tips for surviving the end of the world

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a picture of Sirius i took on my night skulk last night. it was foggy and damp and the wind was angry. i walked and walked and then sat down and tried to find Orion through the clouds as i listened to lo-fang on repeat. Orion is lower in the sky than it was a couple weeks ago. time is passing. things are changing.

First off, it’s not the end of the world.

Secondly, let me tell you a little about me. I’ve woken up with a headache every day this week from stress. My anxiety is this hazy, inarticulate thing that clouds my senses, leaving me lying in bed curled up in my sleeping bag, worrying about my campers in Cape Cod. I am good at many things and one of them is worrying. There are no shortage of things to be worried about at the moment, and I’ve done a truly stellar job of worrying about them all.

So you are not alone in whatever you are feeling. That rising, bubbling panic. That hopelessness. The hand-wringing frustration of what can I do, what can I do. I get it. I am that way too.

The last time I remember feeling this thundercloud anxiety was back in 2016 after the elections. The world felt dark that November. There was so much fear and rage and uncertainty, and I remember pacing around my apartment, music shredding through my speakers, wondering what happens next, where do we go from here.

I was busy that winter. I organized postcard writing parties. I called my senators. I tracked legislation bills and wrote letters of outrage and drove to DC to protest.

Yvoun Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, says that the best cure for depression is action. He is so right.

So in the midst of this global pandemic where shadows loom large, here’s what I’ve been doing. Maybe some of these things can help you too.

1. Get outside
Good news! You can socially isolate and be outside! I’ve been running and taking walks and trying to appreciate all the small wonders that abound. The ice plant here is turning red and it reminds me of autumn leaves. I saw two rogue cows on my hike the other day and it was terribly exciting. The world is a beautiful place and it is still right outside, waiting for you with open arms.

2. Create stuff
Yesterday I spent the entire afternoon tearing up old art books and making collages. It was nice to do something tangible. To have my hands busy. To let my mind focus on matching patterns instead of analyzing COVID-19 testing data. I have some writing projects I’ve put off for literal years, so hopefully I can crack into those as well. Make some stuff. Put your thoughts and feelings into words and paints. And maybe share it and let others connect with it so they can go, yeah, me too.

3. Stay in touch
I’ve been hovering closer to my phone these days. For the instant news alerts, yes. But also for the text messages I’ve been sending and receiving. The check-ins from friends. The offers of you can stay with me if you need it. I’ve been reaching out to others more because I often think I invent my own aloneness, and I have to remind myself that other people care and that certain friends will be there for me no matter what.

4. Read more
This feels pretty self-explanatory. I anxiety-binged Rilke the other day and that was a power move. A good crisis never fails to unearth some breathtaking art (especially poetry), and I’ve read some really moving, inspiring, insightful stuff lately. (If you have any, send it my way! Pleasepleaseplease!)

5. Physical touch is good
Did you know rabbits don’t carry COVID-19? So snuggle away! I’ve done some A+ bunny cuddling the past couple days and have accepted any and all head scratches that have been offered to me. 10/10 recommend

6. Mindset matters
It could be worse. It could always be worse. Yeah, I’m bummed that future plans have fallen through. Yeah, I’m anxious that my job is tenuous at best and I’m looking at a quality chunk of unemployment. Yeah, I’m frustrated that this dream season on the coast will end early and end in chaos. But there’s so much to be thankful for and it’s going to be OK. You know that, right? That we’re going to get through this. That there is light up ahead. That we will be tested in dire circumstances now and in times to come and we have to figure out how to survive, how to find strength and help those around us. In times of crisis, the polarized sides of humanity shine through and I am always amazed at how much good there is in the world, all the people willing to help one another.

Sometimes I wish I were a lighter person. A person less burdened with ideas and reality and a wedge-shaped core of darkness (it’s a Woolf reference, you’re welcome). Because I want to be—I am—optimistic about the whole ordeal, but there is going to be a cost and we are bearing this cost because of our other failures. The lack of affordable and accessible health care, the absence of job and financial security, the overcrowding in underfunded places like prisons and homeless shelters, the list doesn’t end. This pandemic is showing how gnawed, how hollow the bones of our system truly are.

So once this passes, which it will, what happens next? What are you going to do with this broken failing system? How can we inspire and change and empower so we are never faced with this bleeding gristle again?

Dark times make me think of Lord of the Rings (bless my coworker who played the score yesterday on the piano and made me tear up in a very happy contented sort of way), and all the hopeful gems that embed the dark mesh of the story. I’ll leave you with this one:

“For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing; there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.” – The Return of the King

Of Mice and Mountaintops

 

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Bernard and I breakfasted together the morning after our introduction. Honestly I would’ve kept him around longer, but he had boundary issues and tried to run up my leg while I was driving, a major no-no.

I am writing this at 10:09 PM on a Thursday night in a Walmart parking lot. My car smells overwhelmingly of curry. My car does not normally smell of curry.

When I committed myself to a solo road trip—a mini foray into the shallows of vanlife—I was ready for the Big Stuff. Mountaintop vistas. Sunsets on beaches. Sitting in the woods with my feet propped up, beer in one hand, book of Rilke’s poetry in the other. I thought everything I Instagrammed would also be the most profound, enjoyable moments, as if the physical grandeur of the landscapes around me would reverberate at the same internal frequency of awe.

And they do.
Sometimes.

But sometimes I hike 10 miles, look around, shrug my shoulders, and head back down. Sometimes I don’t leave my car to take a picture and it remains only that—a photograph with no backing behind the veneer. Empty.

What I didn’t prepare myself for was the Small Moments. Like when I forgot my garbage outside my car for a couple of hours and then discovered at four in the morning when I felt something scurrying across my sleeping bag that I’d accidentally brought a mouse in along with my empty Pringles’ cans. It wouldn’t leave, despite me opening all the doors and asking nicely and waving a spatula about. My tent smelled of onions and peanut butter the next night as I curled up in the woods with all of my groceries, hoping the mouse traps in my car worked. (RIP Bernard. In the words of Fall Out Boy, thanks for the memories even though they weren’t so great.)

Similarly, I was under prepared for the curry disaster of September 21, 2017. Knowing the tupperware was prone to leaks, I’d wrapped my flannel around the curry container and had stabilized it with my pillow. And then, because I’m an idiot, I forgot about it, only to suddenly remember it when I came back to my car after brushing my teeth in Walmart and wondering why my car smelled so weird.

It wasn’t even good curry, mind you. I’d made it myself on the bank of the Sol Duc River in the Olympics with coconut milk, spices, and Walmart-purchased vegetables. So it was very mediocre curry. And it smelled not great.

It had seeped into my flannel, drenched my pillow, and pooled onto my air mattress. It had been a long day of driving, and all I wanted to do was sleep. My body tightened in frustration at the mess before me.

But I had soap and a sponge. I had a towel. I cleaned up the mess, rolled down the windows, and ate an entire bag of gummies in the driver’s seat to make myself feel better.

My car regained its normal smell about three days later.

When you go out into the world things will happen to you. Yes, there will be beautiful mountaintops and sunsets, but there will also be field mice and mediocre curry in your sleeping area. And the mountaintops will give you better pictures, but the mice will give you better stories. And that feeling of overcoming an unexpected crisis—even if it’s mouse-sized, even if it’s in the Walmart parking lot—may feel more rewarding than that 10 mile slog.

So say yes, go out into the world, see what’s there, cry a little, feel inspired, feel proud, wash your hair in rivers, sleep in your car, say hi to strangers, see what the world hands you when your eyes are closed.

Curry-tinged dreams are better than no dreams at all. Even if they involve mice.