The Lovers II by René Magritte
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how comfortable I am at inhabiting this liminal space of uncertainty. Well, maybe “comfortable” isn’t the right word, but I’m used to it. As a child who grew up in a chaotic household, I got very good at trying to predict and prepare for what terrible thing might happen next. I was always waiting for things to get worse, waiting for the other shoe to drop, and never quite sure if the worst had passed or if more was to come.
I wrote in a previous newsletter about being in a state of acceptance and trying to reserve my fight or flight instinct for when I might actually need it. Right now I am cognizant of just how familiar I am with this feeling of waiting. The circumstances are different, but the emotions are the same. The real joke is that you can never anticipate everything.
One thing is for sure: as my friend put it, this crisis is making unavoidable many of the inequities that have been hiding in plain sight for some time.
Last week I was reading an interview with author Carmen Maria Machado in which she talks about using non-realism in her work as a way to lay bare certain truths that might not be visible for everyone.
It’s a way to tap into aspects of being a woman that can be surreal or somehow liminal…Being queer, too, can feel surreal. There’s this sense that you’re seeing things that other people don't, which I think is true of many groups of people who exist apart from the more culturally dominant perspective. You pick up on currents that other people don’t notice… It’s very surreal to have this perspective where you experience reality in a slightly different way, and I think that’s one of the things I’m interested in exploring…
What resonates with me about this quote is that my abuse wasn’t visible. I very rarely had bruises or scars. And when I tried to explain to people what my lived experience was, it didn’t make sense because they hadn’t lived it themselves.
People on the margins — sex workers, service workers, people with disabilities, incarcerated people, housing insecure, financially insecure — a lot more people are finally able to see what life is like for them. The question is: why did it take a global catastrophe for these stories to be heard?
This article on the five (now six) stages of grief has been shared widely already, but this section in particular feels especially relevant:
Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain… Anticipatory grief is also more broadly imagined futures. There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this. Individually or as smaller groups, people have felt this. But all together, this is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.
Unhealthy anticipatory grief is really anxiety… Our mind begins to show us images. My parents getting sick. We see the worst scenarios. That’s our minds being protective. Our goal is not to ignore those images or to try to make them go away — your mind won’t let you do that and it can be painful to try and force it. The goal is to find balance in the things you’re thinking. If you feel the worst image taking shape, make yourself think of the best image. We all get a little sick and the world continues. Not everyone I love dies. Maybe no one does because we’re all taking the right steps. Neither scenario should be ignored but neither should dominate either.
Anticipatory grief is the mind going to the future and imagining the worst. To calm yourself, you want to come into the present. This will be familiar advice to anyone who has meditated or practiced mindfulness but people are always surprised at how prosaic this can be. You can name five things in the room. There’s a computer, a chair, a picture of the dog, an old rug, and a coffee mug. It’s that simple. Breathe. Realize that in the present moment, nothing you’ve anticipated has happened. In this moment, you’re okay. You have food. You are not sick. Use your senses and think about what they feel. The desk is hard. The blanket is soft. I can feel the breath coming into my nose. This really will work to dampen some of that pain.
You can also think about how to let go of what you can’t control. What your neighbor is doing is out of your control. What is in your control is staying six feet away from them and washing your hands. Focus on that.
Feel-good reality TV
I’ve been really enjoying a handful of reality tv show competitions in which people actually help and befriend one another instead of the typical cutthroat “not here to make friends” storylines. Next in Fashion, which is a fashion design comp hosted by Tan France and Alexa Chung, fits the bill perfectly. I cried like a baby several times during the finale. What makes this show special is seeing the evolution of the contestants and the final fashion show, which is such a perfect distillation of the creative talents, values and personalities of the final two that it’s almost alchemic. Glow Up, which is a competition of makeup artists, also qualifies. I think next I’ll watch Big Dream, Small Spaces.
No store does more
H-E-B, the Texas grocery chain, employs a full-time disaster preparedness team, which has been planning for the coronavirus pandemic since February. This oral history of that team and its hard work keeping food on the tables of millions of Texans brought me to tears. They’ve got experience. Here’s a previous story on how they rallied to support small communities ravaged by Hurricane Harvey — the section about Beaumont blows my mind. And shoutout to the @HEBnightstocker — you the real MVP.
Speaking of food…
I recommend the Craft Cult Newsletter
Rosa Escandón’s newsletter is fairly new, but it’s perfect if you aren’t super crafty but still looking for something fun and mindless to do instead of obsessively refreshing the news. In each letter, Rosa shows you how to do a craft or make something new using stuff you likely already have around the house. Recent issues have included shrinky dinks and candle-making.
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