On PlayDoh Through the Haze.
“This is all so anxiety-inducing because things we once held as solid are no longer things we can rely on.” Someone on a video call, sometime in the fog of the last couple weeks.
Solidity petrifies me. I mould and shape my life like its Play-doh. That non-toxic, non-staining, reusable modeling compound. Play-doh is my preferred medium because it is pliable and putty-like. The elements that make up how I experience life can be concocted and reconcocted by my own two hands — adding a bit of pressure here, a kneed there, perhaps some colour-mixing. But most importantly, it gives me the relative ease of starting afresh. The optionality is endless. But a couple weeks back, overnight, the Play-Doh vanished into thin air and all of my soft, squishy models hardened into clay.
Every single decision we’ve taken in our lives up until this point has been conjured up in front of our eyes and suspended in mid-air in a foggy, indistinct mist all around us. These decisions are out on public display across FaceTime, Zoom, Microsoft Meets, and are, more uncomfortably, silently levitating in our sanctuaries, for us to feel ever-so viscerally and try make sense of day-in-day-out. Right now, we’re allcoming together and experiencing the world permanently change outside our windows, whilst gazing at the same giant pink moon. The planet we live on has revealed the depth of human unknowing and fragility. Then we step back inside and once again analyse our own very particular interior worlds. Each individual is going through an incredibly unique, individually messy and disorientating paradigm shift.
People who chose to live together are sharing more time and space with each other than ever before, for better and for worse. People who chose to live alone are condemned to live without physical touch and human interaction. People who chose work over proximity to their nearest and dearest are at risk of losing that very work. People who chose to start families are embroiled within those roles and dynamics 24/7. People who chose to cross borders into unfamiliar lands are longing for home.
Our decisions, unbeknownst to us, have been locked in and locked down for longer than we ever imagined they’d be. We’re grieving the choices we made and the ones we didn’t make.
All those personal life choices (alongside ‘decisions’ beyond many people’s control made for survival in a capitalist neo-liberal rigged fucked up world) led us to the very environments we find ourselves haphazardly stumbling through right now. I get the sense we’re all deeply questioning what kind of life we’ve conjured up for ourselves, what kind of life we’re building, and ultimately are grappling with the question — “what is the life I want to create for myself, that is worth living from this point onwards?”
Let’s be clear. We are in the midst of a global pandemic. This isn’t a writing retreat. This isn’t an incubator of innovation. This isn’t a self care retreat. Your body and your mind is not a self-optimisation machine. You may find it helpful to make, you may find it helpful to focus on a project, you may find it helpful to binge watch 5 seasons of Broad City, you may find it helpful to run, to nap, to cook, to eat Brie and sourdough for dinner 3 times in a row washed down with a bottle of Riesling, to turn off your phone and sit in silence, to ghost dozens of voice notes or to send rambling incoherent ones.
To feel the urge to do nothing and everything at once. To feel like creating something abstract, deep, ethereal and lighthearted, fun and nonsensical(!?). To feel a sudden sprint of productivity and then a wave of barrenness and imobility. To put it bluntly, collectively across the globe, death and illness is slowly burrowing itself into our consciousness — this is going to make us all move a little bit mad.
Freud, as a psychoanalyst, had an approach. Yes he did. His life’s work and the world around him was set against a backdrop of death and repressed sexuality. As a purveyor of assigning human experience neat buckets and language his legacy lives on throughout the societal climates humans find themselves in. Freud makes a very clear distinction between mourning and melancholia. When we mourn the loss can be specifically located and identified. Whereas in a state of melancholy, any perceived loss has been made blurry — meaning that our healing process has been delayed indefinitely. There’s no recovery timeline and there’s no clear ‘object’ we’re focussing on with crystal clear clarity in order to aide it.
In a state of melancholy we cannot help but to turn our gaze inward; we cannot look for new external ‘thing’ to attach ourselves to, because we can’t fully make out and understand exactly what it is that we’re trying to recover from losing.
I can feel myself attempting to flip the script on melancholia as I’m typing this very article. Cognitive reappraisal is a way of framing your mind to adopt a detached attitude towards life-altering events - like a journalist who is reporting on it from the outside. Reframing the weirdness of an emotional experience as being a source of strength and resilience can help us cope with real adversity. You know who have been unwillingly and unknowingly using these survival strategies that since the dawn of time? Marginalised communities.
All this is to say — take time.
Do what you need to.
Be gentle with yourself and others.
Notice that the Play-Doh models aren’t as hard as I initially thought they were.
Sit up in bed.
Wonder whether I should have sat in silence and been still just a little longer.