There are two moments in a 24-hour span each day that ground me in the fact that I am in a perpetual state of monotony – when I’m walking into the bathroom to get ready for bed, and when I stumble into that same bathroom the next morning to get ready for the day. There’s just something so distinctively repetitive about the way my bare feet feel on the soap scummed grout, the way the smell of shampoo emanates from the shower and hits my nostrils, the way that the flickering light above the mirror causes my eyes to scramble for focus. It could be stormy, snowy, or hazy outside, but I would never know because this room at the end of my hallway has no window, just the smudged reflection of my face day in and day out. It’s a face that used to be called out for being overly expressive. You have no poker face, they’d say. Not as much now. Poker face is often all I have to give. That stony “here we go again” expression is my new normal.
Normal. Whatever that means.
For the first few months of this fiasco, I would wax poetic about a life that will inevitably return to normal. Now, deeper into this thing, I recognize that while some elements of my life will be restored to original condition, the core of my being will not. I don’t want it to. The way that my life was before – the delicate way that it spun around me each hour, day, month, year – was weak. It crumpled so easily under the pressure of what was an inevitable seismic event. It has let out countless exasperated sighs, complaints of inconvenience, and visceral shock towards human misbehavior and exploitation. How the hell can a human being exist in this universe, with unparalleled access to historical texts and surround sound global suffering, be so incredibly shook by the state of the world in 2020?
These are things that I think about as I brush my teeth in that tiny bathroom. Brush, spit, brush, spit, and then yank the floss out of its little box. As it slides across the gummy contours of my mouth, I consider how I have the gall to stand here and wallow in the mundane repetition of a world on fire and pretend like this choreographed coping is somehow novel because it’s happening to me.
I spit blood into the sink and watch it fade from red to pink to clear as it swirls down the drain. My husband reminds me that poor dental hygiene can lead to more daunting medical issues, so I’ve been committed to correcting my regimine. Yet, despite how much effort I now put into proper flossing, my mouth always bleeds violently. Every night, without fail.
I’ve been trying to write practically every day since the pandemic commenced and I’m finding it increasingly difficult. The polarized and ever-evolving conditions never seem “just right” for polished expression. Then again, the current conditions don’t seem right for any of my zig zagging whimsies either. Frankly, I’ve found 2020 to be almost the antithesis of whimsy. Taylor Swift just released an album, “Folklore,” one of the few prominent creatives who have released a high-profile body of work during these dark times. Her introductory note to the album states that she poured all of her “whims, dreams, fears, and musings” into it. The notion that one has successfully dumped their COVID-era whims into a critically acclaimed piece of art is enough to make me want to rip my skin off. It doesn’t help that I personally found “Folklore” to be absolutely delightful. Kill me now.
I have myriad whims, and instead of manifesting on paper in any profound and productive way, they’re twisting and turning in my gut, manifesting as persistent acid reflux than anything that Bon Iver would want to collaborate on. That’s not to say my household has been devoid of creativity. At this exact moment, my 11-year-old daughter is in the kitchen baking “margarita cupcakes.” They have tequila in the frosting – she’s giving the people what they want! While I flail about in neutral, she’s embraced the simple pleasures of baking, celebrating her increasingly complex techniques through beautiful carb-rich creations that the entire family has relished in. I want so desperately to find refuge in the soft folds of cake batter, which will reliably coagulate in the heat. There is so much satisfaction in the beauty of a perfectly golden cupcake or bread loaf. It takes little effort to understand why supermarkets have been short on flour and yeast over the last few months. The convergence of reliability, beauty, and comfort found in the baking experience is exactly what a world that has been throttled into disarray needs.
Unfortunately, I don’t bake, I write. And nothing I can express right now can possibly be beautiful or comfortable, and certainly not reliable. My mind has been spiraling more than a hunk of ham – and my heart, which tries so hard under normal circumstances to prop up all this mental chaos with some sort of moral soundness, is like a weather-worn statue of Atlas ready to crumble on the weight of it all. Most days I’m the personification of a fallen cake, burned around the edges, mushy in the center, more savory than sweet in all the wrong ways, at which its creator yells “I don’t know what I did wrong! I followed all the instructions and it’s still completely messed up!”
(Okay, so I did just find some joy in picturing Jesus in a well-appointed kitchen, angrily flinging chunks of confetti cake into the garbage.)
Again, I’m not sure the current conditions are right for my whims. They’re erratic, half-baked, bursting with incongruent textures and flavors, and confusing to most people I share them with. How does that integrate into said conditions, which are decidedly ripe for focused, large-scale systemic overhaul. They’re ripe for long-overdue discord, for broad dissent, and for an entire re-authoring of the world and the societies that comprise it.
The world has proclaimed, rightly so, that creators must use their voices. They must maximize their platforms for good, to usher the hoards of willing disciples to the light of a newly conceptualized existence. We’ve already moved past the Great Pause and are now neck-deep in the Great Reset. Creators who remain stubbornly rooted in the Old World must be toppled into a six-foot deep pit of obscurity, and new thinkers must act fast, act decisively, act bravely.
My heart acts fast, my brain is decisive, my spirit is brave. But my words, which are the mouthpiece for these admirable attributes – well, they are slow. They are scared, insecure, and they second guess at every turn. Established journalists and novelists have discerning editors that serve almost as philosophical safety nets. They are the shrewd sounding boards that reign in whimsical creators to the parameters that ensure their relevancy and resiliency. I am the writer and the editor all at once, and the checks and balances system for my own brazen expression is basically a swinging tightrope with nothing but a death fall beneath it.
Every day I try to push through my own internal resistance and speak bold words that, unless released, will slowly erode my spirit until there’s nothing left. I can already feel the violent spiritual by-product of my fear – the sensation of getting sucked into my mattress at night, like those cursed teenagers in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies. Speak out and lose family and friends, burn bridges, and shiver in the chill of heightened isolation and anxiety. Don’t speak out and allow my spirit to get shredded to a bloody pulp by a Freddy Krueger-like boogeyman who rightly punishes milquetoast moderation in the wee hours of the night.
I am struggling with this conundrum. In the meantime, maybe I’ll focus my energy on a sourdough bread starter kit, just like everyone else. At least yeast knows what it’s supposed to do.