Greetings. It’s been a while since I’ve updated the blog with the Tips for Today. These go through last Thursday. (I didn’t write a tip on Friday.) Thank you for reading.
June 29, 2020
We’re not done yet. I know. We want things to be normal. We want to eat out and hug friends and do the things we used to do in February before the world changed. More and more, we realize that we can’t yet. It’s not time yet. We’re not done yet. There’s an interesting point in grieving where you realize you’re not quite in the deep grief space but you’re not quite out of it either. It’s a liminal space, a threshold space. Every time you laugh, you feel some guilt about feeling an inkling of happiness. Every time you do something normal, like take a shower or do the dishes or cook a healthy meal, you think about how effortless it was to do, but then you get sad because it was effortless. The grief is getting easier to carry, but it’s still very much there. Some days you feel like your old self; other days you just sit on the couch and move as little as possible because you simply can’t. It’s an odd tug-of-war on the self. The grief work isn’t done yet. It still has more to teach you. This is where we are with the pandemic. Part of us is very much done with this constant attention to carefulness. We want to move through the world with the reckless abandon we had just a few months ago. But we can’t yet. We are growing resentful of the people we see as being unhelpful: those who don’t wear masks, who have parties, who demand places open. We can resent all we want, but it’s not going to move us out of this space faster. We still have work to do here. So give yourself some space to be resentful for a bit if you need, but then remember the hopes we had as we settled in to quarantine. We wanted to come out of this kinder, more attentive, more intentional. We wanted to be more accepting of stillness and more grateful for those people who do work behind the scenes. We haven’t learned the lessons yet. We haven’t finished the work yet. We’re not done yet.
June 30, 2020
Capacity shifts. Today ends the 30 Opportunities for Yoga that I’ve been doing. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’m capable of through these weeks. As my body has become stronger, more things have become more accessible to me. I am astounded each time it happens. I am less afraid because of this challenge. I used to avoid “intermediate” or “advanced” classes. I won’t now. Not everything will be doable, but much of it will. And I can adjust what isn’t. This doesn’t just apply to yoga, of course. I notice myself being more flexible overall, more resilient overall. Anxiety forces us into small spaces. It makes you stick to what’s comfortable, what doesn’t cause panic. Movements can become very constrained. The body is tense, ready to fight or fly at any provocation. In many ways, I feel like I’ve lived this way for ten years, since Shaun’s suicide. That experience forced me into a tight little ball of self-protection. For whatever reason, the time has finally come to unfurl. I’m doing that in a very concrete way with yoga, but it’s happening in a more abstract way as I embrace my call as a writer. Unfurling. Over and over again. Into this new space. As we reckon with the continuing pandemic, as we are exhausted by the never-ending-ness of it, how is our capacity changing? Are we doing less or more? If it has shrunk you, how can you expand into your space again? Where can you build strength? Where can you breathe deeper? This pandemic has changed us. Our abilities have changed as a result. We are more capable than we think.
July 1, 2020
Do the thing that brings some joy. I’m exhausted. Again. Three nights in a row of very interrupted sleep because of fireworks, storms, and a dog who hates both. Buddy is, on some level, getting conditioned to hate nighttime. I think our last night of totally uninterrupted sleep was two weeks ago. It was glorious. I miss that night. We’ll get through this strange time of sleeplessness, but it has me feeling foggy today. (No doubt those of you who have had newborns are laughing at me.) I’m tempted to go crawl in to bed, but that seems like defeat. I have work to do, deadlines to meet. A nap will happen later. In the afternoon it doesn’t feel like defeat; it feels like luxury. But here’s the joy part: I’m going to bake a cake today. I’ve had a hankering for a chocolate stout cake. It’s taken a few days to decide what kind of frosting I want: the middle layer will be a whipped cream with Irish cream; the frosting itself will be a whipped ganache. If that doesn’t infuse some joy into this sleepless delirium, I don’t know what will. These pandemic days have grown tedious. As we reckon with how or if it will change in the States, it feels as if we’ve made no progress. On the one hand, we haven’t. On the other, there are broader, bigger shifts taking place. But as we look at news and increasing numbers and travel bans and continued (necessary) protests, I feel the need to find the joy. So much of what we’re doing is hard work, important work; we need to let ourselves rest into some easy and joyous work too. Today, that looks like cake.
July 2, 2020
Be inspired. Recently we’ve watched several shows/specials about people doing their thing. I’m going to draw parallels between two unlikely people: Kevin Smith and Toni Morrison. Kevin Smith is a filmmaker. You might know him for Dogma or Clerks or other random things. His work isn’t necessarily my cup of tea. But Patrick finds him funny, and we’ve watched some of his “stand up” shows. They’re not comedy, exactly, but they’re talks where he tells stories about his experiences as a filmmaker. We actually went to see him live a few years ago. He’s ridiculous and funny and irreverent and crass and likes weed. I appreciate some of those things and tolerate others. But here’s what I do love about him: he does his art and he encourages others to do theirs. Unabashedly. I love this. He tells his audiences that if they’re waiting for “talent” to show up, they’ll be waiting forever. If they have an idea for a book or movie or tv show—DO IT! He calls failure “success training.” How cool is that? He has found a way to do his art and wants others to do the same so they don’t live with regret about what could have been. And Morrison. Did you all watch The Pieces I Am on PBS last week? It’s streaming now. Go. Watch it. I’ll wait . . . Okay. Did you hear that part where she wrote the list of things that needed to get done, like going to the grocery store and cooking and paying bills? And then she wrote the things she had to do to survive: being a mom and writing. Two things. Morrison was an editor who amplified the voices of people needing to be heard. She was a voice that needed to be heard too so she wrote the books she wanted to read. And she raised two kids while writing these incredible novels about being human. She did her art. Slowly I am stepping in to the space of calling myself a writer. Hearing these two very different voices say essentially the same thing—do your art—moves me closer and closer to that space. I’m not sure what clicked within this pandemic and protest time for me, but within these days I have found inspiration. Within the tedium and fear and static, there is a spark bursting into flame. Find your inspiration.
July 3, 2020
Think through freedom. I have a love-hate relationship with the Fourth. (And no, it’s not just because of Buddy’s fear of fireworks.) I appreciate that we’re free in the United States, but there are two big caveats to that statement: (1) we aren’t the only free country in this world; (2) a lot of people within our borders do not experience the freedom the Fourth celebrates. The United States is a grand experiment. It has been tested. It is being tested. Maybe this year is a great time to consider what freedom truly means for us. It’s an election year. We have the freedom to vote, but more and more we’re learning how that freedom is restricted or suppressed. How free are we if polling places are strategically closed? How free are we if voter registration is not automatic? How free are we when disenfranchisement is an assumed part of the voting process? We have been confined, at least somewhat, to our homes. We have been asked to put our own needs aside to help others. As a country. As a world. But then, as a country, we started to fail. So where are we now? What does freedom mean when we can’t figure out how to put a little piece of fabric over our nose and mouth to protect others? What does freedom mean when we’re so concerned with getting haircuts and going to bars that we don’t care how this affects others around us? What does freedom mean when we’ll sacrifice people for the economy (i.e., a living being for an abstract, constructed reality)? This year we are reckoning with racism in a way I certainly haven’t seen in my lifetime, with the exception, perhaps, of the LA Riots, but I was young and don’t recall those very well. Are we free if a large portion of our citizenry can’t do everyday things (e.g., jog, go to the store, sleep in their own bed) without fear of being killed by cops? Are we free if incarceration is a modern form of slavery? Are we free if we construct walls to keep people out and stoke the fires of fear and hate? There is a lot to celebrate about the United States. But there’s a lot to think critically about too. So, sure, enjoy the celebration, but consider that the freedom we celebrate isn’t unfettered, universal, equal. Maybe this Fourth we can make a commitment to change that.
July 6, 2020
Refresh. I took three days off of yoga. I took three days off of makeup and bras and demands. (I did work on Friday, but it was a “relax day” too.) I took naps. I read fiction and the London Review of Books. I drank tea and made scones. I quilted and we watched shows. The last two weeks have been rough at our house. We’ve been tired. We’ve been pushing through. Patrick and I don’t tend to fight. We might snip at each other, but generally, we talk things out pretty well. I’m lucky he lets a lot roll off his back. He’s lucky I have learned from him how to do that. We’re lucky. But we had a fight last week. It got resolved, and the blame is squarely on lack of sleep and short fuses. So this weekend, I went into restore mode. I knew Friday and Saturday nights would be rough with Buddy (the dog who hates fireworks). They were. We have a system that mostly works now, but it means Patrick is sleeping on a cot in the basement, and I don’t sleep well if he’s not snoring by me. Yesterday I got up at 8, made tea, had a few sips, ate breakfast and read an article from the LRB, then promptly fell asleep until 10:30. Then we took a nap in the afternoon. It was supposed to be twenty minutes. It ended up being two hours. We needed it. It’s tempting to feel guilty about taking multiple long naps. I’m embarrassed to admit it. Weekends are for doing! We should have done stuff yesterday! Like laundry! And more cleaning! And work! And all the things! But we didn’t. We checked out. And it felt good. This morning, I got up and wrote. I got to my yoga mat. As you begin a yoga class, the teacher will often ask you to consider an intention for the class. The word that came to me again and again today was “Refreshment.” Things can grow pretty stale these days. We might not be moving as much as we have been, or we’re moving very differently. We’re holding a lot of emotions and thoughts in our heads and hearts. We may have hit the start button after being paused for a bit, but it still feels like the tape isn’t quite right yet. We feel we should be doing so much more, but that’s not necessarily doable or good yet. I know it’s Monday, and weeks are not good times to “refresh,” but I’m going to challenge you to find refreshment this week. A cool drink on the patio. Finding five minutes of quiet in the midst of a chaotic or frustrating day. Doing a thing you love instead of a thing you have to for a bit. Listening to music that makes you dance. Find that well of refreshment and rejuvenation. Drink deep. You’ll come back to your day stronger, better, steadier.
July 7, 2020
Watch your language. Ever since George Floyd was murdered, I’ve been very attentive to how I use “light” and “dark” in these tips. Maybe I’m being overly sensitive or taking care where care isn’t needed, but I don’t think so. Language shapes who we are. It’s how we express ourselves but also how we form ourselves. It gives us context. We interpret the world through our language, which is both concrete and symbolic. It’s the symbolic function of “light” and “dark” that I’ve been considering a lot lately. Consider art or literature or movies. The light spaces are the safe ones. Julie Andrews singing on a mountaintop. Mufasa showing Simba the kingdom and describing it as the place where the light touches. The dark spaces are the dangerous ones. The dark woods where little girls in red hoods encounter wolves. Mufasa telling Simba not to go to the shadowy place. Consider too the ways in which “bad guys” are portrayed in films. Very often it’s Black or Brown men (and sometimes women) used to subtly tell us, hey, this character isn’t good. And this isn’t just an old phenomenon. Watch Guardians of the Galaxy; it happens there too. But there’s another side to “light” and “dark.” Consider the fear we feel when a heinous crime is committed in broad daylight. It seems unthinkable. Think also of the richness of what darkness gives us: the dirt in which seeds grow; the magical woods of Lothlorien or Midsummer Night’s Dream; the chance for rest and restoration through sleep. My point is this: we have to watch our symbolic language. We lean very heavily on the light/good–dark/bad symbols. This seeps ever so subtly into our thinking about how we see light and dark skin too. If you pay any attention to what Trump and other white supremacists are telling us, it’s that protestors and those working for racial justice are trying to take away “our history.” They claim that racial equality and justice diminishes who white people are. Aside from being total bollocks, it’s a complete lack of understanding how expansive this equality and justice are. We are being called to look at who we have been and see that we can be more. Our images of light and dark aren’t one sided. So don’t use them as such. Use the dark to describe beauty and goodness and richness. Use light to describe the unexpected ways fear shows up. Flip the narratives to see what our language can do. Flip it to see who we can become.
A note about capitalization: The Chicago Manual of Style has changed their recommendation to now capitalize “Black” and “Brown.” Other guides are making the same change. It is a good one. Capitalization of “white” is not as clear-cut, and Chicago leaves it up to authors and presses. I am choosing to lowercase it. When considering that “Black” encompasses a tradition, albeit varied, and a history, capitalization makes a lot of sense. Similar statements could be said about Brown culture, but that’s much more varied. Still, the cap seems appropriate. But “white” doesn’t have the same cultural cohesiveness. Add to that, white supremacists often choose to capitalize “white.” My biggest reason for the lowercase is that it implies humility, and that’s something we white people desperately need to foster these days. More on that tomorrow.
July 8, 2020
Cultivate humility. The best editing advice I ever got came from a chiropractor. Barb Hoyt was a family friend who also got me to stand up straight. She was fierce and kind and witty. She taught me about wine and how to say “fuck.” I know that last thing is a strange one, but she said it so beautifully. It was poetry coming from Barb. She died in 2013, and I miss her. But before I started my job at Liturgical Press in 2008, I went home to Kansas City for a few weeks. I saw Barb for an adjustment. Splayed out on her table, I was at her mercy. She had a particular way of holding her hands when she made a point, and as she alternated between cracking and sermonizing, she pointed her finger and said, “Humility. Humility. Humility. Remember that. When you edit, you’re dealing with people’s babies.” These words have resonated as I’ve worked with authors I’ve loved and others who challenged and frustrated me. The work isn’t about me. It did take me some time to figure this out, but with Barb’s words ringing in my ears, I eventually learned it. We tend to think of humility as a negative, and there certainly is a “doormat” philosophy that is dangerous. But that’s not actually humility. In his Rule, Benedict lays out twelve steps of humility. There’s some doormat potential, as he writes that we are but “worms,” but Benedict’s whole goal is to remind the monks that they are not God. They are God’s workers. Benedictines have a strong sense of self. Sure, you get some who are rather arrogant. But in general, the Benedictines I know live in such a way that they know their gifts and weaknesses, they thank God for their abilities, and they do not strive to puff themselves up with pride. This is humility: to know yourself, both your gifts and your limits. This has been a year of learning humility. As we confront covid-19, we must learn that we are not capable of all the things all the time and that others matter as much as we do. As we confront racism and white supremacy, many of us are reckoning with how we have allowed such evils to flourish. It takes humility to put on a mask. It takes humility to acknowledge how you’ve participated in systems of abuse. As people push back against masks or safety measures, as they claim that “all lives matter” and Confederate monuments are “our history,” I see a confusion between humility and humiliation. Humiliation belittles and shames. It leaves no room for discussion or growth. I suspect that those who are fighting against current reality feel humiliated or fear humiliation. Humility, on the other hand, is expansive. It is grace-filled. In humility, we see our strengths and know how much room there is for improvement. Barb’s advice still rings true in these days of pandemic and protest: we are dealing with people’s babies. We must bring humility to the table.
July 9, 2020
Notice the things that set you off. I had a rough patch yesterday. After getting up early with the dog for the storm, making berry scones, and working, I got really nervous mid-morning. Nervous like I had been in late March and April. Unsettled. Breathing tight. Slightly spinny. I noticed it immediately. (Sometimes, nervousness sneaks up on you. It takes a while to realize that you’re holding your breath. That wasn’t yesterday.) And then I thought about what I’d read in the morning: an article about covid brain damage; information about the Broadway star who died of it; another article about all the unknowns. So, duh. Of course I was anxious. I had steeped myself in the muck. Anxiety requires that you get to know yourself pretty well. And it lets you know when you’ve forgotten. Yesterday I forgot. Once I remembered, it was easier to settle back down, to get back to work, to breathe deeper. It was a blip, but a helpful, if disconcerting, one. We have become very sensitive to things that “trigger” people in recent years. It’s an important and kind thing to let them know they may encounter unsettling information. But sometimes we can’t be prepared for how we’ll react; what triggers us one day doesn’t the next. So we have to be constantly and consistently aware of our responses and reactions. Not in a hyperactive or panicked way, though that can happen and is a signal that things need to shift. But in an intentional way, a way that allows us to see when we can enter the muck and when it might be best to stay among the wildflowers. We’re not through this yet, and exhausting though it may be, such awareness is the only way forward. Know what rocks your boat; know too what steadies your ship. Either way, keep sailing.
July 10, 2020
Embrace humility, part 2. Last night someone forwarded me an e-mail about being proud to be white. It was all those racist tropes about how there’s an NAACP but no protection for white people; about how there’s a Black history month but not a white history month; about how white people are called racist just for being proud of who they are. I was angry. I’m still angry. I requested that forwards of this sort not be sent to me again and explained that I live an hour from where George Floyd was murdered and that people drive around our town with Confederate flags on their trucks to terrorize Somali refugees. This week a woman had to explain to her two-year-old and four-year-old children what the swastika and “N” word carved on to the slide at a local playground mean. Two and four. Tell me again why I should be proud of my whiteness. I also suggested articles and podcasts for further education on why Black lives matter and what the big deal is. Because it is a big deal. I was told, in response, to reread the original screed. I didn’t. As I’ve reflected on this for the last twelve hours (minus, of course, the sleeping time), I’ve landed here: I am not proud to be white. I am proud to be Irish. The history of the Irish is tenacious and wise and deep. We have dark senses of humor, and music courses through our blood (even if some of us can’t carry a tune in a bucket). Our literature is full of the beauty of green hills and the unpredictability of the sea. Our religion is a stunning mixture of the devout and the pagan. We carry hunger and oppression within us, and we have mixed relationships with alcohol. Being Irish is a thing to be proud of, but it is not dependent on whiteness. Being proud of whiteness carries with it a history of supremacy, evil, and hatred. The history of being white in the United States is one of inflicting terror on Black and Brown people. I will never be proud of that. One of the most stunning realizations that we, as white people, can come to is that we often erased Black people’s history. I can be proud to be Irish because I know where I come from. Due to slavery, Black people sometimes don’t know where they come from. When I first stepped on Irish soil, I knew I had landed at home. It was one of the most surreal and incredible experiences of my life. I knew my people had walked on that land, and I felt it course through me. White people stole home from Black people. I am not proud of that. I do, however, support Black pride. Here’s why: Black pride is a reclaiming of identity and dignity that white people took. Black pride is taking up space when they have been told for four hundred years to shut up and get on with the work. Black pride carries hunger and oppression within and keeps going anyway; we Irish folks should be able to get that. Black pride is singing subversive songs of faith despite being whipped and beaten and killed. Black pride does not diminish me. It shows me how to be human, resilient, faithful, and strong. Black pride is about breaking chains and flying. I will always, always, stand on the ground in awe of those taking flight.
July 13, 2020
This is not normal. Nothing about this year is normal. We are trying to get back to “normal,” but that doesn’t exist anymore. As I hear about schools reopening, as the secretary of education dismisses the dangers of “only” .02 percent of children dying from covid, as I see friends who are parents and teachers trying to figure out how to manage logistics and fear, as we hit record numbers of daily diagnoses, as our death rate increases largely unchecked, as people fight about masks and personal space—it is so tempting to slip into numbness. To let this become a new normal. As we see the fallout from Floyd’s, Taylor’s, Arbery’s deaths; as we continue to see instances of police brutality; as people argue over whether Black and Brown people should have rights; as we witness lynchings—it is so tempting to turn away from the pain. To say it’s always been this way and cannot change. In pandemic and protest, it has become tempting to allow normalization to be normal. The Trump Administration is trying to get us to accept the covid response as good, decent, fine. It isn’t. There is so much that could have been done. There is so much that could still be done. We are nearing 140,000 deaths in the United States; that should haunt this administration for the rest of their lives. They are making a choice. They are normalizing what is abhorrent. White supremacists, the Trump Administration, and racists want us to believe that violence against Black and Brown people is okay. They deserve it. They’ve asked for it. They are to blame for how they are treated. This has been the normalized narrative for over four hundred years. Many of us white people have accepted this othering language; we have normalized it, intentionally or not. But it is very abnormal. We are committing ourselves to changing the norms. We don’t have to accept what the Trump Administration is allowing. On November 3, we have a very real chance to change things. Until then, we must remember that sacrificing .02 percent of children isn’t acceptable or normal. We must remember that caging or killing Black and Brown people isn’t acceptable, though it has been normalized. We get to create a new sense of what’s normal. That is what this pandemic and these protests have given us. They have ripped out the weeds and tilled the soil. We get to decide what seeds to plant. What do we want to grow here? What “normal” are we tending? The seeds I’m planting are these: kindness, listening deeply, commitment to justice, critical thinking, prophetic speaking, compassion, unwillingness to accept brutality in any form, nonviolence, an open heart. Your seeds might be different. Together we can grow a new normal. One that isn’t so damn awful.
July 14, 2020
Dance. It happened again. Another e-mail. More hate. I got sad. I got angry. I felt frustration building and coursing through me. I took Cully outside and let out a guttural groan of frustration. The release felt good, but not enough. And I didn’t want the neighbors to get concerned if I just started screaming, which was, I admit, kind of what I wanted to do. I came inside and tried to settle to work. I turned on Sinead O’Connor’s “Daddy, I’m Fine” instead and cranked up the volume. I danced. Flailing arms and swaying hips and loud singing. Then I turned on some Alanis Morrisette and did the same for two songs. By the end of “You Oughta Know,” I was drained. The anger somewhat dissipated. The frustration no longer building up and being stored in my body. My inclination when agitated is to settle, to be still. Since anxiety can create jitteriness, a need to fidget, a desire to be anywhere but where you are, I try to counteract that by quieting and stilling. But not all emotions require stillness. Sometimes they require movement and release. We hold a lot. That holding can create hardness. I don’t want another person’s ignorance to harden my heart. I want to move freely, so yesterday I danced. In so doing, I let go of what doesn’t serve me and grabbed hold of what does. I returned to love.
July 15, 2020
Change. I’ve never understood why, when signing yearbooks, people write, “Don’t ever change!” Even as a high schooler, I knew there would be changes ahead and that I should embrace them. As delightful as I was as a teenager, I figured there might be more I could become. I saw it in the incredible and strong women who surrounded me and grew me up. Recently I’ve been rereading Wuthering Heights, a book I first read as a junior in high school. I hated it back then. The characters were whiny, and I couldn’t understand why they used death as a punishment for lack of love. As if that would solve anything. I distinctly recall telling my mother this, and she said, “Oh, dear, someday you’ll understand that book.” Twenty years later, I am not who I was. The book is the same, but I have changed a lot. I see the darkness in this book now. It isn’t a love story; it’s a horror story. I can’t decide if I love this book for the way it subverts the normal narrative of love with one of revenge or if I’m utterly disturbed by the abuse, control, and dysfunction. Probably both. So much of 2020 is about embracing change. We’re wavering between loving, or at least accepting, the changes and being utterly disturbed by them. Some we welcome with open arms; others require a lot more work. Much of the pushback we’re seeing to various covid restrictions and protest demands has to do with resisting change. The status quo has worked really well for some people for a long time. Changing that is unnerving for them. But for those for whom the status quo hasn’t been working, these changes are an awakening, a refreshment, an enlightenment. Many of us are ready to step into the next phase of what pandemic and protest are bringing. We see potential and are ready to make it real. For the rest, for those entrenched in what was and afraid of what will be, I hear my mother’s words ringing, “Oh, dear, someday you’ll understand.” I sure hope so.
July 16, 2020
Listen to the prophets. There is a common misconception that prophets tell us what will be. The more accurate understanding of prophets is that they hold up a mirror so we can clearly see what is; the what-will-be of prophecy has to do with the consequences of what is. Prophets tell us how our relationships have become imbalanced; they point out the ways in which we have become abusive of earth or others. They show us how we have turned from God and therefore turned toward sin or disorder or chaos. Prophets call us to repent, to turn from what harms to what gives life. Prophets are always moving us from wrong relationship to right relationship. They restore balance; they are not always thanked for this. The prophets I’m attending to these days are Greta Thunberg, Heather Cox Richardson, Rachel Cargle, Jim Martin, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, John Lewis. (I’m probably forgetting some, but these are my go-to prophets right now.) These prophets are opening our eyes to injustice. But they also show a way forward. They have a vision for making the world better. They tell us what is, but they show us what can be. When we get stuck in the muck and mire of how unpleasant things are, our prophets lift us up. They show us how to persevere, how to face reality, how to hope. We need our prophets these days. We need to open our hearts and ears to them. The reality they show might be grim, but turning away from it leads to more destruction. Turning toward what they say, turning toward right relationship with earth, with others, with God—this is how we will heal what has been torn apart in 2020.
July 17, 2020
Consider the gifts. We are all kinds of muddled right now. I feel particularly for teachers, parents, and students preparing to go back to school or navigating what options are available for different ways of learning. I can only imagine the stress, fear, and frustration. All of us are exasperated. Things that seem so simple are now fraught with medical or political implications. We moved, within a matter of months, from “We’re all in this together!” to “Why are people so stupid!?!” or “You can’t control me!” Of course we did. A friend posted yesterday about the necessity of story right now. We have forgotten the narratives. I think too that we’ve forgotten the gifts. Covid has taken away things, but it has also given us things. If we focus on what has been destroyed by covid, and there is a time and place and necessity for that, then we step into a place of fear and grief and unsettledness. We need to recognize and feel this. But we also need to see the gifts that have come about. Because there are gifts here, in the midst of the difficulty. Personally, I don’t know that I’d have claimed my role as a writer as strongly as I have without this time. It has allowed me to blossom and unfurl. The past ten years of grappling with grief and anxiety have made sense in these months in a way they never have before. That has been gift. The slowing down of the world worked for my brain and body. The pressure to be certain ways was lifted a little. I recognize that I sit in a privileged place where this is concerned. I work from home already, and I’m an introvert without kids to manage and educate. But even if you feel like this has been a time of nothing but chaos, can you take time to find a gift? Were new relationships or boundaries created or strengthened? Did you discover different rhythms for your day? Do you feel more attuned to the needs of others? Are you more aware of how connected all of us are? Have you incorporated dance parties or exercise into your day? Did you rediscover a hobby that has been on the back burner since you had kids or started your career? Were your eyes opened to injustice in such a way that you feel unable to go back to how things were? Are you committed to stepping into the world differently now? There are gifts here. Give yourself time to see what they are.
July 20, 2020
Find the still point. One anxiety symptom I have is dizziness. It’s not actual dizziness but a sensation of it. Kind of hard to describe. I know I’m not spinning, but I feel like I’m spinning. When it happens, I generally notice that my chest is tight, and I’m not breathing freely. I stop. I find a focus. I note that, no, I’m not spinning. No, I’m not breathing. Doing that might help. It always helps. The still point brings me back. We are swirling these days. Be it the conversations about schools and public spaces opening, be it having to continually insist that Black and Brown lives matter and being horrified by unmarked officers dragging protestors into unmarked cars—we are spinning. It shouldn’t be this hard, but it is this hard. We can get lost in this. We can get overwhelmed by it. We must find a still point, a steadying point. For me, that has been yoga and writing. It has also been finding the good: the tributes to John Lewis this weekend; spending time with friends, miming hugs and laughing in each other’s presence; swinging a golf club and actually hitting the ball; opening my ears to more Black musicians and letting their voices and compositions move my body, mind, and heart; seeing the “Black Lives Matter” murals being painted on streets; kneading dough to make bread. Your still points may be different, but find them. So much of what’s happening is designed to unsteady us, to disorient us, to knock us off center. Finding the still point is an act of resistance. It is a refusal to lose focus, to move our concentration from what matters. By finding the still point in the midst of the chaos, we root down and stand firm. We become a still point ourselves.
July 21, 2020
Do what you can. In some ways, I feel utterly useless in these days of pandemic and protest. I sit here doing my work and writing some stuff on Facebook. I haven’t joined physical protests because I don’t want to be around that many people, and I’m scared (of violence by people threatened by protestors, not by protestors themselves). So I sit here and write. It’s what I can do. Since you all have watched Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am from American Masters on PBS, I know you’ll understand this next bit. Morrison was an editor before she was a writer. She worked for a division of Random House, and one of the things she did while there was publish Black authors who were leading and participating in protests in the late 1960s and 1970s. She acknowledged that she wasn’t on the streets protesting, but what she could do was make the protestors’ voices heard in a different, perhaps more permanent way. She brought Black voices front and center in a way they may not have been without her foresight and persistence. She did what she could where she was. As we mourn John Lewis, I’ve been struck, as many people have, by his quote about causing “good trouble.” It reminds me of something Wangari Maathai once said, that we need to be “stubbornly hopeful.” Lewis and Maathai experienced precisely the violence I fear: beatings, harassment, torture. Maathai’s hair was ripped out of her head when she was imprisoned for causing a movement of women planting trees in Kenya. And still, she went on planting. These two did what they could where they were. Their “could” looks different from mine. I don’t know what “good trouble” I’m causing. In many ways, I think I’m simply troubling my heart to open itself to the pain and fear that people experience daily. Knowledge is power, and my heart is knowing things differently this year. I am growing in power. I am persisting in my stubborn hopefulness while sitting here typing words that at times feel insubstantial. We may want to do all the things all the time, but we can’t. I am in awe when I watch videos of protestors chanting the names of Black people murdered by cops; it is a modern-day litany of saints. I am moved to tears as I read about the moms standing between Homeland Security officers and protestors in Portland, being tear-gassed and singing, “Hands up, please don’t shoot me”; it is a new and dangerous form of vigil. I cannot be there, but I can be here, and what I have are words. We must all figure out what it is we have to offer these times. And then we have to offer it.
July 22, 2020
Sometimes you just have to fight through it. Last night I was so excited for today’s yoga. The weather would be cooler, so I could open the windows; the breeze would be glorious. I had a class picked out. I was ready to go. But then I woke up this morning and had no desire to get on the mat. I did it anyway. And I fought myself through the class. And the windows were open, but there wasn’t really a breeze. I twisted and folded and lunged and planked. At some point I went rogue and did some stretching I felt like doing rather than what Clara said to do. (Rogue yoga is kind of fun; it feels so rebellious.) But I so didn’t want to be there. I haven’t felt this way about yoga for a while. It’s been a beautiful space in my day: challenging, expansive, strengthening, stilling. Today it was not that. I did it anyway. And, oddly enough, some words of Patrick Mahomes came to me. Remember when the Chiefs won the Super Bowl? That seems so very far away. There was still some time left on the clock, but the Chiefs had clearly won it. There was an extra point to make, or something like that. The team was going bonkers. They were celebrating and excited. I think most of them had left the field; there was partying to do. Except there were those extra seconds to finish. The camera panned to Mahomes, and you could see him saying, “Finish the game! Finish the game!” I loved that. He wasn’t going to let those seconds go to waste. He was not letting go of the game because it wasn’t finished yet. I didn’t want to finish the game today. I wanted to lay down on the mat and just be done moving. But sometimes you have to keep fighting through the game. If only the prove to yourself that you can.
July 23, 2020
We learn. Yesterday Governor Tim Walz of Minnesota announced a mask mandate for the state. Several other governors have done the same. A little over half of the states have such mandates. I’m glad Gov. Walz has made this move. I wish it had been done earlier, but I understand why it wasn’t. (He was trying to get support from state GOP legislators so this would be a bipartisan move. It appears they still don’t support it. Gov. Walz is moving forward anyway.) There has been some waffling on masks, especially early on in the pandemic. They were not advised, and then they were. Their effectiveness was downplayed, and then it wasn’t. But here’s the trick: we know more now. There’s still a lot we don’t know, but we’ve had, globally, over six months of learning about covid-19. We can put that knowledge to use, and one of the ways to do that is to wear a mask. Sometimes politicians are accused of being wishy-washy when they change their minds or support policies they previously opposed. Certainly, pandering happens. But I think learning does too. Education does not end when we get a diploma. And one of the amazing things about education is that it makes us grow and change. We are invited to behave differently because of what we learn. It isn’t wishy-washy or flip-flopping. It’s becoming, growing, maturing, converting. We’ve seen this over and over again throughout history. We’re seeing it now as we learn about epidemiology, about racism, about women’s issues, about LGBTQ rights. We don’t necessarily learn a thing and then it stays that way all the time. Except, perhaps, math. But when it comes to science and humans and language, we are continually learning and developing. What we know builds on what came before. If we stay stuck in the knowledge we had, despite what has come to be known since, then we are not working very hard to be better humans. Changing behaviors or thoughts because you learned something new is not shameful. It shows that you are committed to your humanity.