Q!

Today isn’t Sunday. It’s not March 29th. Certainly, it’s not the end of the weekend.

Today is 16.

For some, might be a little higher. Others might be lower. Others, could be just right.

To the brothers and sisters in Queens and the rest of NYC, Northern Italy — fuck, all of Italy — Spain, Wuhan and the whole Hubei Province in China, all you COVID-ass-kickers in South Korea, New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana, the collective Bay Area, and everyone up and down the West Coast, hope you know we see you.

And to any of my fellow 16ers, doffing my latex gloves and surgical mask to you, and wondering whether or not you’ve finished Tiger King yet.

Of course, I’m referring to Day 16 of quarantine, and/or — depending on where you are — Stay At Home Advisory, Stay At Home Order, Shelter In Place, or Lockdown.

I really and truly hope you and your loved ones are all healthy and safe.

Honestly, I think that’s all I should really say, keep things to the brevity of a shoutout because who among us needs a blog post about how weird this all is, given that we’re all probably always talking about how weird this all is?

If I was going to say anything here, I’d confess that when the COVID situation first reared it’s slowly-mutating, lipid-covered head, I treated it, at best, like a nuisance, and at worst, and my most American, like an inconvenience. I’m ashamed I only truly came around to taking the necessary precautions tuned in to the gravity of the situation when the world had already begun to systematically close for business. Normally, in the hindsight of such an oversight, I’d shrug and mutter “Better late than never,” but a shortage of respirators doesn’t really give a shit about bad timing.

So, I’m really sorry about that.

While I quietly try to help buoy my family up in the rural mountains of Colorado — Dad, Mom, Sis, and a 12 year old niece — pray my professional life stays intact past when the curve finally flattens, brainstorm ways to retool a creative life in the ping! of coronavirus, maintain my personal relationships via Zoom, and navigate an 8 hour time difference and 6,000 miles with a romantic one, that’s when I have to remind myself to drop trying to cling to a sense of normalcy and accept how fucking insane this is. How unfathomable this is. How UNPRECEDENTED this is.

And that’s when I stop worrying and just wonder how everyone is doing.

How are you doing?

Because the lucidity comes when my best friend throws an online birthday party for his 4-year-old daughter and everyone who confos in to light a candle was in quarantine. And it comes when I catch up on our company general Slack channel when I get up in the morning and every overnight post is from an employee in quarantine. And it comes during the off-hour video date days/nights with a special someone, and she’s in quarantine, too.

We’re all in quarantine.

I lived in Chicago when 9/11 happened, and there was fear that more was coming, concern for loved ones on the ground, and grief over loved ones lost. However, unless you were, like, waking up in a studio on the Lower East Side on the day, as close as news coverage can bring it into our living rooms, in memory it can still all seem as distant and removed as a movie. But this time, there’s no one in the world who this event isn’t affecting, and I don’t know if that makes me more relieved of horrified.

As my friend Robin said, “Literally nothing is gonna be the same after this,” and I both know she’s right, and hope she’s right.

I hope this helps remind us that none of this is about “me,” it’s about “we.”

This is for every active case and every death and every devoted medical professional at the front line in a single use mask multiple times; for every billionaire who’s tried to capitalize on product demand and every politician in it for the kickback and every logistical misstep that set any country weeks behind the spread; for every cough and six foot distance and spray of disinfectant; for every CNN binge and late morning happy hour (sure, I said it) and long drive to nowhere; and especially for any and every individual who’s worse off in quarantine than out — I hope this shifts the paradigm as mankind looks toward the future.

SHORE

BAADER MEINHOF (n) otherwise known as “frequency illusion” or “recency illusion,” this phenomenon occurs when the thing you’ve just noticed, experienced, or been told about suddenly crops up constantly.


Before I left for Fort Lauderdale last week for work, the temperatures dropped pretty drastically in Florida.

Apparently, iguanas — which reside down there, along with senior citizens from the Midwest and rabid Dolphins fans — normally perched precariously and horrifyingly up in the trees, get so shook by the cold, they lose their grip and they fall out of the trees, potentially onto the heads of passing Floridians, which is more precarious and more horrifying than the iguanas being up in the trees in the first place.

So FYI it was raining iguanas in The Sunshine State.

A little flux of stress bubbled up inside me during that week, as I commuted in dense Super Bowl weekend traffic between Fort Lauderdale and the Miami Beach Convention Center — not because of the iguanas, BTW, I’m pretty sure, but just because of the cumulative down-field drive of life — and it became especially noticeable since for the most part I’ve been going through a period of relative hyperchillness.

Perhaps what I’d noticed most was not how I was handling the stress itself, but how I’d been handling the absence of it.

What I mean by that is I hadn’t really been handling it at all. And the most important thing about stress isn’t necessarily the presence or absence of it, but the presence or absence of you handling it.

There’s a great saying in the Buddhist practice of Nichiren (which I’m sure is ubiquitous throughout many faiths) that goes something like, “When the sailor’s at shore, he prays no more…” —

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve always gotten pretty absorbed in the machinations of the universe re: my life, and so forth; convinced that its external influences (good, bad, but mostly bad) were all the result of life being “for me” or “against me” (but mostly “against me”). But I understand now that the reality is, it isn’t. Furthermore, the reality is, as sailors, we are not, and will never be, ashore. That rolling tide, that gradual and sometimes sudden tumult of life — ebb and flow, high and low — is both.

The sea is the shore.

The only real constant is how cool-headedly we sail our fucking ship in it.

There’s not much of a story or lesson to the rest of this, so take what’s already here however you will. I got back home to Colorado late yesterday, burdened by acid reflux, waterweight, acne breakout, overwhelming muscle fatigue — all the grotesque and glorious presentations of my anxiety — and have already started to feel the hyperchill return.

But, I’ve been thinking, going forward — and having sailed through some rough waters anyways — how am I gonna cool-headedly sail this ship when the waters get really rough again?

Now, while I was down in South Florida for those eight straight days, everyone kept talking about those iguanas. And for most of my trip, I didn’t see a single fucking one —

NOT. A. SINGLE. FUCKING. ONE.

But then, on a mid-morning jog through the Coral Shores neighborhood of Ft. Lauderdale, I decided I was going to actually look for them.

What do they call that? Manifestation?

Whatever the case, almost immediately after that determination, as I approached a canal bridge, I saw an iguana roughly the size of my sister’s yorkie, Nixon, skitter across the sidewalk into some low ferns, then down the embankment of the intercoastal waterway.

Startled at first, I caught my breath and cautiously looked over the rail of the bridge…

And there, bathing in the balmy peninsula sun…

Was another iguana.

And another.

And another.

And another.

And another and another and another and another.

Until, suddenly, all I saw were iguanas, languidly drooped on that same embankment all the way west up the canal, as far as my eye could see.

COPE

On the phone today, my friend asks me, “How are you doing? Emotionally. We haven’t talked about that in a while.”

There’s a silence while I think about it. Then I tell her I think I’m good, actually, and that I appreciate her asking. “Because,” I say, “Nobody’s asked me that in a while.”

I talk a lot about coping, if only because I’m aware of the fact that I am or have been doing it. When you’re actively coping, it’s hard not to exhaustively narrate your inner monologue to everyone every chance you get, which is why, after a while, everyone stops asking you how you’re doing.

Fundamentally, I think humans are always coping. Like, with life itself. Like, I’m not sure our brains can really reckon with our existence, and so I think a lot of subconscious mental power gets occupied with trying to deal with why the fuck we’re here.

To complicate matters, because of the age we live in now, coping becomes essential to survival on the daily. It might not always seem like that for everyone — the filter of image or class or social media can make it seem like some don’t have anything to cope with ever, but I think it’s true that the people you think have nothing to cope with probably do, and if they don’t, they might be coping with the absence of something to cope with.

In any case, it’s really not until circumstance sort of “serves up” a tangible thing for us to cope with we can intellectually recognize requires our coping mechanisms that we can finally become aware of the essential nature and presence of coping in our life. Then we can say, like, “OK. This is a thing I have to deal with,” and then do whatever it is we have to do — or not do, as the case may be. Only then do we become conscious of it.

That’s how it happened for me, anyways: in hindsight I realize I’d been coping with a life that hadn’t turned out how I imagined all along, but it was only when I ultimately had to face coping with that life falling apart that that became evident. Basically, I’d been focused for so long trying to tie my life up into a big bow, I didn’t realize it when it become a knot.

I got so preoccupied with trying to turn that knot into a bow, that I couldn’t just untie the knot and start over. Someone had to do that for me.

Which is why my friend asked me on the phone how I was doing emotionally, because it’s been a little over a year or so since the whole trajectory of almost ten years of my life changed course in a single afternoon, and while the people close to you will be there for your to offer shoulder and ear at first, after a while everyone assumes that the coping has set in and is finally bring you further and further away from that need.

Which is true, I suppose. If you let it.

Like, I was telling my friend that I had looked back at that first year [of coping], which was full of all kinds of imperfections — good choices, bad ones; triumphs, setbacks — but somehow, regardless of the peaks and valleys, looking forward at the upcoming year [of coping] had became markedly easier.

Coping, by and large, doesn’t seem cool at first because it gets conflated with dealing. Dealing with the pain of whatever terrible experience you’ve endured. So it gets a bad rap for being that, Instead of what it actually is, which is the process of growing out of that terrible experience — something we call “healing,” but I’m on the fence about that.

My friend, on our phone call, as our conversation spun into a discussion about grief and trauma, and thus subsequent coping, referenced something called “The Four Levels of Consciousness,” and did in terms of said coping —

Now if you Google this, there’ll be a lot of hits for a lot of different personal development models that might not be this model in particular, so, for the purposes here, and your edification, I’m giving credit to Peter Sage, cited in a post on the blog “Real Growth.”

These four stages of consciousness are as follows, in order: “To Me,” “By Me,” “Through Me,” and “As Me,” and if you think about how we respond and transition into a state of coping, just looking at it should already make a lot of sense. Now, while I do think most coping is active — after all, nothing changes lest we change — I also think coping can occur passively. I think we can do a modicum of coping without even trying, until one day we wake up and things just don’t hurt as bad anymore.

But the overall reality of coping is — and the blogger cites this in the post — it’s a journey. We cope through these levels, not by them.

This is why when my friend asked me how I was doing, I had to take a sec. Because, the fact is, things have changed. Circumstances have changed. Life changed. I’ve changed.

A year ago, when people’d ask me how I was, I might say, “Surviving,” or “Alive.” There was comfort in that attention —

You know, that attention can be like a pacifier, and after a while those responses to it can become canned. Eventually, when no one’s asking you how you’re doing anymore, you might still respond in this way as a way to stimulate them into asking. Which is sad, because that means you’re stuck.

See, when you’ve truly progressed in coping, that authentic feeling at the root of how you are interacting with the world around you, it’s undeniable. Then, when someone asks, “How are you doing?” you have to think about it, then respond.

So, basically, here’s how the levels of consciousness presents, in the order they do:

To Me” is the victim mentality, which is the instinctive response to a traumatic event. “Why is this happening to me?” For however uncomfortable it is, this is also the most comfortable level, because it allows us to indulge in the pacification of self-pity;

After we ditch the blame and take some accountability, though, we move into “By Me.” This is the active state, wherein we rely on productivity to replace the crutch of self-pity. This level frees us from the indulgence of the “To Me” state but can also wear us out;

Through Me” occurs when we’ve surrendered our need to control and steer our circumstances (as a justified causal reaction to the memory of our pain, of course), and rely on a faith that our life is now in a state of “flow”;

The author of the blog post highlights this level FYI — and its transition into the next, and final, level — as being the most critical. The reason being, “Faith,” as the author points out, “Is the flip side of doubt.” Although faith can be a powerful tool, it doesn’t take much to compromise its integrity. Faith, reinforced, says the author, “Is knowing”…

And “knowing” leads us to “As Me,” which is just total fucking oneness with the Universe. And all I’ve got to say is, if you’ve got that going for you, it’s “nice.”

My friend and I were both able to peg down where we were on this journey, hilariously stuck in the meddling [and very luxurious] rift between “By Me” and “Through Me” — ironic on the eve that we’re launching a business we’ve gone in on together.

As I, personally, head into this new year, I’m trying to enjoy a state of “flow,” but I also don’t want to let the slack out too much; I want to work toward that “knowing,” instead of just “believing.”

Wherever y’all are at on your journey, do your best to appreciate it. Moving on to the next level isn’t an achievement, and “you can only hear from the level you’re at,” so don’t confuse another’s progress in coping with your own. Honor your own path, and take a moment now and again to recognize the distance you’ve come.

DEATH

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paw…”

I’ve always been concerned with time. Killing it, saving it. Trying to catch it when it flies, wishing it’d fly when it drags. Etc, etc. Trying to save it ’cause it’s money, but there ain’t never enough of it.

Time is such a double-edged sword. We look forward (payday, vacay, Super Bowl Sunday) until it’s passed, because when it’s the past we start looking back. And what really sucks is its inevitable, which is why when we do get to the time we were looking forward, we start looking back, because suddenly we’re another time we were looking forward to closer to our death.

And death is the thing that concerns me most about time.

Ever since I was a kid I’ve had a high-idling fear of death, which obviously can’t be a unique fear by virtue of the fact that I’m talking about fucking death here and if you’re not afraid of death then you’re a fucking robot or just the guy from Free Solo (who is also maybe a fucking robot), because, honestly, what’s scarier than everything being over?

I used to sit up late in bed just, like, sweating death. And I don’t mean like dying. Not, like, worrying about the way in which I’d die — honestly, I don’t really give a fuck about that, but if you’re curious, the top three ways I would rather not go (because, look, it’s not like I haven’t thought about it) are 1) shark attack, 2) fire, and 3) a skin-rotting-style-virus —

I’m talking about sweating death itself. The great void. The nothingness.

Do whatever thou wilt, swift-footed time…

And it wasn’t even like I was sitting up late in bed sweating my death. I was sweating everyone else’s death that would happen before mine, because that’s the shit you really have to endure. Which is how sinister time is — like a home invasion thriller except the home being invaded is your life, and first it takes your dog, then your folks, and then, depending on where you sit in the lineup among your other loved ones, maybe it takes you next, but no guarantees, and plus, you’re dead now and without the luxury of knowing what happens to your peeps!

And what’s worse, by the way, is this: say time does run its course, and death does happen in its natural order. Well, my friend, then you gotta consider yourself lucky because think of all the poor unsuspecting individuals who contend with the wanton fetish of death when it selects those well before their time.

But I forbid thee one more heinous crime…

It seems like the mystery and inevitability of death would encourage us to live in a certain way. Like, it would force us to live with the presumption of it. But I think death is just so unknowable and looming that collectively, we’re just too scared to really cope with it. And, as if the relationship between time and death and their compounded existential threat weren’t harrowing enough, death has a side scheme —

It can get you whenever it wants. However it wants.

Like shark attack. Or fire. Or a skin-rotting virus.

Once again, I’m not trying to highlight the modes of death by talking about death in those terms, I’m just saying that via those modes, death is fully unpredictable. Which is why I say that I think humankind really has an issue with death-denial, because by virtue of our very lives we’re expected to deal with both the immediate threat of, like, this possible and sudden death, but also run-of-the-mill death which slowly approaches, no matter.

If I had to drum up a sports metaphor for this right now, it’s like being a quarterback, except the D line and the downfield situation both represent death. And pretty much everything else on the field probably also represents death too.

Yet do thy worst, Old Time…

When my grandfather died — old, not suddenly, so, like, no worries — I remember my uncle said something to me about death that was just concise enough for me to process but profound enough for me to never forget —

“Death,” he said. “It’s so uncool.”

ACTUALLY

Recently I got in a brief Twitter smackdown in a trending thread on the subject of celebrities who’re #blackfamous. It’s regrettable because Twitter smackdowns always are, and plus the thread was really enjoying itself, going full viral in good spirits, destined for success if only for a single dangling string: celebrities considered “blackfamous” presumes they’re unknown to white people.

And if there’s a thing white people hate, it’s anyone having anything they don’t.

By its very nature, Twitter encourages users to feel entitled to join a conversation, although calling threads “conversations” gives Twitter too much credit. They feel entitled to join because, ultimately, Twitter is like a discourse buffet — take what you want, leave what you don’t, and probably the potato salad has been sitting out for too long. By that I mean, everyone on Twitter thinks every conversation is theirs — and by “theirs,” I obviously mean “ours,” because, hey, let he who is without sin and all that crap…

Of course, calling how users interact with conversations “joining” gives users too much credit also.

So this particular thread, concerning a topic specifically culturally-centric (and perhaps, at least in my opinion, a little culturally-sensitive), seemed like the type of thread that I — and other users like me (read: white people) — should’ve just sat back and enjoyed. And, for a while, we seemed to be! While relevant contributing users (read: black people) dropped into the thread for a joyous game of one-upmanship, the thread simultaneously became a celebration the culturally niche, as well as culture identity in general.

But, like moth to flame, all it took was one white dude who had to flutter in to drop a tweet meant to course-correct the very heart of the conversation —

“Actually, but…,” this white dude goes — “Actually, but…” being the fucking siren song of white people — “I know who all these celebrities are,” reads the tweet. “Everyone knows who [black actor] is,” reads another. Yet another reads: “Some of us can even tell the difference between [black actor] and [black actor].”

In my defense — given my reckoning with white guilt — my POV on these responses may have been a little knee-jerk myopic. All I could read between these tweets was: “Actually, butthere is nothing you can have that I can’t take.”

So at this point, I felt entitled to join as well — which, again, gives myself too much credit — and I basically said I wished all white dudes (such as myself) would just “pipe down.”

Yeah, I see the irony in that.

The tweet experienced a little camaraderie at first, but by then, another white dude felt the need to call me out for being “self-serving,” and I replied indignantly, because, mostly, I felt indignant, and it just seemed to me like another white dude looking to justify other white dudes copping other people’s shit.

But, honestly, what did I expect? I’d called out white dudes for chiming in on this thread by chiming in on this thread, and then I got called out by a white dude for chiming in on this thread —

It was like a fucking ouroboros of white privilege.

Now, in hindsight, I see I hadn’t really shown up to help in the first place. My tweet — or “contribution,” if you can call it that — although maybe well-intentioned was entirely self-serving. It was just another way for me to feel like I’m doing more that I probably am; to feel less a part of the oppressors and more on the side of the oppressed.

To really be that, though, it takes a little more than sub-tweets.

Ultimately, I got called out by a Twitter user — a black woman, who’d probably been enjoying the brief moment where her community could just be, and thus rejoice in being — when she tweeted, “This is a feel-good thread,” she said. “Don’t bring this here.”

The white dude who’d called me out, quickly and appropriately, replied, “Yes ma’am.”

I said that too, but only to me, not able to bring myself to reply in a tweet. The point had come pretty quick where it was smart — albeit cowardly — for me to step back on mute as the sub-thread my little white fracas had caused spiraled into another argument about race, as more and more white dudes began jumping in, calling me out.

Black users jumped on the bandwagon as well — they didn’t hate against me, per se, but were against what I’d done; what I’d brought. They were against the rift that I’d caused.

And they were right to be.

Because, even though I may have gotten the point of the thread, I didn’t really get the point. Like we always do, I’d made something that was not about white people suddenly about white people, and in so doing, perpetrated an act I perceived as pro-ally, but was really just another symptom of my privilege.

That’s not the role I see myself playing, if I have to have a role to play at all. My gut was right to begin with: I thought #blackfamous seemed like a trending thread I should’ve sat back and enjoyed…

And I should’ve done just that.