This log of vignettes began as a meditation on numbness. When I began paying attention to feeling and the lack thereof in my own life, I saw physical and mental processes as sources of sensory and emotional awareness. Compare, for example, the process of cooking a balanced, flavorful meal for dinner to the “process” of ripping open a package of frozen food and popping it into the microwave. In that comparison, there is an exchange–trading the sensory expe- rience of cooking a meal for the convenience of eating quickly–presumably to make time for another, more pressing engagement. I thought that numbness sprung from evading these processes in exchange for more time (or productivity or relevance). In some instances this rang true, and in others I found that exchange turned on its head. These vignettes play with process and feeling (or the lack thereof) and the various ways that they intertwine, overwhelm one another, or work harmoniously.
It is difficult to wake up as soon as your alarm goes off,
but browsing Twitter while brushing your teeth usually
does the trick. It’s only six a.m., but the carefully selected
cohort you follow are reliable and sharp, ready with your
breakfast of hot takes and op-eds. As their 280-character
zingers and 1200-word think pieces coax you awake, you
are vaguely aware that you are cheating yourself of understanding; surely there are more dimensions to whatever it
is you are reading about. Then again, who has the time or
energy to untangle the details themselves? You roll out of
bed energized by their efforts.
Efforts of your Own.
7 AM: Today’s the day you finally take time to come to
your own conclusions. Open Twitter by force of habit,
scroll aimlessly until you remember that you are supposed
to be making some sort of conscious shift towards mindfulness. Navigate to Reuters, where unprocessed news
waits to be molded by your own anemic critical thinking
capabilities. Here goes. “Building fire kills three.” Sad,
sure, but nobody’s paying you to research building codes
and take a strong stance on the issue by 9 a.m. Next.
“Facebook critics want regulation, investigation after data
misuse.” Sounds like it could possibly concern you. Godspeed to those critics.
“U.S. hints at shift on Russia with sanctions and condemnation.” Condemnation: that’s kind of a strong word!
What a rush.
You leave your apartment feeling neutral, if not slightly
overwhelmed. If there is something new to have feelings
about today, nobody has shown you how to do it.
8:30 AM: “‘Nika...” 8:33 AM: ‘Nika...” 8:35 AM: “Annika. Your alarm.” Jump out of bed. Curse under your
breath. Your roommate’s up now, too. Bolt to the bathroom before she gets there. Pee, change, swirl some toothpaste around your mouth, yank a hair tie off your wrist,
arrange the rat’s nest atop your head, grab a handful of
M&Ms off the coffee table and shove them in your face,
all in seven minutes. Out the door, down the stairs, trip
and fall, curse some more, up again, open the gate, RUN.
Get to class on time, sit down at the lab bench, regurgitate some information about endocrine systems that you crammed into your brain less than ten hours before.
Only when you get up to turn in your quiz do you notice that your jeans (and skin) ripped at the knee when
you fell fifteen minutes ago.
Take note of the stinging pain. Walk gingerly down the
hall. Attempt to speed up only to be punished by a sharp
twinge: “slow down, or else!” Slow. Down. Wash your
knee off thoroughly and dab it up and begin to walk
deliberately back to class. Lean heavily on your left foot.
Step carefully with your right. Left, lean; right, switch.
Left, lean; right, switch. Step leeeeaan, step, step leeeeaaan, step, step leeeaaan. There it is: rhythm.
Digest, understand, regroup, take a stance. If there is
anything that discourages skimping on process, it is this.
Writing often gives way to excess processing. Overwhelming self-doubt, anxiety, and fear all bubble to the surface
as a byproduct of too much thinking. The time and energy
spent managing these emotions could easily be put toward
other pursuits (like actually finishing your work or getting
out into the sunshine for ten minutes).
One morning you skip breakfast on the way to class. In
a few days’ time, that snowballs into forgetting what it
feels like to want food. No time to eat or drink or sleep,
only time to work. Down to one meal a day that you eat
because you know you should. Feeling hasn’t left you, it
has just been displaced. Your head pounds and your arms
feel a little weak and your lower lip cracks if you smile too
widely. Get through your to-do list and ease your body
back into routine with a piece of toast and some water.
Feed yourself more and more at regular intervals. Wake
up a few days later to a faint gnawing in your stomach;
hunger is back.
Seal coconut oil and hibiscus petals in an old glass jar and
leave them in the window for an afternoon to diffuse in
the sunlight. There is no rushing here; a stove or microwave would dry out the petals and sap the concoction of
its essence. Start with a one-inch section of your hair and
work your way around. Carefully, methodically massage
the same amount of oil into your scalp and down the
length of your hair until it is coated in a thin layer and
the air around your head is lightly fragrant. It took mom
ten minutes to do it when you were young. The time has
doubled since then and the routine is even more hypnotic
for it: a twenty-minute portal to the heightened sensory
perception of childhood. Let sit for two hours and go
about your life. Then rinse.
Among school week chaos, here is compressed ritual. One
body wash, two shampoos (one for scalp, one for hair) one conditioner, three minutes. You’ve been perfecting
this routine since the drought. Lather up, rinse, repeat
as needed, stick your landing on the bath mat right as
the timer rings. Time well spent. Or, rather, time spent
Collapse your “complaining about life” time into your
“making sure you eat a real meal” time and things
become a little more manageable. A teaspoon of olive
oil, one clove of minced garlic, a handful of chopped
onions, one throwaway jab at your boss. Let sizzle.
Place a fillet of fish and a handful of kale in the pan
along with one disheartening realization that you have
a huge assignment due in three days. One deep breath, a
sprinkling of salt, and chilli powder. Cover the pan, let
sit for five minutes and figure out a plan.
Right, left, breathe in, left, right, breathe out, right, left,
breathe in, left, right, breathe out. Watch for cars and
cracks in the pavement. Pattern is good—reliable, even
- and you know these streets well. Still, it is best to stay
on your toes in the event that someone’s UberPool hops
the curb at the next corner, hurtling in your direction.
You wouldn’t want to die so ingloriously.
An activity paired best with walking, surrounded by an
optimal balance of sensory input: birds chirping, the
sun warming your shoulders, catching little snippets of
conversation. Thoughts float in and out and sometimes
one worth pursuing will settle to roost for the night.
A pleasant, rewarding, almost passive experience that
produces something fruitful and worthwhile.
The anxiety-inducing counterpart of reflecting among
others. Best undertaken in short, shower-length intervals. More than twenty minutes alone in your bedroom
and you’re done for.
There was a time when sleep came easily but now it is
just process interrupted. Lie there and slowly drift off
until the faintest sound jolts you awake. Get frustrated,
take a melatonin, plug your ears with the same Spotify
playlist you’ve been listening to for the past three years,
cover your eyes with a rayon mask you snagged from
your last flight and try not to move. Sleeping is a series
of rehearsed steps now. Exhaustion is no longer enough.