2020: My Body, You Are an Animal

I would rather die of fire than of void. -Emil Cioran

2020 is over. It’s the time of year when you write a letter to yourself reflecting on the previous year and looking forward to the next. But 2020 was unlike any other and so it feels wrong to look inwards when the world is in such disarray, wrong to sit at home and think about my life when people who have the same privilege baked into their skin as you do are storming the capitol and calling it revolution when they mean terrorism, wrong to sit here writing and eating peanut butter pretzels while people are sick, dying, hungry, homeless (people have always been these things, and still). Every day this year has felt like a deluge and you feel overstimulated constantly. 2020 is over, but that means nothing. It’s an arbitrary ending. The calendar year might be over, but you feel–viscerally–that the effects of what has happened this year will reverberate ceaselessly into the future. Your one life seems small when taken in context with a pandemic, with political chaos, with wildfires and with the unpunished systematic murders of black people and the condoned terrorism of white people and unfettered capitalism and raging wealth disparity.

But life is not sustainable if we never look inwards–we were not designed for 24-hour news cycles and instantaneous knowledge–and so I will take one moment, here, to reflect and talk to myself and then I will return to doing what I can in whatever way I can to make this world a tiny bit better for everyone in it.

This year started with severe burnout and overwhelm. Things ended and were broken. You didn’t want to do anything or get out of bed or be touched or talk. Then quarantine hit and suddenly you had the space you needed to come back again. Covid-19 was (and continues to be) horrific, but it has also been profoundly revealing, both in your own life and in the larger world. When the bakery closed and you were home for three months, you realized how comfortable you are in solitude, in quiet. You understood that the reason you and your partner work so well is because you both are very gifted at leaving the other alone when they need it (which is often). After a lifetime of believing you were an unmotivated person, you found out that when given the time, the space, and an adequate amount of sleep (after an entire adult life of not having those things), you could actually do anything you wanted. There was focus and motivation and creativity to spare. And so when work started again, you were resentful–not of the job itself (baking is still the only job you’ve ever loved)–but of capitalism’s demand that you give up everything (time, energy, your very physical self) in exchange for, what, a barely sustainable income, corporatized healthcare tied to employment, no retirement plan, and no paid vacation? Forever? So you’re done. Quarantine showed you that you have all the ability and the creativity you need to at least try to be your own boss, to make a living on your own terms and for your own gain. It’s not going to happen overnight and it’s going to be just as much work as you’ve always had to do, but it’ll be worth it. Even if it doesn’t work in the end, it will have been worth it. I’m proud of you for even trying.

This was the year of no travel. At all. It was hard, but in a way you didn’t expect. When you travel, you do so in a way that pushes your boundaries, that takes you out of your comfort zone. You finally understand why. You have come to understand that you are full of fear. Full of anxiety. You are so, so afraid. It’s travel that allows you to look that fear in the face…and shake hands with it. Fear is important. It keeps us safe, but it can also keep us hidden away from the joy and the newness and the beauty in the world. You will choose travel forever, even if it means getting felt up in broad daylight on the street or mugged, because it also means freedom and strength and unlooked for bliss. And that was hard to miss out on this year, but you’ve found something to take its place: skate parks. Fear has kept you from trying skate parks for the last three years of your skating career. Fear is what you feel every time you pull up to a new park and see only scooters and skateboards, every time you put on your skates, every time you drop in. But joy is what you find when you hit that coping, when you land that air, when you congratulate and get congratulated by the skaters around you. It is that same high. It is looking at your fear dead on and agreeing to work with it, instead of letting yourself be controlled by it. Fear is so much a part of you. But so is strength. So is bravery. So is joy.

There is much to be said, but the world is chaos and needs our attention, action, and care. So I will just say this. Stop more. Look more. Familiarize yourself with the world in your backyard. Learn the names of plants. Be the truest version of yourself (even if it feels so very scary). Grow things. Nurture that burning creativity. Write, write, write. Be kind. Bask in love and shower others with it as well. Call people on their shit. Keep learning. Be okay with just being okay. Don’t give up. I love you.

I Talk to My Body
My body, you are an animal
whose appropriate behavior
is concentration and discipline.
An effort
of  an athlete, of a saint and of a yogi.

Well trained
you may become for me
a gate
through which I will leave myself
and a gate
through which I will enter myself.
A plumb line to the center of the earth
and a cosmic ship to Jupiter.

My body, you are an animal
for whom ambition
is right. 
Splendid possibilities 
are open to us. 

-Anna Swir, translated by Czeslaw Milosz & Leonard Nathan

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