Good Vibes Only in this Burning House, Please

by Janelle Hanchett

I recently read a post on Facebook by a woman who was having a hard time getting motivated to run her business. She shared how she wanted to stay in bed, and by the time she got showered, ready, and engaged, it was time to pick up the kids.

Now, understand that this post was in a group specifically created to support business owners who are also mothers. That’s key.

Most of the comments were supportive, commiserating, offering words of solidarity as we all manage the shit show of a global pandemic, kids, and businesses, many of which are flailing as much as we are.

But one woman, who calls herself a “healer,” responded that she could not relate to this struggle because she “loves her life!” She then went on to speculate on the energy vibes of the woman’s house and suggested she clarify the air or some shit by calling on angels to wash the pandemic death vibe out of her spoiled habitat. I may be taking some liberties there with my summary.

My point is, it was condescending, holier-than-thou bullshit. “Toxic positivity” as many call it.

The small part of me wonders what kind of sociopath you have to be to see someone struggling in a very NORMAL WAY under the weight of extremely abnormal circumstances—namely, widespread global death at the hand of a novel virus—and all you can think to contribute are meaningless platitudes that do nothing but boost your own ego.

And then I wonder if people like that burn puppies or something. Like they walk around robotically smiling and telling everyone how much they love life and then on Sunday around midnight they walk into the cold dark night and harm small, fuzzy mammals. They scare me is what I’m saying. It is not normal.

 

I suppose a bigger part of me, if I really dig deep into myself where my Mama and James Baldwin have tried to teach me to be a decent human who sees a larger whole, feels empathy and sadness for people like that—because what a fucking quandary that must be.

If we’ve convinced ourselves that “loving life” translates into impenetrable positivity and unwavering enjoyment of all the things, we’d be walking around having to lie to ourselves ten to fifteen times a day. At least I would. Every time we lose patience, get annoyed, act like an asshole in one way or another, we’d have to turn away from the truth, deny it outright, and grab the closest sage bundle.

Exhausting. And confusing. Shouldn’t I have good-vibes-only’d my way out of this by now?

Oh, god, and the constant reconfiguring of ourselves to present Endless Joy Only. Who could live like that?

If we really believe that being a good, enlightened person means eternal sunshine, what do we do with the side of ourselves that gets on Facebook to shame a woman who’s struggling?

What do we do with the part of ourselves that is more interested in catering to our own ego’s need for superiority than offering a word of empathy and support for a person causing no harm and having a hard time?

And how can you say you “love life” while denying one of the most vital parts of it?

Pain, grief, and disillusionment have invariably led me to the greatest changes in my life. They are often signs that something is amiss, usually inside myself, and my job becomes to find a bit of balance again. I have to learn to live with loss. I have to learn to function through pain. And I have to, at some point, surrender to reality. Not that I like it or don’t do anything, but rather I have to accept that it IS before I can change it.

And some of it I can’t change at all, and I have to simply accept that the darkness IS a part of life. I mean, is grief not the logical outcome of deep love? You can’t have one without the other. If I love you, and I lose you, I grieve. And I will inevitably lose you.

IT IS REALLY FUCKED UP.

And what we face now seems to me a collective grieving, a collective squaring off with our own volatility, our own deep reliance on each other. We have seen the world shut down because one person in one place ate an animal with a disease. We have read accounts of loved ones dying alone in hospitals, an iPad propped up to Facetime eternal goodbyes. Maybe we have said those goodbyes ourselves. We have seen refrigerator trucks in streets as overflow morgues.

We have watched our children lose their senior years, their first years of college. We have watched our little ones sit in front of screens rather than go outside and run and be with their friends. Like some sort of dystopian sci-fi movie, we watch them act out on video what they used to live.

We have all lost holidays with our loved ones, parties and festivals and concerts we never knew we needed until now. We have lost a year of our aging parents’ lives.

We have been alone. We have been afraid, and we have been without the power to change it. We have been insecure. We have lost jobs.  We have watched head-spinning conspiracy nonsense rise from the dark corners of brains we didn’t even know existed a few years ago. We have watched selfishness and greed rise to the top and we have seen great acts of compassion, comradery, and friendship insist on their place in all of it. We have watched a harmed earth try to hold us and we have been reminded of the way we refuse to work with her, love her—and we know we’ve only seen the beginning of what’s to come.

 

So yeah, MAYBE IT’S A LITTLE HARD TO GET OUT OF BED.

Maybe it’s hard to stand up and face our days as if it’s all as it was, or should be, as if the whole house of cards hasn’t fallen around us and we’re left wondering what it all means, how we fit in, where we go next, and, most importantly, what the fucking point is.

Fuck the “healers” who deny the truth of our existence, the darkness, the moments of loss and being lost, that teach us how to live in a new way, in new days, especially in a time like this, when it all depends on us changing, together, in an actual love of being alive.

I’ve never found peace in pretending. It isn’t sustainable. At some point the truth of me I’d like to forget rears its head and reminds me I’m just a standard human, ill-equipped for the weight of it all, and yet somehow, they say, made of stars.

For now I’ll stay in this paradox, the mother in bed, showering at 1pm, wondering again what to make for dinner, and if, in the end, it matters.

actual good vibes the other day after school

****

Speaking of good vibes, I’ve got a whole line-up of writing workshops happening in 2021:

Write Anyway in January (5 spots left)

A brand new workshop, “As You See It,” on personal essays & blog posts called (March)

Our 30-day writing intensive, Renegade Writers’ Group, in March

And finally, From Memory to Memoir in May

Email me to discuss installment payment plans.

21 Comments | Posted in 2020 deserves a category of its own | December 1, 2020

On family outings and harmony and why I don’t care anymore

by Janelle Hanchett

Yesterday on Instagram I shared photos of my family in an orchard picking apples, all of us smiling, the littlest stomping through the mud, our bag stuffed with fruit. I shared images of my two youngest in a candle shop brimming with handmade candles, where they dipped their own candles in a vat of wax surrounded by logs, directed by a friendly looking older woman in a COVID-friendly plastic face shield, because nothing says 2020 like vague dystopia and human separation.

ANYWAY, a commenter asked a question I so related to and felt all the way to my bones. She asked if my family was always so harmonious during outings and that we all look so happy. And we really do.

First of all, it’s a heavy happy vibe on principle, apple-picking in the fucking Netherlands. The Dutch are big on “gezellig,” which closely translates to “cozy” but also means much more than that. It’s cozy, quaint, comfortable, friendly. It’s like a way of being, and it penetrates so much of Dutch life. You’ll often hear Mac and I yelling “Good god this place is so fucking ADORABLE JESUS CHRIST!” Or just the random “Are you fucking kidding me?” while staring at some street that looks like it’s out of Disneyland, and then here comes a toddler on a balance bike wearing MaryJanes and tights and a puffer coat and everyone just looks so happy with their fucking healthcare and reasonable college tuition. Don’t even get me started on the boating situation on the canals, OR THE MOTHERFUCKING BIKES WITH BABIES ON THEM OR IN WOODEN BASKET THINGS ON THE FRONT.

It’s fine. Gezellig.

But it’s not a cutesy cute. The Dutch are not “cute.” They’re direct, strong people committed to personal liberty, freedom, and being decidedly NOT DELICATE. You don’t bike 2-3 children, groceries, and possibly a small mattress home in a sideways rainstorm year after year while being delicate.

Anywho, I also add filters. I like playing with photos. I like photography. I’m not a photographer, but I’ve always enjoyed the process of taking a drab photo and turning it into something that better captures what I think the photo is trying to say. You know, cropping, fading, highlighting, fucking with this and that. Sometimes I can’t be bothered, but on a day like yesterday, when I had some time, I doctored my shit and made the photos look as gezellig as the outing felt.

You know, in between times we were screaming at each other.

Oh right. That was my point: These photos are, by definition, bullshit. They are a filtered selection of real life. We all know that.

And yet they aren’t at all. Everything in those photos happened, they happen every time. They are real. But it’s a curation, a thoughtful presentation. Our trip to Italy recently. Damn. You’d think we were some fancy-ass world travelers who sit around and love each other all day while eating large shrimp.

Absent from the photos are the screaming matches, the teenage and kid tears, the parent tears and rage-breathing in response to it all, the bickering between kids, between parents and kids, between parents. (Look, it’s not my fault Mac doesn’t drive perfectly. SOMEBODY HAS TO SAVE US.)

Also absent: The moment I realize it’s noon and we’re in Italy and I’m on my phone playing Two Dots and I hate myself.

I don’t feel a need to excessively curate my life. I post my messy house. I post my messy self. I tell you how miserable the drive home was from Germany on the last day when every last one of us contemplated launching ourselves out the car door and into a Swiss alp just to make it stop.

I don’t add filters and “iris enhancements” to our eyeballs until we’re teetering on the border between “definitely aliens” and “perpetually tanned white people with astonishingly blue eyes,” causing half the comment section to freak out: THE EYES OMG THE EYES.

(Friends, if the eyes look fake, they probably are. Creating piercing crystal eyes is like a ten-second process in Photoshop and Lightroom.).

But also, when I post these collections of dream-like shit, it’s real, and it’s what I remember, and it’s what it means to me. I think I’m old and tired or something because the family bickering doesn’t bother me as much. It does for a moment—don’t we all have moments when we wish we had chosen a different life with different humans on a different continent? No, just me?—but it’s a moment, a flash. It doesn’t define the day, the trip, the outing.

In other words, I don’t really give a fuck.

The yelling, the bickering, the snapping at each other, the freak outs, the muddy shoes, the forgotten jacket—for sure there was a time when all those things would have turned the heat up beneath my patience until I was boiling in anxiety, pissed off, and reflecting on how our day was “ruined.”

I’m not better than that now. God knows we reject all personal growth around here. But as I’ve written before, I MISS MY BABIES AND CLING TO THIS SHIT FOR DEAR LIFE.

I feel like I’ve seen it all, felt it all. I’ve done the rotation of Family Shit so many times. Not that I know more or I’m better at handling it. I’m just immune to it. Where it used to hit me deep inside and I’d decide my family was dysfunctional probably due to a deficiency on my part, or Mac’s, depending on my mood, now I see Normal Family Shit and move on.

Ava will be 19 next month. Rocket is 15. I’m happy they’re here, that they’re around, that we’re together. I’m happy my teenagers want to hang out with us occasionally, that we laugh sometimes, that we turn on Paul Simon and sing after somebody whines about how THEY DON’T WANT TO LISTEN TO GRACELAND AGAIN and everyone in the car has to “handle it” instead of just, like, us parents. I swear to god I say “You don’t have to HELP!” 1500 times a day.

I’m happy Mac and I have been together long enough to accept that we’re both dicks. I have no idea how to expand on that.

I’m happy we talk honestly to each other and come back around and apologize when we act badly and I’m happy we pile on the couch almost every night, for a few moments, until somebody gets mad and stomps upstairs yelling about how they hate us.

I don’t know. I’m 41. I have four kids between the ages of 18 and 6. I turned around once, and one was grown. I look back on the days when they were little as the happiest fucking days of my life and I hate myself for even saying that. But let me tell you what I wouldn’t give to go back to the day when my George was born and I watched Ava and Rocket hold her, just kids themselves, and it seemed there were so many years.

I know this isn’t everyone’s story, but it is mine, and I realize the strong cliché vein running through this—but I’ve never bullshitted you and I won’t now, especially not to maintain some consistent branding as the one talking shit about motherhood. Ha. Branding.

I still talk shit about motherhood, but now I’m mad at the fact that I would, at 41, reflect on the years that felt SO ENDLESSLY HORRIBLY HARD AT THE TIME AS THE BEST YEARS OF MY GODDAMN LIFE.

Also why am I talking about my life as if it’s over? Is this a 2020 trait?

It’s not over. And now I live in a country where I feel more serenity and day-to-day happiness than I’ve ever felt, so basically I’m full of shit and nostalgia is a motherfucker.

My point is: I miss those days, I love those days, I love the days we have now.

You know what I really enjoy about this stage of parenthood? That those outings to me, even with all the yelling, bickering, forgotten shit, and moments of why are these people in my life, the day, more than anything else, is my little boy showing a Dutch oma which shape of candle he’d like, and then watching her, wide-eyed, as she twists the warm wax of the candle he made.

It’s the grin my boy Rocket gave his dad as he teased him about a joke I missed and the way I caught him smiling as he picked an apple, and he looked just like he did when he was seven. It’s my Ava getting so irate about the mud on her suede shoes, just as she’s done her whole life, but walking through the orchard with us anyway.

It’s that same girl, my first, almost 19, taking a picture of her siblings, the ones she was so fucking mad at on the way home, and posting it on her Instagram, as they sat making apple dumplings that evening.

“And they called themselves the apple dumpling gang,” she wrote.

And I remembered how many times we’ve watched that movie together. In time, it all becomes a beautiful curation.

 

How do you write from land to friends on a sinking ship?

by Janelle Hanchett

I haven’t been here in a while. I haven’t been here consistently in a very long while. I don’t post much on Instagram, my blog’s Facebook. I don’t even tweet much anymore. Horrors.

Some of you have messaged me asking if I’m okay. Thank you so much. I’m always floored when I see those messages. People thinking of me. It’s so fucking kind.

Here it is: I miss you. I have no idea what the fuck to say to you.

That came out harsher than I wanted, probably because I’m frustrated. With myself, with my confusion and silence. It’s been months, maybe a year?

I’ve been trying to break my way out of it with positive self-talk like: Look, you moron, these are your friends! Your readers! The same people you’ve been writing to for years! WHY ARE YOU MALFUNCTIONING?

Why? Because everything I think about saying feels irrelevant, deeply annoying, or both.

I am the picture of security right now, folks. If I ever gave the impression I’m over here grounded in my being, I apologize.

Or maybe I am. I don’t really know what that means.

I always talk in my writing classes about not focusing on externalities when you write. As in, not writing for praise or money or fame, from that place of “Will people like this?” or “Will they get mad at me?” Not because we have to be “better” than that, but because it creates an unsustainable situation.

Sure, if you’re one of the lucky ones who gets launched into the NYT Bestseller list five minutes after you start writing into the cold, dark night—who knows, maybe you’ll be the next Girl wash your face lady and you’ll be lining the walls of Target in no time by repeating tired cliches and plagiarizing (don’t let me kill your dreams!)—but for the rest of us, that shit won’t deliver.

As in, if that’s what’s driving us, as soon as nobody gives a shit what we’re writing, or we get attacked by an angry mob calling us “commie cunts” (Thank you, Dan from Indiana), or our Twitter numbers just won’t budge no matter how clever we are (AND WE ARE), and also at the same time we’re annoyed that we even care about Twitter followers (are we not more advanced than that?)–we’ll quit.

In other words, everything external is a massive clusterfuck and just leads to more confusion. Our motivation and purpose must come from within if we’re gonna last in this game. Or maybe any game. I don’t know. I don’t know many games. I suck at sports.

And yet here I am swimming in NOBODY WANTS TO HEAR WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY FROM DISNEYLAND, JANELLE.

I’m not afraid of the world getting angry at me, god knows I’ve said enough enraging things to kill that concern, but also, I don’t write in a void. And I don’t know what to write in friends in a crumbling empire during a pandemic and wildfires and civil unrest and autocracy at the doorstep while I sit in a café sipping a cappuccino watching my kids play in front of a building from the 17th century.

I’m over here in a country that has largely returned to normal (for now, numbers are going up) while my friends and family in the States are posting “first day of school” pictures with their child grinning in front of a table in the living room. I’m not knocking that. I understand. But what do I say?

“IT SURE IS NICE THE WAY THE HAVE HEALTHCARE HERE AND NO PRISON-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX AND ALSO ISN’T THIS CANAL PRETTY?”

Yes, I could write about all that I’m learning about America standing on a different continent and witnessing it from afar, but I feel right now like it’s irrelevant. Like I need to read the room. Like I don’t understand what you’re going through. Like I’m a coward for leaving. Like I’m so glad I left.

I feel separate.

I want to see you and know you can see me. I don’t want to write from some otherworldly place and become detached and off the ground with you.

This is not a feeling I anticipated when I moved here. I had visions of endless things to write about, the adventures, the new experiences, the culture. But I feel I’ve walked away from an injured friend. I feel I left them bleeding on the ground.

And the truth is I am so happy here I sometimes just start grinning. The truth is I feel a knot unwinding in my gut, like I am returned to a place I’ve been craving my whole life but never knew existed. The truth is I am so fucking grateful and awestruck that I get to live in a place like this that I sometimes feel a strange panic that they may kick me out, some lingering notion that it can’t possibly be real, that I won’t actually get to stay, that it all really has been a dream that will be ripped from my hands one day.

I walk around in a state of awe and rage. Awe that people actually live this way; rage that people actually live this way.

And America is what it is.

We are inexcusable. The “richest nation on earth,” but we cannot provide basic human rights or a social welfare net of any substance. It’s a lie. It’s a fucking lie and I live every day in a spotlight on that lie.
It is not normal to live the way we live in America.

I’m guessing any Dutchie reading this is laughing her ass off right now, conveying this place as some sort of utopian fever dream that it is not. And to them, I would have to explain that they may not understand what it feels like to come from a place like America in its current condition to this.

I’m fascinated by the things Dutchies complain about. They complain about what to Americans would be an unfathomable improvement, incredible generosity, a sense of humanity we’ve long forgotten–if we ever had it.

And you know what? I’m glad they complain. I’m glad they see these things as the goddamn human rights OWED to them, paid for BY THEM. I’m glad they want something back for their tax dollars beyond drones to kill people in the Middle East.

I’m glad they know their lives and their kids’ lives are more than human capital. That they deserve and in fact will live and enjoy their single chance on earth as opposed to scrambling desperately in a pool of scarcity while wearing the stars & stripes on a Made-in-China hat, sure the next big screen TV on Black Friday clearance will soothe the meaninglessness, isolation, and suffering predatory capitalism has created.

I’m so angry. I’m so angry at what America has taught us “freedom” looks like, that we have somehow equated individualism, those notorious bootstraps, with bravery, patriotism, the American way.

Why do we wear our suffering like a badge of American honor?

I’m glad they are indignant and firmly rooted in a sense of their own worth, and the network of responsibility the state must secure, reinforce, and fund. Because if they don’t stay mad, if they forget that they are entitled to these things through their very birth, the dignity afforded them as human beings, they will have them taken.

If they don’t stay mad, they may find themselves with entire generations of college grads starting their lives with $80k in debt that will accrue at 6.8%, a debt they’ll never pay back.

They may find themselves with sprawling tent cities beneath one-bedroom apartments that sell for $1.5 million and they may find themselves bankrupt over a cancer diagnosis and they may find themselves working two full-time jobs to barely pay rent and send their kids to underfunded schools where they will hide under desks for active shooter drills. They may find themselves funneled to a private prison because they are worth more to the state in prison than free in the world. They may find themselves without a pension, without paid sick leave, without vacation. They may find themselves without a livable wage while the top three richest people in the country accrue more wealth than the bottom 50%.

But what is the point of saying any of this? How must it feel coming from me? A coward who left. A person who looked around and said, “I’m sorry, I’m out.”

Just to keep with the fucking metaphors, I feel like I’ve survived a sinking ship and now I’m yelling from land, “Hey, Hi. Your boat sucks.” As if (most) Americans don’t fucking know this by now.

I have no interest in telling you, people I love, people who are suffering, what you already know, what we all already know—what good does it do?

I guess in that sense we are the same, navigating an incomprehensible nation facing incomprehensible uncertainty: grief, bone-level anxiety, a gut-level cognition that something is really, really wrong. I’m just doing it from a place of safety, which makes me think I have no place to speak.

Fuck it, ya know? I don’t understand any of this. I’ve lost the storyline.

Recently I read an essay called “Old Body Not Writing” by Ursula K. Le Guin in her book The Wave in the Mind about her inability to write fiction at the time. She could write essays (such as the one I read) because they are “in the head,” and “Any string of meaningfully connected words is better than none.” But her characters had abandoned her. Stories were gone.

She has always said that her books begin when characters begin to speak to her. She hears their voices. She becomes them. They become her. And from a silent zone, she explains: “When I have nothing to write I have nothing to escape to, nothing to compensate with, nothing to give control to, no power to share in, and no satisfaction. I have to just be here being old and worried and muddling and afraid that nothing makes sense.”

She goes on to say how writers call “any period of silence” a “block.”

Then adds: “Would it not be better to look on it as a clearing? A way to go till you get where you need to be?”

When I read this last part, I closed my eyes and took a breath and felt a deep relaxing around my shoulders, because I had gone to her looking for answers. And when I go looking, I look to my elders, women of the past who are my grandmothers and great-grandmothers but don’t know it. Or maybe they do.

I understood this clearing, thought about it as time passing and the guts and heart and head being rinsed out by life, by nothing, to make room for the new.

How can characters enter a cluttered room? How can ideas make their way into the thick mud of old thoughts? What good is my forcefully filling the space? Why am I angrily, impatiently, willfully cramming that space with topics and panic?

Because, as Ursula says, it’s “silent and lonely.”

“So, my search for a story, when I get impatient, is not so much looking for a topic or subject…as casting about in my head for a stranger.”

Maybe this is all a clearing. Maybe this is all of us washing it all out to find a new way of existing in this world together. Maybe we are all casting about for a stranger.

She knows “they answer silence,” that one day they’ll speak to her again, that the day will come when some new voice will echo in the brain she was sure abandoned her, some new world whispering itself into existence in the chambers of her imagination.

She’ll spin something beautiful from the clearing, from the void that felt a little like death.

Maybe we will too.

 

My little life. My little home. I don’t know what to say.

Coronavirus & the Netherlands: Thoughts from a rando American

by Janelle Hanchett

Hello, hi. Every time I post a photo of a public space in the Netherlands, people want to know why nobody is wearing masks. I end up writing the same ten sentences I’ve written twenty times before, which is getting a little old, and people seem genuinely interested in what’s happening here, so I’m writing this post.

But first, let’s get three things out of the way:

–I did not make these rules. I am not personally responsible for the manner in which the Netherlands arrived at its approach. Please do not attack the fucking messenger.

–I am not an infectious disease expert, physician, economist, or even a person who spends her whole life researching this shit. If you want exact dates and timelines on how the Dutch handled this, feel free to google. This is a general summary.

–I am a woman and mother and American living in a new country, using my own critical thinking capacity, intuition, and reasonableness to synthesize information and make decent choices. I neither believe everything I’m told nor disbelieve it all on principle. I can tell you that as a whole, I trust the Dutch government to use and accept science, support their most vulnerable citizens, and generally work toward a balanced and sane approach. This is an entirely new feeling after spending three years in the States with a regime in power that does none of these things.

Okay, so, here we go.

The Netherlands closed schools for three months but children have never been required to socially distance. As in, they were always allowed to go outside, be around whomever, play together in the park, etc. This is based on science that showed very small infection and transmission rates among children. I DID NOT CREATE THIS SCIENCE so don’t fucking blame me, and don’t email me about how it’s wrong. You can read about it here.

About eight weeks ago, they opened the schools in a slow process, and here’s how they did that:

For two weeks kids under 12 went to school two days and then three days, alternating weeks, and they were let out an hour or so early. Adults were not allowed in the school building. Kids distanced from their teachers but not from each other. Recesses were still allowed. Hand-washing was required every two hours. Masks were not required. Kids over 12 were not allowed to attend school yet.

Since corona numbers continued to drop during this time, they opened up the schools to four days and older kids could begin attending three days a week. A couple of weeks after that (July 1, I believe), distancing was no longer required between teachers and students. Restaurants opened with social distancing requirements, and masks were required on public transportation. You were not allowed to sit at a restaurant table with more than one person from outside your home. They asked questions about your health when you arrived. Our dentist’s office took our temperature in the doorway. There are big plastic panels separating customers from check-out people in almost every establishment.

Now, July 14, 2020, social distancing is still required everywhere. Any event or location where social distancing can’t be achieved has other requirements: Only allowing a certain number of people in the establishment, masks, etc. Masks on public transportation are still required. You’re allowed to sit with more people at restaurants. Testing is free and available to anyone who wants it.

It is, more or less, opened up for normal life. All of this is contingent upon the curve remaining flat. If cases increase, which everyone expects them to do in the fall/winter, there will be restrictions again.

Now, why is it so “chill” here, relatively speaking?

Here are my theories:

1.) There are 17 million people here. The USA has 328 million people. It is easier to get 17 million people to do something than nineteen times that many people. However, the Netherlands is tiny, and one of the most densely populated countries in Europe, so the potential for shitshow is vast. It is easier, however, to create a relatively unified message, approach, and understanding in a smaller country. We will get to the rest of this story shortly.

2.) The Prime Minister acted quickly and isn’t at fundamental odds with his own goddamn infectious disease experts and is not telling everybody the media is the enemy of the people and he’s the only speaker of Truth. As in, he’s not sitting there framing himself in opposition to SCIENCE, so there is, more or less, a unified approach, story, narrative, understanding coming from the Dutch government, and we can all read about this approach and the reasons behind it openly on the internet. It’s like, clear communication and shit. I know. I know. Weird.

3.) Does everyone here agree on the restrictions? Of course not, which brings us to number 3: Coronavirus is not highly politicized and thus polarizing in that fancy American black-and-white sense of: ECONOMY or LOCKDOWN. Republican or Democrat. Trump or Fauci. Fake news or real news or alternative facts, whatever the hell those are. There aren’t news stations telling half the country one thing and half the country whatever nonsense Hannity and Breitbart pulled out of their flaming neofascist assholes.

Sorry. That went south (ha ha ha) quickly. No but seriously. The virus is the virus is the virus and everybody has to work together to get this shit under control. There is a basic understanding of “Do your part and we get out of this nonsense faster.” You aren’t a fucking freedom fighter by refusing to do what the Dutch government says. There are no tweets like this one, from the President, indicating that you can choose science or you can choose Trump:

YOU ARE NOT A DEMOCRAT FOR WEARING A MASK.

You are not “weak” for trusting science. You are not a snowflake liberal for thinking doctors know things. You are not a snowflake liberal for thinking infectious disease experts probably know more about novel viruses than a washed-up, corrupt, reality-TV star who lies a lot.

There is a humane, measured, and clear-eyed message from the Prime Minister, which is communicated through the news in a relatively objective way, and people, like, listen to it and more or less do what it says.

You and your 100-person protest in the Hague is adorable, and high five, but also, nobody cares. 

4.) There is a sense here of common good outweighing personal desire. Americans are notorious for their Me First/Fuck the Rest mentality. Get what you can then die, right? From bootstraps to Jeff-Bezos-super-capitalism, we equate selfish individualism (me first) with liberty.  Some people, especially those who endured two world wars on their own soil in a short time, understand that without collective liberation there is no individual freedom. Without looking out for the whole, there is no personal safety. Everyone is at risk if the WHOLE is not protected.

Let me remind everyone that the Netherlands was occupied by the Nazis. So Trumpers, don’t fucking talk to me about “personal liberty.” The Dutch are RABIDLY FREE. Read a book.

Anyway, my point is: You think they like the government telling them where they can and can’t go, who they can see, who they can touch? No, they do not. But most people do it anyway, or at least stay relatively quiet about it—instead of, say, licking public windows or throwing COVID parties—because they understand that while they personally may not agree, this is a virus, not an arbitrary, violent usurping of their freedom, so we have to deal with it for the larger community.

To give you an idea of how nervous the measures make some Dutchies, friends of ours said: “We’ll give them until June. If they keep us locked down past that, we’re all heading into the streets.”

This seemed reasonable: Let’s give them a chance to not fuck with us. And if they do fuck with us, let’s burn shit down. I may be paraphrasing.

5.) PAID FUCKING SICK DAYS ARE FEDERALLY FUCKING MANDATED. Whew. Let’s think about this. Every employee here—from fast-food workers to corporate suits—has guaranteed paid sick leave. They are also guaranteed paid “care days” (days to take care of others). I don’t know if we realize what a difference this makes: If you vaguely have the sniffles, you stay home. If your kid vaguely has the sniffles, you keep your kid home and stay with them. Both parents in families have this paid leave. So if a kid is sorta maybe kinda sick, you can play it safe and stay home and still get paid and your boss doesn’t really care because they, too, had this right. Scarcity breeds scarcity. Fairness breeds fairness.

Of course you’d stay home with your kid is the mentality here, and it’s been this way for a long, long time. You don’t have to give your kid Tylenol, send them to school, and hope for the best because you can’t afford, literally, financially, to miss work. You can keep your kid home the suggested days after a fever rather than fudging it. You don’t have to think about it and you aren’t penalized for it. In general, the Dutch have a ridiculously more sane and humane approach to work-life balance. I know it’s crazy talk but people do not expect you to work while ill. 

6.) Oh, and universal healthcare.

Here’s Mac and a tiny espresso.

Also, my readers, friends, and loved ones in America: I love you. I’m thinking of you constantly.

***

Hey! Write with me this September! 

Write Anyway is a 6-week, online workshop for the writer who: 

  • has a nagging feeling of “I should write this,” but isn’t;
  • can’t decide what to write about;
  • constantly hears the “You suck why are you even trying?” voice when she sits down to write;
  • is too afraid to write what they’re really feeling/thinking/experiencing;
  • is bored with their current writing practice;
  • is agonizing over what people will think;
  • is obsessing over perfection; and/or
  • getting bent out of shape for 3 days over assholes on the internet criticizing in ways that hurt (and somehow they always hit where it hurts). Throwing shade. Insulting intelligence. Name-calling. Making fun. Crafting Reddit threads against you.

I have two 50% scholarships available for Black, Brown, Indigenous writers who would like to participate and could use some financial assistance.

18 Comments | Posted in 2020 deserves a category of its own | July 14, 2020

Hey white friends: We aren’t above the newly “woke.”

by Janelle Hanchett

Lately I’ve been hearing, “It’s different this time.” “Something is really changing.”

Our Trump-supporting family members are using the word “murder” in reference to George Floyd. Those of us with Trump-supporting family members know what a big deal this is. People we would expect to really come to the rescue of Target are sharing MLK Jr.’s “language of the unheard” quote.

Sure, everybody’s favorite Florida boomer still pops into the thread to bring up the fact that Floyd did coke and wasn’t exactly a model citizen—because model citizenry is apparently the baseline requirement for not being murdered by police—but now, Florida boomer just seems pathetic. The desperate gasps of a dying racist.

Makes me think of Bob Dylan singing, “Get out of the new road if you can’t lend a hand.”

In other words, we are moving on with or without your NASCAR-weeping ass.

Statues are toppled. Kids are done asking cities for permission they’ll never get. Kaepernick was told, “There are other ways to protest.” 2020 agrees.

Eight minutes, 46 seconds. Handcuffed, face-down. Two officers kneeling on his legs. One man casually kneeling on his neck—one hand in his pocket, serenity washed across his vaguely smiling eyes. The face of evil? Nah, the face of white supremacy. Also evil, but not uniquely so.

White people, tell me, do we not recognize that smirk? Just a little? In our uncles? In ourselves? Deep down in our blood, the smirk that rests in the knowing that most likely the state is on our side.

Our ancestors took their children to watch lynchings of Black Americans. They dressed in their Sunday best and drank Southern cocktails while young Black men hung from trees behind them. They took photos and sent them to family members who had moved out west. You know, to remind them of how things were back home. Model citizenry, etc.

They grinned. They smirked. Their eyes casually rested in the knowing that the state is on their side.

It lives in our blood though we hate to admit it. We hate to see it.

Uprisings in every city of America and 200 countries worldwide. NASCAR bans confederate flags. Ben & Jerry’s somehow pens a manifesto. Mitt Romney marches with Black Lives Matter. We tilt our heads to one side and try to process.

The whole world in a tidal wave: You will join us or we’ll roll on without you. Make a choice.
Here we are, witnessing the moment many of our white family, friends, and acquaintances are scooting off the fence. Family and friends wondering if there’s “maybe something to this Black Lives Matter thing.” Lord.

And we, we are the ones at the crossroads. We are the people they will encounter first. We are the ones on the other side of the fence, and our job is to get uncomfortable and get inconvenienced. Our job is to remember that white supremacy is woven through the fabric of our brains and bodies and lives. The water we swim in and never have to see. The smirk that knows.

In other words, we are the ones who need to deal with their bullshit. Who else could it be?

And yet, in my travels around the internet, I hear a lot of attacking of people quite clearly grappling with the extrication of what they’ve always known to be true. Sure, it’s fucked up. It’s also real. Is the goal to help move out of racism or is it for us to be the wokest in the room?

And friends, I see it in myself: Some idea that I’m better than, elevated. Hey, Janelle, shall we remind you of how you wanted to know why there was no “white club” in your high school? That happened, that was real. You really meant that.

YOU LEARNED SHIT IN GRAD SCHOOL, ya fuckin revolutionary.

We talk about how we want to be “allies,” we want to help, we want to do something, but the second our third-cousin twice-removed starts mentioning mixed feelings about the statues being toppled but shows genuine concern and openness, we attack the motherfucker for failing to embody the lexicon we learned in our Race & Gender class at UC Berkeley back in 2007.

Do we need to talk for a moment about the bullshit Black people endure every day not only overt racists and middle-of-the-road racists but also Super Woke White Women who figure it’d be best if they just kinda, you know, took over the local Black Lives Matter chapter?

They read Ta-Nehisi Coates, okay? They know things. And yet we somehow can’t work with the clunky, awkward friend who discovered she’s white a week ago?

I’m not talking about Florida boomer. Fuck that guy. Wrap him in his confederate flag and bury him. But there is racism and a refusal to listen, and there is a moving away from racism and a former refusal to listen.

If anyone is required to make this distinction, it’s us.

Times are either changing or not. We are undergoing a mass expansion of white minds or we are not. We see ourselves as the problem or we don’t.

How can we see the face of George Floyd against pavement, claim to be allies, yet lack the stamina and patience to understand that the road to a new way of thinking is awkward, clunky, and downright “offensive.”

ARE.WE.SO.DELICATE.

Before I taught my first university class on my own—which was an English class I divided into four sections (race, gender, class, and power), featuring the writing of Baldwin, X, hooks, and others—my advising professor told me this: “Your students are going to say inappropriate things. They are grappling with hard ideas and they do not yet have the vocabulary for it. Don’t attack them. Ask them questions. Keep asking questions until they are forced to trace their idea back to its beginning.”

These are not students who said overtly racist things. Slurs, etc. That’s different.

What I’m saying is that the road out will be messy, complicated, and nuanced, and it is our job to open doors, get out of ourselves, help others the way we were helped. I don’t think it’s our right or place to adopt the justified anger that may exist in people of color who are absolutely done dealing with white nonsense, and extend it into our own interactions as if we are the same.

We are the people who need to humble ourselves and remember the person who woke us up.

Because somebody somewhere woke you up. If it was your parents, somebody woke them up. If it was your grandparents or great-grandparents, well, somebody handed those badasses a pamphlet. Nice work. But still, at some point, we had to be pulled, possibly dragged, from our soothing pool of white.

We are the people whose ancestors took their kids to lynchings. We are the descendants of slaveowners. We are the ones who told Martin Luther King, Jr. that though we agree with his cause, we just wish he’d wait.

We are the ones who could wait.

THIS IS NOT ABOUT GUILT. This is about seeing ourselves as a member of a vast history, a larger whole, a single voice responsible for lifting our brothers, sisters, friends, family, and acquaintances, out of the web of a brutal lineage. We need to get into the new road and lend a fucking hand. It won’t be clean and it won’t be easy.

In 1962, James Baldwin wrote a letter to his nephew just before the Civil Rights Act, on his nephew’s 15th birthday.

In it, he wrote the following:

“In this case the danger in the minds and hearts of most white Americans is the loss of their identity. Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shivering and all the stars aflame. You would be frightened because it is out of the order of nature. Any upheaval in the universe is terrifying because it so profoundly attacks one’s sense of one’s own reality. Well, the black man has functioned in the white man’s world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar, and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations.”

Heaven and earth shaken to their foundations. A world recognizing the smirk of a white man during a lynching, some of us within ourselves. It is a terrible witness, a piercing truth, but it is ours, and we can welcome the shivering sun.