Joy in Self-Isolation

Here is a list of things bringing me joy in these isolated days:

  • Cuddling with my husband as we wait for our alarm to go off
  • Waking up every morning to my cat nuzzling my hand so I’ll pet her ears 
  • Playing Stardew Valley for 3 hours every week with 3 of my best friends
  • A 5-second commute to work
  • Open blinds throughout the day
  • Every single pair of sweatpants I own
  • Finding new, delicious ways to cook
  • Learning new, interesting things about my Instagram friends
  • Grapes
  • Apples
  • Orange Juice
  • Long phone calls with my mom
  • Daily cat videos with my husband
  • My cat walking into my office and flopping onto her back so I’ll get up and pet her
  • Sitting on my front steps after work
  • Sara Bareilles’s “Gonna Get Over You”

Being a Millennial in the Pandemic and the Church

Millennials are defined by our memories of and experiences in 3 major events during our childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood: 9/11, sustained wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Great Recession. And now we’re adults, many of us with kids and mortgages, in a pandemic. 

In a lot of ways, I think millennials are uniquely suited to doing the good and hard work of this time, which so far include sacrificing social pleasures for physical isolation, patroning small local businesses that may not survive the crunch, and educating our parents and grandparents about the seriousness of the threats we’re facing. We’re used to combing through the buzz of overstimulation and over information on the internet for credible sources and realistic outcomes and expectations. We’re also used to begging older generations to listen to us, trying tactic after tactic to try to get them to understand our perspective and value others’ welfare above their own comfort or routine. We habitually use the internet to remain connected with others. And we’ve become accustomed to reality suddenly, dramatically changing for the worse. We grew up on dystopian fantasies and we learned our lessons.

We are also accustomed to being lied to by people in authority, including our parents, our instructors, our bosses, and our highest elected officials. Our parents lied to us, if unintentionally, about how the world works and our place in it, then denied us access to power while blaming us for our trauma. Our instructors insist we’re lying and demand obituaries to prove our absences while also losing assignments, not sticking to the syllabus, and repeating the same demeaning diatribes as the generations before them. Our bosses lie to us about benefits, our value to the company, and even our value as human beings.

Elected officials have lied about who was responsible for 9/11, who are our enemies, what people think, what’s best for us, who we can trust, and certainly about their motivations. Our current president has lied about…everything. And we’re pretty good by now at sniffing those lies out. Most millennials I know skip his portion of the now daily COVID-19 briefings to avoid the racist comments, misinformation, and lies. And now the president is saying some of us will have to die so that rich people don’t become a tiny bit less rich. Smells rotten to me. 

So we value stories and art and entertainment, and we do what we can to support the people who give us that. We look for stories of real people before believing what authorities tell us about the virus, its spread, and what we should do about it. We organize to help others. And we have to keep reminding news agencies and the world at large who we are (25-40 year olds) and who we aren’t (college students on spring break).

There are selfish people who think they are invincible in every generation, ours included. But we aren’t the ones on beaches despite warnings (and why aren’t those beaches already closed?).

Our spring break is working from home while trying to keep our kids on task for their e-learning.

Our spring break is developing online learning for the students we won’t see in person for the rest of the school year.

Our spring break is visiting the grocery store for our elderly neighbors on the way home from an underpaying job.

Our spring break is staying at home, hoping our disability or underlying condition won’t be a death sentence as we watch the president tell us we might have to die and as our caregivers dismiss our concerns.

Our spring break is spent delivering dozens of pizzas a day for less than minimal wage.

Our spring break is a day off from the hospital where we’ve volunteered to care for COVID patients because we are young and healthy and childless.

I see many of the same tension for us millennials in churches. We generally see loving their neighbors as a radically different process and value system than the ones we’ve been taught.

Loving queer people, for example, isn’t accomplished by excluding them or by instructing them, with pitying expressions, that they are hell-bound. And we believe this regardless of how we interpret biblical references to homosexuality, which in biblical times referred to predatory pedophilia, not the identity, lifestyle, and loving relationships implied by the word today. We are more likely to know openly queer people, and our love for them makes this issue far from theoretical.

As another example, to millennials, using funds responsibly and in Christ-like ways means handing out money sometimes, not only food, regardless of whether the person has “earned it” or is “worthy” of it. Their being children of God, human beings, makes them worthy of kindness and dignity, makes their suffering intolerable to our understanding of Christianity. We certainly won’t agree to buying yet another set of cushioned chairs for the one hour a week we’re going to be using them. We don’t believe that the only issue worth voting on, the one that *ahem* trumps all others is abortion. If we are responsible to God for the lives of those unborn children who might possibly die as a result of legislation passed or withheld by a person who we voted for, then we are equally responsible to the children kept in cages and denied flu vaccines, to the children killed on a schoolbus in Yemen by a US drone attack, to the children starving in refugee camps, and to our own children, who are taught to run in zigzags to avoid active shooters and who the president sees as acceptable losses in his efforts to save the stock market.

These understandings are largely excluded from the wider church. When voiced, they are largely ignored or vilified. We don’t habitually engage in useless endeavors, so few millennials continue pounding on those doors of power and influence that have been shut to them for their “radical misunderstandings of the Bible.” So most Christian millennials are faced with 3 choices: conform, shut up, or leave. I’ve done all three, most recently “leave.” 

We can hardly leave the country, though. And even if we could, what’s to say any other country would want us? We were told that the racists in power would eventually die off, and we should be patient for change. Instead, we see segments of our generation and Gen Z radicalized. And still we can’t protect our children from gun violence and can’t convince our grandparents not to go to church or to lunch afterwards during a pandemic. 

It’s a grim life that’s prepared us so well for the present pandemic.

Amidst my own dizzying anxiety, I’ve learned a lot from watching older generations face this pandemic. In particular, where I’ve rushed to react quickly and decisively, whether in terms of vegetables or workplace demands, my more mature colleagues have taken a more reasoned approach. They are optimistic for their own emotional well-being. They are careful. And most are generous. 

We aren’t prepared to sacrifice as a society for the sake of that society—all our experiences thusfar have discouraged it—and now we’re being asked to. We’re even required to in order to save lives. I deeply hope that every generation, including my beloved and jaded one, manage to do so.

Sports during the Pandemic

Tyler requested that I do a blog post about sports, and the lack thereof, during this pandemic. He and I usually set our spring to the rhythms of first Atlanta United soccer, then the Braves, which carries us into football season in the fall, when Tyler supports Georgia Tech, I support Clemson, and we both try to be a tiny bit hopeful about the Falcons. Neither of us are basketball fans, but in that lull between the Super Bowl and opening day of baseball season, we have been known to stop on a few Hawks or Duke games, just to have something on in the background that doesn’t make us want to bake really elaborate cakes. 

And in our house over the past two weeks, as has likely occurred in yours, we’ve found ourselves a bit unanchored without these staples of our season. Sports is comforting, an escape for so many people either by playing or by watching. Tyler and I bonded over Atlanta United and the Braves games while we were dating and engaged. It’s been strange to know that such personal staples, and national staples as March Madness, have been suspended for an indefinite period. The one major sporting event I know of that’s still ongoing isn’t the sort that usually gets coverage on ESPN or Fox Sports. It’s a race over 1000 miles of the Alaska wilderness, and takes over 14 days to complete: the Iditarod.

I financially support two dog sledding teams, one of which is currently running the Iditarod. (For the record, dogs DO NOT die during the race! If any dogs become tired or injured, they are left in top vet care at the next checkpoint and are flown to the race’s end in Nome where volunteers care for them until their musher arrives with the rest of the team.) 

The mushers are almost entirely removed from the news, though some villages are opting to host the mushers outside of town to try to protect themselves from COVID-19’s spread. So the mushers must know there’s a pandemic. But until they either scratch or arrive with their teams in Nome, they won’t understand the full extent of what that means or how strange the world has become. Their dogs certainly don’t know. Which makes this event particularly interesting to follow during this pandemic, as we’re charting the paths of all these people who don’t know yet, who haven’t seen or experienced what’s now keeping us flush in toilet paper and awake at night. Their isolation is fascinating at any time, but especially so now.

If you are just getting into the Iditarod due to the dirth of other live sporting events, the team I support is led by Quince Mountain, a rookie and the first opening transgender musher. He is number 50, running in the back of the pack, which matches his slow and steady personality. (Fun fact! Q is allergic to dog hair.) His wife Blair Braverman (who I’ve mentioned before) finished the Iditarod last year as a rookie, and is covering the race with other journalists this year. You can find both of them on Twitter, along with their community of we loyal, big-hearted fans, the #UglyDogs. The Ugly Dogs are funding school projects throughout Alaska in #IGiveARod, and are crafting scarves, hats, and other warm water gear for Alaskan children through #IKnitARod. 

There are also quite a few mushers in good standing to win the Iditarod in the next day or two. Of these, I’m rooting for Mitch Seavey, who features in one of Blair’s many excellent Twitter threads about caring for the dogs on Team BraverMountain.

This thread provides a fantastic overview of the race, as does this article, if you’d like to start following along. And the most up-to-date standings are located here.

Happy trails! Stay safe out there, for yourselves and for others.

Keeping Watch

In Jurassic Park, after climbing a tree and being sneezed on by a “veggie-saurs,” Alan Grant and the kids Lex and Tim settle in to sleep. But the kids are nervous about more dinosaurs coming back while they sleep. Alan promises to stay awake, even all night. But it deeply bothered me as a child that, after the kids settle against him, comforted, we see his eyes close too. And in the next scene, we see the three of them waking up. This felt like a betrayal. Why, I asked my parents, did Dr. Grant promise to stay awake if he was just going to fall asleep? They answered me immediately, “Because the kids wouldn’t have gone to sleep otherwise.” I understood the answer, but I felt unsettled by it. I likely didn’t realized that they’d been in Dr. Grant’s position many times, promising to stay awake so that I would feel secure enough to rest. But I did wonder what my parents might have lied about in the past in order to set me at ease.

A friend recently suggested in a blog post that her and her daughter’s tendency to lay awake at night might stem from a subconscious feeling that someone need to stay awake to keep watch. 

I don’t yet have kids, but when I was a kid, I certainly laid awake a lot. I sometimes got up to make the long walk through the dark house to get more water, but otherwise I didn’t turn on a light or read. Only very rarely did I even turn my radio on, so softly I could barely hear it, so no one else would know I was awake. I’m not sure why it felt so important that my wakefulness be a secret. I didn’t want to get in trouble. I didn’t want to be doing something wrong. I’m not sure why I thought listening to the radio or turning on a light would be doing something wrong, or why I felt my inability to sleep would be seen as a personal failing or disobedience.

My whole childhood was like that. I lived within very strict rules, largely of my own making. My family and school (more so the former than the very loud latter) provided structure and rules that felt largely fair, but I regulated myself to even tighter boundaries. I think, now, it had a lot to do with my anxiety. All the things I was afraid of and nervous about, formed an uncontrollable hum in my mind like a swarm of bees. And I was unsure how to deal with it. Reading helped. Playing helped. But laying awake in the middle of the night, not a lot helped. I prayed. I counted. I imagined (though this could swing into more mental anguish at times).

In particular, I remember laying awake, wanting to give in to that feeling that I’d be more comfortable on my other side, but I was afraid someone would climb through the window while my back was turned. So I’d lay facing the window, trembling with anxiety, uncomfortable, trying to take comfort in what logic I could. My windows were high on the front side of the house. It’d be very hard for someone to scale their way in, even if they could get the windows open. I’d only seen them open a handful of times, usually when Mom was cleaning in the spring. I knew they stayed locked. Still, I worried. Sometimes I talked myself into rolling over and staying there. Sometimes I rolled over but couldn’t stand not to see that vulnerable window. I often prayed, talking to God about my fears as well as whatever came into my head. I got better at praying without ceasing, but prayer didn’t make me feel like someone was in the room with me. Prayer didn’t make me feel secure enough to sleep. Prayer was how I felt less alone while remaining awake and anxious, and sometimes afraid.

Eventually, I made a cross out of popsicle sticks to put over that window, then over the one my bed was under, and finally my bedroom door, just to be thorough. This reassured me, a spiritual guard made physical. And when my mom saw what I was doing, she encouraged me. She helped me decorate them with broken bracelets and markers. Later, she bought me a nice ceramic one for my birthday. 

If I could tell my past self something, at almost any age of my childhood and adolescence, I’d tell her that she won’t always struggle with what she struggles with now. I get headaches and migraines now. I still have anxiety. Sometimes it affects my sleep. But so many of the big things she struggled with and stressed about are so much easier for me now. And I think she would take hope in the absolute assurance that one day, her brain will be able to let go of those anxieties in the middle of the night. That one day she’d be able to roll over without thinking about it or debating it, and that her world would expand far beyond what she allows herself. 

When I wake in the middle of the night now, I have no qualms about rolling over. I don’t feel the need to get up and check the locks on the doors. And when I lay awake at night, it’s not because I feel insecure in my home. Though, some nights, I do feel watchful in a broad sense. Watchful and praying, though everything around me is at peace. Watchful and praying for the insecure, alone, afraid, abused, oppressed, marginalized. Watchful and praying for the world, melting and burning and starving and sick. I lay beside my husband, feel the curl of my cat pressed against my legs, and talk to God as I keep watch.

Reading Goals, Winter 2020

In January, I explained that one of my reading goals for the year is that at least 50% of my reading for the year will be by authors who are diverse in some way. 

Of the 21 books I’ve read so far, 11 are by diverse authors, and they are all fantastic. So I’m listing them in the order I read them. 

I know, I know: some of the romance titles are pretty bad. And maybe the covers are making your cringe. But all the books are amazing. Courtney Milan and Beverly Jenkins are two of my favorite writers, and it’s been a delight to read so many of their books in a run like this. Every one of their main characters are incredibly driven women, and their books and stories feel real, not contrived, in a way that’s really hard for a writer to consistently pull off. The conflict in Courtney Milan’s books usually revolve around a secret the main character is keeping for a good reason, as opposed to the frustrating misunderstandings that so often spark the tension in romances.

Beverly Jenkins’ main characters tend to be based on interesting black people in the Old West or New Orleans who she’s found amongst her extensive research. For example, in Breathless, the heroine’s family owns an early version of a dude ranch-themed resort that’s visited by European royalty as well as the wealthy from San Francisco, Boston, and Chicago. This resort is based on a real hotel owned by a real family in Arizona.

I just finished With Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo on audiobook (expertly read by the author), and it is incredible in every way. How Acevedo describes food—tastes and smells—made me hungry and also feel strangely competent about cooking, which I am not. Also, Acevedo so perfectly and vividly builds the Philly neighborhood in which the book is set that I wanted to sit down with a hard copy and comb through the sentences so I could figure out exactly how she did it. I adore the main character Emoni, who wants to be a chef, and her love for her Baby Girl and Abuela. Even now that the book is over, I’m rooting so hard for them all.