Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.”
― Edna St. Vincent Millay, Spring
I’m not in the mood for Spring this year. Though I’m glad to be rid of winter’s frigid drab, I’ll admit that the flowers and sunshine serve only to remind me more of this last year’s hardships and the long road of growth and healing that lies ahead. This particular April has been the cruelest month.
Normally April is the beginning of my own personal new year. In April I grow older and in April I come alive. It’s in this prelude to the summer when I come into my prime emotionally, physically, and professionally. There is still some of that, some days. I can’t keep the sun from my heart, no matter how much it breaks and, anyway, time heals as much as it hurts anymore.
The snow is melting, and the storms are passing. There is sunshine and rainbows, life coming back to life, and a new cycle appears ready to begin.
I’m desperate to begin with it.
But before I do, here is what I am currently:
Writing on a real schedule. It isn’t much, just one hour a day after work and two to four hours starting just before sunrise on the weekends. I’ve only just started, but I have noticed a two-fold benefit already. It’s not only easier to write when the time comes, but easier to do non-writing things without guilt at any other time I feel like it.
Making some blog changes. You may have already noticed some small design changes and I’ve been posting regularly again too. I’m working on a lot more posts to come and trying out different kinds of posts too. In addition, I’m keeping up with comments, following new sources of inspiration, and working to connect my writing to real people. There might even be a newsletter revival around the corner too!
Planning those weekend house projects. We’ve gone too many years letting too many things fall into disrepair and we’ve come to a point where we have to face what is difficult, make the time, and simply take the work weekend project by weekend project, and for the overwhelming bits, we’ve decided that it’s better to pay someone else than to
Reading Poor People’s Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail by Frances Fox Piven. I started it many months ago for a bookclub I never met with and only just now getting around to working through it. This month I also finished The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus, Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, and Poetics by Aristotle. According to Goodreads, I’m just 12 books behind schedule for my goal.
Watching A Black Lady Sketch Show on HBO for the laughs and Grey’s Anatomy on ABC when I don’t want to think too hard. Some other things I enjoyed: Tina on HBO, an account in her own words of the life of music icon and domestic abuse survivor Tina Turner and Exterminate all the Brutes a frank account of race, oppression, and genocide through European colonial history.
Learning how to focus on breath and body again. I’ve rejoined Headspace and after three or more months away it’s amazing how much effort it takes to keep the body still while the mind follows each breath in and out. The worries intrude easily now, but I know with practice I can find my peace again.
Anticipating additional anxiety as we return to some semblance of “normalcy”. I feel as though I have forgotten entirely what I used to enjoy before the pandemic began, and the proper way to socialize outside of work and immediate family escapes me. Worse still, there is a part of me that has grown to like my isolation and would perhaps prefer never to come out of it again.
Reflecting on the lessons of right now. I am not exaggerating when I say that this last year has been the hardest I’ve ever been through. I’ve lost some people, almost lost others, and even lost myself for a while too. Life is looking vastly different from here than last May, and since I can’t change a single second of it, I may as well take in the new lessons and find the new joys.
Fearing more missteps and misunderstandings. One lesson I’ve learned this past month is how quickly things can change. I’ve dealt with downward trends that took weeks or even days, but it is possible to come to such a volatile time in life that within hours your entire universe can invert. I fear now that nothing can be fully predicted, least of all the people you think you know the best.
Hating how little control I actually have. We pretend at control. We imagine free will. We think ourselves each the master of a little universe willing and manifesting day in and day out. It’s an illusion. It’s worse than that. It’s a lie. What choice and will you have is smaller than you know. It’s ok though. Work with what you have and let go of the rest.
Loving the chance to learn from someone younger than me. I’ve struggled with my fears for a long time. I thought I had come to a place of progress, but it was only a place of comfort. I have been hiding while pretending to be brave. I’m learning to find my courage by watching the next generation surpass me in every way. But rather than from resentment
Needing rest. I don’t mean sleep exactly, but simply, rest. I need a place or a time to put down the weight I’ve been carrying. I’m not just talking about the weight of the last year. I realize now I’m carrying things that have been with me for far, far longer. I need to stop for a moment. I need to lighten the load.
Hoping the worst is behind me and my loved ones, and we can finally look forward to a life of light and love. I’m hoping for a sense of self and safety that won’t be shaken again. I’m hoping with all my heart for joy, for connection, for meaning and purpose. More than anything, though, I’m hoping for a reason to hope.
So, yeah, all in all, April, was hard but I’ve learned and loved and taught and been loved back so much that the heartache and heaviness have become at least possible to bear. I know where my strength lies and I know what weaknesses need work. I know what to look for and I have a better idea of what to do next. None of it was in vain.
But what about you? Has Spring sprung where you are? Have you received your COVID vaccine doses? Is your world opening up? Are you yet in bloom?
Let me know in the comments.
“It’s four in the morning, the end of December
I’m writing you now just to see if you’re better.”
― Leonard Cohen, Famous Blue Raincoat
The end of December has arrived and with it the end of one of the longest and most horrific years in my memory. Thinking back to this time last year, it’s shocking to mark the number of changes. I hardly recognize myself or the world around me. I can hardly believe how much has changed, how much has been lost, and how much we have to gain back.
The official winter season has only just started here in the northern hemisphere, but we are already halfway toward the next summer, my favorite season of all. The dark days and the deep cold will be with us for a long while more, but it helps to know that slowly, slowly the sun will start setting later and the number of days above freezing will steadily increase.
Twenty-twenty has been quite a year, one none of else will soon forget. We’re living through a time of unprecedented uncertainty and grief. The pandemic is still ravishing communities here in the US and though, like Spring, the vaccine is bringing an end in sight, there will still be many more dark days to survive.
Still, there have been some small victories, and plenty of lessons learned. I’ve never felt more connected to my local community and have found a sense of trust and pride in state officials and local business and leaders. I’ve had more time than i have ever had—or will ever have again—to rest, to read, to write, and to learn about myself.
Besides the fear and anxiety brought on by the pandemic raging around me, inside I was also experiencing what would turn out to be the longest and most severe flare up of my ulcerative colitis symptoms since my diagnosis. This disease took so much from me in 2020, but it also gave me something back. It showed me how strong I am. It showed me the power of the human body, of my body, for both good and bad. It brought me back to my meditation practice and reacquainted me with the calm of early mornings. It taught me it is possible to overcome yourself, and it taught me gratitude.
I’m ready to take these lessons and many, many more that this dumpster fire of a year taught me into the next. Though I know that things can always be worse, from here, looking on the innocent potential of the New Year, I can only see how good things are finally going to get. The world has a vaccine. The US has a new President. I have a new medication. I am healing. We are all healing.
As with every norm and tradition, making New Year’s resolutions just doesn’t feel the same this year. What used to be important has become trivial and forgettable, and what used to feel unimportant is now vital.
This year I’m setting very few large goals and instead focusing almost entirely on self-care. The biggest lesson I’m taking with me into the new month and year is that I must build and continually rebuild emotional endurance and resilience. This year I am putting I have to put my health and my well-being before all else because it turns out I am vulnerable in many more ways than I knew, but before I do, here’s what I am currently:
Writing from a new place in my home. The old creativity room had to be converted back into a bedroom this year, and I was left without a place to call my own. For weeks I wandered through the house from couch to bed to counter to floor, and nothing felt right until the idea struck to clear the cluttered dining table and claim a corner of the kitchen for writing alone. I’ve got my old office chair and all my notebooks here, the only essentials I need. I will have an office again eventually, but for now this will do.
Making this house a home. My wife and I are notorious for procrastinating on needed house projects and repair, but with reduced hours at work due to the pandemic, boredom has pushed us to complete project after project just to have something to do. My wife has taken the lead and going forward I have a feeling my role will be regulated to simply approving or disapproving plans but that’s ok. Slowly and steadily these ugly fixtures, bare walls, and outdated decor are being transformed into something personal, something more livable.
Planning and tracking each day of 2021. In preparation for the coming year and upon reflection of the last, I thought it might be a good idea to move back toward an all analog system of allocating my hours. I have long been a fan of author Austin Keons system of note taking and logging and have tweaked it somewhat to include to-go lists and goals. I have a new, and quite plain just the way I like it, Moleskine daily planner to my habits and schedule. I have a Journal to record the day’s moods and thoughts,
Reading The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir and Poor People’s Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail by Frances Fox Piven. Many of Beauvoir’s ideas are now outdated since the advancement of science and the understanding of gender, but her writing style is wonderfully unique and her power to inform and impassion is inspiring. I haven’t technically started Poor People’s Movements, but it has moved to the top of my TBR since I, on impulse, joined a book club that is meeting virtually in just a few weeks to discuss the introduction and chapter one.
Watching The Stand on CBS and old episodes of Veep on HBO. Some of my favorite shows this year include The Mandalorian, Raised by Wolves, The Queen’s Gambit, and Lovecraft Country. I have tried these past months to reduce the amount of time I spend in front of the TV, and largely I feel I have been successful. Unfortunately, Disney recently announced a slew of new Star Wars shows coming to their streaming app, and I suspect my couch time will significantly increase as a result.
Learning about Social Psychology. I’m two weeks into the course and while I find the material interesting, I’m having a hard time progressing due to time constraints. This course requires has quite a bit more reading than the previous courses I’ve taken. Still, I’m excited to get through it, not for the subject alone but for the courses I have lined up to take after. On a whim last month, I enrolled in four new Coursera courses—the certificates were being offered for free, I couldn’t resist!—and to keep from overwhelming myself, I’m only allowing myself to take them one at a time.
Anticipating a return to a normal schedule and routine. All through autumn I had wished and wished for my district to go fully remote, but when we finally did it wasn’t at all what I expected. Unlike the last shutdown I have still been expected to come in and without the kids, there has been very little to do. At first the quiet, easy days were nice, but experiencing boredom and isolation both at home and at work has proved detrimental to my mental health in ways I couldn’t imagine. I can’t believe I’m saying it, but actually I’m ready for more work, for more coworkers, and to see the kids smiling again.
Reflecting on the lessons of the pandemic. There is no doubt that this year will be a defining one for all of us. It will be one of those times in which there is a great before stretching back through our lives and along after the is laid out long after our lifetimes. We’d all be fools not to spend some time taking in all the ways the spread of this virus has shaped and reshaped our new world and in turn shaped and reshaped who are. I know I’m not the same person I was just last March and I don’t think any one of us is, and maybe that’s a good thing.
Fearing things will get worse before they get better. The vaccine is here and already the most vulnerable are being inoculated, but it will be a long while before the reports of record-breaking sickness and death are behind us. Now that the worst of winter is upon us and the cold is driving us indoors, now that we are desperate for community and connection, now that we have grown weary and stupid, the virus has grown more contagious and we are all the more vulnerable now. My fear is the worst is yet to come, for me and for all of us together.
Hating how little empathy and care is being shown to the American people by their own government. I’m thrilled to know that in just a few short weeks the office of the presidency will be handed over to the Democratic party, but I have little hope Biden or the Democrats who hold a majority in the House of Representatives will be able to do any good there. The Republicans will more than likely hold the Senate, and majority leader Mitch McConnell will go on blocking compassionate legislation and allowing the most vulnerable among us to go on suffering.
Loving this sense of community I feel everywhere I go. Whether I’m at home, at work, in the grocery store, on the internet, or watching TV, I feel part of something. It’s the neighborhood, the city, the state, the country, the world, we are all in something together and though I wish it hadn’t taken so much fear and anguish to bring us together, I’m happy we’ve pulled together to pull through it. We more united than ever. We are more like mind and like hearted than we’ve ever been. This is one thing I hope will never go back to “the way things were”.
Needing to see my friends again. I have spent some time with family throughout the year and that has been a great salve to my mental woes and lonely heart, but I have had no time with my friends and I miss them all very much. I miss dinner and drinks. I miss brunch. I miss movies and house parties. I miss our laughter and our talks. My family has been great, but I miss being around people who are under no obligation to like or even tolerate me.
Hoping that 2021 will be a little kinder to us all and if it isn’t I hope we all have learned how to care for ourselves and go on living and loving despite our fears and failures. I hope that we conquer this virus and we learn how to prevent such great losses when the next one—perhaps even more virulent and deadly than this—rises and spreads. I hope we have learned what it means to be species, united in our struggle to survive. I hope we have learned the meaning of humanity.
I hope we will never be the same again.
So, yeah, all in all, December, like all of 2020, has been fraught with both fear and hope. Better days always felt near and yet never quite arrived. I begin the new year in much the same place, still just on the horizon of a new world and way of living.
But what about you? How has the month, and the year itself for that matter, treated you? How have you learned to cope, and how will you go on coping when the world begins its next revolution around the sun? How will you celebrate tonight and who, if anyone, will you celebrate with?
Let me know in the comments.
The inspiration for these posts comes from Andrea at Create.Share.Love
I write because…well, the best I can say for it is it’s a psychological quark of mine developed in response to whatever personal failings I have.”
— Zadie Smith, Intimations: Six Essays
Writing is control. The part of the university in which I teach should properly be called the Controlling Experience Department. Experience—mystifying, overwhelming, conscious, subconscious—rolls over everybody. We try to adapt, to learn, to accommodate, sometimes resisting, other times submitting to, whatever confronts us. But writers go further: they take this largely shapeless bewilderment and pour it into a mold of their own devising. Writing is all resistance””
— Zadie Smith, Intimations: Six Essays
Writing always reflects the previously written and read (from whatever source): Writing is rewriting. Other discourses are being transformed, integrated and dismissed. These processes of writing and reading can also be defined as mechanisms of invention and discovery.”
— Andrea Sick, Reading & Writing: 25 Manifestos
I speak a lot, I mean, a lot of words, and I rush, and it always comes out wrong. And why is it that I speak a lot of words and it comes out wrong? Because I don’t know how to speak. Those who know how to speak well, speak briefly. So, there you have my giftlessness—isn’t it true? But since this gift of giftlessness is natural to me, why shouldn’t I use it artificially? And so I do. True, as I was preparing to come here, I first had the thought of being silent; but to be silent is a great talent, and is therefore not fitting for me, and, second, it’s dangerous to be silent, after all; well, so I finally decided that it would be best to talk, but precisely in a giftless way, I mean, a lot, a lot, a lot, to be in a great rush to prove something, and towards the end to get tangled up in one’s own proofs, so that the listener throws up his hands, or, best of all, just spits and walks away without any end.”
— Fyodor Dostoevsky, Demons (via Erica Avey)
“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
Dissents speak to a future age. It’s not simply to say, ‘My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.’ But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view. So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today but for tomorrow.”
If you can work in such a way that the process will be pleasurable enough that even if nothing comes of it, the work is an end in and of itself—then you’ll be ok. It’s not a means to an end, the work is an end.”
— Jia Tolentino, On writing for the sake of writing