What a week, eh?
Maybe I’d have had more time to write something that matters more than this post will if I hadn’t spent so many minutes of it washing my hands. With most of the US coronavirus deaths happening just a few hours north of us and with a local school temporarily closing its doors due to a positive case in the household of a school employee, the epidemic and its possible (likely?) impacts has felt both wildly imminent and strangely distant. Most of us are all still going about our daily lives just as we always have–except, with more handwashing. I work in a school, where our custodian now wipes down my door handle and light switch daily. The idea that we might face a prolonged time not at school feels unreal, as does the idea that the daily wipe down is going to have much impact on whether or not we do.
In the meantime, it became clear this week that we will once again have as our president a doddering old white man, just in case anyone is still maybe on the fence about the idea that we are a patriarchal white supremacy. Yeah, yeah, yeah I’m gonna vote to remove the orange white guy (vote blue no matter who!), but goddamnfuckit I am so angry.
You wouldn’t know it to look at me. I mean, I’m one of those reasonable, smart, educated, competent, hard-working white women who believed for most of my life that all we had to do was work hard and know the necessary things and be good at what we do and EVERYTHING WOULD WORK OUT. Five+ decades of training and grooming and pruning leaves its mark, and so those who know me IRL (or even online) probably haven’t seen the rage that’s boiling on the inside. And who am I kidding to think that anyone really cares about the rage of a white, middle-class, middle-aged woman? I mean, sometimes even I kind of hate most of us, so, I get it–all of it. Moving on…
Aside from washing my hands of things (both literally and figuratively) this week, and trying to do good work at work, and paying bills, and being as good a mom, partner, daughter, and friend as I could manage, I didn’t do a whole lot of reading or thinking or writing. I didn’t make it to the gym, either, but I did take a two-mile walk one sunny afternoon and on another one I filled up the compost bin with the weird, wormy-looking things a giant tree drops all over my yard, which sounds like work but didn’t feel like work. I think I’m abandoning self-care that feels like work. At least until I can let up on the handwashing.
What I did this week instead was bust out needle and thread. I found a book about stitching on canvas, something that’s never occurred to me as a possibility. Why? I don’t know why. Too busy following the rules, maybe–not that this is such a ground-breaking or wild idea. I had a grubby old canvas from some long-abandoned earlier project lying around, so I covered it with the only acrylic paint I had that wasn’t a globby, chunky mess and I drew a house (from a photo from another long-abandoned earlier project) on it, and I started stitching. At the end of my days I did not read or write; I watched TV that made me feel good (season 3 of Better Things and season 1 of HGTV’s Home Town, the juxtaposition of which probably says more about my inner state than any of the words I’m writing here) and stabbed that canvas repeatedly with a needle.
At work I had a conversation with a colleague about the idea of decolonizing education, the topic of a workshop she recently attended. We explored what that might look like in practice and planned a research unit for her students with that idea as our foundation. We talked about what people who have endured colonization have done to endure it and, as much as possible, be OK in it. We talked about how, in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, so many white women were so freaked out. I shared that I was one of them, but that I have realized since then that the people of color I was talking with in those early days and weeks of the current administration were not freaking out.
My colleague, a woman of color, just smiled. “Yes,” she said.
“I realize now,” I said, “that for them, what was happening was bad, but also business as usual.”
“Yes,” she said, still smiling.
“And I think,” I said, “the problem for white people, maybe especially white women of my generation, is that we haven’t ever had to develop such coping mechanisms, not really. We don’t know how to be OK in the presence of truly knowing the ways in which we are powerless against forces that don’t care about us and are using their power against us. Because we haven’t really seen it until now.”
“Yes,” she said, still smiling. It was a kind smile. Maybe the kind you give a child, but maybe not. It’s hard for me to know.
Maybe it’s not a coincidence that I am returning to a craft of my childhood to help me cope with all kinds of things. Honestly, I don’t really care to explore that idea too deeply. It’s not a particularly interesting one and the answer to the question inherent in it doesn’t really matter.
My needlework doesn’t have to mean anything. It doesn’t have to be good (a good thing, because it’s not really) or do good in some way that extends beyond me. It is not going to be the beginning of some life- or world-altering something, and I’m not going to become a craftivist. Because I don’t think cross-stitching “fuck the patriarchy” on pillows and such is going to do much to end it. Although, maybe it’s activism if it helps others endure it. I dunno. I don’t think my embroidery is going to either heal anyone or inspire them to revolt, which is OK because that’s not what it has to do.
All the embroidery has to do is keep me going. Because even if the world doesn’t much care for or about hard-working, competent women who actually know what the fuck they are talking about and have a fucking plan to fucking get things done (like take care of sick people and educate kids and maybe not kill the planet), we know that we need to keep going. We know we have to take care of ourselves so we can keep holding shit together for the people who are depending upon us to do so (which includes ourselves). And because life is short and to abandon the joys we can extract from it, even in the shadow of pandemics and bloviating old white men, is to give said men even more power over us than that which they’ve taken.
And why in the fuck would we want to do that?
A few dots…
Something to watch: Warren: Just a Little Longer… (“Persist.”)
Something to look at: A photographer’s parents wave farewell (“At the end of their daughter’s visits, like countless other mothers and fathers in the suburbs, Dikeman’s parents would stand outside the house to send her off while she got in her car and drove away. One day in 1991, she thought to photograph them in this pose, moved by a mounting awareness that the peaceful years would not last forever.”)
Something to short read: Anne Lamott on Forgiveness, Self-Forgiveness, and the Relationship Between Brokenness and Joy (“This is how most of us are — stripped down to the bone, living along a thin sliver of what we can bear and control, until life or a friend or disaster nudges us into baby steps of expansion. We’re all both irritating and a comfort, our insides both hard and gentle, our hearts both atrophied and pure.”)
Something to long read: Erosion: Essays of Undoing (“People often ask us how we can stay buoyant in the face of loss, and I don’t know what to say except the world is so beautiful even as it burns, even as those we love leave us, even as we witness the ravaging of land and species, especially as we witness the brutal injustices and deep divisions in this country…”)