We’re not alone in all this
Have I the courage to change? Have I the courage to change today?
What will it take? is the question I wake up to, every single day.
Things that didn’t use to be a big deal have transmogrified into serious challenges: getting out of bed at a decent hour, wearing something other than a rotating set of the same items, restocking the refrigerator, scheduling a teeth cleaning, …you know.
Even when I make it out of the house, every time I turn off the engine and collect my car keys, before I open the door to step outside, as I reach for my mask I think, is this really the era we’re living through?
By my count, we’ve been struggling for over 200 days, and there is no end in sight. (California’s lockdown began on Thursday, March 19th, so today is actually our 209th day).
We’ve witnessed how the coronavirus has made everything worse: our relationships, our economies, our educational systems and entertainment industries, our abilities to bounce back.
Perhaps the most damning characteristics of this ongoing series of crises are the disproportionate impacts: while wildfires rage in one region, clear skies reign in another. While loved ones die slowly and painfully from Covid-19 behind hospital doors, bar patrons hang out joyfully and maskless. While thousands of people face evictions and are forced to live out of their cars, other thousands reside comfortably in McMansions.
Meanwhile, because the coronavirus promotes isolation above all else, It’s much easier to avoid than to confront.
I am constantly indulging in avoidance tactics that — if I don’t schedule an unavoidable work activity or dredge up a modicum of energy–– consume the entire day. I chase stories on multiple platforms, I micro-organize things, I journal incessantly. In my restlessness, I can easily fritter away hours.
I shy away from asking people why they don’t call anymore. I avoid asking my housemate to pay more attention to communicating with me than his damn electronic devices. I hesitate to apply for job openings because I don’t think people will want me for a ridiculously long list of stupid reasons.
World, I want to leave you better
I want my life to matter
I am afraid I have no purpose here
Ever since I was old enough to know better, I’ve tried to make a difference. I worked hard to get straight As in school, trained in first aid and CPR and civil disobedience, and learned eight languages.
As a university instructor, I taught environmental justice, Native rights, climate change, inclusivity, and ethics. Working for the United Nations, I shut down corrupt projects and improved programs that provided agricultural services and peer-to-peer support for disadvantaged households. While on a Fulbright scholarship, I worked with an indigenous tribe in Indonesia to map ancestral lands, document cultural traditions, revive traditional medicines, and define how tourists would behave when visiting their communities. Volunteering to drive an ambulance in Mendocino County, I helped save lives.
And now? I spend most of my time alone, in a 10x10 room, ricocheting off dusty walls. It takes ages just to schedule face time with someone. Tears come readily and frequently. I’ve given up on dating.
All this isolation and feelings of impotence are taking a toll on me; and I imagine my fellow 7.594 billion humans are experiencing similar situations.
We don’t have to stay here, stuck in the weeds.
For me, “the weeds” refers to areas of my life that have gone untended since March: the cancelled contracts and trips, the hugs I’ve missed out on, the personal or professional growth opportunities avoided because I rarely seem to have the energy, the willpower, or the motivation.
When I reminisce about the Before Time, I remember days when I was able to average more than a few hours of work each day. When I walked the dog along the beach, or camped out beneath the stars. When I cooked meals from scratch or invented new cocktail recipes and shared them physically and in person with friends.
In the After Time, these simple, inexpensive pleasures are fraught with logistical questions: are the campgrounds open? Are we allowed to use the bathrooms?How far away can we sit from each other and still have decent conversations? Will drinking alcohol impair our Covid-19 judgement and endanger ourselves and others? Are my friends even receiving visitors?
Perhaps the most insidious impact of these crises-upon-crises is how quickly we jump to negative assumptions or conclusions, because we feel so insecure. This is dangerous territory, because negativity is a toxic drug that replicates itself, easily spiraling out of control.
We need an intervention: something to break the cycle.
This brings me to Sia’s “Courage to Change,” which she released on September 24th. The song is part of the soundtrack Music, the name of the soon-to-be-released musical drama film which she directed (and also co-wrote the screenplay).
I. Frickin. Love. That. Song.
Every time I find myself slumping back into sadness and procrastination, I have devised a ritual: I stick Airpods into my ears, locate the song on my iPhone, crank up the volume, and get moving. I do arm stretches, neck and shoulder rolls, leg lifts, a few easy yoga poses, heft my 10-pound barbell up and down a few times, and if I’m feeling inspired, dance around.
Eventually the song gets to the stanza that we all so desperately need to hear:
You’re not alone in all this
You’re not alone, I promise
Standing together, we can do anything
It’s a cliché to say that we need each other, but heck yeah, we absolutely totally need each other. Especially now.
The moments I’ve felt anything other than persistently depressed and helpless are the moments when I see, hear, read, or interact with good people.
I see images of disfigured pets being adopted and loved and I am moved. I hear the voice of crowds standing before the Supreme Court to honor RBG’s passing and I am empowered. I read a New York Times Op-ed by Megan Thee Stallion and I am impressed. I spend an hour catching up with a beloved and I’m practically swooning.
So far the song has inspired me to reach out to half a dozen people I haven’t spoken with in weeks (months?), post another art installation, and commit to finishing a pair of business projects I’ve been stalling on for almost a year. And yes, it inspired me to write this essay on Medium.
Thank you, Sia. Thank you for reminding us that it takes courage to dig ourselves out of a shared nightmare.
And that one song can be the impetus.
Note: all quotes are excerpted from “Courage to Change” (2020) lyrics on Sia’s album Reasonable Woman. The song is featured on her YouTube channel.