$Monday: Minimize Necessities, Maximize Luxuries

Minimize waste, maximize taste. Cancel your bills, indulge in your thrills. Lower your maintenance but raise your standards. Live a little like Grandpa John.

During this global crisis, when danger comes not just from the virus itself but from the boredom of the bourgeois who are already threatening to riot over their right to golf and jet-ski (organized by far-right domestic terrorists who are trying to use this crisis to scapegoat Asians, Black communities, and women to build support for the Trump 2020 campaign), I think of my late father-in-law, a.k.a. Grandpa John, and I wonder which of his witty, choice words he would use to comment upon all of this. Grandpa John survived plague, famine, exile, the Holocaust, child slavery, poverty and its related violence in Hamtramck, domestic violence, street violence (more than a dozen stab wounds with a rusty steak knife, for example), several strokes, and a car accident resulting in a traumatic brain injury that left him sometimes unable to recognize his wife but still able to break into a modern gun safe. He had a lot of excuses for acting like a jerk, but he didn't want them. He was a naughty man, but he was also a force for justice and always stood up for what was right. He put his own safety on the line many times for anti-racist, pro-worker, and feminist rights. He loved life and humanity with a rare passion and never succumbed to cynicism.

Despite all of the hardships he endured, he managed to skate into his 60s wearing his aviator shades, a lustrous beard, and a fine wardrobe of pastel jungle prints. He smiled, laughed, flirted, and loved the hell out of every day he was able to walk this earth. He never took anything for granted. He took full advantage of the good times so he would have memories to last him through the hard times. He enjoyed motorcycles, sword canes, smoking jackets with matching fez hats, dirty limericks, theater, comic books, surrealist art, and above all else, his wife, son, and grandchildren. He retired with his wife Antonia in Florida, where he spent many hours sketching palm trees and seascapes. John was laid to rest in Michigan in 2012 beneath a pink headstone carved with a Byzantine cross and a palm tree.

I've been thinking about Grandpa John during this day and month of 4/20 (he was always down to party) and also because April is the month when he died, right before Easter and the ancient celebrations of resurrection.

Grandpa John is gone now (sorta; some of his ashes reside in a glass bottle shaped like a naked lady on my husband's dresser) but not forgotten. His attitude continues to inspire us to make the best of this pandemic time, taking stock of what we can let go and how we can let loose in different ways than before.

I can't ask my father-in-law for advice anymore, but I can take a page from his playbook and learn to do without some necessities by finding the right luxuries to indulge in.

To begin, some sucking-it-up-buttercup and recalibrating the line between "need" and "want" is helpful. We need to accept that our ingrained habits and entitlements will not necessarily serve us or be available to us during a time of global crisis. Try a little tough self-love and learn to make do with whatever blessings life has graced you with, instead of pitching a whiny fit at a time when others all over your community and the whole world (especially if you are not a medical caregiver, grocery or food service worker, impoverished parent, or part of a most-vulnerable population) have it just as bad or worse than you. Patience and resilience are worth more than gold in this moment.

After that comes the fun part: letting go of burdens you don't need to carry (including unproductive worries and feelings like survivor's guilt) so you can seize every opportunity to exploit a newly available pleasure. There are many silver linings to be found, and it is your patriotic and humanitarian duty to locate and harvest them so that you can spread joy and wellness to everyone who knows and loves you. Here are some examples, some of which may be available to you.

Let go of uncomfortable fashions; seize the daytime pajamas. No more buttons. No more zippers. No more bra clasps. No more heels. If you want to feel sexy and put-together, dress in filmy nighties like off-duty Wonder Woman and the Amazons of Paradise Island. Lounge seductively. Stretch and nap like a house cat.

Let go of hustling; seize your time. Don't shift right from posturing about how important you are by never being home... to moaning on social media all day about how many Zoom meetings you're double-booked on. That's boring. What are you trying to hide behind that bustle? No one will notice if you just... don't. This is your time now. Your time! Do what you want, and don't apologize.

Let go of spending; seize your dreams. Cancel all the bills you can cancel during this magical sabbatical from the rat race. Student loans? Poof, gone. Your budget for restaurants, movies, takeout, drinks at the bar, babysitters for date nights, travel, sportsing, concerts? Gas for getting to work or going out? Zero it all out. After you get done crying about the stuff you can't do, think about what you can do with all that money you're saving, once the pandemic is over. Take it a step further and go through all of your subscriptions and memberships. Cancel everything but your absolute faves. Turn your back on numbing distractions like alcohol, junk food, and mindless TV. If you're daring enough to cancel your paid cable and/or streaming services, explore the worlds of free online entertainment.
  • Browse free media on a service offered to library card holders, such as Hoopla! I like to watch foreign films, and I get six free a month with my library card. Try it, and expand your world with a movie that hasn't been spoiled for you already.
  • Watch free documentaries, drama films, and shows on PBS.org. Also, check your favorite shows' network websites and YouTube channels to see if they post free episodes.
  • Stream excellent short films on Omeleto's YouTube channel. One of my favorite things to do is watch one or two of these on my phone (in a LifeProof case) while soaking in a bubble bath.

Let go of social obligations that keep you down; seize the chance to deepen relationships that matter. I do hope you've quarantined with those you love most and who love you the most. If you are fortunate enough to have found yourself in that situation, lean in. Be present. Hug your kids and your cat and your lover and yourself more than ever before. Don't bother reaching out to anyone who's been a drag or a toxic presence in your life. This is your chance to prune your deadwood and deepen your roots.

Let go of high-maintenance grooming routines that make your physical presence more acceptable to strangers and coworkers; seize your chance to live like a hairy, scary bog witch. Do you really need that deodorant? That shampoo? That makeup? That nail polish? That hair dryer? Now's your chance to find out. You can even video chat with beauty filters on nowadays. Why bother with real cosmetics?

Alternatively, lean hard the other way and do elaborate beauty treatments and toning workouts while you have the time. Back in the 11th century, Byzantine princess Zoë Porphyrogenita was in a cloistered lockdown situation from adolescence to age 50, for political reasons (so she could not marry and take power). This was the equivalent of castrating royal men to prevent them from taking the throne, which was reserved for the fertile; keeping women locked up until menopause had the same effect. While in isolation, Zoë created a whole beauty lab and spa and spent hours working out in the gymnasium. At age 50, she busted out of the gate looking like J.Lo at the Superbowl and went on to mass-seduce and serial-murder her way to the throne of Byzantium. If you want, be like Zoë.

Let go of superficial fitness goals; seize the pleasure in moving your body how you like. How about some backyard yoga? Balcony tai chi? Living room belly dance? Tantric sex? Biking on eerily empty roads?

Let go of mindless binge eating; seize the time to learn how to cook. Slow your roll. Explore the sensual pleasures that Julia Child used to go on about. Squeeze some dough. Roast some veggies. Learn to turn dish-washing into an act of meditation--quick, before it drives you absolutely nuts.

Let go of Animal Planet; seize the view out of your window. The animals really are taking over in my yard. I don't know about yours. Whatever is or isn't going on in Venice, I can confirm that the wildlife is living it up in my neighborhood.

Let go of landscaping; seize a nap in the flowers. Nobody is allowed to harass you about your lawn violets or your dandelions right now. Enjoy them, guilt-free and poisonous-chemical-free. Hammock. Build a bonfire. Camp in the backyard. It's more peaceful out there now than ever before. The air is cleaner with less pollution. Less carbon in the air somehow makes for less pollen production. Gather ye fresh air while ye may!

Let go of recycling; seize the skills of reducing and reusing. You've calmed down on the alcohol and the soda, right? I hope so. Quit filling up your garage with bottles you can't recycle right now. Shift gears to focus on shrinking your consumption of stuff you don't need (especially stuff that weakens your immune system) and rediscovering other everyday pleasures and things you own that you could use in a new way.

Let go of trying to fit in; seize your weird. If you often feel like you're too weird for the world, you might be able to relax more than ever now. Get to know and appreciate yourself on a deeper level before the social world's motor gets started again. Read this delightful report on the benefits of being weird. Consider how your oddness may allow you to be more creative than others.

Let go of productivity; seize creativity. You don't have to produce it, but you can practice it right now without worrying about outcomes. Also, consume it. Be inspired. Be entertained. Read about how the Hemingways and the Fitzgeralds got through a quarantine together. They were a hot mess, but they survived it, and it's hilarious to read about their struggles a century later.

I like to think that if Grandpa John were still around, he'd be proud of the way my family is handling the pandemic--not perfectly, not in high spirits every moment of every day, but with acceptance and toughness and a commitment to juicing life for its pleasures, whether or not we have all of our needs met all the time. I hope that we will get through this, not just intact but better off in many ways. To that end, we are letting go of expectations of how things should be and seizing opportunities to open ourselves to new and different ways of being.

Also, did I say happy 4/20/2020? In Michigan, it is now legal to have designer weed delivered to your home. Grandpa John's mind would be blown. That is all.


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