How To 2020
Disclaimer: I HAVE NO FRICKEN CLUE.
I am "lucky". I have privilege and security, and I haven't lost my health or a loved one, like so many—too many! others. And I still don't have answers, only observations, and maybe a few guesses.
In life, a small and seemingly insignificant event can lead to a major development, and if something can happen, it usually will.
The thin edge of a wedge. It's a logging metaphor; an effective wood-splitting method that uses physics to easily perform an otherwise difficult task. That's what an axe is, really. A tool that cuts through—not because of its sharpness, but thanks to its shape. The thin front edge makes initial contact, the momentum of the swing drives it forward, and the wide end finishes off the split. It's simple and effective: chop-chop, and the wood is whole no more.
This year, the last of my 30’s, has been the thin edge of a wedge that finally destroyed my sanity.
There, I said it.
I don’t feel normal, whatever “normal” means. I have lost the plot, spilled my marbles, went flying over the cuckoo’s nest.
These are not metaphors. I stopped working on my book sometime in March. There are actual marbles all over the floor of my house thanks to the kids and the cats. Even Nature has trouble providing the peace it promised me when I moved to the country two years ago—I catch myself wanting to drive off somewhere far away even though I literally live in the wilderness.
I've had too many wedges splitting my world lately. Some external, most of them from within, and I'm sitting here looking at the pieces wondering what to do with them.
Carpentry runs in my family, and I am good with my hands. I should be able to build something... a treehouse in the back of my mind where I can hide and heal. One thing is sure: something has to be done. Something radical. I’ve been through some shit before, but these are (don’t say it!) unprecedented times, and I’ve officially run out of ideas how to be.
Everything is hard and nothing is simple, and I’m so very confused...
Everything... For in 2020 everything went wrong, all at the same time. We had it coming, in a way. Not in the 'fire and brimstone' sense, but in the common sense; we let a tyrant into the White House as a joke, though one needs to have a pretty dark sense of humor to find anything even remotely funny in watching America turn into a totalitarian state.
We thought the country could withstand it. We thought our society was strong enough. We thought we had what it took to cope. We thought we could get away with not paying attention or taking action.
Well, the results are in, and we were wrong. You most certainly don’t need another depressing recap, but the world in on fuckin' fire. First Australia burned, then a pandemic hit, and now there is a mass uprising for social justice in America (and these are just three out of many more life-altering events that we faced so far in 2020).
When push came to shove, we found ourselves utterly unprepared, and here we are in August, shellshocked and traumatized, our resources depleted and our mental health in the gutter.
How do we process and address such a complex situation?! How do we exist as a part of a whole—a nation, a community, even a family—and also continue to function on a personal level?
I think this year is our greatest challenge yet. We are called to defend our democracy and fight for equality while surviving a killer virus, climate change, and an economic recession, and we’re simultaneously trying to be good parents, to keep our jobs and homes, and to maintain some semblance of balance and normalcy.
Of course, this only applies on average; for those in the frontlines the struggle is brutal ten times over, and so is the hardship of those in the fringes—the people who were already marginalized and oppressed suffer disproportionately once more...
Our society is divided, the system is broken, and we are in shambles. Cue Dies Iræ.
I tried to do deal, I really did. At first I was okay, galvanized even. My Bulgarian past had prepared me for this. I usually thrive under pressure, and I live for having something to reckon with, to figure out...
When quarantine started I homeschooled my kids (with varying degrees of success) and found things to do inside. We did a lot of art—watercolor, markers, acrylic, you name it. Finger painting, splatter art, and spray painting. We made bead jewelry and decorated t-shirts. We made collages, drew with chalk, worked with clay, took Polaroids, played the piano, played board games, played Legos, played ALL THE GAMES. We built forts and read books and wrote letters to friends and sent them care packages. It was good to watch the boys bond, and to slow down; tiring but good.
We are five months in, and my kids are currently parented by their iPads. I love them but I was not cut out to be a teacher, or a full-time stay-at-home mom. It's a lot, especially since we came to terms with the fact that we're raising a child with ADHD, and another one who's generally hyperactive and never stops talking.
The pandemic is scary. We should be used to it by now, yet I am still terrified by the prospect of losing my family to it. It takes a toll; as tedious and tiresome lockdown has been, living in a perpetual state of crisis is what ultimately wore me out. The lack of adequate government response to the crisis didn't help, either. The Covidiots ran amok, mask-less, spewing crazy amount of insolent garbage about their "infringed constitutional rights", and all the while the bodycount kept growing.
To add insult to injury, what initially should have been a routine/prophylactic blood test showed some abnormalities that I had to explore. I spent two months running the gauntlet of labs and doctors' offices in the midst of a pandemic, trying to figure out if I had an autoimmune disease or I'm simply growing old. The prospect of being sick meant that I would have to take immunosuppressants and isolate even more from everyone and everything for who knew how long, and I wasn’t ready to do that.
Not only I felt betrayed somehow—this year was supposed to be my healthy year, I was losing weight and getting fit for the first time since I had kids—but also I was starting to get seriously involved in activism (accidentally so, just like most of us when Black Lives Matter ignited the nation for a second time around since Trayvon Martin's killing in 2012), and I didn't want anything to stand in the way of that.
I have always been political, and protesting was an organic part of expressing my ideas, though I didn't plan on becoming some sort of a local activist leader. I organized a few protests, which were a success, and I tried to radicalize our little village. Turns out that, despite my great enthusiasm and my belief that CV is an open-minded and progressive place, it was going to be an uphill battle.
I quickly realized that it's one thing to be actively anti-racist and an effective ally, and quite another to convince 4000+ people to defund and abolish the police... especially when those people are such a unique mix of (and this is a very broad generalization) middle-aged neo-liberals (or as I call them, pseudo-liberals), ranchers, wine and weed farmers, wealthy retirees, professional young families with small children, artists and odd characters, and all predominantly white. And, of course, there are the Trump supporters...
So, by the time July rolled around, I was spinning out of control. I was (and still am) worried about John burning out, about my parents back in Bulgaria, and as the end of summer vacation neared I was starting to feel anxious about the whole back-to-school situation. In person learning seemed more and more unlikely given the raising numbers of cases and deaths, and online school meant that I will have to somehow supervise, and effectively teach, two kids at the same time for 4 hours a day (at least) until the end of the calendar year.
I love me a challenge, but this is an obstacle course from hell.
The desire to do everything paralyzed me and I ended up doing none of it "properly", which left me feeling like a failure. The emotional burden of the work, not so much the amount of it, also added to my disastrous meltdown. It all seemed equally important and urgent, and I was in pain.
I have this leftover habit from past difficult periods to hold on to my pain, because I used to equate pain with effectiveness and productivity: if I didn’t feel tired to the point of breaking, I didn’t believe I was doing things right. It’s a trauma I had to fight to heal from (through physical and psycho therapy, exercise, surgery and medication, lifestyle changes and consistent introspection). 2020 brought all of it back.
As strong and resilient I am, I was forced to recognize and admit that I was in over my head. The stress had reached unhealthy levels, and I had to stop, corroborate, and listen. For the sake of mere survival I put everything on hold, postponed plans and projects, and shifted my priorities. It was Bobbycation time. I spent two nights alone in a hotel room in Monterey and I slept, ate, walked, and did a lot of thinking:
Not all of the items on my ToDo list have to be "todone" right now. It's a way to focus and start fresh, and I strongly recommend it. I call this "pruning".
Staying healthy—mentally as well as physically—during the pandemic is paramount. I met with a psychiatrist, updated my medication, and decided that being happy in a troubled world is an achievement in itself. The good news is that I don't in fact have an autoimmune disease. I'm tired and slow, and my back pain is still here (along with a bad case of PMDD) but hey ho, I'll live.
It will take time for the privilege bubble to burst in Carmel Valley. Organizing and mobilizing is near impossible during lockdown. The truth is that, ultimately, voting, legislation, and oversight are the most powerful tools of our democracy. I will always stir good trouble, but to be truly effective in the fight for social justice and to bring palpable change, I must be directly involved in politics. To gain influence and power, I need to be in the right position—be well connected, become a part of the scene, get the business on board.
Maybe one day I will run for a school board member or for local government, but I am not ready yet.
In the meantime, I'll have to be content with what I'm already doing: using my art and my public platform to speak up, and I'm keeping my attention and hopes on the election.
As for the racist people, locally and nationwide, I choose to think of them the way my father-in-law described them recently. He's a 75 year-old man who has lived a full, honest, and interesting life and by all accounts he's one of the best people I know:
"Those people harbor something evil in their hearts, and they know it's evil but they don't want to let it go."
I don't have much confidence that I will be successful in
homeschooling providing enough support to my children during distance learning. I have decided not to stress out about it anymore. Education is important. Staying sane is important too. As long as the boys are safe, I'm happy. Whatever. We'll figure it out.
I already deleted Facebook last year (toxic!), cut down on sugar and carbs (not for the sake of aesthetics), and started going to bed early (and taking daily naps); now I quit reading the news. I already know what's up: the environment is fucked, America is racist, and there's Corona. I also already know what I have to do about it—the news don't keep me informed or motivated, but petrified and depressed. It hijacks my imagination, with its doomsday sensationalism and dark patterns. I read Black authors instead, opinion pieces, fiction. Try it, guilt free. It's okay to disconnect, and even necessary.
Self-care includes sex. We don't talk enough about the importance of sexual expression and the freedom and joy it brings. I was surprised to discover all the amazing high-tech toys one can buy under $50 nowadays. The potential is endless. Go ahead, pleasure yourself. It's healthy and safe, it's fun, and it's scientifically proven to help release serotonin.
In another attempt to cope with 2020, I adopted a third (!) cat. I have decided that a black kitten will bring me good luck, and that's the only superstition I'm willing to maintain. The baby is called Midnight (name courtesy of Johnny) and I don't know about good luck (yet) but he's definitely brought a ton of positive vibes to Casa Pfeiffer already.
And lastly, I will attempt to NOT constantly use my phone. I am addicted to it because of the camera, and I admit that I love Notes and IG. The plan is to "be in the moment", and to live in the analog world more often. I actually enjoy it, and I'll keep you posted about how it goes.
Are these things going to guarantee a better 2020 from now forth? We'll see. I surely hope so, unless WWIII happens, or the killer hornets return... What I do know is that a vaccine is coming and the schools will eventually reopen, I will be able to travel again and see my family, we will vote Trump out and abolish white supremacy, and there will be time for date nights and roller skating and all things fun once more. I just need to preserve my energy, stay focused, and get through this.
I have homework of sorts as part of my therapy.
There's one last trauma I must process in order to move on. I lost my cousin Sonya in 2018. She was like a sister to me, and my love for her was boundless. The circumstances of her death took long to uncover, and when I finally learned the details about the events leading to her suicide I was broken.
I stayed in denial for awhile, then compartmentalized it entirely because it hurt too much. I never gave myself the chance (or the permission) to grieve as I knew that it will be overwhelming, and I wasn't stable enough to deal with something so difficult. I wanted to stay "together" for my family, and waited for the "right" time to get closure.
It is time to face my loss, to sit with the pain, and to find a way to live with it. I will write about Sonya, as writing has always been cathartic for me. Hopefully I'll be able to preserve her spirit well by telling her story and keep it with me, always.