From the Rubble: Notes on How To Do This (or Not)

There are things I could be doing, like re organizing my house or doing a spring cleaning; I could be exercising every day or teaching myself to make scones. I could try on all my clothes and get rid of things that don’t fit or are ripped or stained. I could create a podcast or make videos with my partner or create anything, but anything, useful.

I could be distracting myself with bad TV or clever memes or parody songs that replace the original lyrics with lyrics about Covid. 

I could be sewing masks but I can’t sew and I could be prepping a syllabus and online teaching resources but I’m not teaching this spring. 

I am pretty certain I will be leaving social media in a minute; the joking all seems inappropriate, and I’m sick of this culture that laughs and snarks at everything, that craves distraction above all else. We’ve done it a million times with school shootings and hurricanes and it’s all stupid. Sorry, but it is.

We need to sit with this grief, with the grief of people having to die alone who shouldn’t be dying at all. 

Maybe just I do, and a few of you out there who are more meditative, the people who are scared, the people who need to breathe in this new reality. We have let too many moments pass where we got angry and posted things and made jokes and went back to Netflix. We’ve let school aged children die and done nothing. 

This whole culture is a death cult with no appreciation for grief. 

And I’m done, I’m stepping out of it. I need instead to slow down, to find what genuinely brings me joy.

Every night when I go to bed my 5 year old miracle of a cat – she was gifted me by the universe so I could withstand the pain of my mother’s death – cuddles with me, purrs so loudly I can feel it in my organs, and cleans my face. I cry, she cleans. She teaches me what it means to be near someone, to hold their feelings. She is, luckily, a big strong cat, our house panther, who plays otherwise all day. One of my students would marry her if she were human, and for good reason. She knows how to live and how to love and how to pay attention to how people are doing. I really couldn’t be more lucky.

On the other hand I live with a partner who makes me laugh and who appreciates long hours of no talking. She is there in an entirely different way: she goes to get things. She makes art. She reads the news. She lets me sleep and she reads on the couch. We have been together 20 years and I am thankful for that, too: we are not ironing out how to be together. We have been together through so many things and we know how we are, how we argue, who gets impatient with what. She remembers to buy kielbasa because it’s a stupid pleasure that makes me happy. 

I have these things, this wife, these cats, this home, books, Sims, writing. I have gummi bears and girl scout cookies, a freezer full of bread. I have tea and milk and too many clothes. I really do wonder why I have so many clothes. 

I have these things: my secular faith in science and smart people, my love for my hometown, earnestness, food, and music. I have the ability to sit still, to be quiet, to listen to the robins at 4am singing, singing so loud then, talking to each other across the street like the Italians singing across courtyards.

And yes, I have Netflix. I am rewatching the original CSI because it’s familiar and because, to be honest, it’s an entire show about scientists trying to find the truth and bring some justice. I know all the science is terrible, promise: I really just needed some Gil Grissom in my life.  

I know so many of you are frantic and beside yourself with fear and anxiety and boredom and what I’m trying to say, with love, is that distraction and snark may not help at all and may, in fact, be making things worse. Not for all of you. Some of you, who work in the trenches with queer grief, at hospitals, in other places where life and death are constant and immutable, need whatever glamour and humor you can find. 

I’m not surprised to hear from so many friends that cooking is what’s keeping them sane, that sharing a meal with family is what works for them. In today’s update, Cuomo talked about the Italian family dinner, and joked too that it’s never been about the food. I grew up like that too: we had family meals every night that everyone was expected to join. We took no phone calls, watched no TV; sometimes music, on the radio, but low so conversation could take center stage. I’m thankful for it; those traditions grounded me in ways I didn’t acknowledge at the time, and more than once, like Cuomo, I resented them for what I was missing because I had to eat with my family, the same way we’re all resenting all the things we were supposed to do that we’re not doing anymore because of Covid. But like that family meal, this invitation to slow down and shut up and feel things could be a way to grow roots, to find out that you are far more than you know yourself to be. 

What I’m encouraging you to do is this: make a list. Read a book that’s beyond your usual. Watch documentaries. Learn things. Cook, sew, walk. 

But try to live in a way, for a minute, that respects the grief in the world right now. Thousands of souls in this country alone, and thousands in other places are already gone. All the overcrowded cities of the world will be inundated with grief. Find a space in your life, or a time in the day, to sit with that, to feel that sadness, to send whatever love you have for the world back into it. 

If you truly need to be distracted, go ahead. But I want to ask you if you’ve even asked yourself if you do, or if you’re just caught up in a culture that demands it. Really, genuinely ask yourself if your anxiety isn’t worse because of it. Ask yourself if spending time doing yoga, or cooking, or reading, or just staring out the goddamn window at the robins and squirrels isn’t what you need more. Just try something else. Self care is not about disposable feelings, after all; it’s about the big deep revelations that change the way you live, what you value, who you love, how you love them. It’s about creating an existence that is humane, whole, and compassionate. 

Calamity like this brings potent change. I am not very good at change and so I need more time to think, to ready myself, to let go of the old expectations. Things can’t go on the way they’ve been going. The idea that we all want to go back to normal – this normal that includes laughing at ridiculous, hateful, ignorant people, this normal that lets marginalized people die, this normal that provides no guarantee of healthcare, this normal that measures our value by the size of our bank accounts. 

Well fuck that normal we’ve left behind. It wasn’t good or healthy for any of us. Pick from the rubble what’s real, what holds you, what brings out your best self. Leave the rest behind.

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