I posted on Instagram about my current state of mind, wondering if it was just me that was distracted | anxious | stuck | at sea | flailing about madly through life lately. It wasn't. Welcome to those of you who came by as a result of that post.
The comments there are telling. A lot of people resonated with this analogy written by @harpingjanet: "I don’t think there is a normal anymore. The way/ways I used to live and feel are gone. The sense that I’m living life on a paddle board in 10’ seas is ever present. Some days I can paddle over the breaking waves. Some days I wipe out and spend the time trying to heft myself back on the board and stand upright. I don’t even know how to paddle board……"
Living through a pandemic (no, it's not over), especially the lockdown phase, has completely fucked with our heads. Lots of us who were introverty to begin with leaned heavily into it's safer to be on our own, and some of us have had a hell of a time extricating ourselves. Some don't want to. Lots of us, it seems, leaned into our knitting or other crafting as a stabilizing force. A select few have gone in hardcore, needing more complicated patterns and projects to keep their minds occupied. A lot of y'all are like me, unable to focus on anything but the most basic of mellow patterns (mellow is how we label our least-complex patterns on Knitty). And another group has lost the desire to knit or craft entirely. Some can't read for pleasure anymore. Me, I've leaned into to audiobooks, but it has to be the perfect combination of reader's voice and skill + a compelling listen. Otherwise, I slide back into the New Yorker The Writer's Voice podcast which can usually hold my attention for the 30-40 minutes of the weekly story.
We're kind of a mess, aren't we? And yet, most of us are probably still washing our clothes and our bodies (maybe not our floors), feeding ourselves and our loved ones, working at our jobs, doing the stuff of daily life. But we feel ALL OVER THE PLACE, and for good reason.
I think I've figured it out, at least from a first-world perspective.
In 2011, the Under the Influence podcast, which talks about advertising and how it affects society, covered the topic of women. Specifically how advertising agencies literally created the archetype of The Happy Homemaker and, as a result, manipulated human behavior. (The episodes are dated July 8 and July 22). They did it to sell products, and for about 25 years, it worked like gangbusters. Ads got to our female ancestors through magazines, newspapers, radio and the movies. The '60s and '70s shook that all up, and now the messages were about how women have "come a long way, baby". It was all over our televisions now, too. The supermom archetype hit in the 1980s and drove us or our moms crazy, trying to attain the unattainable. All of this was driven by advertising, every bit of it. We bought into it because the message was so pervasive and, if we could just do the things, wouldn't we be happy like the people in the ads?
Social media fucked all that up. There is no longer one single overriding voice telling us what to do to be happy. Everyone has a platform. We know who our neighbours are, not because we sit down with them and have a cuppa, but because we saw them complaining on Facebook about the Jones' lawn that hasn't been mowed in a month. We can see into windows on the other side of the planet. We can hear about living through a war as it is happening from people whose homes have been bombed. And instead of broadening our horizons and helping us to understand different points of view, which is the utopian view, I think it's made most of us confused. What are we supposed to care about? What should we be focusing on? How to are we actually supposed to BE in this world?
Until about 1990, first-world populations were handily provided with reasonably uniform how-to guides for life so that companies could sell the same products to millions of us. We could follow them or intentionally ignore them, but we didn't have an uncountable number of voices telling us endless different ways to be. Once we were all locked in our houses, it's like the world reset and the default was fear. And the only way we could connect with other humans was in a place where EVERYONE was, each of us yelling about our own shit. Even the places where kindness was the overriding force turned some of us into kindness police, which certainly couldn't have been the point of the whole kindness thing.
I don't have a fix for you. I'm writing this to help crystallize my thoughts, and this might not resonate with you like it does with me. But I do know that everyone is gonna have to figure out for themselves what to prioritize, beyond clean underwear. Maybe it might help to understand why living feels so different now, and why so many of us feel rudderless or scared or overwhelmed. Maybe we can stop yelling at ourselves to just get over it and accept that we're different for good reason. Maybe every step we take that makes us feel a little better is a good thing and deserves not judgement, but relief.
So I'm going to lean in to my mindless knitting and be happy that it's bringing me joy and comfort. And I'm going to hope that you have something that works for you, whatever it is.
Maybe it's time to rediscover mud pies in the garden.