We’re all hurtling toward the same certainty. (SPOILER ALERT: It’s a dirt nap.) The good news is, that makes everything that’s been giving me anxiety lately seem pretty stupid. Still, the anniversary of my Nana’s death just passed and it always leaves me emotionally wobbly for a bit. At this point I’ve decided to think of each time I feel this way as an eclipse–an anticipated semiannual event in which most of the light in my life is obscured by unwanted reflections about my own missteps and mortality. Fun. Luckily for me, it’s temporary. Plus, this year I’m using this emotional eclipse to think about the people, things, and thought processes I can stand to do without. I wish I could advise you on how to do this while you’re happy, but it doesn’t seem to work well that way. So if you’ve got some grief to spare, pull up a chair.
When my Nana died I shaved my head. I remember the sound of the clippers near my earlobes, and how the newly discarded hair tickled the flesh of my bare shoulders as I stood looking at my naked scalp in the bathroom mirror. My Nana was gone. The audacity of the birds astounded me. How dare they chirp when she was in the ground and they were merrily in the sky?
Shaving my head was a heavy experience for me. It was as if my follicles were floodgates, and shaving the hair allowed me to feel something. I still don’t know what to call it. Perhaps ‘urgency’ is appropriate. So really, this is less about my Nana than it is about that feeling because honestly, that feeling hasn’t left me. What’s worse, thoughts about my Nana wring my tear ducts dry every damn time, and each year since her death I’ve asked myself, “What the fuck are you doing with yourself?”
But this year, on the weekend that followed her death-versary, I decided to stick it to my pesky tear ducts in a major way. I hit a lake house with a good friend and a few strangers and did all the trite, lakehous-y shit I could fathom. I hiked to a nearby waterfall and took a selfie on a rock. I sat outside in a hot tub with some lovelies while it snowed. (Why outside? It provides an awesome hard/cool-nip-hot-vag effect worth trying.) Saw some other girls’ nips too. It was a nice distraction.
But in between all that junk, I tactfully slipped away from the merriment several times a day and spent big heaps of time losing the battle with my tear ducts behind the locked door of the basement bathroom. Or out on the lake house deck in the bristling cold. Each time I did it I felt empty, and then ridiculous for feeling empty. But it was nice to let the mountain winds dry my first world, bullshit tears for a change. They whipped my cheeks pink and raw, and it felt right to me because focusing on the physical discomfort was far easier than drowning in the fucking feel-pool at the time. I was in the thick of my eclipse, and it was as dark as I’d known it would be.
The last day there I spent the morning assessing my meltdown as I packed my flat iron and socks in my overnight bag. Packing was a short task, so I decided to do three things that I never anticipated would lift my spirits so much.
First, I put on makeup. My eyes looked terrible from all my secret crying sessions, and layering the junk on made me feel good at the moment. Then I ate the last of the pizza for breakfast because cold pizza reminds me of late-night writing, and even thinking about writing is–when I’m fortunate enough for it to be–a writing prompt.
So lastly, I wrote.
I wrote down everything I’d accomplished since the last time I checked in with myself. It started off fairly positive.
- Got a short story published in an anthology
- Ended several toxic relationships
- Prayed a few fajrs
- Gained some new clients
- Wrote another chapter in my sci-fi novel
- Finished a book of poetry
Of course, it did take a turn for the worse.
7. Separated from my husband
8. Gained weight
9. Allowed my son to see me in a downswing twice
10. Packed my things to abandon my life more than once
The last two were the toughest to write despite the fact that no. 9 wasn’t the worse thing; I was just lethargic and tearful, mostly. And no. 10 was more a tool to let off steam both times. I’d never leave because abandonment is cyclical, and I’d rather raise my kid now than raise my grandkid later. Either way, I put my pen down and allowed myself a slow nod at that point because I felt like my life was melting right then. Once a perfectly formed popscicle of structure and certainty, it was now a pile of slush with its colors swirled together. It felt messy, sticky, and painfully artificial.
But again, that was right then.
The whole point of this jig is that I decided to let go of thought processes I can do without. And sheeesh. I still have to marvel at the arrogance and selfishness of my grief and anxiety. Sure it’s real to me…but for fuck’s sake. I’m not a widow in a war-torn country. I’m not an amputee in Southeast Asia. I’m just a black chick in a semi-democratic country with chubby arms who has a hard time finishing her own creative writing projects due to some mental health issues. And sometimes, her own laziness. And sure I lost a loved one, but she was 104 years old. What more could I ask for? Vampire Nana? Nana immortalized in a Dorian Gray-style painting? Methuselah Nana (‘MethuseNana’ is quite funny if you say it right: Meh-thews-eh-Na-na)? I chortle, my friends. Because I must.
And hadn’t I read countless articles about how it’s truly possible to give yourself a stress-induced heart attack if you focus too much on where you think you should be in life? J.K. Rowling, Oprah Winfrey, and Vera Wang didn’t kick their careers into full gear until after 30, and my own mother did most of her traveling after all of us were in college. So I used my invisible hand to give myself an invisible, reassuring pat on the back. (Because actually patting myself on the back in a lake house full of people would’ve made me look crazy.) After all, even if you drink too much, spend too much, love the wrong person too hard–though I’m not certain of any other way to love a person–or do any of the other things adults do when they’re trying to sort things out, are you not still the same person who genuinely wants what most people want? A piece of happiness and security on this blue, dilapidated rock? You are. They are. And I know I am too. The mistakes I’ve made haven’t erased that. This gal is still motivated my dreams, goals, and good intentions.
So, I’ve decided that I’ll never have all the answers because no one does. I don’t have advice for monetary success of any kind. Or marital success of any kind. What I do have is my own concoction for sanity. Because that comes first before money. And marriage. And before I one can claim to be a fully functioning adult. I’ve developed a balm for my own bullshit and I’m leaving it here to revisit it if I forget any part of it. It’s a list of sorts. Actually, it’s more of a rant–but I swear it’s helping me even as my impractical, coffin-style nails tap these keys.
We’re all going into the ground, peasants and kings alike. So act like it. Love someone really goddamned hard. Shave your head if you like. (Keep a wig handy in case it doesn’t work out and you discover you have a head like Terry Crews.) Make a habit of saying what you need to say to someone’s face and not behind their back. Be uncomfortable. Hear someone else’s point of view. Know that hearing is different than listening, but start where you need to. Cry on a mountain top if you can get up there. Or a pyramid. Or a graffitied rooftop. Or in your lover’s arms. Or on your bedroom floor. Sit cross legged with some strangers and hear their stories. Put money in a jar/digital jar labeled ‘travel’ and don’t you fucking touch it unless your kitten needs paw surgery to walk again. Understand that what’s easy for you may be harder for others, and vice versa. Check your privilege. Know that your religion does not make you any less biodegradable. The worms love it all, and have since time in memorial. Understand that the latter is not a sad thought, really. Rather, it’s a statement that demonstrates that division is stupid. So do what you love. Try and fail and try again. Just be wary of what you consume, and what you let consume you along the way. Don’t let yourself be a doormat. Don’t let someone think you love them if you don’t. Know that it is an act of abuse. In fact, don’t abuse anyone, including yourself. Leave your desk on sunny days. Most of all, impose a balance.
Don’t let the bad stuff eclipse the good. If it does manage to, know that whatever it is will pass.