Exploring the importance of reflecting on who we are before we decide what normal we want, and also some of my own reflections on questions vs. answers in my creative process.
I'm seeing, and reposting, a lot of people's conviction that this pandemic presents us with an opportunity to reconsider normal. Many people are rightly calling for us to assess our moral, economic, and political systems as this COVID-19 plague exposes where we have failed each other and ourselves.
But I'm not seeing a whole lot of suggestions for what the new normal might look like.
Knowing that the normal we have does not work - this is like knowing we need to build a bridge to get across tough landscape. We can know all day long, but without planning, preparing, and building, knowledge won't be enough to get us to the other side.
So. I invite us all to consider: What could we change? We may think of this at any scale and be doing good. It can be: What can I change in myself so that I live more consistently with what I feel is my purpose? Or: What can we change as a household to live in a way that more deeply appreciates what we have and builds on what's important to our family? Or: What collective change would fill the gaps we've seen in our neighborhood, town, state, nation?
We don't have to think of everything at once. We don't have to all work at all scales. And we'll have some ideas that, in the long term, we may let go or replace with others. But if we just know that we need a new normal, and do nothing to prepare one, we will emerge into a more broken version of our old normal, and walk around dissatisfied and disillusioned.
One change that makes sense to me in this moment is an annual Week of Remembrance to keep us connected to all we're learning now about valuing each other, about healing the damage we've done to the planet. It doesn't solve everything. In order for it to work, we'd need to build stronger protections against domestic violence, against the real effects of poverty, against racism. I don't have fixes for all of those things, but if each of us takes the time to start envisioning the specifics of our new normal, perhaps by the time we emerge from this sickness, those solutions, or their beginnings, will emerge, too.
Think on them. Write them out. Be specific.
An Annual Week of Remembrance
In the quiet, we resign ourselves to our houses. We park the cars, shut down the factories, and walk inside for our Week of Remembrance.
In this week, we do not drive to restaurants. We do not manufacture toys or go to salons or fight legal battles.
We remember what we lost, and what we gained. We play board games and binge Netflix with our children, fully aware of how fragile they are, how lucky we are to have them, and they to have us. We mourn our dead - those who passed alone, those we could not gather to remember for fear we'd be struck down next. We take walks and cry and have happy hours with friends on our computer monitors.
We let the earth rest.
We give her a week of clear skies, and she gives us views of the Himalayas, hordes of sea turtle eggs on the beach.
We breathe and let breathe, knowing what a gift it is to have lungs that open and to fill them with air that's safe. We thank our Gods and hold them to account, and humble ourselves, and hold ourselves to account. We rest. We remember. We look the heaviness, the weariness in the face, and let it melt under a wizened sun.
Last night, my husband and I went to a Florence + the Machine concert. I'd bought the tickets back in February as an anniversary gift to him. He likes Florence OK (I love her), but I really bought them because of the opening act. He loves Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats.
When we got to the arena, there were signs posted apologizing that the Night Sweats wouldn't be able to play, and thanking Grace VanderWaal for stepping in to support the tour.
Before I talk about the young Miss VanderWaal, the reason for this blog post, I have to tip my hat to my husband who shrugged, smiled, and stayed as excited for the show as if one of his favorites were still playing. Kidney failure and losing 100% vision will turn many people bitter, but my husband has never lost his love of life. In fact, I think it's increased.
OK, back to Grace.
Before last night, I'd heard only one song by her, but I'd heard it a lot. She's featured in the Google "2016 Year in Search" ad below. For over a year, I taught an essay lesson focused on ad analysis, and this was one of the ads most commonly chosen by my students. Grace's "Light the Sky" is the first sound of hope in this ad, and even after reading hundreds of essays and rewatching the ad over and over to inform my grading of these essays, I never got tired of the moment her voice breaks the silent pause that turns the tide of the ad.
Video source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIViy7L_lo8
So even though I don't know her work well, I was happy for the chance to know it better.
And then there was her band on the stage - three adult musicians rallying the crowd to usher this tiny 15-year-old out to hop around with that ukulele in her glitter eyeshadow and flowered dress, singing in this otherworldly voice that was at once knowing and vulnerable. They made her look older. They contoured her cheeks and put a bow-tied scarf around her twiggish neck, and she looked like she might actually have the life experience - almost - to back up her grown-up singing.
And then she spoke. She was as self-conscious and uncertain as any kid would be in front of tens of thousands of people. She was sweet and grateful and stumbling when she spoke, and didn't know what to say past thank you, and I hope you like it. And I realized she's younger than my daughter. And it kind of broke my heart.
It's not that I wanted her not to have this beautiful world of possibility. It's that I kept thinking, does she ever get to hang out with other kids and just be a kid? Does she get to have sleepovers and go to the movies and have to figure out how to pool the fifty cents she found in the couch cushions with her friends to order pizza? Does she get to hate school except for that one class? Will she be able to date without the world scrutinizing her as she figures herself out?
I found myself worried that the music industry would feed her uppers and deny her food to keep her peppy and thin. I found myself praying that someone was looking out for this sweetie, the way I'd want someone to look out for my daughter.
I examined the band with parental suspicion. Maybe I was projecting (I'm sure I was projecting), but I think they felt protective over her, too. And I watched the crowd - you couldn't find a more loving, considerate crowd than the one at a Florence + the Machine concert, and I felt grateful for this tiny person that she was singing for people who were for her, even those of us who came to see someone else. Everyone wanted her to succeed. When she stumbled through lyrics to one of her new songs, nobody flinched, and we cheered all the harder when she opened it up and made it perfect in the next verse.
There's a lot of mess in the world. We're all so fragile. But maybe there's hope. If people like Florence Welch and Grace VanderWaal keep drawing crowds, and if each of us in those crowds live out the message of hope that these ladies bring, maybe someday the world will be a safe place for talented children to share their light. God, look over this little girl and her big, beautiful voice.
More from Grace here: https://www.gracevanderwaal.com/
And more from Florence here: https://florenceandthemachine.net/
Also, Get Well Soon wishes to Nathaniel Rateliff.
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