You can be happy in your personal life, but people are too often unsatisfied and…
Months ago I was persistent. I desperately wanted some peace and quiet, to stop making so many plans. I wondered if I needed a more meaningful life; if I was doing the right thing professionally. I kept a tight schedule of seeing people. Every month in my Passion Planner, I would write down three people I wanted to see and three places I wanted to go. I would always think, Oh, it’s going to be hard to get those things done. But I have to. I should. To think about that now, the casualness of my faltering…those problems feel so far away.
Back then, I hadn’t cooked in a while. I’d been too busy. Work was mundane. As was traffic and grocery stores and Sundays. I voted on Super Tuesday. I put the red sticker on my nose and took a selfie with my cat. That night, we went to a hockey game and drank beer in the nosebleeds with good friends. We ate late-night pizza at a bar and nearly fell asleep in our IPAs.
It’s funny. We’re not supposed to look down. We are encouraged to look up, up, up. For that, we don’t notice where we’re walking and we spend our lives running straight into the wind. Something about that carefree state is so beautiful and naive.
A week after that hockey game, I stopped going to work. A week after that, we started self-isolating. A week after that, I lost my second job in a year. A week after that, I cried in the cheese aisle with a bandana on my face as a mask. We’re wading through new territory with no end in sight. And for that, I haven’t looked up in a while.
My life before the pandemic was all about living in excess. My days were pregnant and executional and talkative and unrelenting. I never had a day without meetings or phone calls or happy hours or workout classes. I would only allow myself 2-3 happy hours or coffees a week because days got so out of hand. Wandering became a center for me. I would wander through thrift stores and Target aisles. I never, ever looked down. I forged forward all the time and glorified crossing out items on my list. Life was a self-gratifying dance. It was difficult and pressing to think of others because I merrily never had the time. I thought I wanted to be the writer that sat in my room day and night, writing through the world. Before all this, I thought I would be happy staying home for long drags. But now, after it all, I know that not to be completely true. Being a good writer means I have to live a painful, full, chaotic, charming, and messy life.
I have to take a damn second and look down, see where I’m walking, trip and go the wrong way every once and awhile.
Right now, I don’t feel strong. But, I am. I’m stronger than I was on Super Tuesday. I can’t wander Target aisles or walk into a coffee shop with some cash and an open mouth, parted and slack by the mere casualty of the act. Now, instead, I improvise. I adapt. The world has remade itself again and again and we’ve adapted through it.
Right now, I don’t feel strong. But, I am. I’m stronger than I was on Super Tuesday. I can’t wander Target aisles or walk into a coffee shop with some cash and an open mouth, parted and slack by the mere casualty of the act. Now, instead, I improvise. I adapt. The world has remade itself again and again and we’ve adapted through it. There’s a saying, I can’t remember where I read it, that the world is like a sleeping tiger. Most of the time, the tiger sleeps on its back. When it chooses to wake up (death of a family member, loss of a job, etc.), we make do. The tiger makes noise and runs after us, but we make do.
Initially, it feels like we are all going to snap back to normal after all of this. I keep typing “all of this” but my brain hasn’t quite engulfed what *it* is yet. Pain is tough to define right away. But, normal will be different.
We’ve walked away from normal things. Closeness, other humans, communal chips, handshaking, shoulder-lifting hugs, our own families. We will have to choose to walk toward other things for a connection in the meantime. For me, I choose nature. I choose the trees. Being outside in the fresh air gives me clarity. I’ve never been so grateful for good weather. I’ve never been so grateful for scarcity: a simple day of sun and a few clouds. I’ve been watching the buds on the lilac bushes like a hawk. Burst, burst, burst. I pray for them to open. I’ve never been so eager for growth and color before. I’ve never been so involved. I notice all kinds of things I hadn’t before: which way the wind is blowing, types of birds, the specific color of the sky (cerulean, in April).
When we go back to some kind of normal, I won’t take these things for granted. Perhaps, now, I’ll always be exquisitely involved in the spring. Throughout summer, trees will become close allies—if anything, proof that we get through it. I hope I’ll always look at nature this way.
I’ve been watching the buds on the lilac bushes like a hawk. Burst, burst, burst. I pray for them to open. I’ve never been so eager for growth and color before. I’ve never been so involved. I notice all kinds of things I hadn’t before: which way the wind is blowing, types of birds, the specific color of the sky (cerulean, in April).
I’ve also learned how to “choose” suffering. I can’t worship pain. Instead, I have to be intimate with it to understand what the course of hurting requires. Glennon Doyle said it best on Brené Brown’s new podcast, Unlocking Us: “Things aren’t always hard because we are doing them wrong; they can be hard because we’re doing them right.” We are, despite the losses, doing this right. Healing takes a weird shape sometimes. Choosing suffering, and not being obsessed with what hurts, takes a lot of practice. I am horrific at it. But, I’m working on it.
I hope to take these changes, self-corrections even, into the new world with me. Pieces of isolation, moving forward, are going to be the foundation of how we live. Living, in what I presume to be the opposite of excess, has reluctantly taught me a lot already. Routines can shift. Rituals can be new. Before this, we’d visit the grocery store nearly once a day. We never filled up a cart and always shopped on a one meal basis. Now, we are learning how to pickle things, how to cook to last, how to shop for a long haul. We’re playing board games. We’re fighting the cognitive dissonance of video chatting with our friends. We’re surviving in a swarm of simplicity.
Moreover, with less, I’ve never been so aware that I am alive. I think that may sound silly typing it, but I have realized I am mortal. Virginia Woolf has my favorite saying of how this feels, noted in this New Yorker article. When her mother died, she resorted to her diary. She called these intense reflections and perceptions “moments of being,” in which she was plucked from the “cotton wool” of the everyday. She was a continual, moving subject—and always open and forming.
I am changing. Because now, I am being plucked from the everyday. I miss who I was before because who I was before was easy. I fit naturally into a natural life. The unamused angry driver. The person who found creativity to be a part of herself, not a part of her own survival. The person who filled her calendar and didn’t understand how deeply people cared. The person who lived in excess, in sensory lavishness.
Changing is a funny thing because we don’t get to notice the change while it’s happening. We realize it later when we’ve taken a new shape entirely. We take notice when it’s all over; when the fighting is done.
Changing is a funny thing because we don’t get to notice the change while it’s happening. We realize it later when we’ve taken a new shape entirely. We take notice when it’s all over; when the fighting is done. This time around, I’ve noticed the shift because our days are filled with self-reflection. Now, I am happy to hear music on the street, even from afar. I cherish my drives. I write to stay above myself, afloat. For once “call your mother” and “take care of each other” are survival anthems. Now, those things have become elements of my own survival, not just things I do. I know I have to take care of others to take care of myself.
I saw a quote on Instagram the other day that read, “You haven’t lost who you are, you’re just different now.” I feel that more than ever.
I think of it this way. We are never lost. We are found again and again and again.
Brittany Chaffee is an avid storyteller, professional empath, and author. On the daily, she gets paid to strategize and create content for brands. Off work hours, it’s all about a well-lit place, warm bread, and good company. She lives in St.Paul with her baby brother cats, Rami and Monkey. Follow her on Instagram, read more about her latest book, Borderline, and (most importantly) go hug your mother.