I’m trying to make May be May, but it’s not going so well.
Everything that is May to me—family gatherings, milestone celebrations (someone is always graduating in a family as big as mine), anticipation of summer, planning vacation—is not happening, and it’s as if I’m having a bit of delayed grief.
I think it’s because I forged through March and April with a “get through it” mentality. I felt the collective sadness and loss, of course. Sometimes I felt so much, I could barely stand it. But I tried to keep cultivating the dogged optimism that I keep on hand for daunting situations.
I also did this thing I do called, Let’s tell a story and make it be so. I’ve been engaged in a lot of content strategy work lately, so when the virus started ravaging the U.S. and it became clear that everything must change, I strategized the shit out of our lives.
Instead of coming up with the narrative for what an organization’s website needed to be, I came up with the narrative for what our lives needed to be. We will do what we need to do. The kids will find a routine with their schoolwork. I will lower my expectations of everything—my productivity, my book sales, my ability to see my peers at all the conferences that are no longer—and focus on being grateful for the work I have. My husband and I will be partners and make it all work. I will give as much money as I can and help as much as I can.
And it has worked. The narrative has given me direction and some degree of peace, and while I can’t speak for my husband, I think he’d say it’s given him direction too, because he relies on me to not freak out and keep the family calm. For the past two months, we’ve been alright. We’ve found normal. Every single day, as I read about the mounting job losses, and the horror in New York City and other hot spots, I have reminded myself that we are incredibly lucky and compared to the hardships and losses that others are feeling, there is nothing to complain about.
But even as it’s working, there are divots of sadness growing deeper by the day. And while there are much bigger problems in the world than my sad May, constantly telling myself there is nothing to be sad about has officially become a stupid strategy that is leaving me struggling to get out of bed.
A few nights ago, around midnight, I finished reading The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich. Louise and I go way back. She has this way of telling me things I don’t know I need to hear (I wrote this essay a few years ago about how her novel, Love Medicine, changed my life). Anyway, in one of the final scenes of The Night Watchman, a character is looking at the Northern Lights. She knows that they have a scientific explanation, but she also thinks they are spirits of the dead looking after her people. “Millie watched them for a while longer, deciding one explanation did not rule out the other, that charged electrons could be spirits, that nothing ruled out anything else . . .”
Nothing rules out anything else.
It struck me as such a helpful idea right now. That I could let two ideas just be separate and not force them into the same narrative, like this:
— Narrative #1: This pandemic has exposed that my family and I are incredibly privileged, and that while we are not at all immune to tragedy, we have resources others lack. We have no real hardship and nothing to complain about. Staying home has not been that difficult and has actually been a fun challenge, and the summer will likely be more of the same, with plenty of fun and surprising moments.
— Narrative #2: This pandemic is taking away so much that I love, stripping away texture and joy from my life, and I am very, very sad. I’m also in a constant state of confusion and defensiveness about what is safe and what is dangerous and I feel immense decision fatigue. I’m really tired of my family and I can’t imagine an entire summer of this with literally nothing to look forward to.
One explanation does not rule out the other. Both are true, on top of each other.
My life would be a really bad and scattered website right now, with no clear narrative or call to action, except “Let May be May.” I probably wouldn’t click on that.
But I’ll live it and grieve it and celebrate it, and eventually, June will just come with its collection of narratives.
There is a Dutch version of my honesty book!
It comes out July 14, and the title translates to NEVER LIE AGAIN? ABOUT THE POWER OF HONESTY IN A WORLD THAT LIES.
The publisher is A.W. Bruna, which, as far as I can tell, publishes very cool books and creates gorgeous covers. I love, love, love this one! My book is featured here in their list of non-fiction that’s coming soon.
Looking for the English version, which published in January 2020? It's called Would I Lie to You? The Amazing Power of Being Honest in a World That Lies.