This American life is killing ̶y̶o̶u̶ us

Reflection, 2020, Charla M. DelaCuadra

Back in February, when I was mulling over my own stress levels and what I wanted my future to look like, Eric Rittenberry’s essay The American Life is Killing You landed in my lap like a call to action.

“The reason you don’t feel alive is because you aren’t alive. You’re merely going through the motions in a fast-paced, consumer-centered culture that has transformed our once beautiful land into an asphalt wasteland strewed with digital billboards, fast food joints, soulless malls, and complete carnage… Your constant craving for objects and status (the American way) has robbed your life of its freedom and creative zest. You live routine and stressed and you’re chained to a sluggish and predictable way of living.”

“Yes!” I thought. This is me. 100 times this. Somehow I had begun throwing money at problems trying to make life more bearable, rather than making any fundamental changes to fix what was making it unbearable. Why hadn’t I seen this before? It seemed so obvious! Was it too obvious?

“You have to unplug from the machine and take back your life and learn to live with less and sit under trees and read the great minds and create art and listen to music and sound your ‘barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.’ Quit doing things you hate to impress the faceless people among us. Decondition yourself from culture, quit suppressing your uniqueness, travel to places that frighten you a bit, learn to embrace silence and solitude a few times a week. And most importantly — you must awaken from your culturally-induced slumber and try to find simple joy among the sacred.”

I was curious this week, though, after 7 months of a pandemic and a racial inequality crisis, how this essay has held up to where we have landed. Looking back at Rittenberry’s advice now, I realize what was irking me under the surface was the inherent privilege of his message. A mandate to learn to live with less and sit under trees is very easy to throw out there, and very, very difficult for the majority of people in this country to even contemplate. I’m not sure the millions of unemployed out there right now are choosing to live with less so much as they are being forced to, and I also don’t think they have much mental bandwidth for the kind of barbaric yawp-ing he suggests. Are a lot of people blindly trying to keep up with the Joneses? Sure! But are a lot more people struggling to keep a roof overhead and meals on the table? Absolutely.

In my case, I left my job this week and have never felt freer. But I realize this is an incredibly privileged position to be in — and it was certainly not without a lot of planning, buckling down, and streamlining our finances down to just what matters. And for me, what matters is my capacity to live in a way that allows me compassion, clarity, and bandwidth to help others. Maybe we can find a way to turn inward and decondition ourselves from endless consumption, so as to free ourselves to be more kind? And maybe instead of admonishing people for their consumerism, we can look at the system that is driving that consumerism, and dismantle it. We are only as strong as our weakest link, and we are all in this together. Self-actualization, to me, is not the end point, but rather a jumping-off point towards giving others the same opportunity. And I really hope we can try.

Stumped on where to start? May I suggest an hour to yourself to decompress, and maybe a donation to the Loveland Foundation? As someone who believes strongly in therapy and mental health, their commitment to opportunity and healing to communities of color, and especially to Black women and girls, is a cause close to my heart.

Wonderful small things

This is becoming a year of wonderful small things.  The big things have been overwhelming, to say the least: we are still in the middle of a worsening pandemic, our government continues to make our country a hateful and divisive place, Black Lives Matter is still not considered a universal truth, police brutality is an ongoing issue… there is so much for us to cope with.  To remind myself that it is still worthwhile to get out of bed every day, I am trying to remember the small things.  This way I will always have something to look forward to, to enjoy, or to revel in.  A particularly good lunch.  Snuggles with my pups in the morning.  The way the light filters into my bedroom on a weekend afternoon as I lay down for a nap.  A package out for delivery.  It’s these kinds of tiny daily joys that help me keep perspective, and keep me fueled to keep fighting for a better world.

Each time I venture out to Trader Joe’s for much-needed groceries, I buy a bunch of silver dollar eucalyptus leaves. I love having fresh greenery in my home, and it feels like a luxury even though it only costs $4. Plus, they last forever compared to cut flowers!

The new perfume I ordered arrived this week.  ‘REPLICA’ Lazy Sunday Morning is a unique scent that somehow perfectly captures the feeling of fresh crisp sheets on a breezy, sunny morning.  I sampled this perfume on my last outing with friends before the pandemic really hit, so it carries thoughts of dear friendships as well as idyllic lazy mornings.

Also, I was so happy to receive the Rain + Bow necklace I ordered a few weeks ago.  It is weighty and so well made, the packaging was so sweet with it’s little extras, and it is a wonderful daily reminder that I am always in the process of overcoming.  Also I am thrilled that a $10 for every necklace sold is donated to Mental Health America.

Be well, stay safe, and don’t forget to wear a mask. We’ll get through this. Little joys are there for us to find, even though it may seem bleak right now.

Wow, No Thank You.

via samanthairby.com

Somewhere between two days and two months ago (time has basically ceased to have meaning or proper flow these days, amirite?), I had the privilege of enjoying a conversation between Samantha Irby and Jia Tolentino. My Jia fangirl status was cemented a while ago (as exhibited here and here), so it was extra fun to hear her interview an author live. And someone as hilarious as Samantha Irby? Thank you, Free Library of Philadelphia! Razor-sharp wit combined with the intimacy of a chat between friends made for a delightful listen. I hit “purchase” on Irby’s most recent book before the chat was even finished.

Wow, No Thank You is one of those books that manages to deal with racism, classism, sexism, sexual orientation, body issues, and and number of other -isms with such a deft and humorous touch that you don’t even realize it isn’t pure brain candy until after you’ve put it down for a bit. Irby is hilariously blunt, occasionally raunchy, and always painfully, amazingly observant. Why do we women feel pressured to buy cream specifically for our necks? If your family never had the privilege of owning a house, does gutter maintenance magically find it’s way into your conscience when you sign a mortgage? Are Hot Pockets and self-care really mutually exclusive? Why waste energy on that person who hates you, when they realistically would add nothing of value to your life even if they did like you? Can anyone utter the phrase, “are you familiar with my work?” without feeling painfully awkward about it? Questions and answers to laugh at and ponder and nod along with abound in this collection of laugh-out-loud essays. Irby also provides an excellent annotated playlist, for those of you hungry for late 1900s nostalgia mixed with a heretofore unmatched level of hilarity.

In a nutshell, Samantha Irby is one funny lady, and you should buy her book immediately. “Because we live in a fiery hellscape,” to quote her directly, and we need all the clever hilarity we can get. And this hilarity even comes with a dose or three of contemporary awareness, so you can feel virtuous while you indulge. You’re welcome, and enjoy.

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Gravity shifted: a woman on her father’s suicide

Almost 2 years ago, my very dear friend Catherine lost her father to suicide. Ever since then she has been adjusting to her new normal with a quiet strength that has left me in awe. Recently she reached out with some reflections and insights she’s gained in the months since his passing, and has kindly consented to me sharing her story here. I hope you find her grace in the face of trauma as inspiring as I do, and perhaps some of you can find solace in knowing you are not alone. Thank you, Catherine Wehrey-Miller, for your courage and generosity.

My life ended on Wednesday, August 22, 2018 at approximately 8 PM.

At that moment, I was born as a version of my prior self, forever living in a world where I now say, “My father put a gun in his mouth and ended his life.”

One of my first reactions was hating him for making this part of MY story, part of who I would be, forever a person whose father killed himself. I fought my new life and my new narrative for so long. I wasn’t ready for my former life to be over and my new one to begin. I survived trauma in the past and never felt as I did at that moment; I previously went to therapy, learned from my trauma, and moved on. But the suicide of a parent is different. It is described as “a personal and interpersonal disaster.”1 The word “disaster” is a strong one. It conjures up images of earthquakes and fires, chaos, destruction, and ruins.

Now, almost two years later, I know that my father’s suicide fundamentally changed me. My center of gravity shifted in a big way. What I thought I knew, I realized I didn’t. My whole life now feels like one confusing reality of “did that really happen?” I will be forever asking, “Why?” “Why did he do this?” And who was he, really? Did I ever really know him? 

I can’t watch a suicide by gunshot on TV or in a movie anymore. I have to look away. It’s unfortunate that it took this experience for me to realize that far too many suicides are shown in the media. They hurtle me back to that moment when my mother called me and said, “He’s dead. He shot himself.” 

I now have an utter loathing for anyone who carries a gun or believes in his or her inalienable right to own one. My depressed and disturbed father walked himself into a store and bought one. He kept it in the glove compartment of his car, took it out to the desert and just… spent time with it. Like bonding with a dear friend. And I never knew.

I’m suddenly more preoccupied with death and have an intense need to identify what happened to my father after his heart stopped beating. I want to know if he suddenly became nothing, a complete ceasing of his mind, body, and soul. Did he wake up in another place, a lit world where that light engenders an astounding happiness that we cannot even begin to fathom?

I’ve retreated into myself because no one close to me has lost a parent to suicide. My shell is my usual friendly, contented self… and I am content with most things. I have a wonderful husband and friends, a roof over my head, and a paycheck that allows me to travel. 

But underneath, I am an intrinsically different person. I am a human being no longer standing upright, but forever slightly lop-sided, slightly off balance. I view people differently, tolerate less bullshit, and find it difficult to forgive and forget. My frequent anger and frustration have developed into something not wholly like everyone else’s. It’s more introspective and has a certain degree of beauty, because it’s filled with a love towards my father that can’t go anywhere. My love is trapped inside me where it fuses with anger and grief to produce something new that will never quite be familiar to me.

With this second life comes the necessity to familiarize myself with the unfamiliar, find balance in my off-balanced reality, and engineer something brand new from the ruins of a disaster. Dad, whoever you were, wherever you are, I hope you’ll be proud.

1 Shneidman, E.S. Foreword. In: Survivors of Suicide (Cain, A., editor. , ed.). Springfield, Ill.: Charles C Thomas, 1972.

Essay and graphic courtesy of Catherine Wehrey-Miller. You can follow her journey at Memories of Dad.

Musings on that kind of Friday

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Today I am hitting a personal little blogging milestone of 200 posts, and with all the weirdness that is going on, I thought maybe we could just chat.  May we?  I’d love to.

I started using Prose hair care several weeks ago.  You know, kind of right after we all wound up sheltering in place and wearing nothing but sweatpants?  I LOVE my new hair regimen and this is not at all a sponsored post but hit me up, Prose, your stuff is amazing, but please let me say my fine and thin but also curly hair has never looked better with such minimal styling.  And you know what?  I am a little bit bitter within my I’m-so-lucky-to-not-be-sick cocoon that no one gets to see my cute bouncy hair because we are all staying the eff home to flatten the curve and keep our fellow humans safe.  Zoom meetings don’t count, I’ve decided.  We are all so grainy looking via video chat that my hair could be a frizz ball and I could probably still look mostly decent.  The one thing I still do on a daily basis is put on lipstick, because that DOES show up on Zoom, and also I feel put together and much less like a zombie when I do.  But I feel guilty that I feel bitter.

Really, we are terribly lucky.  My husband and I can both currently work from home.  We are healthy and trying to stay that way, staying home and only venturing our to walk our dogs and pick up our groceries from the front step.  Oh, and to buy a bag of coffee every week or so, masks donned and properly secured.  But what a time to be alive.  My goodness.  Our generation is currently wading through our second “once in a lifetime” economic crisis.  We exited college and grad school just in time for the 2008 recession, failed to get jobs that paid anything decent even though we were fed the American Dream of bootstraps and college and careers to be proud of, and then have been half-walking, half-crawling towards financial solvency ever since.  Now that most of us have finally gotten jobs, we have crashed headlong into the COVID-19 pandemic — with very little savings, moderate job security if we are very lucky, and rent to pay because none of us have been able to even dream about mortgages, considering our longstanding lower-than-average pay and high-enough-to-crush-your-spirit student loan payments.  So where does that leave us?  Working from home if we are lucky, filing for unemployment if we are less lucky, and urging our aging parents to please please please stay home, because pandemic.  What a time to be alive, huh?

There are so many emotions for us all to sift through right now.  Gratitude.  Despair.  Grief.  Fear.  Compassion.  Anxiety.  More gratitude.  We do our groceries on an app and tip or delivery drivers well as they risk themselves to make a living.  We donate masks and don our own, ache for the sick and simultaneously ache for anything we can call normalcy.  It’s such a tough time.  I’ve been thinking a lot about stress and suffering.  How we all have loads to bear.  The news felt like it was crushing me, an onslaught of constant bad news at all hours of the day, so I am learning to limit that consumption.  I read the news, just not all day every day.  And I have been reminded by a dear friend that just because other people are suffering doesn’t mean I have to feel like I am not allowed to feel bad.  Also, allowing myself to suffer doesn’t do anyone else any good.  Put your own oxygen mask on, girl, and then you can help others.

In short, I’m trying.  Me and my bouncy curls and my tight chest full of anxiety keep getting up every morning and doing our best.  It’s really all anyone can ask for right now, right?  I am not a nurse, not a first responder, not a medical manufacturer, but I can stay home and help those heroes have the best shot they can against this virus.  I can donate masks and treat those around with me respect and compassion, and also allow myself room to be sad that this is the world we live in right now.  We are not working from home, we are trying to work from home while a pandemic rages around us, desperately trying to be productive while desperately trying to survive, okay?  Maybe it sounds trite by now, but take care of yourself, I’ll try to take care of myself, we’ll take care of others as we are able, and we’ll make it through this.  Trust.

Retire to the bath

It seems that the bathroom has become even more of a sanctuary of late — someplace to find a moment of solitude away from a house full of family members or roommates, or to find succor in a warm bath if you’re feeling lonely as you isolate at home.  Here are a few particularly inspiring spaces I’d love to seek refuge, or at least imagine to.  Every one has a deep attention to detail, great finishes, and clever use of color.  Don’t forget a little pop of black for interest, too.

Via  Dwell  Architectural Digest  Viya Home  Sarah Akwisombe via Chairish  Studio DB via Domino  Maria Papko  Dwell  La Piece

May I suggest one or more of these for some self-care this weekend?  Retire to the bath and take a bit of a time-out.  You know, the good kind.  Enjoy!

Stayings and doings

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It feels like this week has lasted half a lifetime, no?  Our lives are becoming very different, day by day.  After several weeks of will-they-won’t-they, I am now working from home for at least the next five weeks.  The state of California has issued a directive to stay home except for essential errands.  All non-essential businesses are closed in Los Angeles County.  And around the globe, many, many people are sick.

It is easy to feel helpless or despairing at times like these.  A global COVID-19 pandemic is certainly cause for concern, alarm, caution, and consideration.  That being said, with an abundance of care, we can make it through this together.  Some tips and musings below:

  • Stay at home as much as you can.  If you need to get groceries or take-out, delivery or no-contact pickup options are available, and currently many business are offering these services at no extra charge.
  • Don’t hoard things.  Supply chains right now should be keeping up with needs just fine, put people panicking has some shelves empty.  Containing this virus depends on ALL of us washing our hands and disinfecting around us.  Buy only what you’ll need for a few weeks, and leave some for everyone else.
  • If you can do so comfortably without straining your own household expenditures, consider buying gift cards to support your favorite local restaurants and small businesses.  Your purchase will help then through a difficult period, and you get a treat or a meal out later.  Win-win!
  • Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t.  I have been coping by cleaning and organizing areas of my home when the mood strikes, for example.  I cannot help overburdened hospitals in Italy from my living room per se, but I can stay put and clean out my refrigerator.  So far over the last couple weeks I cleaned out my closet and sent a bag of items to thredUP to be sold or recycled (get $10 to shop when you click here), cleaned out my pantry and refrigerator, replaced my duvet cover with this beauty, and got these excellent bins to organize my newly-clean fridge.  Some people have joked this is stir-crazy fifth-week-of-quarantine level stuff, but I figure if I’m going to be home all the time, I might as well be able to enjoy a tidy space!
  • Find a balance.  If you live alone, make sure to keep yourself connected by reaching out by phone or online.  If you are suddenly working from home with a partner and/or kids, carve out time for yourself as best you can.  We live in a smallish apartment, so my husband and I are trading off using our desk space at home.  I need to keep more regular business hours, so I use our area during the day.  He needs to keep in contact with his job but has more flexibility with when he does his work, so he’s been using our work space in the evenings.  We do have two desks, but this way we aren’t on top of each other in a small space all day every day.
  • And lastly, go easy on yourself.  We have so much to worry about right now that it can feel all-consuming.  Cozy up in bed for an extra few minutes.  Take things a day at a time.  If that feels like too much, just focus on your morning.  Then your afternoon.  Then your evening.  Give yourself time to rest, make sure you are nourished, and maybe try to take joy in small things as best you can.  We are all in this together, even while we stay at least 6 feet apart.

Cozying in

It looks like a lot of us will be cozying in and social distancing for a few days or weeks thanks to the COVID-19 virus pandemic.  Please everyone take good care and limit potential exposure, wash your hands, and remember we are all in this together.  Find a balance that works for you in terms of staying informed vs. bad-news overload, maybe buy a gift card to a local restaurant to help them through the slump (plus you get an outing later!), take precautions, and get some rest.

In the meantime, I realized I haven’t yet shared the new mix of throw pillows I have in my living room.  I was feeling drawn to warm neutrals, so I swapped out a few for a fresh, casual new vibe.  It seems like this is a view I might have for a bit — I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

swirls  round  velvet  quilted  striped  half-moon (similar)  geometric  squiggles  throw

 

Beauty picks

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What better time than Valentine’s Day to talk beauty?  Whether you’re getting ready for a night out with a special someone or staying in and pampering yourself (or both!), here are some of my very favorite tried-and-trues.  I am rather picky when it comes to beauty products, so hopefully you’ll find these as excellent as I do.  Trust.

Skin Care

Glow Butter

I have to credit the excellent Andrea Linett with this find.  Kimberly Howell created this amazing skin balm that I love love love.  It is deeply moisturizing, healing, and revivifying for both face and body.  Did I mention it is handmade and all natural?  Jojoba, avocado, and coconut oils along with tupelo beeswax make for a luxurious, glow-inducing, well… Glow Butter!

Elta MD UV Facial Broad-Spectrum SPF 30 Plus

This is the ONLY sunscreen I have managed to use on a regular basis.  It feels more like a moisturizer and has none of that terrible sunscreen-y smell I loathe.  10/10 will buy repeatedly.

Fresh Rose Face Mask

My favorite face mask, this rosy gel is soothing, moisturizing, brightening, and all-around lovely.  My skin always feels supple and refreshed afterwards, which I love.

Fresh Sugar Lip Treatment

Even my husband loves Fresh’s cushy lip balm — he says it is the only balm that makes his chapped lips feel more comfortable right away, which I agree with wholeheartedly.  I’ve tried a few of the tinted options, but I always come back to the original clear formula.  Why mess with perfection?

Clinique Self-Heating Blackhead Extractor

My skin tends towards blackheads on my nose and chin, but I have never had much luck with products to combat them.  Enter the Self-Heating Blackhead Extractor by Clinique.  It is a little creamy, a little scrub-y, and heats up like magic when you get it wet.  It even has a funny bumpy scrubby little massage tool built right into the cap.  All of these things together somehow have combined to create a product that miraculously cleans out my pores like none other.

Fur Oil

Thank you, Emma Watson, for spreading the news of Fur Oil far and wide.  This spherical bottle of smoothing, soothing, quick-drying oil is a truly wonderful thing if you ever deal with ingrown hairs.  Buy a bottle now and thank me (and Emma Watson) later.

Makeup

I am pretty minimal when it comes to makeup these days, but there are a handful of items I reach for every day without fail.

Rimmel Provocalips in Kiss Me You Fool

This 16-hour lip color really delivers, and is a great price to boot.  I hate applying lipstick throughout the day but also feel like a ghost without any lip color, so this liquid lipstick/balm combo is the answer to my flutist prayers.  It really doesn’t budge — food-proof, kiss-proof, holding-an-instrument-to-my-lips proof — and it comes in the perfect red.  Sold.

Glossier Boy Brow and Lash Slick

Most days I don’t use much eye makeup, opting for a strong lip instead.  I swipe on Boy Brow and Lash Slick daily, though, for the perfect wide-awake eye.  Mandatory feature:  Lash Slick never ever clumps.

Milk Makeup Lip + Cheek in Rally

If I go the extra mile (or minute) and opt for blush, my favorite go-to is Milk Makeup’s Lip + Cheek.  Rally is the perfect bright fuchsia pink to brighten my face a bit, and the creamy stick couldn’t be easier to use.  It is also super natural-looking — their formula just melts into skin like a dream.

There you have it!  My most favorite, tried-and-true beauty products.  Go slather on that delightful Rose Mask, kick up your heels in your fuzziest slippers, and enjoy.

 

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Something green

This morning I took a bit of time to putter outside, and it was so nice to focus on green growing things.

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I am a renter, and for years I just let the gardening service take care of the (very basic) landscaping outside our house.  I figured it wasn’t “our” house, so I shouldn’t change anything or put any of my own money into plantings.  Well, over a decade later we are still in this house.  We love living here, and along the way I finally began to carve out a space of our own.

It began with a couple of tiny succulents.  I work at an archive with a large botanical garden, and the biannual plant sales became more than I could resist.  A couple tiny ones could live in a pot, I reasoned, and come with me if we moved.  Something about extra-tiny things makes them irresistible, no?  With each plant sale I added one or two more, until I had a nice little stoop  garden outside on our patio.  Then the camellia sale came around and a pair of those came home with me, plus one for my mom.  She had a glorious oasis of a garden at the time, and always loved a new plant addition.  I got a large pair of pots for the camellias, excited for the blooms that their slender stems promised.  Also one summer my mom house-sat for us and cared for the dogs while we went on vacation, and to surprise me for my birthday she got me a beautiful plumeria and refinished our hand-me-down patio chairs while we were gone.  It was such a sweet surprise, and it got me that much more excited to actually use our little outdoor space.  A few years later when she moved, I inherited some beautiful staghorn ferns, aloes, and her little camellia is reunited with her sisters.

Fast forward to now, and my little patio is full of green, growing things.  I hauled a weathered pallet left on a curb back home and have it propped up against one end of the fence, where it makes a lovely spot to hang planters.  We acquired a hammock as a lounging solution that takes up surprisingly little real estate, and it has become my older pup’s favorite spot to curl up with us and watch the world go by.  A petite pink bistro set makes me smile every time I see it, topped with my collection of little succulents and pots.  And even though life is usually hectic, every so often I’ll get to have a morning like today, where an hour can be spent re-potting, watering, puttering, tidying, and nurturing something green.  Something living.  Something thriving.  Something content with only the most basic of needs, and flowering all the same.  Somewhere in there is a lesson about stillness and contentment — but for now, I am grateful for a few moments to breathe.