Nothing is absolute. Everything changes, everything moves, everything revolves, everything flies and goes away.”
— Frida Kahlo
Nothing is absolute. Everything changes, everything moves, everything revolves, everything flies and goes away.”
— Frida Kahlo
I can promise you I am not being dramatic when I say that in the past few days my whole world has been very much turned upside down in some of the worst ways imaginable.
People I love have been hurt and are hurting and I’ve been living in an alternating state of shock, anger, anxiety, guilty sadness, and helplessness for some days now. These “some days” have stretched for an eternity and moving forward from here in any emotional or temporally sense is a foreign, unimaginable, and impossible notion.
It’s as if I am existing at the center of a raging storm that, while it’s only just gathered, has managed to gain monstrous shape, speed, and strength. Some small calm can still be found in my very immediate surroundings, but the winds are shifting unpredictably and I feel if I do not shift quickly with or in response to them and the needs of those I love the storm will grow beyond my control and I will be sucked in and blown away as well.
My suspicion is this sense of control is an illusion, and my efforts to maintain it are futile. There is worse and on the horizon and it will come whether I fight or fly. Part of me is already at work in the recesses of my mind to prepare for those hardships and heartbreaks.
And I keep wondering how much more we can all take? I’m trying not to make the surrounding storm all about me, but I am involved. I am affected and not from one direction or by one thing, but from all sides and on many levels. I’m hurting. I’m afraid. I’m lost. I’m so very lost…
My instincts tell me to pull away from writing, from this space, from everything I love, from all the things I do for me. I’d thought to write here only to announce an indefinite hiatus, but I’ve always been, always had to be, skeptical of my instincts. I hardly ever really want what’s good for me. My urges and impulses tend toward the self-destructive because—I believe—it is the simplest and most satisfying place to find control and satisfaction.
So, if my gut says pull away, I have to at least consider the idea that what I need most is the exact opposite: to lean in, to try harder, to give more. Self-expression, even these small and stale attempts, mean something very much to me and the way things are going I should probably cling to whatever I can call my own as much as possible.
There is another side of me that is offering alternative solutions to that sense of control: radical acceptance, incredible patience, and flexibility. Planning and expectation may be unreasonable undertakings in times such as these.
Each day, and whatever it offers, both good and for bad, may have to be taken on its own separate and alone from the day before. Hell, each emotion, thought, need, idea, and action may have to been received separate and alone from all previous and even from their cause.
I see no other way to cope. Time—both laid out behind and stretching out ahead—has become an overwhelming concept.
From here and for a very long time, there can only be now.
All of this raises a question: why has feminism, which managed to win so many battles—the notion of a woman with a career has become perfectly unexceptionable—remained anathema to millions of women who are the beneficiaries of its success?
— Ariel Levy, “Lift And Separate”
That’s part of the dilemma of being an American Negro. That one is, a little bit colored and a little bit white. And not only in terms, in physical terms, but in the head and in the heart. There are days, this is one of them, when you wonder what your role is in this country and what your future is in it. How precisely you’re going to reconcile yourself to your situation here and how you are going to communicate to the vast, heedless, unthinking, cruel white majority that you are here. And to be here means you that can’t be anywhere else.”
It’s been just short of a week now since news broke that the President of the United States had contracted the novel coronavirus and subsequently was taken to Walter Reed to undergo treatment for COVID-19. Since then many liberals and leftists have taken to social media to voice their fear, anxiety, and compassion for the President’s recovery.
In the ensuing uproar of opinion and speculation, the party has broken into warring factions as the misinformation swirled and tempers rose. On one side many on the left sent well wishes to the president, and many others sent wishes not just of severe and worsening illness but of death as well.
Each side attacked the other, preaching and moralizing about whether or not the act of wishing well or wishing ill on a man who had caused the suffering of so many was right or wrong. They debated what this said about the Democratic party, where it’s been, where it is headed, and how it has become—in the eyes of both sides of the argument—exactly what it professes to hate.
If I am honest, I had myself been fervently wishing the President, and his entire administration would contract the virus since at least last March. I heard his downplaying and his rhetoric. I saw how little action was taken. I marked the way blame was passed, and became disgusted.
I wanted him to catch it not so that he would die from it but so that he would understand the severity of the pandemic, empathize with those most affected, and step up and lead the world. I wanted him to protect those he was elected to represent. I wanted him to learn and if he must learn the hard way, then so be it.
This is not the first time I have wished harm on those who believe and vote politically opposite me. For most of my life, I’ve watched as politicians stood behind podiums to spew hatred and disgust my way as well. I am a woman. I am Black. I am queer. There has been no election cycle I can remember that left me unscathed, and year after year I watch as they take and exchange power and give no thought or care to those like me.
This is why I cannot bring myself to sustain friendships with those who identify as conservative or vote Republican. I know my value as a human being and my experience under their power is of no consequence or care to them. They extend me no well wishes for healing or happiness. Their platform is full of wishes for quite the opposite.
And from where I have stood and fought, as one person with so little power that there are years I believe I have none at all, from here, sometimes, all I have is my anger, my disgust, and my hatred to get me through the shame and fear and disappointment.
These past four years I have clung to those emotions and, if I am honest, I never did have any well wishes for the President or his administration. Then, when the news first broke of the President’s illness, I went a step further and reveled in the jokes and the irony. I empathized with the death wishes and I have to admit I was somewhat disturbed by those purporting to take the high road and wishing the President a full and speedy recovery.
How quickly we forgot the hurt him and his supporters had visited on the most vulnerable and the hurt they yet plan to visit on us. How quickly we forget the victims and those who received no such well wishes or resources for full and speedy recoveries. How quickly we bring the enemy into our hearts.
I wish this man no such healing, but I recoiled at the thought of wishing him from this world. In some ways, it felt right to do so, but I stopped short, though I could not put into words why I felt both ways at once about it.
Wishing death on someone, to me, is not morally wrong, it’s just futile. A wish is not a reality. A wish is just a thought and thoughts come both from us and from outside of us. Thoughts come bidden and unbidden, sometimes understood, sometimes not. We think things we mean and things we don’t mean and those thoughts can lead to action or they can be released to float along back to the void whence they came.
A wish is nothing more than the expression of the emotion and history it was born from. Wishing death on someone speaks more to who both the “wisher” and “wishee” are than about what the universe is capable of or what the future will bring, of which it has absolutely nothing to offer.
Only action can influence an outcome and our thoughts and wishes can influence action, sure, but they will not bring about the desired end alone. But maybe that isn’t the why of the wish at all? Perhaps a wish is just a kind of outlet for all that anger, all that hurt, all that disgust, and that unfathomably deep hopelessness so many of us have been navigating somewhere between these past four years and our entire lives.
When the world hates you, wants you dead, and often kills those who live and look just like you no matter how you beg, reason, or fight isn’t it at least reasonable to see the death of those who incite and justify such cruelty as the only, or at least the most available solution? And when the possibility presents itself through an ironic and almost hilarious turn of events, would you not revel in their fate yourself?
When looked at through a lens beyond morality and through one of human suffering the wish itself is not beyond understanding and those who long for it are not beyond our understanding, but there is something somewhat distasteful about it, no?
The internet and its nests of social media platforms and their promise of anonymity and insulation make it too easy. I worry we say things we normally wouldn’t. I worry we say things we don’t mean to. I worry we urge one another to emotions we might not otherwise feel or express if it weren’t for the bubble of approval and ever-growing radicalism the algorithms place us in.
So, what is right, and what is wrong? More importantly, how do I really feel? I have said the same ugly things I see coming up my timeline. I’ve liked, retweeted, and lent affirming words to those dark wishes. I’ve let myself be dragged along by this dark turbulence and I will tell you it has, at times, felt satisfying, even good, even right and I still leave myself open to the possibility that it is right.
To save 200,000 lives, would you sacrifice one? To prevent the starvation, the mutilation, the indignity, the dehumanization of hundreds of thousands, would you give one? That is how some people see it, and who am I to condemn such a point of view so long as it begins and ends as an opinion and free speech? Who am I to know this is not the greatest good or the justice that the arch of the universe so bends?
I can only decide for myself, and if there is no harm to the world if I wish my dark little wishes and dream of easy resolutions to the pain I want desperately to soothe, then why not? I am, after all, only human and what I want is what any human would, a world where the cruelty makes sense, where great suffering is met with great justice and the righteous always win. I want the satisfaction of an eye for an eye.
Still, I pause, and take note of the claim that when I wish that harm on others, I do something darker and more harmful unto myself. They say the soul becomes soiled and we become what we hate most when we put our hatred to language.
Though I don’t believe in souls, I am conscious of how easy it is to get caught up in your emotions, desires, and need to have the world made right by any means necessary. I know how easy it is to lose yourself before you know you are gone. I know there is darkness in each of us that must be daily kept at bay. So, I ask, what do I do to myself when I wish ill on the living? And what does the desire to see those I’ve decided are “them” say about who I am and who I consider the corresponding “us” to be?
When I wish ill on others, I suppose it says that I am angry. It says that I have found no greater outlet or resolution to my anger. It says I have begun to believe some people are unchangeable and unredeemable and that heir harm cannot be made right. It says that I see their bid to retain power puts all of our lives at risk. It says I am afraid, and when a person is afraid they lash out. They lose rationality. They think and even act in violent and tribal ways. It says I am hurt and sometimes when we hurt we want to see others hurt too.
When I stop to reflect on who I am when I wish others would hurt, I don’t like or even recognize that version of me. I don’t believe wishing the worst on someone makes me a bad person, and I certainly do not think it makes me as bad as the ones who would misuse their power, but I am disturbed by those thoughts. I don’t like what it means for what I believe about the worth of human life and the right each of us has to a certain level of respect and dignity. I don’t like what it means for human redemption and or the possibility for growth and contribution.
Of course, I have my doubts people such as these would ever change and I have further fears for the future should the next four years follow the path of the last. I still cannot, or perhaps will not, bring myself to long for full and speedy recoveries. I simply have no sympathy left for those who would not extend it to the vulnerable ones who suffered before or because of their actions and inactions.
What I would like to do is take some control or at least offer peace to that place in me where those dark thoughts have taken hold. So, I have been thinking of a third path, a place where I can give space to both sides of myself and let my most human emotions and thoughts be free but preserve that sense of optimism in the human spirit and believe if the worth of every life.
For those who have hurt me, hurt others, and hurt the world, I do not wish them ill, nor do I wish them well, instead I am allowing myself a place and the peace of neutrality.
I empathize with those who think their useless thoughts and wish their pointless wishes from places of pain, grievance, and fear. I also give space to those who from their place of protected privilege would extend sympathies to those who have caused great harm but who remain human, and for my part, no matter how the outcomes unfold I will not feel disappointed nor will I feel satisfaction.
I will feel nothing, say nothing, give nothing of myself because the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference, and this is what I choose to extend to those who have used their power to harm and divide, or worse. I offer no wishes at all and no feeling whatsoever for your fate. I leave you to the cold, uncaring universe and watch with bated breath to see how you fare with all the rest of us in such a place.
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This week is already long, and it’s only just hit noon on Monday. The problem this time isn’t having too much to do, quite the opposite actually. I had planned, or prepared anyway for an agenda scheduled to the brim but the powers that be many pay grades above have decided to move their pawns to another strategy and I must adjust, rearrange, and put off that preparation for a future week unforeseen.
So, this week I’m scrambling. I’m working to find other things to do, to dig up old forgotten projects, and to make myself at the least appear useful.
It might be easier if my mind wasn’t already focused on next week. For the first time I am taking fall break off and spending the week with family visiting from out of state. I’ve been looking forward to this visit and this time away for months, and that leaves this week looking bleak in comparison with my expectations of the next.
I’m bored already and my usual passion for my work seems to wane as the hours pass and I get closer to time I will get to call my own. This week is going to be hard to sell to myself, but I do have to get through it and I should find a way to enjoy it.
This week I will:
Meditate every morning. I’ve renewed this goal every week for over a month now, and every week I fail to return to the practice. This week I want to examine exactly why I am so avoidant. What is it in me that is getting in the way of doing this thing that I know benefits me at nearly every level from my anxiety, to my relationships, to my focus? Why do I deny myself this opportunity to improve my quality of life?
Spend more time at my desk. I did well last week making a little more time for writing and for exploring my ideas last week and this week all I want to do is carve out just a little more. It helps that I have been able to leave work a bit earlier than I used too but I still need to spend a little less time in the livingroom or scrolling social media and more time typing away at a few ideas and problems working their way around my brain.
Write an analog journal entry every night. Last week I started carrying three notebooks with me, two of which have already gotten extensive use, but the journal still sits untouched since at least last January. THis week I’d like to revive this private writing space and express those things that can only be expressed far from the judgement of other human beings.
Read a little every day. I’m falling further behind again and losing all the progress gained just one week ago. In my defense, reading is much harder to do when fatigue is laying in wait to drag you to dreamland the moment you stop moving and get comfortable. This week I’m going to utilize my lunch hour at work, when I’m not so tired and can retain more of what I’m taking in.
Write a newsletter. I’ve been working my way through the Science of Well-Being course on Coursera for some time now but have been stuck at week seven where the assignment is to commit to a habit change or two for four weeks straight. Many of the ideas presented are habits I’ve long incorporated into my daily practice, but looking at them in terms of what I have needed lately, I’ve decided that building social connections is the area I need to work on the most.
Since the pandemic started I have struggled more than ever to maintain my personal relationships. I have let long stretches of time pass between speaking to my friends and family. I have grown more introverted and private. I have isolated myself and fallen into a loneliness that’s grown too easy to live with. Besides reaching out to those close to me, I on being more vulnerable and accessible to strangers as well. Sending out a digital letter to the few followers I have seems a little more personal and, I hope, will lead to a deeper connection than a simple blog post.
If you want to be a part of this journey, you can subscribe to my Tinyletter, Every Now and Again.
This week I will not lose myself in anger or hopelessness. For months now I’ve tried to pull away from political news and current events, but every day there seems to be some breaking catastrophe or cruelty, and the cell phone alerts and updates from friends and family nearly always pull me back in. But as much as I want to be informed and as righteous as the outrage is, and as good as the speculation feels, I realize that none of it is very good for me, mentally. Not right now, anyway.
I’ve started to recognize the emotional manipulation that takes place when the news is reported. That isn’t to say I believe that the news is fake or misleading, I just think the facts are often reported in such a way that my attention is grabbed and heald and I’m sucked in to never ending negativity and fear, to anger and hopelessness, and I don’t want to feel that way all day, every day. This week I will refrain from watching live news reports or scrolling social media endlessly looking for more information, more “takes”, more opinions and arguments. The news will be there at the end of the day. I need not give it more attention than that.
The soul and the body are one, and mostly so in love. What the body chooses, the soul loves; where the body clings, the soul cleaves; body for body, soul to soul, they come together at God’s signal; and the lower part (if we can call aught low) is only the footstool and foundation of the highest.”
— Robert Louis Stevenson, Olalla
I’m stuck at home and stuck in bed today, feeling awful physically but worse mentally. I’d been seeing some real signs of improvement, and I let myself get a little too excited. I let my hopes get too high, and then today there were strong setbacks and swift backslides into painful and all too familiar symptoms.
I’m not the only one who’s feeling a little under the weather. My dog, Lola, got into something she shouldn’t have and she’s got a little upset tummy too. I don’t like seeing her sickly but it is kind of nice to have someone, even if it’s just the dog, to be miserable with. At least she’ll be okay in a day or so with a little rest and plenty of fluids. I wish it were that easy for me.
I keep thinking about how bad of a start this is to the new month. Then again, perhaps starting at your worst can be an opportunity in disguise. When you are at your worst there is nothing you can do but get better. There’s nothing to do but improve. There is nothing to do but start again. A new month and a new chance to let the past go and move forward.
“We know that in September, we will wander through the warm winds of summer’s wreckage. We will welcome summer’s ghost.”
— Henry Rollins, from “Summer Be Gone!” published in LA Weekly
The wind has shifted and instead of carrying warmth from the west, there’s a chill now that blows from the north straight through my bones. The first leaves are starting to brown and fall and early Autumn, the time of change and preservation has begun.
At first I tried to ignore the signs. but as temperatures began to fall, as the clouds rolled in and as the earliest snow I can remember fell, I knew I could no longer live in denial. The time of long days, warm weather, and sunshine has gone.
Summer technically ended just weeks ago, but I’ve been mourning its loss for a long time now. Last March the world shut down and though it’s opened up somewhat it’s only been enough to permit work. The usual summer activities and festivities have been cancelled, postponed, or outright avoided for safety reasons as the pandemic continues to rage and the worry over risk remains high. What we had was a ghost of a summer, just enough to remind of us of what we’ve lost.
We’ve tried to create a bubble of time outside of time hoping to return to our life and loved ones after the danger passed but the new normal is quickly become just normal and hope is waning that we will return to a more recognizable world. Life is marching on and change is blowing in. The time for grieving the old world must end as we make this Autumn in particular a season of acceptance and protection. This Autumn in particular must be a time of letting go…
…but before I do, here’s what I am currently:
Writing every day,. Most of September found me feeling fatigued and frustrated with my physical health, which in turn deeply impacted my mental health, but here at the end I am finally feeling a little more like myself. New ideas are finding their way out from the part of me that endured, and I’m doing everything I can to make the time to write them down whenever and wherever they occur. I may not post here, but I’ve got a notebook on me at all times and I’m putting pen to paper as often as I can.
Making the best of the time and energy I am afforded every day. Having a chronic illness and coping with daily pain, distress, and fatigue makes it hard to create any new writing or art on a consistent basis, let alone any good writing or art. Still, there are small moments of relief when I am something like myself again and the world can widen beyond this pain. I’m doing everything I can to seize those moments when they come.
Planning a return to my other writing outlets. I’ve long neglected both my newsletter and my other site, Zen and Pi. My newsletter was never very good but I enjoyed writing it and Zen and Pi was becoming something good but that frightened me and I began to avoid it due to pressure. I had pulled all the posts down hoping to go through them one by one with new edits before republishing, but the task has proved quite overwhelming. I’m working out a schedule, a system, and committing myself fully to the writing I know I want to do.
Reading The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar thought-provoking tome of literary exploration and criticism from a feminist perspective. The book is both fascinating and frustrating to work through, and keeping up with Gibert and Gubar is difficult. It’s not a text for beginners, but I’m trying my best to take it slow and work through the arguments methodically. Luckily, I have my Penguin Little Black Classics Box Set to read when I need a break.
Watching Lovecraft Country, a sci-fi/horror series mixing fantastical monsters and situation with the heart-wrenching pain of navigating the Jim Crow era in America. There is nothing else like it and I highly recommend every one check it out. Each episode is packed with historical nods and Easter eggs, and to help you catch them the Langston League has created a free unofficial syllabus for each episode. In addition, I’m also watching The Vow and old episodes of True Blood, all of which can be streamed on HBO.
Learning not much lately. Most days I have so little in the way of physical energy or mental capacity that trying to add and retain new information is at best exhausting, and on the worst days, impossible. I’d like to get back to it though, and I do have some goals in mind to get there. Two free courses I was taking required some assignments I was unable to finish, but I figure if I focus solely on them, the remaining months of 2020 should be plenty of time even at the leisurely pace I need to finish.
Anticipating a second city wide shut down and a winter quarantine to begin soon. Coronavirus cases are already rising again in many parts of the country and though my district remains open, even the superintendent has expressed a belief that sometime this year the school will revert to 100% remote learning and I will more than likely be furloughed for a time. I am concerned over what that will mean for me financially, but to be honest with you I’m looking forward to a winter quarantine. I don’t feel safe going to work every day right now, and trying to complete my tasks through the thought of such risks is taking a mental toll. I felt better in the spring when all I had to worry about was staying healthy and safe.
Reflecting on the ways I engage with politics and charity and what my role has been and can be toward making this world a better place. Lately I have been feeling both powerless to do anything and guilt-ridden for not doing nearly enough. There are a plethora of community meetings, volunteer opportunities, protests, and place to give money and I have failed to settle or join in any of the work. I feel paralyzed by the daily cruelty and injustice in the world and the sheer amount of work that needs to be done to change any of it, but doing nothing is no longer an option.
Fearing rising tensions as election day approaches. Every election year is tense and the closer we get to America declaring victory for one side or the other the blood boils all along the political spectrum and divides between friends, family, and compatriots deepen but this year feels so much more chaotic, more violent, more frightening than ever. This year the country feels on the verge of a change I am sure will bring a better life for us all, but the path feels fraught with hatred and fear, ready to explode and consume life indiscriminately.
Hating the wildfires raging throughout the western states. I worry about what long-term health impact all this smoke and ash is having on not just my loved ones and me, but on my community, on all the cities and states that have been affected. I’m worried what impact the loss of all those acres of vegetation will have on the climate and in turn how many more acres will burn in the future as a result. I’m worried about the families who have lost their loved ones, their homes, their livelihoods, their hope.
Loving my messy corner of the house and this insignificant little corner of the web and the world. I spent a weekend this month on a purge and organize project of my creativity room. The task isn’t complete by far, but my half of the room (my wife has her own space on the other side of my desk) feels a lot more comfortable and conducive to truly doing some proper writing. And whether or not anything interesting or good comes of this little corner, the point is that it is mine. Just like this little site where what I make and what I share need only be for me. Both spaces are only useful, beautiful, or interesting in so far as I love them and think them so.
Needing some solid signs of hope and healing. I’ve been blessed with a good day or two between all the bad, but progress isn’t really being made and all I’m being told that, for the time being, all I can do. I need a decision to make, an action to take, a path made clear. I need to see some real change. dI know the old me may be long gone and I am ready to accept that as long as I can get on with the work of building a new self, a new life, a new way forward.
Hoping that all the people I know, and even the ones I don’t start to see some improvement in their quality of life too. Nearly everyone I know is going through a tough time right now, and my heart breaks every day for their struggles. I long to fix it all, but all I seem to be able to do is listen and hope, hope, hope. I’m not sure what help that is, but giving up and giving in, even in proxy, feels wrong.
Hope like every emotion leads to action if kept in a sufficiently high state. Hope, like anger, like fear, like joy, fills us with the desire to move and keeping hope alive is the same as keeping at the ready to act once the opportunity presents itself. Hope keeps us from giving up when the way grows dark, dire, and depressing. Hope can literally keep you alive when all other reasons have failed. I keep hope for myself and for everyone I know and those I don’t as a way to keep them moving, growing, and living in my own way.
So, yeah, all in all, September was quite a month. There was plenty to celebrate, but there seemed so much more to bear, to accept, and to struggle through. There was a lot of loss and a lot of work, and no end or answer either way has presented itself. October offers no promises, it seems, only more chance to further endure.
But what about you? Have you found some light, some courage and success through September? What have you learned about yourself during this time of political strife and failure? Have you registered to vote and made a plan to get it done? How have you mourned the losses? How have you kept hope alive?
Let me know in the comments.
The inspiration for these posts comes from Andrea at Create.Share.Love
What a collection of scars you have. Never forget who gave you the best of them, and be grateful. Our scars have the power to remind us that the past was real.”
— Hannibal Lecter, Red Dragon (2002) dir. Brett Ratner