How to Have Happy Thoughts During a Global Pandemic

Well, hello 2020, you disease-infested whore.

Had to start with a little bitterness, so the sweet will be more effective later. So, like you (unless you are a jerk or a healthcare hero), I’m at home. In my teens and early twenties, this didn’t happen often. I was what they call a “social butterfly” – flitting about, singing love songs, being the most emotional version of myself, falling in and out of love with boys (cough. cough. And… men – sorry, Mom.) I was still shaping who I was. Thank heavens TikTok did not exist. Sidenote: That’s the scariest, weirdest social media outlet I’ve ever seen, and I’m a professional digital marketer. To be honest, I’d have probably just made videos of attempting to roll nice joints and played Blind Melon songs like “Mouthful of Cavities” acoustically on mine. I digress.

So, back then, when I was all hormones and high hopes, I was absorbing most of who I was from those I loved or looked up to. Poetry, music, writing- it was shared, and easily consumable, content. I remember reading Philip Larkin’s poem “Sad Steps” in R.S. Gwynn’s poetry class. (I still send him poems, hoping he’ll mark them up for me like he did then. He usually does.) The poem, which you can read here, really moved me. Still does. It represents those moments in life when you look to nature during some simple act and are reminded about the beginning and the end of your life. I think now, as we are huddled inside dealing with this global pandemic, it’s important to look for these moments of beauty and mortality, even when we are making a throne or small house of the toilet paper we’ve stolen from the elderly (kidding).

For those who know me well, you know I’m incredibly dark and morbid for an upbeat and generally cheerful person. This unique take is somewhat heightened by the “C” word. My husband had to tell me to stop talking about death yesterday. Apparently four death talks in one day is enough for him. When I was a little girl, Mom will have to give you the exact age, my mom got so sick of me saying that I was dying that she brought me to our primary care physician and had him draw blood, run a few tests, just to assure me I wasn’t dying so that I would shut up about dying. When I was in my twenties, I spent a full day creating a will and my own obituary, complete with pictures and songs. I’m sure this isn’t that uncommon. ::pretend it isn’t:: As an adult, as many of us do, I use dark humor and death jokes to placate fear. I am not saying it’s healthy – it’s just the reality of my approach to feeling uncomfortable or worried (and luckily, my weirdo siblings are on the same page.) A typical conversation with a sibling might be:

Me: Hey, have you talked to Mom, or did she die?

Sister : I think she’s alive. Her phone just isn’t charged.

These exchanges are frequent and would be disturbing to most. What’s interesting about these exchanges today are that the reality of the conversations have become more unsettling. Mom is a respiratory therapist, over 60, with a history of heart problems. Sara, my sister, is a nurse. My grandma just completed four rounds of chemo for a platelet disorder. (Don’t worry, we locked her away immediately.)

Me: Hey, Mom. Don’t die at work, okay?

Mom: I’ll try not to.

As I’m writing this, my Mom has asked if she can drive by my house (not come in) and wave to me and talk to me through the car window. I don’t have a medical mask, but I do have an alien mask created for me by a friend (that’s normal, right?), so we will probably have an encounter in just a few. Back to the point of this whole post, HAPPY THOUGHTS.

So, the question becomes, how can we effectively be less of a drag right now. Well, like the nature of the disease, I think this is going to be fluid. One day you’ll probably spend most of your time sleeping and feeling bogged down by worry, the next you might write a blog or create something cool- a recipe you’ve been wanting to try, a painting with your kid – I’ve seen a lot of chalk art that looks fun. Here are a few suggestions, my approach, and a few projects I’m hoping to knock out:

  1. FaceTime the crap out of everyone. It’s fun and offers a little bit of reprieve from the loneliness of seclusion. If you don’t have someone to FaceTime, feel free to hit me up. I can’t promise I’ll be clean or pretty, but I’m relatively entertaining in small bursts.
  2. Read a book. Yesterday I knocked out We’re All Damaged by Matthew Norman. Domestic Violets is also amazing, and I plan on reading his newest as well. Today, I’m going to work through American Dirt.
  3. Play with your kids, pets, or plants. Hell, as I watch all of these videos online, it makes me really wish I had a few kiddies. I don’t, so I’ve been snuggling my rescue pup, Max, and will be attempting to bring life back to my plants.
  4. Give a personal Kudos to those who work in healthcare or the public sector. Now is the time to write a letter or record a quick video of appreciation. Even a text would probably help: “Hey, thanks for selflessly helping people. Hope you don’t die.”Or, something like that.
  5. Write. Event if you aren’t a writer, I’m a firm believer that vomiting brain matter through words is beneficial for mental health. Put your fears on paper, get them out of your body.
  6. Go outside. Preferably, just in your yard. Listening to nature can quiet the noise of fear. (Also, I’m pretty sure Tanner is now a cardinal, so we have been hanging out every now and then.)
  7. Tap into something spiritual. If you believe in prayer, do that. If you don’t, meditate or simply read a non-fiction book about the cosmos, harness your Chi, or do anything where you try to connect or navigate through the largeness and smallness of humanity.
  8. Organize the shit out of your house. Kon-Mari method anyone? Now is the time to wipe down the base boards and lick your toilet bowl clean. Kidding. I was just seeing if you were paying attention. Use gloves or a dental dam.
  9. Try to put your phone down. It’s hard. I know. But, I promise you there is no positive self development happening to your brain when you scroll through five hundred tweets about how Kim Kardashian and Kanye West lied about Taylor Swift knowing he was going to call her a “bitch” in his song “Famous.” I did that for an hour yesterday. I am not a better person for it. Instead, listen to an album you’ve been meaning to give a deep listen to.
  10. Last, but not least, prepare for death. Okay, now, I’m not saying pick out your plot, urn, or write a will (though I am a proponent of preparation), what I’m saying is now is the time to tell all those you love, you love them. When my mom was sick last year, I did this. I spent a few weekends ago recording an hour-long interview with my grandmother. She knows how I feel. Hopefully everyone that I know, knows the breadth of my love for them – it’s expansive. And if anything is going to get us through this, it’s that kind of love.

So, in closing, I’ll just ask that you all come to my funeral if I die. I’d like a small outdoor service. Release doves, or at the very least, play the weirdest Bonnie Prince Billy videos you can find.

And, remember, life is short. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to try to die loving it, die trying to find the beauty in the ugliest, most painful parts.

See you all soon.

My Brother’s Hands

I held your hands during the entire visitation.
Made them warm in mine, rubbing my thumb
between your thumbs and forefingers.
I spent those three hours shaping and reshaping
the edges of your red beard, bright against
the dark blue and plum of a new, stiff plaid shirt.

Only three weeks before, I held your hands,
navigating moss-covered rocks in the mountains
of North Carolina. You caught a brown trout
though- even then- we were searching for a
rainbow. We took our shoes off and travelled
the edge of the cool stream, heavy with current.

I watched your hands scramble farm-fresh eggs,
flip a steak with a fork, piece together a tent
at the campsite we made in the middle of the
Smokies. We joked about bears, talked, laughed.
You caught a firefly in your hands at the cabin,
the house with the spray of blue hydrangeas.
I understand now how your hands lost their way.

As your sky darkened around you, starless now,
no found vein could map a path to happiness.
On Friday, I adjusted the glasses we had to borrow.
You just didn’t look right without them.
And now the final hand off – back to earth,
to dust, as Claire de lune plays in the background.


Header image: Henry Darger, 175 At Jennie Richee. Everything is allright though storm continues., Watercolor, pencil, carbon tracing, and collage on pieced paper; double-sided, 24 x 108 1/4 inches. American Folk Art Museum purchase, 2001.