I think about meaning-making, or assigning significance and definition to our experiences and events in our lives, as a largely communal or collective phenomenon. There is an element of making sense of things as individuals, but even that doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We make sense of things through the lenses of our family of origin, formative experiences, spirituality, location in the socio-economic strata etc. And that stuff is communal or collective.
Given that everyone is stuck at home, right now, I’m wondering how people are making meaning out of the pandemic and all its associated impacts, influences, and adjustments to “normal” life. Based on what I’m seeing online, the place for communal activity these days, it looks like there are two main avenues into this question. Folks starting at the individual and household sphere, and folks starting at the societal and political sphere. I don’t have a judgment on one or the other approach. I think, ultimately, we’ll all end up trying on both positions - and more.
When I consider this a level deeper, I’m reminded of a lesson from grad school - every community has its own “common sense.” Or, there isn’t a broad brush universal common sense for comprehending events and acting on that understanding. This was struck home to me in an ethics course exploring the meaning of justice. A classmate, a woman of color, explained that in her community there is “no justice, there’s just us.” In her example, calling the police to respond to an incident isn’t necessarily common sense, because police involvement may escalate the situation. The common sense is to solve the problem internal to the community.
What is the common sense or meaning made of the covid-19 pandemic in our communities? It’s probably too soon to tell, as we can find disagreement within a given household regarding what it all means and how to act. Even so, I want to wrap my head around it. For me, that means trying on a variety of perspectives and reading accounts from a variety of communities so that I can perceive the spectrum of common sense.
I’ve started at my individual and household level. That’s my most immediate experience and where I can assert some noticeable agency. In myself and in my home is where I feel the most intense emotions about this experience, address the most immediate changes to our routines and expectations, and recognize the advantages and challenges of our current life together. While broader meaning making is still in progress, for now I know that we have a safe comfortable home, simple pleasures, and gratitude. Our immediate needs are met. We’re adapting to competing priorities for jobs and schooling. We wash our hands, a lot. We make few trips to the store for necessities and treats. We savor our treats.
Almost simultaneously, I thought about our neighbors, the local food banks, grocery store workers, nurses, and then the forces at directing and bearing down on them (all of us) from the government and concerns for the economy. If I feel pressure to keep pace with my job and keep pace with my son’s academics, I imagine that pressure is more intense for folks with essential jobs and their own children to tend and to teach. What feels like an unwieldy challenge to me, might be untenable for a mother with fewer resources.
Starting with just these two perspectives, I’m noticing that while “back to normal” might feel very good in my home, it might be out of reach, and blatantly damaging, for folks in other locations of the broader context. The common sense in those positions may be a call, a conviction, for a new meaning and a new context altogether. I have no idea what that really means, today. I am curious to learn more. Even as I’m sensitive to what changes and new common sense it could mean for me and my household.
Recent days have been bumpy. Each day with its own series of ups and downs and back up again (mostly). Because the "new normal" doesn't arrange itself overnight. We create it one small course correction at a time, which bring us closer to stability, familiarity, and a sense of normal.
Things that are working in my house: making art, physical activity outdoors, planting seeds (literally) for a big new garden, revising the schedule of working-at-home and school-at-home, practicing patience and mercy (aka grace) with ourselves and each other. What's working in your home? What fails are you either learning from or just moving on from? It all counts.
Social distancing and staying home - doing everything for the family at home, feels more difficult and draining than I think it should. Or, maybe, it simply is difficult. And I am tired.
I'm tired in my body, my mind, and my emotions. I'm not to the bedridden, despairing fatigue place. I'm at the place where I can pause, nap, move slowly, set priorities and only do those tasks. Pause between tasks. Nap, again. Jot a few notes in my journal. I'm at the place of acknowledging that this is challenging.
It's challenging for good reasons. Transitions from one set of routines and expectations and the corresponding feelings to a completely alternative and, frankly, alien set is challenging. The limbo of not knowing how long this will last and what the impacts and implications will be on jobs, school, resources, etc. is challenging. The multi-tasking to manage working at home and schooling at home and parenting all day while doing both of those things all at the same time is challenging. Feeling distant and disconnected from friends and coworkers and neighbors and family is challenging. Feeling crowded, as a deeply introverted introvert, by the tasks, immediate family, work-related texts and emails, podcasts and TV playing in the other rooms are all challenging.
So we, I, pause. To say, yes, this is a different kind of unfamiliar labor for which I'm not trained because there is no training. To say, it's ok that this is hard. To say, now we, I, pause. I acknowledge the work I'm doing. I rest and restore myself. I identify the skills I'm using and prepare to use them more appropriately and skillfully in the coming week.
And I nap.
"Pause. Breathe. Repeat." An entry about remembering to take my own advice. And some household tools for remembering your calm and focus in the midst of a very challenging transition.
My Christian faith started evolving 25 years ago, but the kernel or promise of change was embedded in my heart since childhood. The catalyst for my transformation was the fire of grief, which cracked me open and left me exposed. Community, in the form of women’s friendship and wisdom, tended me, planted me deeply in cool soil, and gave me room to grow.
My father died when I was 18. I was in college at an Evangelical Christian school. In the following year, I attempted suicide. My family of origin slid into a state of alienation from each other. I was angry and bereft, rude and out of control. I struggled against everything and everyone.
Something essential in me prevailed and was witnessed. Other women saw it. I received compassion and insight from female professors at the college. They brought me to church, a woman-lead Episcopalian congregation. They taught me about feminism, new-to-me theologies, women’s perspectives and experiences conveyed by women authors in narratives and poetry. I learned about the entanglement of Christian religion with colonialism. I reached out and met other female students wrestling with the same ideas and stretching into their own awakenings. I prayed and played with God alongside the guidance of an eclectic and faithful spiritual director.
Among the many books I read, were Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea. Those two books depict the life of Bertha, the first wife of Jane Eyre’s Mr. Rochester. He locked Bertha away as a madwoman, but before she met him she was free, roaming a lush paradise, beholden to no man and no other way of being. Ultimately, Jane Eyre tells us, Bertha burns down the house that is her prison, and her life ends in the flames.
This character captured my imagination as an icon for the divine. She was a depiction of God before and after men’s language and power structures locked the divine into dogma and authority. I started to perceive and honor the divine as the “Madwoman in the Attic.” I composed a story about hearing Her in the house made by men and sneaking up to her door.
After college, I struggled in the ways that many recent graduates do. Adjusting to the independence and responsibilities of an adult is challenging. The community that I’d known was gone, each woman to her own place and work and relationships. The books remained but a group that lived in response to those words, perspectives, and visions did not exist. There was no “there” there. I yielded to daily life. I found connection and fun with new friends. I misplaced the vitality and piercing perception of my early twenties. I harbored the icon of the Madwoman in my heart and lodged myself on the threshold of her room.
A few weeks before my thirtieth birthday I moved across the country to Seattle for graduate school. It was my fresh start, far from my family, my personal history, the church I grew up in, the politics I did not subscribe to. The Madwoman resurfaced in my graduate studies and occupied a central role in my thinking and writing. As I drafted my thesis I heard Her call. She did not reveal Herself to me in the upper room of the house, which I had hoped and expected. Rather, She bid me retrace my steps and meet Her in each person I met as I traveled back down through the house.
I had received a call. I had conviction and vocation. There was vitality and vision, again!
Within a month of receiving approval of my thesis, I married. Within a year of marrying, I gave birth to a son. Not long after that, I recognized that the marriage was over, but it was years before we separated and the divorce was finalized. Those were lean years of providing the single source of income for our family. Those were committed years of tending my mental health with therapy and medication. Those were learning years of finding spiritual community in a group of pagan women. I considered it a tentative descent from the Madwoman’s attic.
I am 45 years old. I’ve returned home to Seattle from Evolving Faith ‘19 and the Madwoman’s call is renewed boldly within me. Perhaps she is more precise, now, or perhaps my ears have cleared to hear. She says, “Perceive me in everyone you meet. Everywhere. Do not be bound by walls or ways or words. Burn down the house.”
I don’t believe that God is crazy. Nor do I believe that God is locked in conventional theology, dominant culture, or approved religious practices. Burning down the house does not threaten God, just like composing other narratives or engaging new-to-me theologies or participating in previously unfamiliar communities doesn’t threaten God. Burning down the house might set me free to meet God, newly; to honor God, newly; to meet and honor you.
There’s still no “there” there, for me. I don’t have a local community that I can simply join for resonance and support, teaching and service. I miss that. I understand, now, the best parts of a house of worship. Even so, I proceed. I am making it up as I go, one step at a time, down from Her attic and into the company of Her people, who are everywhere.
"Where is balance in your life?" the question is our homework assignment from the circus lessons coach. I've considered my answer and I'm happy with it.
I am seen, known, and loved for who I am. I dwell in my close relationships with my husband, son, and besties. I enjoy my home. My daily routine generates only a minimum of stress for me. My life is safe, secure, and stable.
Rooted in this place of comfort and warmth, I'm reaching out, stretching, and challenging myself. The vital tension between comfort and growth is how I'm balanced.
At 45 years old, my heaviest weight, and lowest level of physical fitness, I'm enrolled in circus lessons and enjoying them. I just received my A1C (blood sugar) test results - my highest/worst numbers to date. So, J and I have embarked on a focused and intentional diet to bring my blood sugar back within healthy boundaries and maybe shed some pounds in the process. I'm walking in the evenings, inconsistently but persistently. I'm tending to my body, my physical self care and presence, in new and supported ways.
I've planned a solo adventure. In October, I'm attending the Evolving Faith conference in Denver. The ideas, experiences, and emotions of how one's spirituality and/or religion may change over time is one of my passionate interests. Ultimately, I'll be traveling alone to meet and engage with strangers, pushing through the membranes of my introversion.
It's been almost a year since I created and hosted my first retreat. It went smoothly yet it left me exhausted and sensitive to all the areas for improving the event. It also reminded me of how much I value and enjoy small gatherings of women talking together about substantive, real-life, heartfelt topics. This year I'll host more of these group conversations in my home, starting with one this month. And, I'm revising the retreat for a new participants.
There are more ideas for stretching still percolating through my mind, but this is where I'm balancing, today. It's a vibrant, creative, growing space between the comforts of home and the unknown out there.
In a joyful ceremony, with friends and family, J and I were married.
We gave special attention to including young N in the ceremony. J made a commitment to N to love and support him as step-father and friend, with care not to replace L. We made promises as a family, in addition to our vows as a couple.
N also received a simple silver band as a symbol of the family the three of us make together.
Then the party! A picnic reception with plenty of food and cake for all.
I've enjoyed coloring since I was a child. As an adult, it's taken on a different feel and purpose. When I scroll through my old blog, there are intermittent posts of completed coloring pages, filled in at night at the kitchen table, waiting for Baby N to wake up for a feeding or some comfort, until I could finally go to bed. Now, N is a tween who needs different things from me, and I find myself again at the kitchen table coloring.
I color to soothe my nerves and clear my head after a day at the office and the commuter traffic. I color because I enjoy the final product. But there's something else easing its way into my little hobby. I color to restore some of my own vibrancy. I'm re-membering my creativity.
Granted, filling in a pre-printed page with markers isn't a unique expression of self or anything. But it does offer some foundational elements for developing creativity. I mean both concrete things like choosing colors, establishing patterns, practicing technique with a tool, and intangibles like getting into the “zone,” perceiving something familiar from a different perspective, and engaging imagination and ideation parts of the brain. I’ve missed these parts of myself during these seasons of personal drought.
Coloring again feels to me like planting and tending my creativity. Coaxing it out of dormancy. Bringing it up into my life.
June Moon Visionary Art free online coloring book
Dover Publications offers a diverse array of coloring books
Out of the Attic
This blog started in 2006
on Blogger as
Out of the Attic.
I began posting here in April 2014. Please visit the original site for the rest of the story on topics like: