I wrote most of this in May. It started as a personal journal or narrative type post I didn’t have the courage to publish, that morphed into a type of essay, and then a collage of perspectives of sorts. Centered around the same theme, in fivish parts. I decided the many reservations I had about tackling such a big and polarizing topic and sharing it specifically here, were beside the point. Writing isn’t for just giving all the answers, it’s for voicing questions and understanding them better. This includes challenging certain ideologies, as well as articulating their influence.
Writing is also not just for aesthetics, but for sorting through confusion to find some sense. I wanted clarity on the many ideas and feelings, and comfort on different aspects of the self reacting to a collective crisis. I also wanted a place to be sad and angry and not have to feel guilty about it. There was no better friend than the page at times. Though the page can never replace true love lost or a life grieved, it is such a kind place to land at first (– at least until it’s time to edit). A place to be understood, to be heard, in abstract or tangible ways. That’s what’s so beautiful about the writing process. The page hears you through phases of relative silence–or conversely through too much noise–and so do others in future who read and enjoy it. And in writing, you hear others too. You listen, to talk. Since we know that language doesn’t come out of a vacuum but out of a culture. We’re each another vessel for it, so only from there can we build or create, and if we do, we serve, we don’t just take. Even if that’s not the intention. It just happens. It feels important to start some kind of conversation in the world, even if hardly anyone reads it.
“Political” isn’t the right word for the places this topic goes. They are politically related, but I was thinking more philosophically in a way–although that’s not the right word either. Thinking civically, perhaps. What do we really value? How do we want to live? What do we want to pride ourselves on? What does it mean to be united? How connected or disconnected, are we? Why does it matter? And, in what ways exactly are we responsible for the welfare of others?
So I’ll say that this project is not political at its core, but civic. Even though it’s hard to escape that word political, since it’s surely unavoidable in engaging civic discourse. I’m disinclined to mix this topic in with other creative work. But I’m not sure where else to put this writing, other than a blog conceived to hold difficult ideas or forms, experiments and misfits from the start. And so I hold true to that. I don’t really like the idea, anyway, that art should somehow remain distinct and above political concerns to maintain its dignity and integrity, and its grace. On the other hand, I understand the problem with political discourse is the risk that it is alienating.
The goal is not to piss people off even more than they already are. If you don’t have the stomach for such discourse at all on an art blog and would rather be spared, you could skip Part III – Part V. Or even just only read Part II “Grandma,” and forget the rest. I wouldn’t blame you.
Why not? Cause there’s a lot more to life than what’s made the news, a lot more to life than what’s on current popular radar at any given time. I’d like to think that an artist’s primary objective is to remind us of that. Then again, that’s kind of why I wrote this. I was moved to stomach it — the more unpalatable aspects of the already terrible — in writing — in sharing — in no small part, to be able to just move on.
December 12 – December 27, 2020
Another person in the house just left. I have the place to myself now. It’s Friday night. Which has hardly any meaning now, but I wish it to. I want to at least pretend it does.
I scoop rice into a bowl, then pour a turkey chili into it I just made from scratch. To eat another dinner alone, another homemade meal alone. I find roast dinners hardest to eat alone, although it didn’t always bother me so much. I fantasize the day I will share these meals. I miss my boyfriend who works a million hours, while I complain to a blank white page and try to prevent from panicking.
Typically I would enjoy the silence and space of an empty house, not now. I am not up for it. I am thinking all the things you’re not supposed to say out loud. I am weary of isolation. I am weary of the house. The whole #togetheralone concept does not pep me up or console me at all. I am insulted. I want them to stop trying to make this look good. It doesn’t even need to be dressed up and sold to us in a fancy package. It is what it is. We’re doing this whether we like it or not anyway, and few even raised a fuss about it at first, at least not in public, since staying home was the right thing to do. Though for how long, sparks a greater debate.
For weeks I was envious of those who lived alone as I negotiated space with multiple roommates; then became grateful for the company; now find myself envious of those who live with just a partner. Things make sense one minute then fall apart the next. Deeper things too that need to change bubble up to the surface amidst an inventory of life as it was. How odd that so many who are still working seem to be working harder than ever, while the rest of us don’t work at all; as such there seems to be a rift in understanding. Like everyone else in my shoes I sit at home with unstructured time, and a list of projects I struggle to pursue in the face of anxiety. I am occupied, I am lucky, I am very privileged to have this time, I do not deny that I have benefited in some ways, yet I feel unsafe.
This is quite different for those who kept their jobs versus those who didn’t. It is just a whole different reality. I’m not sure there is much sympathy for those who give it all up for an unknown or indefinite period of time, suppressing incomes and livelihoods to just hope that our jobs come back later. Or like, recognition that we even did and do so. Because we give up more than just money. It is not all about money, actually, as temporary government action helps to fill in the financial gaps. We give up our security, our stability, the future we’ve built for ourselves and have been counting on, we put it all at risk. If you dare complain about the situation, people call you selfish. They dismiss you and your feelings. Or write you off as a “Trump supporter” which is a completely irrational leap in logic. But it is just as selfish to expect a generation and a half to endure a second financial crisis in a lifetime, and not feel upset about it. It is just as selfish in this situation to demand other people reflect one’s own ideas, beliefs, values or agendas unquestioned or else we disrespect their intelligence and their humanity. In the name of carrying out whatever we personally feel is the greater good for the greatest amount of people, we’ve become rather aggressive and inhumane toward any sort of debate that doesn’t serve our own ideology.
As certain leaders, journalists, experts, professors, and other professionals dismiss the effects of the shut down as a mere inconvenience to be endured, some in a shaming tone no less, they fail to read their insult and comprehend that for so many, this is way beyond a temporary lifestyle disruption. A livelihood is not a “convenience”; surely we can understand it is far more than a convenience – but perhaps it takes someone who still has their job to make such a statement. On that note, it is in fact convenient indeed for one who has, to insist that another have not.
I might use a word as modest as “inconvenienced” in certain cases, yes, perhaps for those who keep their jobs (excepting health care workers), or who are able to work from home, or who are retired, and can not access or enjoy the usual amenities or the company of others. But for those who lose their job and perhaps risk it for good, who may risk severe income or benefit reductions over a number of years, who prepare to potentially change their whole life path and start over in a new direction, who may watch buying power shift evermore to the top 10% of earners, who risk never quite catching up at the ultimate expense of their own health and wellness, I hear things among us like “our lives are forever changed.” I hope that’s not true. But for many of us right now this may not be so temporary, as many presume. Even if we are lucky enough to return to work as we left it, this is a game-changer of our entire perspectives. Anything could happen, especially in the next two years. Anything. Many of us are not going to forget that so easily.
I hope it’s not true. I really hope it’s just a fear.
May 16, 2020
Friends can be like family, but it is also not quite the same thing. I find myself thinking about my mother, and other people’s mothers. I know the multitude of reasons why I didn’t have a family of my own, which is why I have this lifestyle now. To begin with, my childhood family story is a bit of a riot. I still turned out ok, but there are consequences to such a story that take a long time to escape.
I have two wonderful grandmothers who are still alive today so I’m very lucky in that way. When I was a teenager I think, a younger teenager, I remember visiting one of my grandmothers. I walked in to the big kitchen and felt nervous being there. She said, “Would you like a tuna sandwich, honey?” Her voice so calm and tone so sweet but I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know if I was hungry. I probably was but couldn’t be sure. I didn’t want to disappoint her. I didn’t want to make her make me the sandwich, but maybe she wanted me to eat it. I didn’t know.
“Ok.” I agreed to the sandwich. So I sat down on the long polished wood bench at the gigantic kitchen table made of the same polished wood and I stared at the colorful woven oval placemats and felt awkward. The dining room table was even larger and it had its very own room. The silverware solid, heavy, shiny. When she set down the clear plastic plate with the swirly designs popping from its surface in front of me, something about the experience felt alien. I think I was supposed to feel comforted. The sandwich looked cute on the plate. Fluffy. Carefully centered. Placed so as to avoid crushing the bread or patting down the mini peaks and valleys of tuna salad, so that the whole thing puffed up and out a little. Grandma knew how to make it special. How to make something so simple look like it had a personality. I stared at it, and I didn’t understand something but I wasn’t sure what. I ate it amid a mixture of odd and uncomfortable feelings. I ate it; even though I am not so wild about lots of mayonnaise, tuna was still a favorite.
I wasn’t feeling that great though. I think I was supposed to feel at home. But I didn’t. I felt bad. The adult word for that feeling is guilty. Grandma was doing all this, for me. Grandma works so hard all the time, for everyone. But I didn’t know that I deserved to be cared for. I actually did not know.
She’d have to do the dishes, I thought, so maybe I should do them instead. But there are a lot of dishes over there, from some other meal. Should I do all of those? I do not know what to do as I sit eating my sandwich. I want to be a good kid. But I am tired, so tired. So tired.
Grandma’s beds so poofy like white and beige clouds I don’t know what will happen if I try to sleep in one, would I sink in too much and feel weird. Anyway, nobody should be sleeping right now. I shouldn’t fall asleep on the couch. I shouldn’t be rude.
There is a concept of what family is “supposed to be” like, in a general sense of at least meeting and maintaining a certain standard. If your concept of family is warped by tragedy, your concept of love may also be warped for a while. For a while, but not necessarily forever. Old wounds can heal. Other people teach us things beyond the scope of the original family.
Ideas start changing, shifting, and feelings also. Occasionally in leaps. You might’ve managed essentially alone for a very long time, in the same way you’d always done because you did not know any different. Until you do not want it to be that way anymore. And know that it doesn’t have to be, and it won’t be. Change might be too scary to welcome without a fight, but it finds you anyway because that is what is supposed to happen. Especially if that’s exactly what you aim for.
I do not blame my mother, with whom I grew up, for the flaws she found impossible to overcome. The alcohol, the violence, the homelessness, the intermittent chaos. While she is accountable for certain things, I do not blame her for anything I could not do now, either, as the present is what I am accountable for. I was the oldest child and things were harder to hide from me. I do not know what it is like to be my mother. Despite everything, she did give me gifts for which I am grateful, many of them unintended gifts. Just because someone does not know how to love properly, or “normally,” does not necessarily mean that they don’t love. Just because we do not get what we want from someone, does not mean that we should look down on them, nail them to the cross. Even when it feels needed, it’s probably not even worth it.
Writing and reflecting about Grandma, her house, her homemaking, I realize I feel a different emotion than the way this whole situation has made me feel, even a different emotion than the way I used to feel during some of our visits. Comforted.
Everyone is dealing with this crisis in their own way. Some people want to be alone. But we have to keep in mind that others need us too.
We must keep in mind that it is one thing to say to someone that you are there, but it is another thing to actually be there.
It is also another thing to genuinely want to be there, but truly not be able to. And this is really felt, or not felt.
Who is present?
Who is listening to us?
Who is holding us dear, in a crisis?
And who are we holding dear? I recall some wise words Dad had shared. He said, “Somebody told me once. You know what, man? If you want a friend, BE a friend.”
Connection is probably more important than ever, and we probably ought to insist on it above and beyond all else in whatever way we can accomplish it. Even as I too struggle to live up to my own ideals.
May 16 – May 17, 2020
(To Be Continued)