“If I get through this year, no matter how badly, it will be the biggest victory I’ve ever done.”
— The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, November 5, 1957
Looking back on the events of 2020 is surreal — January feels like a century ago, some months have blurred together into non-existence, and others contained a constant amalgamation of mundane stress and anxiety that bubbled through the walls of my apartment space.
I find myself asking, what did I even do this year, anyway? Does it even mean anything?
Let’s be real, 2020 came along and kicked us all in the sensitive bits — and then kept on kicking. Like many people, I’m grateful to have just survived. This year has been brutal and normal measurements of one’s accomplishments seem inadequate. It’s enough to just be standing (or sitting) here, having made it to 2021.
At the same time, I want to dig through the mushy mess of this year and pull out the good things — because there were indeed a few good things that happened.
The light through the window is orange — not the golden glow of a summer dawn, but the amber tint of light through smoke. If I step outside, the air tastes of ash, a bitterness on the tongue.
Friends and friends of friends have lost their homes in the recent fires, a loss greater than things contained in walls. Some of those things once held memory, an emotional resonance that resides only in the head now.
Add all the other disasters that have paraded through since the start of the year, leaving wakes of frustration, anger, and sorrow.
It weighs heavy.
It’s hard to know how to process one’s feelings in times like this, when everything seems like wreckage. David Kessler describes this current feeling as a sense of collective grief — both for a world that’s changing dramatically and an anticipatory grief for “what the future holds when we’re uncertain,” which tends to manifest as anxiety.
Kessler provides several recommendations for dealing with this, such as letting go of what you can’t control, anchoring yourself in the present moment, and stocking up on compassion. “Keep trying. There is something powerful about naming this as grief,” noted Kessler, “When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you. Emotions need motion… If we allow the feelings to happen, they’ll happen in an orderly way, and it empowers us. Then we’re not victims.”
As I attempt to process my own complex vortex of emotions, I have found myself wanting to avoid dealing with my feelings by falling into distractions, online videos and TV that never quite provide the full measure of relief I need. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that — sometimes a break from this constant pressure is what’s needed.
However, I personally find that I achieve the greatest sense of relief when I approach the situation in a more grounded way — through journalling, mediation, reading a beautiful book, or running (the last of which I’m holding off on until the smoke clears).
For you, the ways in which you ground yourself and process these feelings may be entirely different. What are the methods that work for you?
It was my birthday this week — and I am now 40 years old. I’ve crossed a threshold.
Though to be honest, the day itself never seems to mark any kind of dramatic change. Rather, I’ve been experiencing an ongoing feeling of transition over the past several months, and I’m sure it’s a feeling that will continue over the forthcoming months.
I can’t say for sure what is transitioning or what that transition will look like in the end. Sometimes change happens overnight with a bang. Sometimes, as in this case, change comes on slowly and almost imperceptibly.
Apart of this change has been my increased abundance of creative endeavors that I’ve been working on lately. Another part of if may come from the fact that I’m working on my mind and body lately, with more exercise and meditation than previously.
There’s also the fact (and this is a big one) that the world as a whole is going through massive transition right now — and we’re not entirely sure how things are going to look on the other side. The future is ambivalent, it seems to me. I simultaneously see signs that things are getting worse and signs that good people are fighting and working to make things better. I certainly hope we lean towards the later.
Anyway, shifting away from such heavy thoughts. For my birthday, I decided to gift myself a stack of books that I’m eager to read — and my wonderful brother contributed to the pile as well. So, I made a fun little video highlighting my haul.
Thank you for hanging with me, and I hope you enjoy it.
The counties in the Bay Area where I live issued a “shelter at home” order on Monday, making it mandatory for folks to stay home (except for essential work) to prevent the further spread of the COVID-19 virus.
For me, this means that I’m working from home, because
my job is non-essential (i.e. not a grocery store, medical or anything like that)
and, as an editor, I can work from home (not everybody has the kind of job where that’s possible).
I’m fortunate to be able to work from home and that working from home is going well for me. I’m able to get my work done in my pajamas, while taking breaks to walk around the house, make tea, read a bit from a book, or go for a run — depending on how my time is playing out.
For some people, the shelter at home order is delivering a large amount of stress. Some folks are out of work and not earning any money in the interim, some are able to continue working from home, but are miserable. People have been panic buying certain goods, making some essentials scarce. And parents are faced with trying to teach their children who are out of school and feeling overwhelmed. All of this on top of worry about the spread of the virus itself.
It’s a stressful time to exist in.
I found a few thoughtful posts over the past couple of days that have soothed me. I’m sharing them here, in case they’ll do the same for you.
Finding peace and stillness in the midst of chaos is a challenge, but it’s one that we must meet. We can choose to spend the entire day in worry — and it would not be invalid if we did. Our finances, our health, and our stability are at risk. But we can also choose to take back a few minutes for ourselves, to sit in silence, to just be alive, to just surround ourselves with the things that bring us pleasure and joy.
Looking back at the past couple of years, it seems we live in a time of plague and fire and politically difficult situations; but that’s the way the world has ever been. Many times have felt like end times to those enduring the uncertainties that come with changed routines and dangerous events, natural and human-created. Here we are, raking the garden, hoping there’ll be harvest.
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Over the previous two weeks, my day job has been eating my brain. During this time, our leader was out for medical reasons — and so, faced with an an oppressive and immovable deadline, I was working 10-11 hours days in order to complete a total of nine articles (each 3,000 words or more) over the course of eight days, as well as keeping the website updated with new articles. This was in addition to two hours of daily commute.
The exhaustion during this time was intense. I could measure how tired my brain was by the level of pressure inside my skull. I started developing headaches and back pain. I had trouble concentrating. My emotions were chaotic.
One night, I came home so tired that I felt drunk. I was dizzy, couldn’t keep my balance, and when I flopped down onto the bed to sleep, the room began spinning.
I don’t recommend this.
If it had been possible, I would have pushed the deadline back a few days or even a week — a more reasonable timeframe that would have enabled me to work at a pace more conducive to my physical and mental health. Since, that wasn’t an option, I had to find ways to provide self care that would help to keep me going and finish the work.
Here’s how I made it through the stress.
Find a Calming Anchor – On my desk, I a small stone that I collected from a beach in Homer, Alaska. In times of stress, I’ll hold this stone in my palm and picture standing on that beach, breathing in and out in rhythm with the waves. It calmed and refocused me for moment before jumping back into the work. An anchor can be anything that resonates with you — an object, a place, or even just breathing itself.
Get Moving – Whether it was just standing up to stretch or taking a walk around the office building, I tried to make sure to move regularly throughout the day. The movement was essential, helping to give my brain a rest and ease some of the back pain I was experiencing.
Use the Brain in Different Ways – Because I was working with words at my day job, it was out of the question for me to come home and read a book — let alone write my own things. However, I did find enjoyment in switching my brain power to other processes, including simple puzzle games, such as Two Dots, and video editing.
You wouldn’t think that the detail orientated aspects of video editing would actually be relaxing — but it was different enough from writing to energize my brain and provide relief. It also had the bonus of feeding my need for a creative outlet.
Sleep – On the night of dizziness, I could not concentrate enough to even zone out watching television. The only solution was to crash into bed and give in to the sleep. When your brain just can’t anymore, sleep is healing.
What methods do you use to help keep you going through mental exhaustion and stressful periods?
I’ve returned to the YouTube life. If you never knew that I once made vlogs and shared them publicly, that’s fine. Not many people watched them, and itt was around seven years ago since I made the last one.
I’ve missed it though, and I’ve never stopped thinking of new video ideas. Instead of waiting for the perfect moment or technology or time, I decided to just go for it and jump back in. So, I made a video discussing my ten favorite things from 2019 — books movies, games, travel, writing stuff, and more. This is acts as a companion to My Ten Favorite Fiction Reads and My Ten Favorite Poetry Books.
Book of the Month
My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite was my favorite read of the month. Set in Nigeria, the story focuses on two sisters — one is who alluringly beautiful and has a tendency to kill her boyfriends, and the other who is a nurse and is often left with cleaning up the mess. At the heart of this novel and what makes it so compelling — is how it addresses the complexities of sisterhood, with its blend of frustration, jealousy, anger, compassion, and love. Sisters, I just want you to know, I’d help you clean up your messes, too.
Check out the rest of my Culture Consumption for the month of January, with all the books, movies, TV, games, and podcasts that I’ve enjoyed.
More Good Stuff
It’s Women in Horror Month, so here’s a guide to literary women in horror. It’s fantastic list of books, which increases my TBR exponentially.
“What does it mean that a whole style of writing is going out of style?” asks Holly Lynn Walwrath on the loss of cursive.
Maggie Smith keeps moving, writing powerful daily thoughts of optimism and hope, even when faced with loss. For example, “Do not be stilled by anger or grief. Burn them both and use that fuel to keep moving. Look up at the clouds and tip your head way back so the roofs of the houses disappear. Keep moving.”