Somewhere there's a road
Catastrophe thinking as creative practice, why the hell I'm like this, and breathing. Also a poem, a beautiful poem! This one by Ross Gay.
One of the, let’s call it, historically less chill things about me is I am a catastrophe thinker.
Just really good at imagining disaster. Observing a chain of events in a given ecosystem as well as current moods and human behavior and, extrapolating from there, calling with pristine clarity into my mind’s eye the worst fucking thing that can happen.
I have to try, harder some days than others, to not imagine myself falling down the stairs. I put my body between idling traffic and my dog whenever we cross the street. Just in case. Because I’m prepared at any moment to be murdered by a car. By summer 2020 I, like a lot of people, struggled to get out of bed. I was tethered to my phone. Doomscrolling. Macrodosing news that only got worse. Huffing hot takes from all sides on twitter like my dog’s life depended on it. Even then it felt obvious that not only would this pandemic drag out for years but it would be leveraged and exploited to make the powerful only more powerful, to funnel more money toward the endless death machine even as we were in the streets screaming for more life and more care and more justice, yet another test balloon to see what people would be willing to bear, how much suffering and loss and whose.
If you want to gauge the health of a society, look at how it treats its most vulnerable.
There came a point when it all felt so dark in here, I could no longer see a future.
I have mentioned before about therapy.
Which isn’t, I should clarify, about trying to fix me. I am not broken. Some of my wires have gotten crossed along the way, yes. I had a stomach ache for about four years. I have been cruel to me. I have struggled to remain present and I have given myself over entirely too willingly to the part of my brain that sprints off into the dark future to borrow trouble. I have felt broken but that feeling? Not a fact.
There’s plenty that’s broken but I’m not that. There’s also plenty that’s working exactly as it was designed to and its function is to wear us down. Its function is exhaustion. In that matter, I refuse to comply.
Which is, for me, why therapy. Why breathing and meditation, which I’m simply awful at, but that doesn’t matter. Why my little rituals and writing, and doodling, and daily planning and moving my body as much as I can every day these days. Not to fix. To fortify. To insist on a future. Not to remove or throttle the part of my brain that goes out looking for trouble. But to learn to live with it. Even love it. Tall order, but I’m practicing.
I don’t have a particularly rosy outlook on the path we’re currently tumbling down. But it’s not the only possibility.
Here is where catastrophe thinking is a blessing, I think. Stay with me. I’m turning left.
Recently at work, we kicked off with a new client. Great people. Wonderful mission. Incredibly dark circumstances. Because *gestures broadly to everything everywhere* all this. We’re going to try to build something. Failure is a very real possibility.
So we said that out loud. First we asked, what do hope for? What is it we want to call into existence? And then we asked: what is the worst thing that can happen?
Not to be cute. Not to make the point see? It isn’t that bad! But to acknowledge together and prepare for and do everything within our collective power to mitigate the possibility of failure.
Turns out, we’re all catastrophe thinkers. The answers were abundant.
But here’s where it got interesting. You turn a fear into a question. A question asks for curiosity. Invites new possibility. Creates different paths forward.
The worst thing that can happen is, let’s say, no one shows up.
The questions become:
Who do we want to show up?
What matters to them?
What do they need to feel present?
Questions give us somewhere to start.
Something to work with. Something to try.
The worst thing that can happen is I fall down the back stairs and break my neck and my husband finds my broken body in the snow and, haunted by his inability to save me from myself, lives out his days lonely and burdened with guilt, closing his heart off from the possibility of ever finding love again.
The questions become: How can I slow down and make my way safely through these snow-covered steps? How do I convey to my friend who I married that whatever happens in this wretched, murderous, strange and miraculous world, my love for him will always want him to feel loved and loving?
Always the more beautiful answer who asks the more beautiful question.
e.e. cummings said that, not me. Except I do say it, I say it all the time.
Why am I like this? I have wept. But it’s a beautiful question in a different light.
I am like this because of every thing that’s ever happened to me, and my parents, and their parents, and theirs. I am like this because the universe set into motion a particular sequence of events that led to my father getting shot in the leg while at work in the late 70s. Because rather than follow through on a planned visit to his estranged first wife in an attempt at reconciliation, he had to stay still and recover, during which time she fell in love with someone else. Because he carried his wounds to Los Angeles, where he met a mother of two baby boys whose father she finally managed to leave after he held a gun to her head. I am like this because two heartbroken human beings found each other in a city of four million people and decided to give it a go, despite everything.
And everything after that happened exactly the way it did. That’s all said and done. What’s not yet certain is what comes next. The worst thing that can happen is we keep going the way that we are.
The question becomes: What else can we try?
One thing I’ve been trying lately is breathing and holding my breath. Practicing fear and moving through it. Trusting my body to keep me alive. Maybe you’d like to try it too. Maybe not. It’s your life. I hope you have what you need to make it a good one.
Anyway here’s a poem.
Love, Here’s the Deal by Ross Gay What I first wanted to say was more fire. Was that we needed fire to turn all the wicked tongues and hands and eyes to ash. Fire to make of the knife-sharp and useless theories the smoke, the subtle poison that they are. Wanted to say it’s a burning we need, and from the ash some new thing. But that sounds like a bullshit poem in the making. Besides—to be true—fire does not a bloody land make bloom. Does not of the thousand razor-wired walls, or the documents, or the cities and cities and cities of dead turning beneath our feet make a kind of music. Who’s the genius came up with that one? Here’s what I think I’m trying to say:
Somewhere there’s a road. Some of us are going to find it. You can come if you want.
if you liked this post, there’s more where that came from. you can sign up for the animal eats for 100% free, or become a paid subscriber if you’d like to support this work.