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An Airing of Grievances
In which I discover that Charles Darwin and I have something in common.
Today, I woke up angry with the whole world.
As soon as I opened my eyes, I felt it — a low-level irritation with everything in general, but also specifically:
Our dogs, who keep breaking into the chicken run to eat food scraps. They do this utterly oblivious to the irony that they are there to protect said chickens, not roll out the red carpet for predators by tearing Saint-Bernard-sized holes in the chicken wire, which I then have to fix with increasingly janky-looking band-aid solutions.
Our chickens, who keep escaping through the aforementioned holes and devouring anything green they can get their beaks on, including the clover I’ve spent several months trying to grow in the hard clay soil and the contents of the planter I made from an old filing cabinet earlier this summer.
RIP, beautiful plants. Culprits pictured on the left. Also, please note the poorly attempted fence repair using several wire panels and an old chicken ramp.
Myself, for signing up for a 10k race at the end of September, which, I have to tell you, seemed really far away when I agreed to do it way back in January.
My training plan keeps making me run longer and longer distances, but I don’t want to run longer and longer distances. I don’t want to run at all! Especially when I realize that I’m only doing all these long runs to eventually do an even longer run in front of thousands of people. A longer run that I paid for, no less. A run that starts with two kilometers of hills, something my friends didn’t tell me about until after I’d registered. (Whittney, I love you, but I will never forgive you.)
The staggering amount of upkeep a human body requires. The shaving and moisturizing and shampooing and exfoliating. Exercising and cooking and eating and drinking water. Mental health walks and medication and trying to find a shade of concealer that matches your face. The willpower involved in resisting the urge to cut bangs because maybe they’ll look good this time!
Myself, again, for feeling annoyed at the above because I should feel endlessly thankful even to have a body. I should be happy that I can exercise, glad that I have legs to shave, and grateful that my chronic illness responds to medication. I should feel lucky that I can even afford medication! Why must I be such an ungrateful wretch?
Jeans. I can’t even get into this topic. It’s just... It’s a whole thing.
And finally, all of this *gestures vaguely to the world at large*. The crushing awareness that not even one of these things matters, none of these issues is even remotely worth complaining about. Basically all of Canada is on fire, not to mention the devastation in Lahaina. Thousands have lost their homes; hundreds have lost their lives. Droughts are causing crop failures worldwide, and there are microplastics in every part of our bodies, but, surprise! Paper straws are bad for you, too!
It feels so overwhelming sometimes.
It’s not typical for me to be angry, or publish long lists of grievances on the internet. I’m generally a pleasant, optimistic person (despite what my brother will tell you), which was why it was so baffling when I woke up feeling like this.
I want to blame PMS, although one of my sisters says that when women get PMS rage, we’re finally allowing ourselves to feel the utterly justifiable anger we deny ourselves the rest of the month, bound and gagged as we are by propriety. I’m not sure that theory applies to things as small as plants, bangs, and denim, however.
I also thought these two categories of things were unrelated — the minor complaints and the general despair I sometimes feel at the state of the world. But as I was writing the list above, I realized that my frustration about one is in direct response to my sense of powerlessness about the other.
I can’t control the melting glaciers or the shrinking polar ice caps. I can’t control forest fires, raging floods, or the way world leaders keep us locked into a collision course with the consequences of our actions, barrelling towards oblivion, convinced we’re invincible.
I can’t control any of that.
But I can save an old filing cabinet from the dump and turn it into a planter. I can turn bare earth into a patch of clover. I can set arbitrary goals and sign up for things because it gives me something to work towards and a fun weekend out with friends. I can take care of this lovely body of mine, which I quite like, even when it seems like a genuinely exhausting Sisyphean task. These things I can control.
Except when I can’t, of course, and then it feels as though all my efforts are in vain, and I’m unable to do anything at all to change the world, even the tiny piece of the world I inhabit.
And I think that, coupled with the mysterious hormonal whims of the menstrual cycle, is how I end up with a morning like today.
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A few years ago, I wrote a post called “How to Cope with the End of the World,” which has a slightly dramatic title, but maybe not really, when you think about it.
In it, I talk about how to manage day-to-day life while wrapping your head around the kind of catastrophic loss we’ve grown accustomed to experiencing on an almost daily basis. It’s admittedly a bit pretentious to re-read your own articles, but I think this was one of those times when I wrote what I needed to hear to feel better. So, I read it again this morning and then did two things.
First, I decided to accept my irritable, curmudgeonly mood. They say the first step in addressing a problem is admitting you have one, so I started by talking to my sisters. Then I spoke to Mike, and after a thorough airing of grievances, he did what Olive and I call “The Big Laugh” because of how comically grumpy I sounded. Getting The Big Laugh is the absolute best thing in the world, and it made me laugh, too. Both of these things helped me feel about 55% better.
Next, I gave myself a few hours to wallow. I wandered around in a real funk, marinating in all my bad-vibe juices. Then, when the time was up, I got to work.
I took some tools out to the coop and did a poor job fixing the chicken wire for the thirty-millionth time, knowing that the dogs will probably break through it again, I’ll fix it poorly again, and that’s OK because we have strong new fence panels waiting in the shop, and one day we’ll install them, and then the problem will be solved for good. (I also loved the feeling of hammering stuff. 10/10 would recommend.)
I tore out all the sad, dead, chicken-ravaged plants from the filing cabinet planter and stuck in some of my summer annuals, which made things look cute and much less bleak.
I did some laundry and hung it to dry outside (one of my favorite things to do in the summer) and many other tiny, meaningless tasks to keep my body busy and prevent my mind from becoming mired in destruction.
While doing all these things, I reminded myself that this is life. All of it. The problems and solutions (band-aid or otherwise). The frustration and powerlessness. The beauty and creativity and delight. The destruction. The good days. The bad.
I reminded myself of my favourite quote from Pema Chodron:
“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again.
It’s just like that.
The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
Or, if you’re Darwin (and me today), you heal by simply leaving room for feeling very poorly and very stupid and hating everybody and everything.
At least for a day.
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