What have you lost, on accident or purpose, because of the pandemic?
Flash Gordon has been my nickname my entire life. I got the name from a Morehouse brother who saw me zoom from one task to another with reckless abandon. I learned this important lesson the first time I wrote a scholarship letter to colleges and had to make a personal case for my value. Apparently, the more tasks you can juggle, the more you're appreciated by the world.
As I was growing up, rushing simply felt like the norm: my mother signed me up for two, three, even four extracurriculars at one time, and I spent my early days learning how to be busy. This lesson was only affirmed by my mentors, teachers, and fellow students doing the same thing.
Supremely high grades and critical thinking skills were never enough. You need to show how well you can run the rat race.
At every institute of higher learning, I used to challenge myself by how many extracurriculars I could manage at one single time. Honestly, I can’t remember a time where I didn’t hold a minimum of at least two side projects; honestly, I remember zooming from task to task much more than I remember the projects.
One day, I told myself, it would all pan out. With all of these titles, these accomplishments, these accolades, doors would open somewhere, somehow, and I would eventually reach the top of the mountain.
Until COVID hit.
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who was more scared of the panorama than I was. At first, that fear served a purpose: the more I stayed away from literally everyone, the more likely I’d stay alive.
You’d think a global pandemic would slow me down. Fat chance. I replaced physical zooming for virtual and psychological speed: the more I did at my computer, the less I focused on the metaphysical dread I felt from the outside.
During the Christmas season, it’s tradition to head to the cattle-post, where there’s no digital connection to the outside world. It’s a farm-to-table romantic’s dream: goats, chickens, bison, cacti, corn, and the like further than the eye can see. If you can handle the insufferable heat and incessant mosquito population. you’re presumably safe from everything.
But for me, the cattle post posed a more psychological threat. Sure, I’ve been here before, and the experience is a blessing every time. But, while I was giving myself tasks to accomplish: books to read and games to play, I had this nagging feeling that I was missing something.
After arriving home, I gave myself another task as usual: helping my fiance relax by preparing meals. I made some half-assed spaghetti plate with the remnants of an empty fridge. Traditionally, I imagine myself as a fledgling Gordon Ramsey, focusing my mind on the future while my hands handled the present.
As I Flash Gordon-ed across the kitchen,
I took some linguine in hand,
alongside the pesto, and
reached out for a new seafoam green mug to
measure out the right amount.
I moved past the cabinet,
ready to accomplish the next task, and
it slipped out of my hand
and crashed on the floor.
My finance knew what was up before I sulked into her room. The thing about flash-like movement; your fantasy self is less clumsy than your flesh and blood.
These mugs matter, you see. She worked hard to house into a home. It perfectly complemented the green aura of the kitchen, and it served hot coffee and cold tea on hot mornings and lukewarm weekends.
In her infinite grace, she didn’t attack me when she knew I beat myself up enough for both of us. But, after we ate the food, took a bit of time apart, and prepared for the next day, she stressed:
“Do me a favor. Please slow down. Can you please be sure not to break anything? Everything in there is one of a kind.”
At first, I was angry. After some time, I sat with the feeling.
Towards what am I rushing?
Where’s my anxiety coming from?
What does this have to do with white supremacy?
Flash Gordon wasn’t only my nickname. It was my father’s, and my grandmother's before him.
Ultimately, I can’t assume their relationship with speed was the same as mine. But, I can reflect on how many of my colleagues and ancestors felt the need to ‘flash’ their way through life.
In a previous article, I discussed how time is an artifact of white supremacy (#78). How, exactly, you might ask? Everyone experiences the same twenty-four hours. But see, they actually don’t.
- Yes, we’re all humans and are biologically accustomed to circadian rhythms, like much of the rest of biological existence. However, when using those hours in our day, people are charged to use them in different ways.
- Sure, most of us have to work jobs in the world. But, marginalized people that work dirty and invisible jobs are valued less for their work, and thus have to do more to make do in our society.
- Marginalized communities, due to epigenetic effects, environmental racism, and systemic and holistic health failures, have less and less time to live on this earth.
One of the ways Black people aim to reclaim time is by developing a culture of haste. By accumulating activities, accolades, and productivity, the more valuable you’re considered in your life.
The spoils of time go to the successful. If you acquire the means to use your time wisely, you get more benefits, which curates your view of what value means, which reflects the need for more speed and more projects, which means you keep accelerating at this pace, which means you get more benefits…
And the remnants go to the rest. If you fail once, or a few times, and don’t collect what you should, until you start again until you’re charged with more of life’s responsibilities, until you’re just picking up what works and tasks you can, until the system keeps you from accelerating back up again…
The rat race is a hamster wheel on both sides, and neither group can get off.
COVID’s bad enough. My anxiety can’t serve two masters.
I’m nowhere near the first person to say these things. Look at the great contributions of the Nap Ministry if you want to catch some wisdom about the intersection of exhaustion and oppression.
But, since this is my story, I’m using it to reflect on how even for a lifetime addict to speed; slow, consistent change might be possible.
What books have you read that have served as transformational resets?
A couple of years ago, it was thick Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness, an Introduction to the Practice of Meditation. The book’s chapter does a much better job describing the value of holding purposeful space than any single Medium article.
“While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes.
At first glance, that might seem a little silly: why put so much stress on a simple thing? But that’s precisely the point. The fact that I am standing there and washing these bowls is a wondrous reality. I’m being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions.
There’s no way I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped here and there on the waves.”
I’m not strong enough — yet — to throw out every remnant of my hastiness. A lifelong addiction won’t be broken so easily.
But seafoam mugs deserve a longer life, you see. They deserve care, love, and affection. They deserve consideration and kindness, the same we should give to ourselves.
So take a breath,
calm your nerves,
and just focus
on the dish, my friend.
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You made it! I can’t thank you enough.
I can feel it; you have a lot to say on this topic. My ear is yours. Let’s find a reason to connect.