My Year of Rest and Radicalization
Reporting live from the pandemic.
Being a person in this world is an impossible challenge lately.
Last month, we officially crossed the COVID one-year mark here in the U.S. Rather than rushing past this realization, I’ve been trying to meditate on it, to unravel what it conjures. More than anything, I am worried for our collective well-being, for what this is doing to us psychologically.
I recently listened to the episode “What’s Happening In Our Nervous Systems?” from On Being with Krista Tippett. She interviews clinical psychologist Christine Runyan about the pandemic’s impact on our psyches. “The pandemic has disrupted our mind-body connection,” Tippett says. “Which is always as sensitive to what is imagined as to what is real.” It is on this unsteady foundation, she explains, that we have carried every other event and trauma that has come since.
When we encounter threats, our autonomic nervous systems trigger our stress responses, commonly called fight or flight. Once the threat’s presence passes, our parasympathetic nervous systems begin the process of restoring balance to our bodies. This is our baseline resting state. The problem, in this case, is that we haven’t been given the space or time to properly recover between one threat to the next.
We’ve essentially been functioning in a state of perpetual fight or flight for over a year.
With vaccination rates increasing, returning to our pre-pandemic routines no longer feels like a distant possibility, but a nearby reality.
For many, this means creating a “new normal.” While I understand the desire to return to a way of living that feels familiar, the prospect is still unnerving. The pandemic has heightened our awareness, but in doing so, it is exposing existing issues, not necessarily creating new ones. Racial capitalism has always been its own silent pandemic, and I struggle to understand why we would return to any way of living that continues to normalize this.
Within this year alone, police have murdered more than 200 people, disproportionately impacting Black and brown communities. Anti-Blackness is the blueprint from which every function in our society has been designed, so it is no accident that criminalization disproportionately impacts Black and brown people too. This is the rule; police are the exception.
Following the Derek Chauvin verdict, Rubén Angel tweeted: “Accountability relates to community restoration and justice achieved through mutual agreements and commitments to growth. One cannot hold murderous systems of oppression ‘accountable.’ We can only abolish them.”
When it comes to the way we speak about policing, the language we use matters. Legitimizing carceral punishment as the primary mode for achieving accountability is contradictory to abolitionism. It suggests that what is required for liberation is a type of fixing, and it’s this notion that maintains these systems to begin with. Reforming a violent structure won’t remove the violence from its core. And as Audre Lorde reminds us, the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.
Abolition urges us to reimagine what is possible, not within our current conditions, but despite them. This requires that we first resist the concept of policing in its entirety, beginning with the many ways in which we police ourselves and each other.
Between Earth Day and Ramadan, April has been a practice in abundance, in centering community care.
In Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, she writes, “In a consumer society, contentment is a radical proposition. Recognizing abundance rather than scarcity undermines an economy that thrives by creating unmet desires. Gratitude cultivates an ethic of fullness, but the economy needs emptiness.”
Capitalism requires the perpetuation of scarcity to secure its own survival. We are so conditioned to this mindset that even in a pandemic, there remains the pressure to maintain our productivity at any cost. Often, that cost is ourselves. In a culture that underscores the idea that we must live to work, even “free time” becomes another way to center labor. Personally, I am still grappling with this, with learning how to carve out time that I can truly claim as my own.
Last year, I read “Vertiginous Capital Or, The Master’s Toolkit” by Jack Halberstam. He writes, “We live in a world where instead of trying to replace the masters who exploit us, we seek to become them in small and meaningless ways.” Critically thinking about capitalism requires that we confront our own positions within it. Especially in this country where we are given permission to choose our own exploitation, then forced to call that exploitation freedom.
As Mariem Masmoudi addresses in her piece “Ramadan and Anti-Imperialism,” fleeting materialism and constant consumption were never our intended purpose. She writes, “Ramadan is a rejection of what the modern world forces onto humanity: gluttony, hyper-consumerism, the mechanization of time, and the obsession to exercise control over our lives.”
With the rise in human capital, our worth has become synonymous with our economic value, but it is important to remember that these measures are arbitrary.
Who are we beyond these borders?
Who is worthy then?
Reflecting on this past year is reminding me to pause, to continue pausing. In these tender times, intentional rest is becoming my own minor rebellion.
During a virtual event for Studio Ananda, Fariha Róisín emphasized the importance in thanking ourselves daily. “I have to be a witness to the things that I do,” she said. “Because no one else will.” It’s true. We have to be a witness to the things that we do, and this means being a witness to the things that we are surviving too.
On that note, I want to share this piece from Yrsa Daley-Ward.
You are breathing while having to remember to breath. Isn’t that absurd? You are worthy and having to prove your worth, beautiful, and always having to see it and show and tell it. This is what the world has done. This is how they trip you up. You came here already a miracle, already significant, already whole. Then you had to re-learn it, again and again, and again. You had to work to believe in what you already are. You had to lock it tight in your fist in a world that would snatch it away. What a conundrum. What a task. What a small and specific hell. All the lies and unbearable truths we endure. You are everything that you remember, and you are always so much more.
Whoever you are, wherever you are, I am bearing witness to all that you have done, and honoring all that you have survived. Being a person in this world is an impossible challenge, and here you are, doing it.
Finally, I would like to end each newsletter with ten things that made me feel good that month, be it a book, a song, a moment, or a memory. Here they are:
Napping on the beach.
My friend Niki’s newsletter, especially this post.
Expressing gratitude daily.
My peace lily’s first bloom.
Little warmths: like boiling water for tea, or burning incense.
“Don’t Be a Stranger with Jonah Hill and Michael Cera” from the A24 Podcast.
Listening to Fariha Róisín and Mennlay Golokeh Aggrey in conversation for Studio Ananda.