been wrongly jailed, or an expidition had gone awry, or their parents had sent them to boarding school.

There are endless variations on That Conversation. What’s the first thing you’re going to do when [you’re home / you’re free / you can eat something besides seal meat and hardtack / etc.]?

This is a recent version between friends. Its focus is visiting Trader Joe’s.

So, tell me: what does That Conversation look like for you?

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Day 17

This past week I had two separate virtual cocktail parties with some of my favorite people and the resulting joy was a little over the top, even for me. I’m hermit-y by nature; I work from home; I panic mildly and sweat profusely in the half-hour leading up to my leaving the house for a social event. But I love the people I love with a fierceness that feels like oxygen to me. The world seemed like a different place, or a more familiar place, after that first cocktail party, for a little while.

On Saturday we had visitors. They stood on our front lawn and we stood at the front door and we called out to each other, back and forth, for about a half hour. And again, the world felt familiar again, for a little while. A semblance of balance was restored, for a time.

How are you doing? Are you tracking the changes in your mindset? In your moods? Are you wondering who you’ll be by the time this is over? I’m wondering that all the time. My perceptions come in and out of focus as I shelter in place, revealing their strengths and weaknesses, collapsing or standing tall. Some surprise me. Others do not.

Photo by Yiqun Tang on Unsplash

I spent a good deal of today wanting to run away from the presence of my mind, soul, and body all in one place at the same time, all in one place for a long time now, and for the foreseeable future. It’s so much easier to be yourself when there’s not ever enough time to truly sit with yourself.

Several of us, it seems, have felt this moment coming for a very long time. For the majority of our lives. (I was amazed to discover that I’m not alone in this.) Listen: in a crisis, I’m your girl. I’m calm, confident, strong, and I will know exactly what to do and in what order. I will not collapse until the coast is clear.

A slow-moving crisis, though, that’s something else entirely. I collapse and get back up, collapse and get back up, sometimes several times a day. And at night I don’t really rest; my dreams are all strange now, featuring casts of thousands, confusing plot lines, and an ever-present, slow-moving dread that I’ve forgotten something mildly important and the cards are stacked against me and I’m running out of time and no one seems to know or care. I’m trying to get places I remember from dreams within the dream; I’m driving on endless loops of freeways too ridiculous for even Los Angeles; my son is starting college but neither of us know where he’s supposed to be or when; I’ve lost my cellphone and am frantic, but have to stop into a row of stores and take my time looking over the merchandise.

I’m so grateful to be quarantined with the two closest to my heart, lacking for nothing, with a beautiful yard in a place where the weather’s really not much of an issue, ever. (There’s that constant apology I mentioned previously!) I know three people who’ve contracted COVID-19. I know countless others who’ve seen their incomes all but disappear because of it. Missing people is the absolute least of it. But I miss people so much. I miss them more than I thought I could.

Make no mistake: we’re finding out what we’re made of.

I hope I’m made of more than this. I hope that, as the weeks stretch on, I strike steel somewhere in my core.

Day 8

Despair and deception / Love’s ugly little twins / Came a-knockin’ at my door
Nick Cave, “I Let Love In”

It was a rough week. For most of it I fluctuated between utter exhaustion and having to remind myself to breathe deeply every few minutes so as to stave off encroaching panic attacks. When life as we know it has been hijacked, it’s hard not to descend into that mini-hell inside your own head.

It’s emotionally tiring, and eventually it runs to ground in the physical body. I’ve taken two-hour naps the past few days despite getting what would normally be an adequate amount of sleep. And look: compared to most, I have it easy. I’m lucky and well aware of it. (I feel compelled to keep repeating that; it’s survivor’s guilt, maybe. Poverty-and-strife-survivor’s guilt. There was a time I would have read these words and mocked the person who wrote them.)

Today, I don’t know what changed, but things seemed easier somehow. Horrific still, but a little more manageable. Maybe a week’s time provided some adjustment. Maybe this is temporary. It probably is. I know nothing about this process because it’s a completely new situation. And as my friend Patti wrote the other day, we all are going to need some time to find our balance.

The only thing I know for certain is that we need to be extraordinarily, over-the-top kind with everyone. Including ourselves. We’re going to need time and space to find ourselves again in this strange new world.

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Be well, my friends. Be patient and kind. Especially with yourselves.