nothing more to do

I asked my husband, Anthony, if our kids could have extra screen time today: “Is 6 p.m. OK? I’d like to write a post.”

“Sure,” Anthony said, before returning to playing his video game.

Having gotten that okay to write a post, I suddenly found that … nothing I wanted to write could possibly fit into so small a time.

I decided not to write. Instead, I made my sons whipped cream; for such a simple treat, they rejoice every single time I make it (?!?!).

But when I was done, I realized I had a veritable ocean of minutes left between then and end of tonight’s-new-screentime-end. So: I decided to read blogs, for the first time in many days.


As luck would have it, the top couple of posts in my feeds described the 22nd of every month as “Pepper Day.” So I decided, knowing these posters but not much about Pepper Day: Why not?

Why not spend a dozen minutes simply stating exactly where I am right now?

Where I am:

The month since my sons began school has been harder than I could possibly explain. I thought last Spring’s willy-nilly, on-the-fly virtual instruction would have prepared me for more structured Fall virtual classes, but, wow, was I wrong.

This became clear when, one day a couple of weeks ago, I found myself struggling to explain to my older son how to answer a math problem. I was so damn tired, I literally couldn’t access the memory to understand–let alone explain–something that has been bone-deep knowledge for me since I was my son’s age.

After a lifetime of telling myself I Can Do Anything, Always, Period,

I went to my car and sobbed for several minutes before, knowing I could not possibly keep going as-was, I wondered what I could change and–still deep into bouts of sobbing–contacted my work team to say I could not sustain working eight hours daily right now … at least not without hurting myself and my family.

Fantastic news: They understood! All pretty much instantly replied that I ought take care of myself, and my family, so that …

I wondered: How did this not occur to me sooner?

How did it not occur to me to tap out?

Why, apart from ever-loud societal expectations (including those non-verbally communicated to me oft by my own intellectually-believed-otherwise mom) that women should work themselves to the bone and then dig even deeper into the bone, had it not occurred to me to just say: “I cannot sustain this in these circumstances”?!

Regardless of what held me back before that tear-filled moment,

I’m glad those sobs brought me clarity:

I cannot sustain this.

So, not yet two weeks into my new-er normal, I am so relieved to have confronted the fact I could not continue as-was.

While I can’t speak for next week, or next month, it seems quite probable, now, that I could continue as-is for some time–

with “as-is” being a combination of time, encouragement, and support,
as well as the bliss of having having made a few moments, every day,
to stare at the ceiling
with nothing more,
then,
to do.

even so, or: “shoes”

This time last year, my husband introduced me to the 2006 music video “Shoes.”

When the video began playing, I couldn’t imagine why Anthony shared it. WTF was it, even?

By the end of the video, though, I was laughing. Hard. I couldn’t remember laughing that hard, or feeling so very-not-serious about anything, for years.

My kids and I ended up watching dozens of videos by the video’s maker, Kelly Liam Kyle Sullivan. Our favorites were “Muffins” and “Kelly’s Hollywood Meeting.”

When my late October birthday came around, my husband bought me two gifts: a Kelly shirt emblazoned with BETCH (Being En Total Control of Herself, natch), and another with the proprietor of Cunningham Muffins at her very wildest, muffin-loving best. Continue reading “even so, or: “shoes””

to reach for the sun

A few weeks ago, my six-year-old and I planted seeds in paper cups.

We stuck the paper cups outside and committed to watering them. Daily, ish.

With such a vague “commitment,” we watered them every few days. In the intense heat of August in SoCal, the seeds failed not only to thrive, but to show even the merest hints of growth.

Last weekend, my six-year-old and I planted new seeds in paper cups.

We planted green bean, watermelon, and tomato seeds. We committed to watering these each and every evening. Continue reading “to reach for the sun”

to be: healed

In late April, I read about an ER doctor in Manhattan who had committed suicide. Her father said, “She tried to do her job, and it killed her.”

I tweeted a link to the New York Times article with the below text:

The MD BIL who persuaded me to pursue #publichealth instead of social work told me #moralinjury could kill me:
being deprived, systemically, of the ability to do the right thing.

This doctor was—IS—a hero.
Had we better systems,
she could have remained a *living* hero.

I followed up that

The one person still in my life since I was born is a nurse. She told me she’s trying to survive these days without serious trauma.

I told her it sounded like she was describing trying to survive moral injury. She said that was exactly it.

Today, I saw on Twitter that the doctor about whom I read in April had been profiled in the New York Times. I read the article with aching heart, after which I tweeted a link with the words:

“Still, when the casualties of the coronavirus are tallied, Dr. Breen’s family believes she should be counted among them.” After reading this, I agree. Completely.

I followed up that

Recently texted dear family friends, married nurses, on being reminded “once again, how much care and fortitude are involved in nursing. I am so grateful for you & so absolutely livid that you are, it feels, being punished for your caring. You deserve better.” Dr. Breen did, too.

What’s funny about my April post is that I called Dr. Breen “a hero.”

I don’t believe in heroes. As I wrote three years ago, I believe in hero-ing. That’s to say, I believe in “hero” as a verb, not a noun. I wrote about this last month:

“hero” not as a binary trait attainable by a few
but a verb achievable
every day, by
everyone
still
living.

When I wrote these words in June, I wasn’t thinking about the dangers to so-called “heroes” of using “hero” as a noun. I just loathed how hero-as-noun deprived most of humanity, unjustly and potentially catastrophically, the opportunity to hero out of the blue today or tomorrow, should such opportunity arise.

(Does humanity benefit more from heroes, or from everyone understanding they may be called upon, and may choose to, hero today, no matter what they did every other day before today?)

Today, I began to see the personal dangers of doctor-hero-as-noun thanks to one in a thread of tweets inspired by the NYT’s piece on Dr. Breen. Wrote Dr. Esther Choo:

I think the “hero” rhetoric, as well intentioned as it was (seriously, we appreciated the compliment) also makes it harder to admit feelings of despair, defeat, and fatigue.

I still haven’t quite worked out my definition of what it means to hero. I think it comes down to being willing to improve someone’s life at potential expense of one’s own, but that’s a very, very tentative working definition.

I don’t believe in heroes. I do, however, believe that some people might be particularly inclined to hero. I think it’s okay to acknowledge that, while not denying anyone else the joy and privilege of heroing.

And so, when I think of Dr. Breen today, I think, “Man, did she know how to hero!”

I just wish … we had systems that had enabled her to hero on her own behalf.

If we did, she might be alive to hero again today, and tomorrow.

If we want to enable more heroing, we need better systems:

systems that enable people to acknowledge, without punishment, when they are hurting,

to hero twenty times one day and then barely be able to crawl out of bed the next fifty,

to love and appreciate people whether or not they ever,

one single time,

are able

to hero.

When we acknowledge that everyone, everywhere is capable of hero-ing,
we take a load off those we currently expect to be “heroes”—
by evidencing understanding that being human is messy,
and hard, and hurt-filled, and confusing
(on the best of days),
and giving everyone a chance to not only hurt
but to be the inspiration
for hurts, at long last,
finally, given a chance
to be:
healed.

how we (get to) remember

Twitter has often been an unhealthy place for me.

That’s changed recently, and it’s changed because:
I now mostly check list filled with doctors and public health experts
who sometimes despair at the odds they’re up against,
but keep fighting, with data and love, anyway.

Now, when I check Twitter, I tend to stick to these lists,
which means I leave not with a depleted heart,
but a fuller one:

These people LIVE IN MY WORLD!

They inspire me, and I am
so glad to know (about) them.

If you’ve read more than two posts here, you know that Nassim Nicholas Taleb is my favorite author. His early words about the threat of COVID shifted me from thinking, “What’s the big deal?” to, “Oh, boy, we’ve just entered Extremistan, haven’t we?” Continue reading “how we (get to) remember”

keep on asking!

My ten-year-old, Li’l D, and I have many times discussed the difference between “knowing” and “knowing-about.”

As human beings, it can be far too easy to confuse knowing-about with deep knowing, as I first demonstrated to Li’l D—years ago!—with elephants.

While I can’t recall how that conversation started, it began with Li’l D being confident in his elephant expertise. He remained confident until I started asking him nuanced questions about elephants: Continue reading “keep on asking!”

love can win

Many with privilege can recognize, in the abstract at least, that poverty and the suffering it creates are a scourge and that we should work to end them. But without ever having lived in poverty, they may not appreciate its wiles, how it penetrates every aspect of a life. Many more do live in poverty, but because the nature of poverty is to disempower and distract, the burdens of their daily lives limit their capacity to act. Few have both an intimate understanding of the day-to-day reality of poverty—the suffering it causes—and the privilege to address it. The profound responsibility of those in this last category abides.

— Abdul Al-Sayed, Healing Politics

After I gave birth to my younger son in early 2014,
I suffered profound postpartum depression.

I remember:
With grim determination, tears streaming down my face,
telling my husband that I only kept going because
my children needed my income to survive …
and I remembered, oh how I remembered,
how the kids across the street suffered
when they lost their dad to suicide.

“Your kids need more than your income from you, Deb,”
my husband told me.

At that point,
no part of me believed it.

I’d grown up the poor oldest daughter
of four poor children of a
poor single mom; Continue reading “love can win”

the illusion of health

You know that nightmare
where you have to take a Calculus final
even though you didn’t realize you were signed up for Calculus,
and didn’t attend a single class?

I had something like that, last night …
except, appropriately, it was about face masks.

I was perusing earrings in cozy, dimly lit second-hand collectives in San Francisco. I’d just found a beautiful pair of enormous red, yellow, and green earrings when I looked up and realized:

There were dozens of people in my vicinity, and no one was wearing a face mask! Not even me!

Panicked, I dropped the earrings and fled.

Then, I’m sitting on a bus, as I did so many times in both childhood and law school. Continue reading “the illusion of health”

laughing, right here

Rache & I, these days

Many years ago,
before either of us become moms,

I dreamed my sister Rache and I
were leaders in a
human uprising
against brutal
space aliens

(both of us are
horror lovers, so:
this was not as out of left field
as it might sound).

Eventually,
in this dream,
there came a time
where Rache got really
sad and tired about the
kind of life that could be lived
in such a prolonged fight.

An ASNAC nerd scholar,
her my-dream self told me, “Deb,
if I can’t study Beowulf,
why am I even here?
I need you to
let me go.” Continue reading “laughing, right here”

on face masks & my sons’ future

In my neighborhood, more people roam without face masks than with them.

I don’t usually give this too much thought, but one encounter last weekend has lingered in my mind.

My kids and I were finishing a walk around the block. We were, for reasons described in my early April post “A bandana the right direction,” all wearing our face masks.

While my ten-year-old (Li’l D) and I were walking, my six-year-old (Littler J) was pedaling slowly on his hand-me-down Ninja Turtles bike. I saw a couple without facemasks approaching on the sidewalk. Remembering Littler rolling right into a neighbor who’d been standing still just a few days prior, I thought it unlikely he’d be able to skirt around moving targets. I nudged him into the street to enable the couple to pass. Continue reading “on face masks & my sons’ future”