One of my delights in the world right now is the amazing, obsessive food group I belong to on social media. It is filled with recipes, recommendations, and rants about everything from coffeemakers to taco fillings to rice cookers. When my husband threw away nearly an entire lemon cake I had made, mistakenly thinking it was old because it was in the back of the refrigerator, this was the place where I posted to garner the exact kind of sympathy I needed. (Note: the members of this group were so enraged at this cake murder, they were practically gathering pitchforks.)
I shared the following post in the group late last night, because I thought it would particularly resonate with foodies. However, I am wondering if it would resonate with you, too. Here’s what I said:
“Occasionally, if I get a little despondent and restless, and I have doubtful moments about the energy it takes to move through life in the pandemic (or otherwise), I am motivated by the fact that there’s a bunch of stuff I haven’t eaten yet ... or that I want to eat again.
Like, I can’t muster the energy to do another Monday, but damn, I would absolutely get in the car right now and drive to the coast because I can still eat fried shrimp at the beach. Or man, I was just going to lie on this couch and stare, but there’s the killer almond cookie recipe I haven’t tried, so I am going to get some almond flour and get baking.
Sure life is weird, but there’s still mu shu pork and fresh baked banana bread with butter on it and s’mores and Thanksgiving turkey with the crispy skin and cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning and chocolate fondue and barbeque ribs from that rib place and good chicken noodle soup and a chicken teriyaki bento box and birthday cake and fried garlic sushi rolls and a medium New York Strip with a wedge salad and a baked potato. Am I the only one the feels that way? That — if I may badly paraphrase — the way through this proverbial heart of darkness is through our stomach? It comforts me somehow that even in the face of the mighty trials of the pandemic, there is sushi.”
Sub in your own thing for sushi if sushi ain’t your jam, but you see where I am going here. Someday, even when everything is tangibly the worst, you have a thing … and variations on a thing … that might keep you going. The dog. The plant. Mountain biking. Pad Thai. Whatever. Don’t forget the thing. It’s there for you. Even now. Even in the weirdness. It’s there.
And it might even have chocolate frosting.
Our Lady of Perpetual Failure
I was talking to a friend of mine who called me after spending yet another morning sitting by her daughter’s side during virtual online learning for school. “Zoom went down,” she explained. Not just at her kid’s school – in AMERICA. The whole freaking program crashed, presumably because there were millions of households logging on multiple kids (and, in many households, one or two adults as well) to video conferences supported by slide shows supported by digital document exchange platforms. Because that’s what we’re all doing these days.
The teachers did their best to cope, of course, as did the kids, as did my friend, who put down work on her masters degree so she could figure out how to enable editing on a document so her kid could do math. We’re all doing our best here. It’s nobody’s fault that we are just cobbling it together. But everything still kind of feels like it is failing. Like it’s unsustainable. Like we’ve really stopped smiling, and now we are just clenching our teeth.
Many of the wonderful women I know and love with school-aged children have expressed a similar sentiment. Sure, we will do our best to make it work. We and our partners (if we have them) will work excruciatingly hard at home or at paying jobs (or both) and multitask to the best of our abilities (this goes double for the teachers, essential workers, people in health care, etc., who have children themselves), so that we can find ways to help a nation full of kids during the school day, because … well, what the hell else are we supposed to do? We HAVE to do it. We have no choice. We know this is bad, but we will just do our best until something cracks, until it actually becomes unsustainable. We’re gonna break, we just haven’t broken yet. So, I guess we should just keep going? *looks around* Is that what you’re doing, too?
It occurred to me that this teeth-gritting moment isn’t just the normal part of coping with this pandemic. It is something above and beyond what this nice article describes as “surge overload.” I realized that it is not the feeling of failure that’s messing with our heads: it is the cold hard recognition of the actual inability to succeed. At least in the before times, we had some limited illusion of control over what might fail. Now, it feels impossible to get it right, or even to balance the fricking plate, because we all have no idea what will be slapped on next with this era’s goo-laden cafeteria ice cream scoop.
I know I am living a charmed life, even during the end of the world. I have a job, a house, plenty of food, a safe place to be, and a strong internet connection. I am even equipped with Gen X/Oregon Trail, Jan Brady-style coping mechanisms (which I have written about before here) that usually get me through just about anything hopeless. However, I still know failure is pending. The cavalry ain’t coming. Mars is in retrograde, and I know it will assuredly get worse. So, what’s the answer? What’s the cure? How can we survive this? What do we do?
Here’s my answer so far, and I have to remind myself of it often: It ain’t normal out there. So stop acting like it is. It’s still the earthquake, so stop fretting over where the outlets go in the house plans for when it’s time to rebuild. Quit thinking about how good that stolen idol is going to look in the museum, Indiana Jones. Put your strength into the fingers that are hanging on to the cliff. And for god’s sake, if your kid doesn’t learn about Mesopotamia or their multiplication tables or whatever, WHO CARES. We missed a Zoom meeting … during the APOCALYPSE. ALONG WITH LITERALLY EVERYONE ELSE IN AMERICA.
IT. IS. NOT. NORMAL. OUT. THERE.
You aren’t crazy. The world is.
So just stop for a sec. Rest.
This attitude gives me permission to sit down for a minute and see the Matrix for what it is – an artificial construct. I now understand that I can prioritize my energy, because I know I cannot possibly succeed. My real job isn’t to teach my kid math. It’s to successfully tolerate failure.
Is this attitude healthy? Sustainable? Reasonable? No, silly, and that’s the point. Nothing is. So stop pretending it might be. Sitting through the fail is our actual “have-to,” so do it in a way that might work semi-well for you. By all means, find the energy to do good things you care about: vote, help your neighbor, change the world, give more hugs. But just remember, today is not the day when we have to learn the multiplication tables. We are all home sick, babe, and sometimes you gotta be still, watch the Price Is Right, and wait for the Tylenol to kick in.
How long will we have to be this way and tolerate this failure? Oh, who the hell knows, but take comfort in the fact that’s not the question you should be asking. The real question is, and this is very important: if you do get to bid, how much are you putting on that second showcase in the Showcase Showdown?
We escaped the apocalypse for a minute by heading to the beach. Specifically, to a squat yellow cinderblock cottage that our friends rent every year overlooking the ocean. There are sea oats out the window. Dunes. Dolphins. The last few nights, there’s even been a mooooooon river, wiiiiiider than a mile, thanks to a fat, full, Leo-season Sturgeon moon so bright it casts shadows. I know about this last part because I’ve been up a lot at night. A lot.
The day we left to come down here, my left ear was itchy and beginning to feel full. By the time I made it to the pharmacy a few days later (and then, again, a few days after that for more potent meds), I had two rigorous ear infections that were so painful, I couldn’t sleep. For half a week, I was up every three hours, squirming on the sofa in the dark front room, trying to get comfortable while waiting for my double dose of Tylenol to kick in. Occasionally, I’d try to distract myself by walking outside to the beachside bench swing in the dead of night to look at the moon. I would stand and stretch my arms out, full of poetic visions of myself communing with the ocean and the sea creatures and the moon goddess – until the slightest breeze would blow and touch my angry ear drum, causing me to crumple and cup my swollen ear.
Was I pissed that I was dealing with a stupid, small-but-painful illness on what was supped to be my escape from the massive stress of navigating the much more serious illness invading the world? I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little. But, I decided I would frame it with some level of respect and appreciation. Clearly, the universe was telling me to pay attention to my ears.
To focus on hearing.
On things I take for granted, like medicine and sleep and a generally pain-free existence.
On being thankful for having health care magically through a computer and health insurance to pay for medicine and a car to get my ass to Apalachicola for some amoxicillin and steroids.
You know, the little/big/huge things that you sometimes forget about.
My ears do feel better now, thank you for asking. But I’ve also been making a point to take the note from the universe and listen better over the last few days – to notice, respect, and follow those weird little gut urges that I sometimes get lazy and ignore. Those urges have made me look down, stand up, or wander in unexpected directions. On more than one occasion, they have lead to something chock full of delight: a rainbow, the tracks of baby sea turtles that have just left the nest, an early morning conversation during an ocean swim. They have also lead me to proof that the universe has a sense of humor: Since yesterday, I’ve picked up no less than four sea shells that are uncannily and undeniably in the shape of ears.
I hear you, Universe. Thank you. Thank you for the moonlight and for making me smile and for smacking me in the eardrums with a very important reminder that I would otherwise have missed: Stop for a sec, kid. And listen.
Hi. I'm Amanda Dobbs.