Who knew back around December when I drafted my 20 For 2020 that many of these items would be weirdly upended, achieved or not achieved for completely unexpected reasons, or weirdly more or less relevant than I might have expected. Most interestingly, was my choice of theme for the year: I got this. I definitely couldn’t have known what a necessary and important mantra this would prove to be.
We’re well past counting days, or even feeling like our new topsy turvy reality is new or weird. We’re approaching a full five months of this Brave New World, embracing it as the new normal for the foreseeable future (or perhaps still sitting with the discomfort of it).
Just when you think 2020 can’t get more dystopian, it totally does. While the world around me continues to burn and transform in ways that my young radical self never thought she’d see in her lifetime, I still somehow manage to generally be living my best life. Still, the idea that happy people are just always happy, don’t have bad days, and don’t struggle, is false. It actually takes a lot of conscious effort to choose happiness and the struggle is real. The last few days have been an emotional wash cycle that I’ve barely kept my head above water in. You see, in addition to all the foundational angst we’re experiencing, uncertain social and civic life resulting from the shadow of a global pandemic, wounds of racial injustice ripped open and spilling into the streets, our country as we knew it stripped of its values and institutions, and all the uncertainty, instability, and insecurity that comes with it, I also lost first my step father at the end of February, followed soon thereafter by my mother mid-May. And? The economic weight of the New World Order is finally coming to bear in my work life as we enter a new fiscal year and must craft a new budget to support our new working realities. And then the hose on the dishwasher busted. And I started to feel busted, too.
Just two weeks ago, something unprecedented happened, and yes, in 2020, that’s not so remarkable anymore. Two weeks ago, the National Federation of the Blind convened their annual national convention, its 80th, and for the first time, it was virtual, like everything else these days.So I got together with 7,252 of my closest blind friends from around the world, more than twice as many registrants as we’ve ever had in person, and we did pretty much all the same convention things we always do, with the new 2020 twist—from my living room in yoga pants. There were no airports, no luggage, no shuttles or taxis, there was no playing baller in a fancy hotel, and most sadly for me, no field trip to the Blind Goat, as we were scheduled to convene in Houston. I did manage to do a pretty good simulation of my convention experience, mostly via food, by munching actual M&Ms when I dropped into the presidential suite, buying the chocolate covered cherries usually sold as a fundraiser by the Seattle chapter, munching pizza during the LCB Alumni Luncheon (even though it was 8 AM PST and my pizza was leftover from dinner the night before), and going all out to replicate a banquet meal in my own kitchen, including pouring clandestine wine under the table.
Most sessions were accompanied by a parallel Zoom room in which good friends gathered for heckling, celebrating, cheering, and side conversations. At the end I was just about as exhausted as the real thing, without the more exhausting flight home. I was honored to be invited as a speaker at the student division’s Success Summit, and had the privilege of pre-recording my talk, and the whole week was a necessary and fortifying boost to my morale.
Convention week also brought the sad news of the passing of Representative John Lewis, Civil Rights figure and dear friend to the organized blind movement. We paused to revisit a speech given by Representative Lewis at the NFBs March for Independence in Atlanta, GA in 2007, and it could not be more relevant, telling the story of his aunt’s little shotgun shack and how it rattled and the very foundations seemed to be lifting during a particularly fierce storm, and how important it is that we all work together to hold our collective house down during turbulent times.
And my last few days have been especially turbulent, my house, significant other, and two cats feeling like just about the only safe space as the walls all around me crumble and burn. Heightened stress and uncertainty at work, a daunting list of task related to settling the affairs of my mother’s complicated estate, including the resurrection of some toxic family dynamics, and fascism alive and well in response to systemic social injustice. I am exhausted and overwhelmed. And then my SO noticed the leak under the kitchen sink.
My house, indeed, the rest of the world, is shaking violently and lifting from its foundations, and those who care, those who have something to give, are working to hold the house down while the storm passes, and it will. And I do a lot of deep breathing, and developing the habit of responding to angst with the simple question, “what is one, even simple, thing that I can do right now to fix it instead of marinating in my angst?” It might be something useful, even a small item, from the daunting list of to-dos dangling over my head like the sword of Damocles, or it might just be to step away from whatever is overwhelming me in the moment and just sit on the couch for a few minutes with my cat or enjoy the calm of a hot scented mineral bath. And let’s be real, sometimes self-care does look like wine or ice cream.
The lesson is that happiness is overwhelmingly a choice, not the absence of hardship or difficulty. Today, in the face of accumulated anxiety snowballed from so many things I have no control of, I intentionally chose measured productivity in balance with the self-care that comes from rest and recovery, even from mundane tasks like boiling eggs, cleaning the bathroom and doing dishes, tidying, feeding my cats. and drafting difficult letters to family about painful subjects. One of the most important lessons I learned in the Peace Corps is that nothing has to make sense, and once you embrace this in your approach to reality, doing dishes by hand around a fan blowing under your kitchen sink 24/7 because the leak went into the walls, and all the contents of your undersink life, including trash and recycling now line the precious floor space in your one-butt kitchen, while you untangle the complicated strands of your mom’s messy estate, sit with the discomfort of budget cuts at work and ever increasing pressure to just keep doing more with less,now from your kitchen and living room keep up with new science and ordinances to curb a viral pandemic, and watch your country of origin turn into all the basket case studies you examined through college without totally losing your shit feels an awful lot like a victory.
And then I remembered, I got this.