This is what I wanted to read in my depression.

by Janelle Hanchett

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a real depression. Two decades, actually. I had forgotten how physical it is. How it pulls your body into the ground, deep into some sort of mud, turns it into a massive thing you’re dragging around. Hollowed out, but somehow so heavy.

It crept up on me, I suppose, the need to sit for ten minutes after showering. I’d sit on my bed, naked, the towel around my head, thinking about getting dressed, knowing it was the next step of my life, wondering how or when it began to feel impossible. I’d wait for the strength.

It never came, but I’d do it anyway. My whole life became a process of waiting for the next task I couldn’t avoid, watching the clock tick by and wishing it wouldn’t.

Somebody had to get my kids from school. Somebody had to shower and get me dressed so when Mac came home I wouldn’t still be sitting there, not dressed. I’d do the dishes to make it look like I had accomplished something. I would send an email or two. Some days I’d send twenty, apologize twenty times, try to set it all up again.

I’d give myself immensely pathetic pep talks, always the same words: “You can do it, Janelle. Come on.” I’d say it out loud. I’d force my body up. I’d yell at myself. COME ON. DO IT.

And I would. But nothing changed. I’d watch hours pass by, days, weeks, and me still sitting there on the goddamn bed—metaphorically, you understand–waiting for some will, believing myself less and less able to do it.

 

Life was right there. I could see it, but I couldn’t touch it, and it certainly couldn’t touch me.

So instead I stared at it, remembered what it used to offer, scanned every crevice for some indication that I was alive.

It all sounds so dramatic when you talk about it. Self-pitying. Syrup emotion. Even while writing this I want to tell myself to shut the fuck up.

Depression talk is boring, unless you’re in it.

And that’s why I’m writing this. In case you’re in it. I wanted so badly for somebody to see me in that state, in that ground-down, useless place. I found myself looking everywhere for somebody talking about the sitting-on-your-bed-for-ten-minutes thing, staring at a wall as if it could help you, or giving up hope that the wall had anything to offer, growing ever more silent because it’s all so strange.

But I mean that quite literally, the part about looking for something that reminded me that I was alive—as in, something to touch the part of me that felt alive. The part that experiences something. A desire, a spark of interest.

It wasn’t the sadness so much that killed me but the absence of feeling. Like my whole life was rolling out and it was all the same–today, tomorrow, the next day. I’d feel hopelessness, a permeating regret I couldn’t define, and a sadness that felt like meaninglessness. And not a single change on the horizon.

I wrote some notes in my phone once:

It isn’t that I can’t do the things I used to do. It’s that it won’t mean anything to me.

I can write to you on Facebook a funny story. Show you some beautiful architecture. But after I post it I’ll wonder why I do things like that, and I will feel confused. I’ll respond to you. I’ll excuse myself for not responding. I’ll use out-of-date laughing emojis. I’ll meet you for coffee. I’ll teach a writing workshop. I’ll talk to you on the phone. I’ll pick you up from school. I’ll write you an essay. I will definitely make you laugh.

But it won’t mean a single thing.

I wasn’t asking for joy. I was asking for things to mean something again, for it to be a little less hard.

 

One morning I listened to an interview with a pastor who had been committed to an institution for depression. He said he understands why people commit suicide.

He said it is because they want rest.

My head fell in final recognition. Gratitude.

Rest. Yes.

I wasn’t suicidal. But I would have given anything for some relief from whatever it was inside of me that wouldn’t budge. Just staunchly refused. It looked at me and laughed. “You’ll never beat me,” it said.

And I never did, but I walked through life anyway.

I understand why women “in the old days” used to “take to their beds.” Simply stop.

I’m not moving, they said. It beat me.

They wanted rest.

I could see running out of steam, when an eternal rest is, at least, rest.

 

It’s obvious now, looking back, that things weren’t right, at all, but I was playing “Is this depression or regular pandemic life?” with the rest of the world. Before that I engaged in endless rounds of “Is this depression or I just moved to a new country?” I was dying for answers.

But everything I’d ever used to figure such things out–my feelings, intellect, will, even, yes, my God—had left me at some point. It was just me, hanging out, reading what other people had to say about it on the internet.

And no matter how many times the world told me this or that, that it’s normal or not normal, seasonal or chronic, depression or regular lockdown life or pandemic burnout—I wanted to find the answers within myself, because that is where I’ve always gone, and that is where I know things, really know things.

To find out if I need help or not, if it will pass or not. How to fix it. How to get through it.

But the singularly consistent feature of this depression was feeling disembodied–fragmented, a head on an alien body.

What I’m saying is I looked inward and found nothing at all.

Past the nothing was an urge to pick up my phone to play a very stupid game. Some history forever replaying. A craving for a cigarette. A recollection of food in the house I could eat.

 

I’m speaking of this in the past tense, as something having come and gone, and I suppose, in a way, that’s true.

The day came when it didn’t matter anymore if it was circumstantial or clinical. I couldn’t go on like that. I would have returned to drugs and alcohol if I thought it would work for even a moment. My brain started telling me about how we could make this end. I imagined lying down and never getting up again. I felt myself really slipping away.

And it all became extremely simple. I just needed, help.

I’m seeing a psychiatrist and psychologist now, and I went on a medication that gave me back some energy. I get up earlier. I take a shower without much trouble at all. It’s such a difference I had three neighbors say “Oh, you’re up so early!” when they saw me outside before 9am.

I am silly with my kids again. I sit at the table after dinner and talk with the family. Tasks don’t feel so impossible. Sometimes I really feel like doing things. The thoughts don’t replay so fucking endlessly. They are less intrusive, less despairing, less creatively destructive (and yet also somehow unbelievably boring).

But mostly I feel flatlined. It isn’t, shall we say, the life I’d like to be living, the internal self I aim for. It is, however, what it is. You’re welcome for that stunning insight.

 

I don’t feel “fixed.” I don’t feel “back to myself.” I am made uncomfortable by the idea that a special cocktail of medication will return me to some glorious equilibrium of pre-fucked self.

I consider perhaps that the “self” has altered irrevocably.

I consider the sun coming back. I consider the end of the pandemic. I consider the way my dog would sit by me and stare at me and jump on my bed and put his paw on my chest. I truly do not believe he was away from me for more than ten minutes during any of this. He’s here right now at this very moment.

I consider the way Mac asked me so often if I was okay, and how he looked at me just the same as he looked at me two decades ago. We didn’t know what to do then, either.

I consider how writing left me but here I am, in words.

That’s strange, isn’t it? That here we still are.

There wasn’t a time when I was completely gone. I know that because every time I sat on that bed searching the wall or life or myself for something to hold onto, something to lighten up or enlighten this fucking world, there was a part of me insisting it existed—otherwise, why look? With zero evidence some part of me saw all the way through to a life I couldn’t touch, reached forever for some rest, right here, with you.

I’m not saying I was strong. That I achieved something. What I’m saying is it gives me some hope. What I’m saying is she may become more than a sad pep talk at 1pm. What I’m saying is I wasn’t abandoned. What I’m saying is maybe you aren’t either.

If you know the dark, you know what I mean. I hope I’ve found you there.

 

He’ll wait as long as it takes. 

43 Comments | Posted in mental health mental non health | May 10, 2021

Breaking: They aren’t “regressing.” They’re kids in a blown-up world.

by Janelle Hanchett

“Kids have regressed in innumerable ways since the pandemic began. Lately, we’ve been noticing that our kids (and our friends’ kids) don’t want to be left alone in a room. Codependency? Maybe. Irrational fear? Totally possible. Have you experienced this with your own kids (who should be “over” this stage in their lives) and if so, have you handled it with any success?”

-Huffington Post Parents on Facebook

Wow. This is absolutely rich coming from a bunch of people who bought all the flour and yeast in a five-mile radius within two weeks of the pandemic so they could obsessively bake their own bread for no apparent reason. We’re three seconds from grinding our own wheat as if it were 1830, nobody knows why, but we’re all on board because it feels right, so fuck it. This may be the end. “Irrational fear?” Nah, totally normal adult pandemic response.

The well-adjusted, non-regressing contingent of society is hoarding fourteen packs of toilet paper for a family of four as if water doesn’t exist but our kids are “codependent” because they want more hugs while everyone talks about disease, dying, and trying not to kill grandma.

Within a month we’re pouring 2pm cocktails, Tiger King, and middle-aged TikTok into the emotional void of our lives but find it concerning that our kids want to sleep on our floor and don’t seem too interested in Zoom math.

Truly cannot imagine why a child would want to find some comfort in their parents, one of the few things that have (sort of) remained the same after being cut off from every other source of routine, stability, and comfort in their lives.

How truly fucking odd.

Let’s be concerned.

My social media feeds are full of articles about how brain fog, inability to concentrate, and anxiety are totally normal–we even refer to it as “pandemic brain”–but apparently we can’t figure out why the hell our two-year-old isn’t on board with potty training.

What is it with our need to frame our children’s natural, reasonable responses as some sort of pathology? First of all, fuck anyone adding one more thing to our pandemic-worry list of bullshit. Fuck them secondly for a disingenuous framing of a non-problem as a “problem” so we can click on their articles that will then solve it for us.

To be clear, ASKING FOR MORE HUGS IS MY ACTUAL MENTAL HEALTH GOAL.

I yearn for the day when rather than turn to carbs or my phone to remove my brain or find myself yelling at a family member for existing, I turn to that family and say, “Can we snuggle? I’m scared.”

Oh, god. A shudder went up my body just thinking about saying those words with my actual mouth, letting people know that I’m a human being with actual needs who relies on people around her. As if I am, in fact, vulnerable, and cannot always find the strength within myself to power through to a better day, which I also suspect will never come.

Alright, I’m being hyperbolic, but am I?

Incidentally, HuffPost published an article a couple of weeks after their bullshit post letting parents know that this “regression” is normal. Because of course it fucking is. But they had to, first, lay the foundation of “worry,” rile us up just enough that we start wondering what’s weird or not weird or if our kids are “codependent” as our families navigate a once-in-100-year pandemic.

Look, my kids are in a country where they’re learning a second language, and they’re now both behind in reading. They were pulled out for three months of the language immersion school they were in, and then they lost months of regular Dutch school.  Zoom calls aren’t the same. They are squarely behind in their reading of Dutch.

But it’s okay. What the hell else is going to happen? What else can I expect? Aren’t we all given a bit of a Free Pass to Loser at this point? I know like three adults who claim to be functioning at full capacity and judging from their Facebook feeds I’m pretty sure two of them are lying.

How can we excuse and accept just about every iteration of physical, mental, and emotional deterioration among adults yet somehow expect kids to “keep on their studies,” continue unabated in their quest for independence, and stand proud and alone as if nothing has happened?

 

This is why I’ve always been skeptical about what they (the media, “experts”) say about raising kids. They pathologize our children so they can sell us shit to fix what they invented. They create “solutions” for problems that are often created by societal systems that do not allow us to be parents in a “normal” way, which varies by culture anyway and nobody can really define. See, for example, no paid federal maternity leave and the “need” for sleep training, weaning, etc.

I am not knocking sleep training—well, I’m definitely knocking some forms of sleep training–or weaning. What I’m knocking is the idea that we need to adopt their “tried and true” methods of parenting, which we can access for $19.99 on Amazon, that just happen to align perfectly with the patriarchal, capitalist way of being. Or a lot of clicks for them.

I’m sure it’s mere coincidence.

I believe, generally speaking, that we have at least some intuitive capacity to raise the kids our bodies produce. The alternative seems like a rather serious evolutionary error. Of course, judging from that gold Trump statue, clearly there are some serious evolutionary errors.

No but seriously, imagine being an animal that birthed a matching baby animal and was then like I HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO FEED THIS FUCKING THING. We’d have been gone eons ago. I highly doubt cavewomen were sitting there contemplating how often they should nurse their young, or whether or not they should carry the fucker.

“Honey,” she asks, “Should I put this thing down to not spoil it? What does your mother say? IS THERE A WALL PAINTING EXPLAINING HOW MUCH HOLDING IS TOO MUCH HOLDING?”

The idea that I need books and essays and “experts” to guide me in providing every step of basic care to my offspring—including hug quantity during a pandemic–strikes me as ridiculous.

Yes, I needed my mom to help me learn to breastfeed my babies. Yes, I asked my midwives a million questions and my friends and mother even more as my kids grew. No, I do not need you to tell me that it’s normal that my kid wants to sit on my lap while the world blows up.

Can’t we trust ourselves a bit? Our kids? Our families? Have we grown so disconnected from our children and their humanity, and our ability to respond to that humanity, that we see their need for extra closeness during an apparent existential crisis as “a potential cause for worry?”

It’s sad, and it’s nonsense, and if there’s ever a time when we can just settle into giving these little humans extra time and affection, trusting that they probably know what we all need better than their Tiger-King-sourdough parents, goddamn it’s now.

And isn’t it beautiful that we can still do that for our kids. We can just be there, and it can be enough. Someday, it won’t be. Someday, they won’t even ask. Someday, they’ll be the adult staring at the wall, phone in hand, looking at a child brave and clear enough to say, “Hey, Mama? Can I sit with you? I haven’t touched your body all day.”

My 6-year-old said that to me the other day. I took a picture to remember our shared regression. And how to be a human.

Dear GOP: What exactly are we supposed to unite with?

by Janelle Hanchett

Joe Biden wasn’t my first, or second, or, let’s be real, third choice, but it did feel like something amazing was happening on the day of his inauguration, beyond the obviously momentous occasion of the first female Vice President. And Amanda Gorman’s entire existence.

And it was amazing. It’s rare to kneecap an autocrat through voting, for a nation to buy herself some time. And we did it.

We walked right up to the fucking ledge, all the way to armed insurrection, to “very fine people on both sides,” to years of lies culminating in the Big Lie, to organized right-wing militias, to the beating of police officers and chants of “Hang Mike Pence” and a confederate flag flying in the halls of the American seat of government. We went all the way to domestic terrorists, backed by Members of Congress and incited by the President, storming our Capitol, replacing the American flag with theirs, and roaming the halls with zip ties looking for hostages.

So, yes, when I saw Biden repeat the oath of office, it felt like a damn big deal, like the biggest bullet ever had just blown right past our heads, and I felt proud of what America had done. It felt like a bit of relief, a breath. Some hope for the first time in a long time.

And yet, like the empty seat where the outgoing President normally sits in a symbolic sign of the peaceful transfer of power, Trump’s presence—even in his absence—runs beneath it all.

He’s a damn specter: We can not see it if we don’t want to.

What? That? It’s gone. I don’t see it. All I see is Lady Gaga’s brooch.

On January 6 we had no choice but to look at it all dead in the eyes, but now, if we want, we can go to brunch and never think about politics again. You know, like we used to.

Let’s never do that again. That did not go well at all.

We can “move on” and feel safe again, enjoy “decency” and full sentences in the White House, competence and the lack of name-calling, dog-whistling, conspiratorial, lying tweets.

But, uh, y’all, we had all that right before we had Trump.

And always there’s that empty chair and the 74 million Americans who voted for it.

There’s still Trump and his merry band of lying corporatists (in and out of his family), the nutjobs of Q-Anon, the tiny-men parade of Proud Boys, Boogaloo, Oath Keepers and Three-Percenters.

But mostly, my god there is the “sane” GOP. At least the far-right idiot brigade is clean, clear, and crisply disturbed. They are, quite clearly, fascists.

But the fascist-lite wing, the “we’ll work with the fascists as long as we can get tax cuts” wing, the “surely we can get Trump under control and just use him for court appointments” wing, the “since we can’t win on our ideas let’s appeal to the imagined grievances of white people” wing, the “sure let’s tell them the election was rigged because losing power sucks” wing—those people, the ones who gaslight us until our heads nearly explode—what the fuck do we do with them?

“Unite?” Please.

 

Watching them feels like a direct assault on truth, reason, and sanity because it is an assault on truth, reason, and sanity. Accepting what they’re saying requires us to deny what’s in front of our own fucking eyes, to accept a false version of reality.

As sane people—and I mean that literally as in, “a person who can distinguish fantasy from reality”­—we can’t do that.

But there they are, almost like legitimate leaders, walking the halls, getting interviewed on CNN and Fox.

They stand for nothing, dip their toes into accountability via mealy-mouthed rhetoric and only if there’s not a single thing at stake for them personally. (My, my they all get so brave as they walk out the door to quit, retire, or sign a contract for a 7-figure “tell all!” book deal.)

They tell us “The insurrectionists do not represent the GOP” five minutes before they vote against the material manifestation that the insurrectionists do not represent the GOP (see: impeachment).

One hundred and forty-seven of them in the House voted against certifying the results of a free and fair election, mainly votes by Black Americans, after they’d lost sixty court cases on the subject, and four hours after that very lie led to an armed insurrection.

And yet, people talk of “unity” with them. Quick question. What exactly are we supposed to unify with? 

The Republicans didn’t even have a 2020 platform, choosing instead to become the official party of Donald Trump. In their words: We enthusiastically support the president’s America-first agenda.”

And on January 6, the entire world saw where that “America First” agenda led. How the fuck do we unite with a party that is unwilling to unequivocally purge itself from the very agenda that led to a fascistic movement?

It’s not that complicated. You can’t walk both sides here. You can’t say “Trump’s our guy” but also “Coups are bad” when TRUMP INCITED A COUP. You can’t stand behind Trump and his myriad bootlickers for four years as they ramp up fascistic rhetoric and imagined grievances and then, when all of that comes to its ultimate and logical violent end, declare “That isn’t us” while voting to perpetuate it all.

The GOP, in its current form, evidenced by its own behavior, is an enemy of democracy, the rule of law, and the republic until further notice.

 

And now, now they want us to unify with them while they continue to show the moral cowardice that got us here in the first place?

AGAIN, I ask, unify with WHAT?

Camp Auschwitz sweatshirt guy? “6 Million Isn’t Enough” guy? How about the confederate flag dude, or maybe the ones who built a noose or planted bombs? Do we share a cold one with those bastions of freedom who beat police officers with flag poles and a fire extinguisher?

Do we sit down and really get in touch with the white nationalists and ask how we can help them achieve their domestic terrorist goals? Sure, the FBI classified far-right extremists as the greatest terror threat in America, but you know, maybe if we really hear them out, break some fuckin’ bread, we’ll realize suddenly we’re all on the same team here.

WE CANNOT BE ON THE SAME TEAM HERE.

Or maybe we go the Q-Anon route. There are actual Q grifters in the House of Representatives now! Is that the new Q Caucus? Trumpy called Q folks “patriots.” His lawyer Lin Wood and his main man Michael Flynn are all about it. Anything for power, amiright?

So in the interest of “healing” do we join whatever backwoods website they’re still allowed on and ask them to elaborate on the Soros-run cabal of deep state politicians and Hollywood stars involved in the rape, murder, and organ harvesting of children?

Do we add “The Great Awakening” to our calendars and look for Q drops and cryptic messages from Giuliani, Pompeo, and random YouTube personalities telling us soon, led by Trump, who’s sent by Jesus, all the bad ones will die?

 

Look, I know, GOP, you aren’t those people. Of course you aren’t.

But you are.

Because they, too, support the America First agenda. And no, we cannot simply ignore them. We cannot just focus on the everyday, guy-next-door Trump supporter (who we all know extremely well due to the 7,000 profiles in the New York Times).

Our ability to ignore them ended the day they stormed the American seat of government.

Our ability to ignore them ended the day we saw all of these radicalized factions unite under the man you “enthusiastically support.”

Our ability to ignore them ended the day 147 of you STILL voted in line with the lie of a “stolen election,” with zero evidence.

Fascistic movements do not just go away, assholes. They don’t release one collective, sad sigh and say, “Oh, well, gosh darn-it, our leader wasn’t elected so I guess we’ll just go back to rubbing our guns and trying to get back on Parler.”

They evolve. They go underground and keep planning. They look for a new leader. And if the GOP refuses to unequivocally disavow Trump and his agenda, they won’t have to look very far, will they?

Look I know the GOP is fucked. They played with fire, thought they could reign Trump in, thought they could use him for those sweet tax cuts and court appointments, thought of him as a useful idiot—they gambled, and they lost. Because yes, if any of them vote for impeachment, they will probably get primaried and they will probably lose.

MAYBE THEY SHOULDA THOUGHT OF THAT BEFORE THEY BACKED A FASCIST.

Maybe they should have thought of that before hitching their wagons to a white nationalist shitbag with bad spelling and brilliant rhetorical manipulation skills who effectively convinced tens of millions of Americans that a free and fair election was a left-wing conspiracy against Trump, orchestrated by dead Latin American leaders and “hacked” voting machines that don’t even connect to the internet.

Maybe they should have considered the unsustainability of backing an aspiring autocrat unless you’re willing to ride it all the way to the end of democracy.

The GOP needs to decide who and what it is and then talk to us about unity. And the left needs to settle for absolutely nothing less no matter how soothing it is to see normalcy in the White House.

 

31 Comments | Posted in politics | January 24, 2021

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.

25 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.