A couple of days ago a twitter thread by historians debated which historical moment was more similar to the current one. Historians were evenly split between the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and the 1918 flu pandemic.
What about all those other massively deadly times, though? World War I. World War II. Vietnam. South East Asia and the Middle East since 9/11. All the border deaths. All the genocides.
I worry that this time feels new and dreadful because we didn’t think it could happen to us, the capitalist West, the developed West, our (predominantly) White countries full of structure and infrastructure, full of law abiding (White) people with good jobs and good livings and a ton of technology and comfortable homes.
My homeless-on-and-off friend (most unhoused people are on and off; they still count as homeless) is not giving the pandemic a thought. Maybe she has bigger problems on her hands. Maybe she has less to lose. Maybe she doesn’t care about dying (she doesn’t).
I have therapy on skype and:
1. I ask myself if my trauma shit is still relevant.
2. I ask myself if my therapist thinks my trauma shit is still relevant.
3. My shit doesn’t go away because there is a pandemic.
4. My shit gets worse because there is a pandemic.
5, The pandemic brings up childhood horrors.
6. The paranoid infant.
7. The abandoned child.
8. The child left to fend for herself.
9. The child with no tools to fend for herself who nonetheless built herself a little fire each night and curled up by it to ward off the horror.
To my therapist:
10. You keep your shit together for me.
11. You appear on the screen with a smile, freshly washed hair, a nice shirt, say, “How are you” and mean it.
12. You hesitate to go fully online because some of your patients don’t have the technology, the privacy, or the stability to do therapy online.
13. You say, I’ve got you.
To all therapists/helpers:
14. This is not just a job though it is also a job.
15. You are in the business of healing which is the business of love and
16. There is no higher calling; there isn’t a nobler pursuit.
Painting by Perle Fine via a casualistic tendency
1. My friend G. spent decades in the company of despair. Her despair was deep and unrelenting.
2. During the time she was active, working at her job, and able-bodied she would catch a break once in a while, for a bit.
3. Then she got bad cancer and the despair abated for a while. Cancer felt like a break.
4. Part of the relief was that she thought she would die soon, and that felt delicious to her.
5. But she carried on living for years, and her life went back to being filled with despair, and her lifedespair meshed with the despair of not dying, the incomprehension of being still alive.
6. I didn’t talk to her much during her last few years, but when I did she would ask me if I thought she would die soon, and I would say, Yes, don’t worry, it will be soon.
7. I don’t think she had these conversations with many people. I don’t know that many people would have known to comfort her by assuring of her soon-death.
8. She was never really in physical pain.
9. I think of her often, partly because I miss her terribly, partly because of her depth of her pain.
10. I tell myself I did alleviate it a bit.
11. I tell myself she had moments of tremendous joy and also quiet peace (she did).
12. I tell myself no one knows what goes on in another’s life.
13. I tell myself that the lives of people in great pain have a way, from the outside, to hide the joy the people still feel.
14. My friend G. could never have committed suicide. She said she was too chicken for it.
15. When I think about her, I also think that she left me here.
16. For a while after she died I believed she might help me from the heavenly dimension where she certainly is, but I haven’t felt her help.
17. I haven’t even felt her presence.
18. This person was more than a sister to me, more than a friend. She was my life.
19. Why isn’t she talking to me.
20. Why isn’t she helping.
Painting Alexei Adonin
The mayor of Rome put this banner on a balcony at city hall (overlooking one of the most beautiful squares in Rome): “Andrà tutto bene.” “Everything will be okay.”
Thank you M.me mayor.
1. I talked to my sister in northern Italy and it’s not just me who’s scared and this feels comforting.
2. She says, I’m not even worried, I’m healthy, my family’s healthy, yet I find myself now and then, well, my chest tightens, breaths are hard to suck in, blow out. My throat becomes little.
3. And I’m not even worried.
4. I jump from one piece of writing to the next. I was reading Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead and I know what she’s doing, this semi-comic, over the top recreation of Blake in rural Poland, I get it, but passages like this leave me breathless with anxiety:
We live in a state of siege. If one takes a close look at each fragment of a moment, one might choke with terror. Within our bodies disintegration inexorably advances; soon we shall fall sick and die. Our loved ones will leave us, the memories of them will dissolve in the tumult; nothing will remain. Just a few clothes in the wardrobe and someone in a photograph, no longer recognized.
5. I don’t think this is the message of the novel. I believe this is who its quirky, tenacious, indomitable protagonist is. And I also believe Tokarczuk is giving voice to our time of anxiety and grieving.
6. Still not a soothing reading for me now.
7. I flit from poet to poet, grab a morsel here and there.
8. I seek solace. Good, hardy, luminous lines. The feeling that someone is hoping hard out there, like me.
You asked for beauty, and one morning, a small blue eggshell on the stoop, shattered open, its contents gone
M asked if I’ve ever made a choice to live and why
I lied the way you lie to the suicidal
A few times, I said—not Most days
No, not morning
Morning I am still new
Still possible, I’m still possibly
Usually by 3:00
Over the months I have gotten sicker
I leave bed only to bathe fetch bottles of green water
they tell me, Have hope
where in my body?
where in my mind?
I tell Kate, One day at a time
me, I can’t find a leaf to hang on
Painting by Marianne Hendriks.
1. Analyst A said
2. You don’t need to work so hard
3. Please ease up
4. Take breaks
5. Happy sessions are okay
6. Analyst B says
7. We don’t blast through defenses
8. Defenses are there for a reason, we respect them
9. But I say
10. How can I not work
12. How can I not want to be thrown into
13. The deep end of the mucky pool
15. Flames are licking my heels
16. The ground underneath is splitting open
17. I see nothing in the next hour but
18. My extinction
Painting by Peggy Lee (detail)
1. Fear is a feeling among feelings, and like all feelings sometimes you just can’t tell where it comes from.
2. You live with it, as best you can.
3. Phobias and obsessions are fears attached to arbitrary or symbolic objects.
5 I don’t know anything.
6. The fear that has been gripping me is ebbing, but I so wish it gone.
7. I have to say, though: it is preferable to rage.
8. Maybe this fear is rage turned inward, so no one gets hurt but me.
9. I am infinitely disposable. I can take the pain and anguish of the world. Please let no one be hurt but me.
10. The omnipotent child is an absolutely, cosmically terrified child. Air hurts her body, her throat, the cavity of her chest. She is cold. She waits for death like a mercy and her just deserts.
11. Maybe fear is what happens when you trust your analyst with your baby self.
12. Maybe fear is what happens when you don’t trust her enough.
13. This is not to be solved by thinking. This is to be solved by living.
14. Analysis is a very scary place.
15. There are very few answers.
16. This is why it’s beautiful.
Painting by Elizabeth Lennie.
1. Analyst A and I had an ongoing, entirely therapeutic (I mean this) conversation about the best song ever written.
2. At the time I was pretty solid on the idea that Stevie Nicks’ “Landslide” was the best song ever written.
3. Analyst A smiled and said, “That’s a damn fine song.”
4. Her pick was “Send in the Clowns” sung by Judy Collins.
5. I listened to it once.
6. Analyst A was older then me by maybe 10 years.
7. Analyst B is younger than me by 10 years and we have few cultural reference in common.
8. She is not a reader of novels (she claims she was and will be again) or poetry, nor a watcher of films or TV. She is American. She likes art but does not know a lot of it, I don’t think. And i don’t know her generation’s music (I wasn’t in the US during her music-taste-shaping years).
9. Analyst B is not a theoretician or a philosopher or if she is she keeps it to herself.
10. It’s hard for me that I have few cultural references in common with my analyst.
11. She’s been making a fine, fine mom these last few months though, and that has been beautiful.
Painting by Doortje Hannig.