How are you doing?

Editor’s Note: This post was originally shared through Jen’s e-list, and was reposted here a few weeks later. While it’s not in “Jeneralist style,” it felt important to share here. Sign up to receive emails from Jen.

Emails, calls, and (now-rare) in person connections fill me with dread with this obligatory question. It’s always well-intended. Sometimes it feels perfunctory, other times people really want to know, and still other times we ask it as a placeholder for not knowing what else to say. And more, some people skip asking altogether because they fear the answer might be something other than the comfortably-scripted “fine thanks how are you?”

I don’t know how to respond to this question. In the day-to-day, I’m fine. I started a really great job; I have access to health care and food; I have a cozy home with a door to close when I want to be alone. I’m not a caregiver to kids or elders; racism and homophobia do not negatively affect me; most of my nearest and dearest wear masks and are not Trump supporters. Oh, and we’re hoping to get a sheltie puppy in December. So maybe I should just say I’m fine; I am objectively speaking, and so many people are suffering so much more. I have layers on layers of privilege that unquestionably are helping me during this time.

But in truth, I’m struggling too. As an empath and go-to for many, I’ve absorbed an extraordinary amount of pain this year. Our politics, policies, policing, philanthropy, and pathetic dearth of pandemic leadership have left me weak. The racial awakening of many paired with earnest desires to learn about anti-racism were long overdue, exhausting to provide support for, and disappointing to see dissipate with the same speed with which it came.  And recognizing that my exhaustion and disappointment can’t possibly compare to that of BIPOC doing this same work brings sadness and guilt. The culture of urgency, perfection, and objectivity dominant in various spheres I’m a part of work cringingly against the anti-racist words the same groups espouse. The human rights conversations I participate in regularly give hope but also pain–there’s so much work to be done. I’ve also been navigating the challenges of chronic illnesses, our healthcare system, and years of medical trauma while confronting and listening to the limitations of my brain and body. I could not do everything I would have liked this year; slowing down is hard. Giving self-grace is hard. Accepting help is hard.  And doing this all while physically distant–not just by choice but because we haven’t yet built community in Chicago–is even harder. So, the truth is I’m both fine and not fine. It’s messy, but that’s the reality.

To be fully fine is to not be paying attention. 

I haven’t been able to write this, or much of anything, for the past few months. The words haven’t come. There are superficial words that placate, and there are raw words that overwhelm. And when I’ve finally figured out the balance between these, I don’t have the energy to create or engage. I imagine many of you are struggling with the same.

I do sincerely want to know: how are you doing? To that end, I have two offerings:

  1. While I’m zoomed out and talked out, my pen stands ready. I snail mail. If snail mail would bring you joy, an avenue to process your own “how are you doing?” answer, or just a distraction, send me your snail mail address. I may not reply at all to your email, but I’ll write you soon.
  2. I don’t know what’s going to happen November 3, and I don’t know what I’ll need November 4. But, I do know I don’t like processing alone, and that two of my gifts are caregiving and creating space. If you’d like to join me, I’m going to host an hour-long session to be in community and process together. November 4 at 3pm CT. You can sign up here.

To those of you organizing for change, thank you. To those of you showing up to mission-driven work or volunteerism, thank you. To those of you making sure elders and children and partners have the supports they need, thank you. To those of you sharing joy and humor, thank you. To those of you being kind to yourself and getting through each day, I salute you.

With socially-distant hugs,

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