"One has to accept life on the same terms as the public baths, or crowds, or travel.
Things will get thrown at you and things will hit you.
Life's no soft affair."
I am writing right now because it is Thursday, and on Thursdays I write. I am writing because I am a writer and it is what I do. It is Thursday, I am a writer, and so I write.
Taking walks outside of my neighborhood since the onset of restrictions put in place due to COVID-19 has been…fraught. It took a global pandemic to realize the depth and breadth of my issues with anger, control, and anxiety, but holy shit did I realize them. While I will fight for and defend everyone’s rights to a healthy, meaningful life, I don’t much enjoy the general population. I’m a curmudgeon. I’m not a fan of people in a plural, group way. I tolerate most people and sometimes even like them in an individual way.
What does all this have to do with taking walks outside of my neighborhood? When I take walks, I take them to get lost in thought, in nature, in fresh air and movement and not being indoors in front of a screen or tied to the minds of other human beings. That, and to exercise and train my dog. But people like to say “hello” and “I love your hair” and “cute dog” and “good morning” and how fucking dare they. People like to make noise and enjoy each other’s company and use the park and how fucking dare they, whispers my misanthropy and, since the beginning of the quarantine times, my agoraphobia.
Now, rather than staying at my base level of annoyance with the human race I feel aggression, anxiety, anger, and loathsomeness toward the passersby at the park. At least here in Tulsa, no one at the park wears a mask. No one at the park socially distances. The majority act as though nothing had ever happened, as if we are back to the comfort and normality of the “before times”. These observations coupled with my antagonistic feelings and expectation that everyone adhere to the strictest social distancing practices makes for one reactive and tense me.
If someone were approaching, I made up my mind that by sheer force of my will and expectation they would know to and follow through with moving 6 feet or more away from me. And if they didn’t? Something like a flare would burst upwards inside of me. I would glare at them, glad to have a mask to hide behind.
I stopped going to the park for a couple of weeks. I had become so frustrated with people that I couldn’t enjoy myself while out walking, always holding my breath, flaring my nostrils, grinding my teeth, racing through anxious, aggressive thoughts. I started going back only on the condition that I would be less high-strung. I can’t control that all these other park patrons are forgoing masks and safe, responsible public practices. I can’t will someone off the trail. I can’t influence thoughts with an intense stare and rigid, unfriendly body movements.
I can’t control other people, I have to tell myself over and over and over again. I can control what I do. When a jogger or group of irresponsible fools is walking my way, I can get out of the way. I can walk in the grass away from the trail, away from everyone else. I can take a few deep breaths and allow myself to still enjoy the muddy waters and jungled banks of the Arkansas River.
We can always control parts of our situation. When we feel out of control it is important to not just “release” what it is we can’t control. What does it even mean to “release” a thought or control pattern? Do we somehow pull it from our brains and set it free on the breeze, never to be bothered by it again? Do we force ourselves to turn the reality of, “people aren’t taking this seriously and it could affect many of us in terrible ways” into some positive mental contortion of, “this is fine, it doesn’t bother me at all when people cough in my direction”? No, what we do is interrupt the anxious, controlling thoughts and replace them with something we can kind of control—like walking in the grass, or taking the time to do something ourselves instead of waiting for someone to anticipate our needs (when has that ever worked anyway?), or sitting with our feelings and then deconstructing them to find the source and what we can do about it, what new perspectives and methods we can participate in, what new possibilities we can conjure and explore.
Control is at its core about comfort and safety. Feeling out of control or that we need to clamp down and micromanage things are natural indicators that something is out of balance and needs attention—whether at the global, local, or individual levels. Find what needs to be balanced or changed. Find what needs care and what needs transformation. Find new ways to do and think and exist and participate. If something hurts it needs to be healed not ignored. When we ignore pain we normalize it, become used to it, forget about it, forget to do anything about it, and wince and cry and lash out when anyone tries to help because the pain is so bad, but we’ve let it become so much worse.
Find what hurts and find out why. Heal the why.