The time-being is uncomfortable. I thought it would end with the elections, but a sick feeling lingers underneath the Charlie Brown specials, a vengeful pumpkin still occupies the White House, and a band of hey-brahs is preparing a coup.
Whenever I'm not sure of the right way to go, I remember my grandfather's advice: "the most important knowledge is that which helps us live." My question is, how do we survive the interim?
Last week was Thanksgiving, which has become increasingly awkward since I've befriended the people whose land we stole. I am starting to get why James Baldwin said that, to be "in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time." Less than 300 years ago, Tongva and Acjachemen villages lined the Arroyo Seco (Los Angeles' dry riverbed that has been paved with concrete) before Mexico ceded the land we call California to the United States. The Casa of General Flores – the Mexican General who signed the cession documents – is walking distance from my home off Route 66. The Incorporated City of South Pasadena converted the adobe casita into La General Apartments.
That's the deceptive power of White Supremacy: it glosses over harder truths. Growing up on Kumeyaay Land in San Diego, kids used to call me Pocahontas and ask if I was an Indian with a feather or a dot. It made me mad, and I'm not sure when I started using the caricature to describe myself. Really, Pocahontas was also a little girl, John Smith was a sex trafficker, and neither fact lessens the nostalgia I feel for the Disney Soundtrack. In the same way, I no longer acknowledge Thanksgiving as a holiday, but I still went home for lamb curry and cranberries with my family, for whom I give immense thanks.
The Cudahy Youth Foundation had the right idea – we can recognize bullshit and use it as an opportunity for reclamation. An interesting group of 4 Amigos / Indigenous Organizers in SELA (Southeast L.A.) turned the narrative on its head by appropriating the appropriator. They purposefully used the framework of Thanksgiving to invite neighbors to a socially distant Turkey-giveaway. Speakers managed the gift line over FM radio as performers and musicians broadcast Indigenous Histories of the United States directly into peoples' cars. Using the phrase "thanksgiving" may have been risky, but it filled a parking lot in Cudahy with families who had a hearty meal this week. It is a mystery how humans hold such immense joy and insurmountable grief in such a fragile cage – but here we are. I think part of the secret is that thankfulness is regenerative. The practice of gratitude, even when uneasy, fills us up.
A Note from the Nap Bishop...
At precisely the right time, affirmation kerplunked into my mail slot via the U.S. Postal Service:
"Shannon ~ 11/19/2020
I hope you are healthy and grounded during these times. I am grateful for your lovely letter and beautiful card. Thank you for sharing the story of its origins. I've actually visited Jerusalem and was mesmerized by my walks in the shops there. Sending rest and care vibes for your sustained rest practice.
All the best,
A few months ago, Tricia Hersey, otherwise known as The Nap Bishop, aka Their Highness the Nap Bishop (@thenapministry), offered her P.O. Box Address with the promise to return any letters sent to her in a given period. I sent her one of my favorite postcards with a black and white picture dating to 1921 from a small family photography shop in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of East Jerusalem.
Tricia Hersey teaches that rest is a radical, revolutionary act. "Grind Culture" convinces us that we are only as valuable as our productivity, but humans are not disposable and we are not machines. Rest is healing, and while rest for me often includes naps, it is not always sleep.
Writing postcards is rest for my Soul. It's a way to reflect on and honor loved ones, it gives me a chance to write for pleasure (not pressure), and there is something romantic about handwritten letters that gets me right in the feels.
My recommendation for processing the recent past is to spend time appreciating the present. Choose a gratitude practice that brings you peace. You'll know it when you feel it. Calm should be like a warm drink, not a chore. For example, holiday cards are my mom's idea of torture, so my letter writing practice might not be the right fit for her.
Don't add to your "to-do" list. If giving thanks feels exhausting, take a nap. Still? Continue resting until you look forward to waking up and giving thanks. Clearing our minds of anxiety about the future allows our bodies space to catch up with the rest of us. Give it time.