Skip to main content

Beauty Sleep and Butterfly Slime

It's as gorgeously gruesome as a Grimm's fairy tale: In order to transform from a chubby grub to a thing of winged glory, a butterfly must seal itself off from the world, dissolve in its own hungry juices, and let "sleeping cells" take over the slow process of building a butterfly out of a soup of primordial slime. The caterpillar must come undone for the butterfly to grow in its place.

I sure feel like I've turned into a slug of slime over the past year--but I trust that this response to a global pandemic is somehow natural and temporary and adaptive in the long run. I hope it's not just preserving me but changing me for the better. And I hope the same is true for our world as a whole.

At the beginning of the crisis, I felt almost thrilled. Suddenly all my anxiety issues and low-key prepping tendencies became useful and rational. I had this sense of everything in my life leading to this one moment, when I abruptly felt like the sanest, most well-adjusted person in the whole world! Others panicked and leaned on me for support and advice, which I happily gave. Meanwhile, I eagerly spun my cocoon, thinking, like many people, that this thing would last a couple weeks, a month max, and then boy would we all learn our lessons about conservation and respect for nature and compassion for other human beings and... boy, that is not what happened. 

As the silence and darkness and dread inside myself slowly replaced my initial sense of purpose, I found myself responding to stimuli in new and unfamiliar ways. Before the pandemic--and before the rise of the Great Cheeto--I was a sensitive, expressive young person. I was like Mary Ann Vecchio (the girl in the Kent State Massacre photo), easily shocked by injustices and outrages and quick to throw myself into trying to help or at least grieve loudly and draw attention to what others didn't seem to be taking seriously enough. I started to change after the Orange One got elected and I realized that I didn't understand the battle for the soul of my country as well as I thought I did. I became quieter, unsure. I shut up and listened more. I studied and read articles and books voraciously. I got involved with new movements that seemed better informed about the problems than I was, only to witness such ugly infighting, backstabbing, and jockeying for the spotlight of hero worship that I became more confused than ever about whom to trust and support.

And then there was the pandemic.

After it became clear that Covid-19 was going to be a whole lot bigger than a spring fling, I couldn't stop checking the news, but whenever I saw or heard new information about coronavirus or climate change or America's endemic violence and hatred and addiction and racial trauma, my eyelids would start to droop.

Just like that, involuntarily. A sleepiness would overtake me. I felt like a computer dropping into sleep mode, the effect was so uniformly swift and firm each time. An emergency switch thrown.

It still happens sometimes, and I have learned to relax into it. The past year has accelerated my long psychological work of untangling my self-worth from productivity and from the ability to think up a quick answer to every question. It has been a long, slow, forced restart, a long time coming.

Down the road from my house, someone has spray-painted giant words on their garage door that say "Y'ALL NEED JESUS." I think that speaks to us all. I believe that the whole world is, together and also each of us alone, going through what is known as a come-to-Jesus moment.

My stunned silence, my long retreat from engaging with almost anyone outside of my immediate family more than is absolutely necessary, probably looks like paralysis from the outside. Or depression. It could easily be mistaken for giving up, for despair. But it's not. It doesn't feel that way from the inside. Sometimes I'm sad, yes, extremely sad. And sometimes I'm very, very sleepy. But I've been depressed before, and this feels different. I am listening, absorbing, resting, transforming. I am digesting and developing a new mental toolbox, a set of parts I didn't have before.

It reminds me, in some ways, of the last big change I went through that felt like being smashed into bits and reassembled into something entirely new and more integrated into the messy flow of all humanity: motherhood. I know that becoming a parent works and feels different for everyone who does it, but for me, it was a drastic and messy transformation. I felt crushed by childbirth, both physically and mentally. It was a confusing, frightening time when I felt possessed and out of control, when I changed from a truly helpless pile of broken components into a wolflike, bearlike, instinct-driven wild woman ready to burn the whole world down for one the tiny blob of new life I had produced and yet emotionally fragile, ready to cry over every little thing, every sappy TV commercial. I wasn't my old self anymore, and after the initial shock, I didn't care. My priorities, interests, tastes, values, daily habits, skills, and talents--in short, most of the things Americans consider to make up their personal identity--were scrambled, rearranged, sometimes hastily replaced. Those foreign languages I'd learned? My favorite mathematical equations? Gone, like I'd sustained a traumatic head injury. But then I became fluent in baby-noise virtually overnight. My hands turned into accurate thermometers. My small, barely-there breasts swelled into fountains of life that made a child grow at four times the usual rate. My mom-brain stormed with weird, wild images and nightmarish fantasies that I poured into the writing of an epic historical novel.

I was warned, before having a baby, not to "lose myself." But I laughed off that advice. I wanted to be changed. I didn't want to fight it. I didn't feel lost. I felt grounded and reconstructed and repurposed in a way that was heavy but satisfying. The meats and gravies of my body took over even more dramatically than they had done in puberty and leveled me up into the bestial, tender, ferocious thing that answered to the new name "Mama." And it felt so right.

I did things and I knew things without understanding how I could do or know them. I knew not in my logical mind but carnally, beyond the Biblical sense, deeper and earthier than that. I am reminded of the Potawatomi word puhpowee, which I have learned from Robin Wall Kimmerer means "the force which causes mushrooms to push up from the earth overnight." The naming of an intact mystery, a known, experienced process that does not have to be understood in scientific detail in order to be accepted with gratitude and respect.

Now my daughter is embarking upon the transition from young childhood to adolescence, and I am no longer that leaky, wrathful, warm, sloppy were-woman who went stupid with mom-brain while occasionally speaking in the voice of an oracle, a voice that seemed to rise up into my body from the earth, when I needed to ask for help or stand up for myself or my family.

I am, in some ways, more like my younger self again, but not exactly. I have integrated and grown through early motherhood. Some parts of the old me come back when I need them. Sometimes I sprout new traits that are just as authentically me as traits I have grown out of. The process of changing through motherhood has not always made sense to me or felt like progress, but I did learn to trust and respect it. And having gone through that gives me hope that the sleepy, slimy slop of my pandemic brain will give way to greater maturity and transformation once again.

A pandemic is a natural thing to go through, like maturing, aging, and loss, but it doesn't feel that way because it only happens about once in a human lifespan and it happens to everyone at once, no matter our age or stage in life. By the time the next one comes around, the previous one is just slipping away from all living human memory. It catches us unawares, at a loss for mentors who have gone through this before us.

But I am not afraid that I will get stuck in my current adaptations and limitations. Right now, as the mother of an unvaccinated child in the middle of a pandemic, I cannot take joy in reckless "adventure" any more than I could take joy in stifling caution when I was a furiously curious young adult pulling against my own mother's fears. But I do not expect that I will harden into a lump inside of the cocoon I am not yet ready to leave behind. I trust my ability to digest, integrate, and emerge, changed, at the right time.

I don't know who I'll be when I shake off the ooze of this pandemic, but I feel the ancient wisdom in my hormones and telomeres, spells cast by forgotten ancestors and the natural rhythms of life that are bigger than a person, a family, a civilization, or a species. 

I try to be grateful for every chance I get to grow and change, because we don't all get the same number of opportunities. We don't always make it through. We don't always change for the better. Life is stuffed with tragedies and twists. A pandemic is a terrible thing, a senseless killer, a disaster. We humans have many big problems we need to work together at changing, and the pandemic has made broad social changes both more urgent and more possible. I feel sleepy and slow at the thought of it all, and maybe that's for the best. A good, solid rest always helps me to recalibrate. The world is in chaos right now, and all we know for sure is that life will never be the same again, and we will need to be different people in the coming years, flexible and open-minded people who can develop new habits and stronger values and more mindful lifestyles, if we are to survive and thrive in a new era of rapid, driven change.

Paradoxically, sometimes a slowdown or a long retreat are what we need to jump-start rapid change. So right now, while we still can, we should take every chance to get our beauty sleep and let our bodies hold us down through the dumb, slow work of healing and transformation. Becoming a butterfly is not guaranteed, but there are no shortcuts either, and there is no option to stay a caterpillar forever. I don't know if it will all work out in the end, but we won't get to a better place any surer or faster by fighting ourselves or resisting change.

So rest well, beauties. Those of us who rise will have a long journey ahead of us, and we'll need to undergo profound personal change to soar in the new world that is becoming.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

35 Great Things About Turning 35

The prime of life starts at 35! It's the best-kept secret from younger people, but your 35th birthday is a major cause for celebration. For mine, I have made my own listicle of 35 reasons why experts agree that 35 is the best age to be: You get to say, "I'm 35." The number 35 carries so much more gravitas than 30, but you're only a few years older. At 34, I've started fudging my age--by adding a year. People automatically take me seriously, and if they don't, at least they tell me I look young for my age. (Eye roll, hair toss, "whatever.")    35-year-olds DGAF. Inner chill reaches new heights at 35. Despite its #2 status on this list, it's the #1 response I hear about what's best about hitting 35. My gorgeous friend Nerlie was beautiful and resilient and wise beyond her years in high school, but now, at age 35, she gets to fully enjoy being herself on her own terms. She writes,  "I've survived so much that I don't

TBT: The Magic of Essential Oils

Oh essential oils, beloved friend of loopy-goopy women of my own demographic marketing cohort, along with magic crystals, mystic doulas, organic pesticides, multi-level-marketed leggings, anything labeled as "herbal supplements," and alternatives to vaccination. The essential oil craze is something that has a basis in scientifically verifiable reality but has been endowed with magical, holy, pseudo-scientific properties for marketing purposes. I bought into it wholeheartedly before I learned that not all that crunches is harmless. All too often, legitimate fears based in reality (of toxic chemicals, unnecessary medical interventions, pharmaceutical side effects, etc.) are stoked to induce women like me to jump from the frying pan and into the fire of an "alternative" that may be at least as harmful as what it is supposedly protecting me and my family from. I still use certain essential oils for cleaning and other purposes, and I think everything I've stated in t

$Monday: Bog Witch Style on a Budget

Autumn in a pandemic is the perfect time to tap into your inner bog witch with wild hair, cozy clothes, forest rituals, creepy cats, fire, books of spells, and Dark Cottagecore home decor mood boards on Pinterest . You don't have to live in a literal swamp. The word "bog" comes from a Gaelic term for "soft," and it sounds nearly identical to Slavic words for gods or divinity with Proto-Slavic roots that refer to earthly fortune. Bog witches burrow into the true goodness of life nestled beneath all the hustle and polish and show of making a living. They focus on soft wealth and spiritual power. The vibe is slow, earthy, comfy, moody, sneakily seductive, maybe sticky, wise rather than smart, preferring old things to new, charming rather than impressive. It's about harmonizing with the natural environment, blending, melting, enveloping, and sinking into earthy, downward energy. Bog witchery vibes with hygge, friluftsliv , and the indigenous earth wisdom of whe

The Pandemic Turned My Church Outside and Online

The pandemic might have permanently pushed my church outdoors and online--even after we can come inside again. The radically inclusive church that I work for, UU Lansing , has adapted so successfully over the past year that we've learned how to make better use of technology to reach more people; we've found creative ways to accomplish more effective community care without putting people at risk of disease transmission; and we've connected more deeply than ever with our land and local ecosystem.  As Molly Costello has illustrated with her generously shared activist artwork : Crisis expands our imaginations around what is possible. I'm so grateful right now to be a part of a respectably longstanding faith tradition that never wastes an opportunity to learn a hard lesson and transform itself from the inside out. Unlike some centuries-old religious institutions, Unitarianism (and its more recently evolved form, Unitarian Universalism) had open-mindedness and adaptability

Pocket of Joy: Coming Out

Happy Pride Month! Has it ever been a better time to come out? Lil Nax X has died for our shame, descended into hell on a stripper pole, and slain the devil with his lap dance. Tig Notaro has conquered the undead and possibly usurped Kate McKinnon as most badass comedic lesbian paranormal action hero, which is now A Thing. "Schitt's Creek" has normalized pansexuality and revived America's faith in all kinds of enduring romantic love. Elliot Page has freed the trans man nips in joyful thirst traps on Instagram. After a year in quarantine, drag queens Trixie and Katya have become everyone's imaginary best friends. And my Instagram feed is sprinkled with videos of happily married, openly HIV-positive Jonathan Van Ness doing the happiest gorgeous little back flips. Kids today have all of these pop culture examples of people of every gender identity and sexual orientation living their best lives, creating joy and sharing it with others. Sadly, the danger in coming out

Pocket of Joy: Human Touch

Are you vaxxed, relaxxed, and ready to satiate your touch starvation ? It is time! All human persons need skin-to-skin contact sometimes, even those who value their personal space. It doesn't have to be sexual or intense, but we can't do without it indefinitely. The gentle, electric exchange that occurs between two animal bodies that meet in meatspace boosts our immune systems. It calms the vagus nerve, the heart, experiences of both physical and emotional pain, and the release of the stress hormone cortisol. It stimulates the release of oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. Going without touch for too long can lead to depression, anxiety, and behaviors that exacerbate social isolation. And loneliness can erode bodily health faster than cigarettes. All humans need touch, but it doesn't always have to be human-to-human. Pets can provide beneficial snuggles and wrassles to a person who lives alone. Volunteering at an animal shelter and petting kittens and puppies to socialize th

Vaxxed and Unmasked for Margaritas with Alice

My dear friend Magdalena has always had a special talent for sniffing out delicious secrets. She's an outgoing, bold, colorful woman, but she keeps an eye on the quiet people. She has a knack for glancing over a bunch of same-same-looking folks, breezing past all the dull sad sacks, and picking out the socially camouflaged, melancholy few who seem to be harboring some kind of romantic ennui, guarded eccentricity, or rich private life that they aren't eager to share. And then she goes after those people with the focus of a truffle pig on the scent and won't stop until they reveal themselves to her and let her love them! I had the pleasure of meeting Magda's latest conquest, a silver-haired lady I'll call Alice the Archivist, last weekend in my very first post-lockdown public group hangout (everyone 100% vaccinated!). The following is my understanding of how Magda infiltrated her personal bubble and founded the official Alice Fan Club. Alice is Magda's next-door a

Pocket of Joy: Close Grandparents

One of the best decisions I ever made in my life was to settle close to my parents before having a child. I even convinced my parents to move right into my neighborhood after they retired, a ten-minute walk from my backyard, and everyone in my family has benefited from the arrangement . Grandparents and grandchildren are great for each other's physical, mental, and emotional health. And the support grandparents can provide in helping to care for and raise a child benefits the child's parents. Over the past year, I think we all realized just how important it is for parents to have reliable and safe childcare, and unfortunately our nation has some work to do to provide for the needs of working class families. Those of us fortunate enough to have parents who are willing and able to help us care for our children are blessed indeed. Close relationships between grandparents and grandchildren create well-being and resilience in every generation of the family. It is wonderful to have

How to Make a Grill Out of a Log

Over the past few years, our local power company has had to cut down several trees on or near our property that someone in the past had, according to an inexplicable mid-Michigan tradition, planted in a row directly beneath a power line, resulting in a very slow-motion disaster. By the time the power company finally cut down the trees, some of them had already died, and some had been severely damaged in the past couple of ice storms. We were grateful to see them taken down at no personal expense to us, and we were also glad to have the firewood left on our property because we have both an indoor wood stove and a backyard fire pit. But it turned out to be a lot, and the utility workers left the tree trunks in hearty slices about the size of end tables, which have proved laborious for us to split, especially as a couple of the larger trees were tough old elms. Happily, we have found a couple of uses for them that don't require us to wrestle with their knotty old fibers: outdoor end t

Endo Belly Dance

Later this summer, I have an ultrasound scheduled to begin the process of maybe, finally, diagnosing the endometriosis that I believe I have. Sometimes I feel like my belly is busted. At different times in my life, I've had different abdominal issues at varying degrees of severity. They started in my teens and changed with different stages of biological development, different dietary habits, different exercise routines, and different levels of stress. They were relieved by pregnancy but made childbirth tough. They returned a couple years after I gave birth and have evolved over the past decade. And now that I'm in my late 30s, I have collected some strategies under my belt (yeah that's a mom joke, ha ha) for managing my belly issues in between medical interventions. The most fun and consistently effective practice I've tried is belly dance. I first tried out belly dance in college, when an older friend taught a brief workshop. I only learned a few basic hip movements, b