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Singing Through the Apocalypse
What I'm doing to survive this impossible moment. How about you? What are you doing to keep yourself sane, or even just upright? An open thread...
What a time. I’m so broken up about so many things I can barely see straight, and I know many of you feel similarly.
I’ve been writing this post in my head all week, worried that it might seem trivial to tell you what I’ve been doing to keep myself buoyant — or maybe “functional” is the more accurate term — through this deeply troubling time in our world, and inquiring about how you’re managing to keep putting one foot in front of the other—where you’re finding joy, or equanimity, or whatever it takes to keep going., and it inspired me to go ahead with this post of my own. Smith’s post is about what poetry and singing (including songs about the darkness) can do for us, in even the most trying times: “remind us of our humanity.” And boy, have I needed reminders of my humanity in the past few weeks. Also, as you might know if you’re close to me, or if you read my book, I like to sing.
Here’s where I’m at: I’ve done every constructive thing I can about various issues — signed petitions, called my representatives, donated funds. But I also need to tend to my own emotional well-being so I’ll remain a functional human being in the world, one who can keep tending to all those other important tasks, not to mention my work.
So, here are some of the things I’ve been doing for myself:
Getting out of my house as often as possible. After three-and-a-half years filled with an awful lot of “shelter-in-place,” I am taking every opportunity to be out in the world, among people. I’m being as social as possible, re-establishing old friendships, making new ones, and sometimes going out all by myself — for lunch, or coffee — and enjoying the ambient presence of others I’m not directly interacting with.
I’ve attended some book events, which have been fun, and helped me feel connected to colleagues in a more real way again. One of those was a conversation between my friend and colleague Will Hermes and Lucy Sante about Will’s critically acclaimed new biography, Lou Reed: The King of New York, hosted by The Golden Notebook at’s new haunt, Graveside Variety in Woodstock.
Brian and I also went to see some art at the Whitney Museum last week. It cost a fortune — $30 a ticket. But it was worth the splurge to see Henry Taylor: B Side show. For a good hour it took me out of the current difficult moment, and made me think and feel. It also made me want to get back to the crayon drawing I love to do, another soothing antidote to sadness.
Yes, I know Covid remains a threat. I’m doing some of my socializing outdoors, and I’m masking in very crowded places, like the New York City subway. I just bought a pile of Covid tests, and will schedule my next booster soon. But I’m also taking on a fair amount of risk and I know it. My mental health depends on it. I need to be with people now.
Ending most days zoning out to non-violent television shows. Although, does The Afterparty count as a “non-violent” show if it’s a murder mystery comedy? I have a low threshold for danger and violence — like, I’m still scared by the Wicked Witch of the West — but that show is not the least bit scary. It’s in the same silly vein as Only Murders in the Building. As I mentioned in my most recent link roundup, I’ve also tremendously enjoyed Reservation Dogs, a sort of dramedy about the lives of indigenous teens and their elders on a reservation in Oklahoma. Now and then we’ll dip back into Grace and Frankie, a TV version of comfort food for us that’s also pretty funny, and of which we thankfully still have two seasons left. (We’re doling out episodes slowly.)
Acupuncture. Every other week I talk to my acupuncturist about what’s ailing me, physically and emotionally, then she sticks a bunch of needles in me and I chill out on her table for a half-hour. I have no idea how it works, but it leaves me utterly blissed out, and it’s also the only thing that even touches my chronic hip pain.
Moving my body. I’m taking lots of walks, even shopping for groceries that way, and occasionally attending yoga classes. I plan to get back to using the cardio equipment in one of our guest rooms asap.
Oh, right. I was going to tell you about the singing. Yeah, I like to sing, alone, and among people. It’s my absolute favorite thing to do. I’m not professional and probably never will be. But I’m the daughter of a professional singer who, when I was growing up, sang absolutely everywhere, so I never really learned where it was and wasn’t appropriate to just open your mouth and sing at people. I mean, I’m not a bad singer — decent even — but it has come to my attention that life is not a musical where everyone belts their lines.
(That said, life in my house is a bit like that. At least once a day Brian says something that reminds me of a show tune, which I then sing. He likes it — he’s a singer, too, working on finishing up an EP of five songs. )
Let me confess: I sing all the freaking time. It makes me feel good in a way that not one single other behavior or substance does. No matter how far down in the dumps I fall, singing a song lifts me. It can completely change my mood. Of course, there’s typically a lag between, say, another fucking mass shooting and my cranking up YouTube to perform laptop karaoke. But once I get to a place of relative equilibrium, I know what I need to do, and I do it.
I’ve always been a little self-conscious about my singing habit, at some times more than others — like in high school when I cut gym to go home and sing Kander and Ebb tunes by myself, and it turned out my then-stepbrother was home, cutting class, too. I’ve never been more mortified.
But I’m trying to be less self-conscious about it, especially given how helpful a remedy I’ve found singing to be, particularly these days. Which is why, when master memoirist Abigail Thomas (one of my idols) asked me to sing during our talk and reading at Rough Draft Bar & Books in Kingston last Sunday, I did it. We were talking about our writing processes and the additional creative pursuits that support them. (Thomas is a former painter who now works with clay; as I mentioned above, I make crayon drawings and, well, yeah, I sing.)
Abigail persuaded me to croon the chorus of Blue Bayou. Another person might have said, “No way!” when she asked, but I am not that person. And so I sang.
So, there you have it, the primary things I’m doing to keep from sinking into an abyss of despair in these dark times.
Now it’s your turn. What are you doing to take care of yourself emotionally right now? To recharge your batteries? Tell me in the comments.
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