Here is the difficulty for me, and maybe also for you: despite all of what’s going on, life continues to exist. It goes on. It doesn’t need my approval to do so, or yours, and will brook no interpolations or injunctions. Life progresses. It does so for us, and it does so for others, and as such, those others often need us. We have dependents. We have pets. We have spouses. We have friends and family and we have that guy we locked in our cellar and we have ourselves, and all of them need us in some way. They need us to be there, to be strong, and we need them to be strong, too.
But we’re not strong, not right now.
We’re all hobbling about on a pair of broken legs, emotionally speaking.
We’re operating, at best, at half-past half-ass. I mean, okay, sure, I know some people who are like, WOWZA I’M REALLY GETTING SHIT DONE, I’M SUPER PRODUCTIVE, I JUST WROTE A BOOK AND CLEANED MY HOUSE TIP TO TAINT AND BOY HOWDY I’M LIVING MY BEST QUARANTIMES, BABY, but those people are
or c) unaware that they are repressing some grave emotional reckoning that is about to rise up on them like a tsunami made of angry ghosts and wreckst themselves before they checkst themselves.
Assuming you’re not one of those people, you are instead a person who feels a little like Frodo after he was stabbed by the Morgul blade — you’re not dead, not exactly, but you’re passing into some spectral realm, and all you really want right now is for some brave elf lady to ride up and take you to a mythical city where you can just get some goddamn rest. And then you can get up and go home. Except, even after that you can’t get up and go home because you have a burden to carry. You have that fucking goddamn ring. And other people are looking to you to carry it, even though you are clearly not at your best. Hell, other people are hoping you’re the brave elf lady who will carry them across a river to safety. And you’re hoping they’re the brave elf lady and — well, you get the point, I guess. The shit’s not over even when it’s over. Life goes on. So does the burden.
The question is, for me and also for you, how do you balance it? How do you be there for others, and be there for yourself, when you barely feel like you’re there at all?
I wanna be upfront: I don’t know the answer to this. It’s a fucking riddle to me, too.
I’m trying to suss it out, though. I know that as a writer — and I suspect a lot of other creatives are aware of this balancing act — I have to constantly find the sweet spot between self-care and bullshit excuses. In other words, there’s this interstitial realm where I am both being kind to myself and recognizing my limits while also, in recognizing those limits, I push myself to them, and sometimes beyond them when it is most appropriate. It’s like running: I run a gentle minimum of mileage but also know that whenever possible I am to push past that minimum, often by a considerable amount if I’m up for it. It’s this weird balancing act of knowing when to be good to yourself and knowing when you’re being too good, so good that you have actually made it bad. (To explain this in a different way, you should treat yourself to ice cream once in a while, but you can’t make it breakfast, lunch, dinner, or I’m pretty sure you’ll just die. A bloated corpse, leaking melted vanilla.)
(There are worse ways to go, though, I guess.)
And so I wonder if there’s a lesson in that, here. Some general awareness of knowing that I can’t half-ass it, but I also will definitely not be able to whole-ass it, much as I want to. Of knowing that for myself and others I have to be both kind in every direction, but also know when to push on myself to get done what needs doing. Let’s call it “three-quarter-assing it.” Like, no way I’m at a hundred percent, but people also need me to be better than 50%, so here I am, pushing when I can push, and hoping that gentleness and understanding will get us the rest of the way. It’s like my kid with distance learning. No fucking way is he going to be operating at top effectiveness because this is nowhere near normal for him — it’s like he’s learning inside a fishbowl. This shit doesn’t even feel real half the time. As if it’s all some manner of bizarre simulation.
So, I don’t have any advice. Except to be gentle on yourself and everyone, but also to be there in whatever capacity you can be. We don’t simply lay supine upon the ground waiting for rain to fill our mouths and float us down the drain to the land of the sewer clowns, but we also don’t get up and run. We hobble, we walk, we heal. We help others do the same and hope they do that for us, too.
I say this feels like a slow-motion 9/11, but 9/11 at least gave us the grace to have it happen and then go through the stages of grief and mourning. Here we are, trapped in them, not really progressing through them but violently lurching from one to another and back to the beginning. We’ve no idea how this ends, we just keep going. It ends someday, somehow, but what day, and what how?
Onward, onward, ever onward.
None of this is an answer, I realize. This probably doesn’t help. But it’s the challenge for me right now, and maybe it’s the challenge for you, too. I think we just have to recalibrate our expectations while… still having expectations. Because having expectations is, in its strange way, a form of optimism and hope, isn’t it? That anyone will need anything from us now or ever is recognition that the world still exists, that life goes on, and that while normal has gone all fucky, we are humans with needs who are interspersed with other humans who have needs. Things have changed. But we’re still here.
And I’m glad you’re here.
All of you.
Except you, in the back row. You know who you are. Gordon.
Here now, are my dogs, because if I can give you nothing, I at least have them to parade about.