Thinking Adoringly

While listening to the radio on my drive to work one morning, the morning show hosts shared advice from psychologists about ways to take better care of yourself during this prolonged time of isolation and increased worry and anxiety. And as people who have been pushing for social justice (especially we white people who aren’t used to the prolonged and sustained fight) begin to slow down, to need a rest, I remembered these few minutes listening to the radio.

Their advice included getting outside for prolonged periods (at least 30 minutes) every day, and spending extra time on whatever self-care you engage in to help yourself feel nurtured. Then they shared a piece of advice and basically called it ridiculous. The advice was to spend time after your shower rubbing lotion into your skin and thinking adoringly about your body. 

They mocked the advice, pantomiming “oh I adore you, body” and laughing. They never pulled it back together to consider what this advice could be getting at that they were missing. And that’s been bothering me, because touch starvation is a very real mental health concern. The disabled communities have talked about touch starvation, meaning a lack of meaningful touch in their lives, for years. When the only touch you experience is utilitarian, or when you are not touched by another human at all, you may feel depressed, anxious, stressed, and have difficulty sleeping.

It’s so strange to me that until last Thursday, I hadn’t touched anyone other than my husband since the first weekend of March. But I have touched another person meaningfully and often enough to stimulate the parts of my brain that need meaningful touch. My husband is touch-oriented in how he shows love, just as I am.

Before we got married, I lived with a roommate, but we rarely touched. Many of my single friends live alone, and they have expressed symptoms of touch starvation in the past few weeks. Most have pets, which help, but isn’t the same as a human touch. Weighted blankets also simulate touch in the way your brain needs, and I’ve followed the advise of several disabled advocates by recommending them. 

The advice I heard on the radio may have angles I’m not familiar with, but it’s obvious to me that it can help combat touch starvation. By touching your skin and thinking positively about your body, you’re helping to stimulate those parts of the brain which needs meaningful touch. Thinking positively may not sound adoring, but as our dietary habits break and reform almost weekly, certain medications become rare, and we are often alone and wearing sweatpants, and as COVID numbers continue to climb but our community is reopening, it won’t hurt to add a little extra oomph to those positive thoughts about our bodies. 

Aren’t you so grateful for your heart, which works so hard constantly to keep you going? I mean, constantly. Just like your lungs, but don’t think about those too hard or you’ll only be able to think about your breathing, and I want you to think now about your hand. Isn’t your hand amazing? Look at it! Really, look at it. You can do incredible, intricate things with your hands. Catch a salt shaker before it falls off the counter. Knead dough. Perform surgery. Wave goodbye. Throw a kiss. Hold a fist. Isn’t that wonderful?

You have a foot. And an arch made of strong bones. Think about how graceful that arch looks.  And your skin! Keeping you all together, complaining a little when too hot or too cold, though it does its best to handle things on its own. Look at all those tiny, fascinating hairs. They lay down in patterns. Have you noticed? My brother has three crop circles of fine hair on his arms. And your skin is made up of the most gorgeous, intricate hues. 

You are extraordinary. You are made in the image of God, and no one is more or less alike to God’s image than you. A little adoration wouldn’t be amiss.

Do your best to take good care of yourself. 

Why I Quit Watching Police Procedurals

It’s propaganda.

Wait, let me back up. 

So, think of your favorite police shows. “CSI.” “Law & Order.” “Chicago PD.” “Castle.” “Rizzoli & Isles.” “Blue Bloods.” “Rookie Blue.” “SWAT.” “The Wire.” Maybe you love some “Dragnet” and “Hawaii 90210” and “Brooklyn-99.” Consider the crime genre more broadly and you’ve got “Bones,” “NCIS” (all 3 of them), “White Collar,” “Blacklist,” and many more.

In the crime genre, you as the audience follow officers and detectives and FBI agents and their favorite zany scientist and researcher side kicks to solve crimes and see dangerous criminals put in jail. The characters are full of nuance. They’re generous, well-explored, and interesting. You watch them fall in love and deal with normal adult problems and concerns. You applaud when they use offbeat tactics to get the job done, protect others, fight to make their hometowns and cities safer. 

But what are we really seeing?

We’re seeing a lot of white people. We’re seeing stereotypes about crimes, criminals, and people of color. We’re seeing a lot of guns, a lot of violence. We’re seeing high-speed chases. We’re shown fully realized, predominantly white characters as the heroes, the good ones. Even when they make mistakes or get into trouble, we see them as whole people and so are sympathetic, and so easy to excuse. If an officer steps out of line, a peer always pulls them back in. All the criminals are bad or condescendingly misguided. Basically everyone arrested in convicted, and those who are arrested for crimes they didn’t commit might be upset, but they don’t suffer anything. And the hero detectives always keep digging to get them exonerated and for the real criminals to be found. The community is also safer after every episode. Cops are depicted as a stabilizing influence. And then you have the tough ex-cop, the lone wolf sheriff, the marshal with true grit who ignores the conventions and rules. For these well-loved characters, violence is forgiven because of the justice in their hearts.

So what aren’t we seeing?

We aren’t seeing nuanced representations of people who commit crimes. We aren’t seeing the history of economic depression, forced poverty, and racist institutions that are informing these neighborhoods or the lives of the people in them. We aren’t seeing police officers held accountable by one another. We aren’t seeing what happens to the families of the person arrested. We aren’t seeing their legal fees, their job loss, the hole in their community even if the person arrested is later revealed to be innocent. We aren’t seeing that police are trained to build a case, not to discover the truth. We aren’t seeing innocent bystanders who try to share information but are accused instead.

We aren’t seeing the predatory and entirely subjective bail bond system, which disproportionately affects communities of color. We aren’t seeing the number of innocent people who plead guilty, just to get out of prison and back to their families or jobs. We aren’t seeing their children taken into state care because their parents were arrested. We don’t see racist profiling. We don’t see harassment. We don’t see roads to rehabilitation. We don’t see false reports by vindictive, racist white people. We don’t see abuses of power. How many women and children are abused by their police officer relatives? We don’t see that the rogue cop’s violence bred this violence that’s befallen the town. We don’t see innocent EMTs gunned down in their own homes. We don’t see men pinned to the ground and murdered over $20. 

We don’t see George Floyds. Or Breonna Taylors. The Sandra Blands. The Philando Castiles. We don’t see the Amy Coopers either.

We do see a lot of Chauvins. And their ubiquity makes is easy to ignore or wave away the threat and shock of actual police violence, even when real violence and harassment are caught on camera. 

And what does this do to us? 

It teaches us to be sympathetic and trusting of police. It teaches us to criminalize the presence of people of color, especially black people, in spaces we white people consider white. It desensitizes us to violence committed by white people in uniform.

It lets the same people say “You can’t make me wear a mask to protect other people” and a week later say “If they didn’t want to be arrested they should have been home before curfew.” I’ve yet to see a single NRA member go to protest military presence deployed against civilians, which I thought was why they needed those AR-15s. And the one white person in a flack vest (wrongly sized) who did show up with an assault rifle, and was caught on camera, was politely guided away by police.

The scripted crime genre tells overly simplistic stories that lie about our world and our neighbors, who has power and why. It tells us that certain crimes are always wrong, that there’s always another, legal option that the criminals didn’t take. It teaches us that law and order is preferable to justice and fairness. It teaches us that property and conveniences are more important than human lives. It teaches us the lie of bootstrap moralism and ignores the history of violent protest in this country. It teaches us that bad things only ever happen to other people, weak people, people over there who look like them.

The rise of cop shows and movies coincided with an increase in petty crimes in the ’70s through ’90s. And, like the rest of TV, the stories were sensationalized over time. TV isn’t a representation of reality, but those stories still effect how we see the world and the people in it. 

We are not wiser for having watched the crime drama for 50 years. We are not better prepared to protect ourselves against violent crimes. We are not wiser about the types of situations which require police mediation. We haven’t been prepared for the many more situations which can be resolved in ways that neither bother the police nor endanger the lives of our neighbors. 

They do not teach us to be better neighbors or people. They do not teach us to question the almost unilateral authority of the person with the badge and the gun. They do not teach us to speak up when we see a coworker mistreating evidence, harassing a witness, or kneeling on an unresisting man’s neck. They do not teach us to hold those with this tremendous power over life and death to a higher standard or behavior than ordinary people. They do not teach us the empathize with a dying, begging man. They do not consider if rubber bullets and tear gas are overly aggressive responses to people throwing water bottles and rocks.

The ends do not justify the means. 

The only answer to a dirty cop, or a bad cop, is not another cop. Neither is the answer a zany squad of funny detectives. 

Yes, police officers, FBI agents, sheriff’s deputies are all humans. We know that. The TV shows and movies and books make that very clear. But the people they target are also human, and that’s what cop-positive media neglects, if not actively works against. And you only have to look at how armed white people who showed up at the Minnesota state house two weeks ago to protest closed barbershops were met by law enforcement, versus how unarmed and peaceful Black Lives Matter protestors were met by law enforcement to see that the policing system is unfair.

When I say the crime drama is propaganda, I mean it meets that definition. According to Merriam-Webster, propaganda is “ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause of to damage an opposing cause.” 

Here’s an article about how “Dragnet” was propaganda for the LAPD, inventing the idea that police are a stabilizing force in communities, despite evidence to the contrary.

This article documents the shift in public opinion about police departments from “Dragnet” on. 

Here’s an immense article about the normalization of injustice because of “television’s scripted crime genre.” 

This article in the Washington Post details how police censorship shaped Hollywood, with anecdotes from “The Wire.”

Here’s an article analyzing how police are always the sympathetic main characters.

If police are helpers and protectors, who are they helping? Who are they protecting? With the videos I’ve been seeing lately, it’s pretty obvious to me that white people are the only ones consistently being helped and protected. Not that police officers haven’t also been filmed in these past few days macing white children and firing at white people watching the police pass by from their porch. On the LAPD police scanner yesterday, an officer encouraged a colleague to “shoot the motherf*ckers,” referring to protestors, and was immediately admonished, not for encouraging fellow police to shoot at protestors but for saying it on the scanner.

The white driver of the semi that deliberately drove into crowds of peaceful protestors sitting on a bridge was let go without charges because he had gotten “frustrated.” Police officers are on camera shoving women, including white women, with unconscionable vehemence. We also see white people using their bodies as shields, because they are so much less likely to be treated violently than black people are.

Law enforcement has been filmed deliberately firing bullets coated in rubber, pepper bullets, tear gas, and pellets at people’s heads, which has caused an outcry in other countries. This morning, South Africa urged American law enforcement to practice restraint, reminding them of what we hope they already know: rubber bullets and pepper bullets can still be lethal. Last night, my husband and I stayed up later than we intended watching the remnants of a protest in Washington DC. While we watched, a black officer hiding behind a line of fellow officers with riot shields, intentionally maced the cameraman.

What have the police departments, by and large, done when faced with people, largely black people, protesting police brutality? They have behaved brutally. 

Many of the departments photographed “taking a knee” with protestors maced the crowd 45 minutes later. They wanted a photo op to make themselves look good. Which is why I don’t trust these “good cop sightings” either.

Excessive force killed George Floyd and prompted these protests, this rebellion against authorized violence against black people, and it has largely been met with scenes of excessive force. Again and again, police escalate into violence, police meet peaceful crowds with tear gas and mace. And again and again we see that the people setting fires and destroying windows are white people, even known white supremacists trying to undermine the movement’s efforts.

I’m no longer putting those stories and stereotypes about the police into my head. They are lies. They are propaganda. They hurt people. And they hurt us all.

Justice.

Black Lives Matter.

My Favorite Masks

My favorite masks are, of course, the ones that fit me best. That are most snug on my face without squishing my nose. They are soft and comfortable. And they also need to be thick. 

Tyler and I have two surgical masks and about a dozen homemade masks, but as I don’t own a sewing machine they were not made by me. Our mothers each made one. My mother sent a couple that were given to my dad and ordered a few for us, and I ordered six for us from Etsy. Of all these, the one that fits me the best and seems to be the best quality is this the woman/teenager size from ZhenLinen on Etsy.

I wear masks at work whenever I’m not in my office, when in drive-thrus, and when I have to go to the grocery store. Basically, any time I’ll be anywhere near another person, I wear a mask to protect myself and others. Below is a simplified, but effective info graphic about how masks protect you and others: 

I’d planned to talk more about masks, but yesterday, a good friend and her husband, who is a front line healthcare provider, were accosted while grocery shopping for wearing masks. I’m still an incandescent pillar of fire over the disrespect of this horrid woman, who butted herself into their lives and their day and their physical space because she didn’t like that they were wearing masks. My friends are both white. Imagine how much worse this entitled, selfish white woman would have been if they hadn’t been white also.

They weren’t hurting her or affecting her at all by wearing masks, but this woman felt like she had the authority to lecture them about wearing their masks in public. She proclaimed both the CDC and the WHO to be spreading misinformation (which I’ve also seen on my Facebook timeline and judged you sharers harshly for). This woman declared that they didn’t need to wear the masks, as if she is more trustworthy than those organizations and more knowledgeable than my friend, who has personally cared for COVID-19 patients. And when this healthcare worker patiently explained his job and expressed that the masks were primarily for her protection, she declared he should just stay home, as if he doesn’t need to run errands and buy food, just like she does. As if he isn’t human

You can’t share videos of crying nurses, order takeout because that restaurant donated meals to hospitals, and get a warm feeling at every commercial applauding healthcare workers then accost people in the grocery store, demanding they remove their protective masks. Even if my friend hadn’t been a healthcare worker, those masks don’t hurt other people. They are a personal choice, like a rain jacket during a hurricane. Even if it isn’t raining right where you are personally standing at that moment doesn’t mean you know more about the weather than the person in the jacket. And their rain jacket isn’t bothering anyone else anyway.

While we’re on the subject, the global pandemic isn’t over just because you’re bored. And it isn’t over simply because you’re ready for it to be. 

And if all of that isn’t good enough for you, just mind your own damn business.

If you think masks trample on your person liberties (I can only assume you don’t wear a seatbelt either), don’t trample the liberties of the people who choose to wear them. Those people are human, like you. They might be providing an essential service, like scanning your groceries or delivering your meals. They might be the very ones who intubate you when you have bilateral pneumonia from COVID-19. They might even be the last human beings you see if you die in the hospital from this disease. 

Stay home. Wear masks when you must to go out. And, at the very least, mind your own business.

Quarantine Cravings

Tyler and I have now been working from home for 3 weeks and physically isolating ourselves for 5. The last restaurant I sat down and ate at was the Taco Shed in Warner Robbins, which I experienced for the first time with two friends on Saturday, March 7. I dearly miss both my friends and the tacos and chips and salsa I devoured that day. And I dearly miss the pleasure of going out to eat, of trying something I would never have combined in those ways, and paying other people for that pleasure. I’ll be tipping far more than 20% for the rest of my life.

As I was writing last week’s posts, I noticed a Wendy’s commercial that made me so irrationally angry I wanted to punch something. In crisp 4K, slow-motion, the commercial displayed a chocolate Frosty being released into its cup, the gorgeous brown crystals aligning to, in a very tight shot, curl just so at the top. And I yearned for a Frosty to the point of fury. Which, I immediately decided, deserved its own blog post.

When I lived in England for 4 months, my longest uninterrupted stint abroad, I craved two things: waffles and chocolate Frosty’s. When I landed in Newark, my gate was literally directly across from a Wendy’s. I almost started crying. I thanked God with my whole heart for this immense blessing. 

I walked directly to end of the line, waited my turn, then told the cashier I wanted a number 1 and the largest Frosty she could legally give me. To her confused face, I said I wanted a Frosty in the biggest possible cup, pantomimed a container approximately the size of a large popcorn bucket. After a beat, she punched in my order, and I moved down to the end of the counter to wait. Also waiting was a wonderful ten-year old girl and her mother, who I’d chatted with on the plane. When they learned I had a 7-hour layover, they invited me to join them for lunch—or whatever this meal was. We sat on the floor together, and I dredged my fries through my Frosty, a novelty activity to them. I inhaled my ketchup-drenched burger and relished every single bite of that Frosty. 

You may be asking why I don’t hit up the Wendy’s drive-thru today. “It’s only shelter-in-place, and the police aren’t stopping people. Drive-thru is still allowed. It’s food so it’s an essential service.” Except that I have plenty of food here in my home, the ability to make more, and plenty of ice cream even. So my going to Wendy’s would be nonessential.

However, on Saturday, I ran some ear savers I’d crocheted to a friend who’s a health care provider. After talking in her driveway for a while and ensuring the new ear savers were a good size, I headed back home. It was after 2pm and I hadn’t eaten lunch yet. After conferring with Tyler, I stopped in the Wendy’s drive-thru. I felt giddiness as well as dread as I ordered what my husband had texted me, then asked for a number 1 and a large Frosty.

The fries weren’t as fresh as I’m used to. The burger was just above lukewarm. I suspected both had been sitting out for at least a few minutes. But the Frosty. The Frosty was divine.

I’d love to hear about the quarantine cravings that have been hitting you!

Commercials in the Time of COVID-19

Over the past week I’ve noticed a shift on TV. It started when Tyler and I were watched an On Demand episode of “Good Eats”, because I much prefer it to Sports Center without live sports and the “My Cat from Hell” marathon had ended. A commercial featured a black woman in golden choir robes muttering under her breath for the soloist to hurry up. A blue-polo’d Best Buy employee pops in beside her, whispering conspiratorially that they offer next-day delivery “on all kinds of gifts.”

The soloist was singing the final phrase of the “12 Days of Christmas” and the snowflake graphics around the Best Buy logo made it clear this was a holiday commercial. So why was it on at the end of March? 

Because this was On Demand, I saw the commercial again a few minutes later, and this time I paid more attention to it than I had to the show.

I’ve been complaining privately for a few weeks that the ads on TV seem to belong to a different universe, certainly a different era. In the ads, people gather for dinner, sharing fries with their family members. They high five strangers in a sports bar. They meet up with a friend for a brisk walk in the pollen-overrun park. Rooms-to-Go, Home Depot, and Kohl’s urge us to come out for their big sales. Most commercials call for an immediate action, like a trip to go shopping or to go out to eat, and neither are part of this world anymore. I’m not treating myself to Applebee’s after work and I’m not shopping for furniture. I’m not introducing any friends to a Big Mac. I don’t live in that world, or era, anymore. And neither does most of the country.

Last week, however, the commercials that companies seem to have rushed through production began to enter the rotation. Rather than shoot something new, Best Buy pulled out their holiday ad to let us know they’ll deliver online orders tomorrow. The timeliness of the message, for the first time I can remember, was valued so highly that the dated decor and set up was ignored.

The voiceover in one commercial assured me that eventually we will all gather for dinner and safely clink glasses again. A recent Domino’s commercial featuring a pants-less, sock-sliding dancer was reedited so the emphasis was on no contact delivery instead of trackable delivery.

Certain channels are using infographics on 5-second spots to remind us to distance ourselves and wash our hands. Channels are running marathons of their most popular shows and movies (where people hug and shake hands like it’s nothing!!!!! *starts hyperventilating*). Most don’t mention the coronavirus or COVID-19 by name. They merely refer to “the current crisis” and say our social bonds are so important, “especially now.” 

I’m glad that the ads have begun to reflect our different, still-changing reality. It feels less dystopian, less disconnected, less depressing. I want those ads to acknowledge our collective reality, since I know they’re speaking directly to me. Yet I find this somewhat ironic, as I also want to escape the pandemic in what I’m watching and reading. I’ll abide absolutely no stories or movies about hospitals, police, missing people, war, or death. I’m not interested in Marvel movies or Fast & Furious. I would rather eat nothing by PB&J for a week than to watch Avengers: Endgame. I want to be comforted. I want to laugh. Movies and shows and commercials that used to do so don’t anymore.

Live sports would be great to let my mind sink into, but of course we don’t have that outlet, so it’s zany baking shows and books I’ve already read and Sarah Bareilles music videos and animal shows centered on zoos and aquariums. It’s Mythbusters and Moana. It’s Animal Crossing for a lot of people. Nothing competitive, no high stakes. It’s more timing sitting on the couch, doing nothing, and more time looking out the window at whatever’s out there. It’s far more time researching bread baking and liking people’s social media posts about bread baking. It’s dancing Tic Tocs and threads of favorite songs. It’s a lot of quarantine memes.

It’s so strange to know that so much of our usual lives has just… stopped. 

And, of course, so much changes so quickly, yet at different rates in different places. While drafting this post, NYC residents got push notifications asking that everyone with healthcare experience volunteer for hospital shifts ASAP. Reality in NYC is different than mine in Macon, GA. It’s different than in my hometown of Beaufort, SC, which is just beginning to shut down, but I’ve been working from home for two weeks. My cousin in Oklahoma is moving to Georgia this week, and it really is like traveling into a different, more frightening world the farther east she goes.

To a degree, this has always been true. Flint still doesn’t have clean drinking water. The Navajo reservation never has. Three of my friends have had and are recovering from COVID-19. Thousands of people have lost loved ones to it already. The main thing that unites us now is how not normal things are, and how uncertain and frightening that is. And if we can’t even acknowledge that much, that things are not normal, I won’t even consider buying what you’re selling.

Have you seen a commercial that was clearly released or reedited in response to the pandemic? What was it advertising?

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.

The End of Winter

On a recent Sunday morning, I was struggling. Struggling to get out of bed. Struggling to complete the tasks necessary to get ready for church. Struggling to look at the day ahead of me with anything but dread. Struggling to move. Struggling to talk. I felt profoundly tired, but the day before, I’d had a wonderful, bright day with friends, having lunch and seeing “Hello, Dolly” at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. I wondered if I was dragging so much on this morning because I’d been so active the day before. But, I realized I’d taken naps several days that week. Feeling uncertain, I asked my husband if I seemed more tired than usual.

Tyler agreed that I did seem more tired. Then he said, “But this time of year is always hard on you.” That truth sank into my bones and sparked some vivacity for the first time that morning. I felt like I should have realized on my own that this stage of winter was most likely to blame for my recent struggles and lack of energy, but I hadn’t. And with those words, I understood the why to all my questions. I also understood that things would get better, as they tend to when spring returns. And that made facing the day less bleak. 

Then Tyler asked me if I wanted to go to church. I said yes. He got up, but I didn’t. He reached out a hand. When I took it, he literally helped me to stand.

I didn’t stop being tired. I didn’t stop dreading the two normal events for our Sundays. I’ve had worse bouts of depression—far worse. But that didn’t stop this from being a bad mental health day, as rainy a day inside my brain as outside.

Things were better in an hour or so. Not because I went to church (though I did). Not because I ate a magical breakfast (a banana and a dollop of peanut butter). Not because I prayed or meditated. Those things might have had a somewhat positive affect, but the core truth is that the weather in my brain just happened to get a little better. It might have swung the other way and I would have needed to ask Tyler to take me home after church instead of to lunch with his family. (This happened a couple times while we were dating and engaged.) But I did feel better. I could think more clearly. Standing up wasn’t so much of a struggle. Neither was talking. Nor being in another’s presence. (Tyler is excluded from that last part, presumably because my brain has decided that he and I are made of the same stuff, in a way literally no other person on the planet is.) 

I worry about what my life will be like later. If I’m able to have children, how will I handle a day like Sunday? My history of depression means I’m more likely to struggle with depression postpartum, during grief, and before menopause. And, of course, sometimes there aren’t particular, noticeable triggers for depression or anxiety. Sometimes it’s just weather. 

For now, I’m immensely grateful for my husband, who helps me stand when I’m struggling, and tells me it’s okay if I need to change our plans. 

The past few weeks, despite the amount of rain we’ve had, have been better. Still, I’m looking forward to spring.