The first flowers are starting to fall on Chicago this week and the leaves begin to unfurl. It’s a beautiful time of year. What a treat to learn to love it, after all this life.
Today, I am more than two weeks post-Moderna #2. That is, as protected as we might hope to be in the midst of a pandemic. And because I have protected myself, I can protect others from me. I cannot tell you what relief this brings me, after over a year of living in this terrorshadow, the possibility of getting someone else sick, which in this disastrous country of money can easily mean death or bankruptcy. I have been paralyzed, at times, under the weight of all this worry.
Now to feel it lifting, it’s a small mercy. While we may not be through it, we get closer. We can be certain, at least, of change. We can see it, as much as we can see the green buds softly exploding.
I am struggling with what happens next. I do not want a return to normal. Normal, excuse my vulgarity, fucking sucked. We have been nowhere worth returning to. So I wonder, constantly, what’s next? And how? And when? When will be we be ready? When will I?
We went walking the other night, with a mind to find a patio, a low-key situation (“lks”) where we could order food, maybe a cocktail, and for the first time in over a year, have it brought to us, good and hot. I was giddy at the prospect, and we got all of 30 yards from the front door when my chest began to burn and my stomach turn to knots. I took a break to breathe a bit and insisted we push on.
And though I enjoyed every bite of my meal (shaved brussel sprout + artichoke salad with calabrian pepper risotto, none of which I have any hope of quite replicating at home), that night I couldn’t sleep. My body simply refused to digest all the wonderful things I’d fed her. My therapist suggests after a lifetime of rejecting food in times of strain, that of course my tummy’s sensitive to stress. If I don’t feel safe, I cannot process. It could be just that simple.
It helps to believe this anyway. To make sense of discomfort, and make peace with it, even thank it for trying to teach me, even when I resist the lesson.
I don’t know when I’ll be comfortable in the world again. I don’t know when my body will feel safe, or how to turn off my mind. I can only try to get to the end of each day intact, which will mean reaching some kind of truce with me, and all the selves inside me, grappling to be heard.
I’m learning as I go how to let my selves speak, and resolve their competing needs and desires—how to feed the part of me that longs for noise, and life, and people while tending to my anxious bits, that delicate petunia. How do I make this map? How do I take it all?
You may not believe this, but buddy, I got some tactics. Maybe it helps to share them, in case you need them too. Maybe not, you never know.
Name the feelings. All of them.
I mean it. Write them down. Strong and hungry do not count.
The morning after the patio and the risotto, I thought a lot about my discomfort. Breathed about it. Colored on it. That’s right, just colored whatever came to me as I focused on my tender fucking feelings. And then I named them all. There were nine. Nine feelings! All at once. Which is a good reminder, for me, that there’s just so much me inside me, contradictions and multitudes, and all of them worth loving. All of them worth taking it a little gentler on. You should try it! For a fun evening in.
I’m not trying to remember everything forever. I write myself morning notes to focus my attention for the day ahead. I have two go-to prompts I write toward every morning:
My future self will be…
Today I would like to feel…
(Big ups to the incandescent Kris Moon for the latter. You ever have a friend offer you life-changing advice? When Kris suggested I focus less on what I want to accomplish every day and more on how I want to feel, I swear the room got brighter.)
Today I would like to feel patient. I would like to feel seen. I would like to feel healing. I would like to feel everything. I would like to feel triumphant.
It's wild, what happens, when you go looking for the feeling. How the road rises to meet you and all that.
Honestly, if I’m being honest, I wish I spoke to myself as kindly as I write to me. It’s something to look forward to I suppose. I’ll tell my future self.
My friend (who I married) once said it ridiculously, and obviously I loved it:
Breathing is the shrimp of life hacks.
The underlying assumption here is, of course, that shrimp is the MVP of the sea, from a cooking and eating perspective. Meaning, of course, that breathing is as good as it gets.
Heart bruised up? Have you considered breathing?
On the verge of saying something hurtful? Go ahead and breathe instead.
Trouble getting back to sleep? I know something that might help it’s breathing.
It’s not foolproof, nor has it been approved by the FDA, but it’s almost always worth a shot.
Anyway. I love you. Keep breathing.
Okay here’s some poems.
A Map to the Next World
by Joy Harjo
for Desiray Kierra Chee
In the last days of the fourth world I wished to make a map for
those who would climb through the hole in the sky.
My only tools were the desires of humans as they emerged
from the killing fields, from the bedrooms and the kitchens.
For the soul is a wanderer with many hands and feet.
The map must be of sand and can’t be read by ordinary light. It
must carry fire to the next tribal town, for renewal of spirit.
In the legend are instructions on the language of the land, how it
was we forgot to acknowledge the gift, as if we were not in it or of it.
Take note of the proliferation of supermarkets and malls, the
altars of money. They best describe the detour from grace.
Keep track of the errors of our forgetfulness; the fog steals our
children while we sleep.
Flowers of rage spring up in the depression. Monsters are born
there of nuclear anger.
Trees of ashes wave good-bye to good-bye and the map appears to
We no longer know the names of the birds here, how to speak to
them by their personal names.
Once we knew everything in this lush promise.
What I am telling you is real and is printed in a warning on the
map. Our forgetfulness stalks us, walks the earth behind us, leav-
ing a trail of paper diapers, needles, and wasted blood.
An imperfect map will have to do, little one.
The place of entry is the sea of your mother’s blood, your father’s
small death as he longs to know himself in another.
There is no exit.
The map can be interpreted through the wall of the intestine—a
spiral on the road of knowledge.
You will travel through the membrane of death, smell cooking
from the encampment where our relatives make a feast of fresh
deer meat and corn soup, in the Milky Way.
They have never left us; we abandoned them for science.
And when you take your next breath as we enter the fifth world
there will be no X, no guidebook with words you can carry.
You will have to navigate by your mother’s voice, renew the song
she is singing.
Fresh courage glimmers from planets.
And lights the map printed with the blood of history, a map you
will have to know by your intention, by the language of suns.
When you emerge note the tracks of the monster slayers where they
entered the cities of artificial light and killed what was killing us.
You will see red cliffs. They are the heart, contain the ladder.
A white deer will greet you when the last human climbs from the
Remember the hole of shame marking the act of abandoning our
We were never perfect.
Yet, the journey we make together is perfect on this earth who was
once a star and made the same mistakes as humans.
We might make them again, she said.
Crucial to finding the way is this: there is no beginning or end.
You must make your own map.
Instructions on Not Giving Up
by Ada Limón
More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.