Let's Self-Care Together
Amy Gall is a writer, artist and activist living right around the corner (lucky me!) in Brooklyn NY. Since the election, Amy has been a source of measurable, actionable steps through her writing and her organizing. She sends a weekly email detailing clear steps to participate in this democracy and be heard. Her activist writing is a gift delivered on a silver email-shaped platter.
Amy calls her emails “Let’s Fight Trump, Together” and the together is the key. Along with a litany of resources across the web and IRL including the robust 5 Calls and Indivisible Amy details ways to feel connected to your community, your loved ones and your inner resiliency. Each email ends with great advice on self-care, which I’ve been taking to heart. I’m proud to highlight Amy’s self-care tips as this week’s letter.
Amy’s fiction, essays and interviews can be found in Tin House, Literary Hub, Women’s Health, Glamour and more. Amy Gall is currently working on her first novel. Find more of her work here.
Take an hour long walk by yourself.
This is something that I rarely do, but is incredibly helpful in times of stress. I turn off my phone, I have absolutely no goal or destination in mind, and I just walk. I try to notice the things that are alive, the trees, the grass, every scrap of green. It's amazing what grows in the city without tending, even in the late fall. I look at the houses, I look at the cracked patterns of the sidewalk, I look at the people. I connect to my legs and my arms and my breath. I connect to the fact that I am alive, and so are many, many other people. These people are laughing, yelling, crying, silent. But they are alive. We endure. And even when that is all we can do, there is incredible beauty in it.
If you really can't do the walk without something to listen to, I find the podcasts, "On Being" and "Another Round" to be particularly comforting and contemplative.
Meditate for ten minutes every morning.
I used to hate when people told me to meditate. I was suspicious and jealous of their blissed out, undistracted faces. However, over the years I finally realized, especially as a highly anxious person, that when I make this a regular practice, it really, really helps. I like guided meditations because I feel less alone and stuck in the silence of my thoughts. And I really like Pema Chodron's voice. I use the first ten minutes of this youtube clip, but do some googling and there is a wealth of guided meditations if this one doesn't speak to you.
At my new job there is also a weekly guided mindfulness meditation which I am so grateful for. Our teacher gave me this article on mindfulness meditation in the face of uncertain and terrifying times right after the election that I encourage you to read. It ends with a powerful quote from Howard Zinn, the last sentence of which, I've been trying to hold in my brain,
"The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory." -Howard Zinn
Dance for ten minutes each day.
Now that you are meditation experts (right?) add ten minutes before or after your meditation routine in the morning — or at night if that works, experiment with it — to dance. Nothing gets me out of my racing, anxious mind and into my body better than dancing. It wakes me up, it pulls me out of my fears, and it makes me feel happy, or at least, safe and calm. And if no one is around, I really don't care what I look like. I like to do it after I meditate to shake out and ground everything. But sometimes, especially if I'm super anxious and fidgety, I do it before. Here are two most excellent videos from, Christine and the Queens and Mykki Blanco to get you started, but really, just pick whatever excites you and gives you joy.
Do something creative for the pure fun of it.
I've been thinking a lot about capitalism and the value it places on constant production and consumption. Whether you are engaged in a creative pursuit as part of your full-time job or not, this concept can really tamp down the creativity we all have inside of us.
If I'm not about to publish, get paid for, or receive public praise for my work, I often feel like nothing I've done counts and I'm wasting my time. I lose sight of the actual, moment to moment process of creation, which can be really hard, but can also be thrilling, and engrossing and lead to life changing self-discovery.
So this week, I suggest doing something creative — dancing, painting, writing, drawing, whatever it is, for an hour, knowing that no one will see it. You can even rip it up and burn it at the end - unless you chose dancing, don't set yourself on fire — to really get into the special, ephemeral nature of creativity. This is a tough one for me, but I'm going to try to do it with writing as that's the thing I have the most ego about and therefore the most negative self-talk. Feel free to reach out to me for ideas!
Make a list of the things you have accomplished in the last year.
Yes, this year has been a bit of a trash fire, BUT, all of you have done incredible things despite that. So, I challenge you to write a list of your accomplishments, big or small in the last year. It can be as simple as flossing once a day - which, for me, is actually an eternal struggle. Or as big as starting a new job, moving to a new place, whatever. Don't think too much when you're writing it. I urge you to include AT LEAST ten things, but hey, go for fifty, go for a thousand. You stayed alive, and relatively healthy and sane for 365 days, that in and of itself is a huge accomplishment. When you're done, read it over, spend some time thinking about and trying to access a sense of pride and well-being. Light a candle, surround yourself with smells you love — incense, fresh herbs, etc., put on music that makes you happy, really engage all of your senses in the process of self-appreciation. You deserve it.
Take a damn nap. There's not much to say about this except that it is cold as hell - if you are in the northeast, dark as hell - if you are in the United States, and naps are amazing - if you are a sentient being. Get in your favorite pair of pajamas, sweat pants, whatever, and bundle up in bed and close your eyes. If you don't fall asleep — which I sometimes can't, the practice of slowing your mind and resting your body has great effects. For added reference, below is a picture of me, demonstrating proper napping technique. Pacifier is not necessary, but, is highly recommended.
Transitions sometimes suck. And being back at work after a long break is a particularly sucky one. So this week, continue to do one of the kind, regenerate things you did for yourself on vacation. Can you get up a little earlier so you have time to leisurely read the paper or a book or meditate? Can you take a bath when you get home from work? Can you set aside some time to spoon your loved ones/ pets? Can you color or paint or do some free writing? Can you buy some pumpkin pie or cookies or whatever your favorite holiday dessert is and pack it in your lunch? Anything to keep that sense of abundance and luxury and comfort going into the new year. We all need that.
Buy a coloring book and set aside at least 20 minutes each night for some quality coloring time. I have a particularly loud perfectionist part inside of me, which means that even if I set out to do something for the pure enjoyment of it, like collages or drawings or paintings, there's a voice in my body that immediately screams, "YOU'RE FUCKING IT UP!" That's why I like coloring. There's a lot less room for error, I know what all the steps are, and when I pick the picture I want to color, I tell myself that I am only going to color a very small portion of it so that I don't get stressed out about meeting an unachievable goal. Hopefully this resonates with you. This should feel like exploratory fun, not work.
Also, colors are wonderful and for very little money, coloring allows us to intimately experience them in all their glory. If you feel like sharing your creations with me, please do.
Here's a couple coloring books I'm a fan of to get you started:
Hip Hop Coloring Book
Lost Ocean Coloring Book
Listen to the words of activists who have done this work.
Yesterday, on MLK Day, I sat with my friend and listened to the last section of Dr. King's "I Have Been to the Mountaintop" speech. I highly recommend listening to the whole thing here. I was struck by how skilled a story-teller he was, how he infused humor into even the darkest moments, including the day he was stabbed nearly to death by a woman at a book signing. But mostly, I felt deeply comforted and motivated by this:
“Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness... The question is not, “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” the question is, “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
— DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
It is so easy to feel alone in all of this, so easy to feel helpless and frightened, but there are so many people who have gone down this road before us, so many people who are going down this road with us, and despite the dangers of the work, despite the fact that MLK died doing the work, he maintained a hope and a belief in something much larger than himself that enabled to keep going. So, take some time this week to remind yourself of all the people who are doing the work, where they draw strength from, be it God, or humanity, or family, or friends, or goodness, or karma or a sense of "the right thing". And then think about what keeps you going, what makes you feel that the fight is worth it.
Stretch, every day for ten minutes.
Seriously. When I got back from the march, my body was grouchy as fuck. And I didn't stretch and now it's grouchier. I'm trying to treat my body like a special, sacred treasure, instead of this thing that I ignore until it hurts, which is a tall order, but when I get into a daily stretching practice I remember just how much my body does and just how much love it deserves. The thing that's helped me the most, bar-none is massage balls. They're basically just hard rubber balls, super cheap and you can use them to roll out your back, your calves, your hamstrings all those hard to reach spots. Sometimes, stretching can feel really boring, which is why I like to do it at night when I'm about to go to bed.
Do something that directly addresses your feelings of helplessness and rage and gets them out of your body. This could be going to a boxing gym and beasting out on a heavy bag. This could be buying a dozen eggs and imagining each one of them in Donald Trump's face and then smashing them into a trash can (thanks, Langston for this). This could be going to a nearby park, picking up the biggest stick you can find and hitting it against the trunk of a tree (thanks, Elea for this one). Late the other night, after a particularly trying day, I took an old Walkman to the playground near my house and busted it to pieces with a hammer. Did I look crazy doing it? Absolutely. Did it feel amazing? Absolutely. Did I clean up after myself? Ab-SO-lutely. The point is, when appropriately channeled, anger is constructive and destructive in all the ways it needs to be and clears out space for some calm and compassion which we all need a lot of these days.
Also, if you're really in a rough spot, here's an emergency self care plan made by social workers that you can fill out and keep with you and seems really helpful.
1.) Go to a black owned restaurant and get some grub:
It is, of course, black history month every month but, this month is the official one and what better way to celebrate, nourish yourself, and start or continue your commitment to putting your dollars to good use than visiting one of the delicious places on this list. This site includes a lot of NYC/ Brooklyn options, but also a lot of other cities including Boston, DC, Oakland, LA, Memphis etc. It's also a great resource not only for places to eat, but also nightlife, travel spots for black professionals, etc. DIG IN!
2.) Be Sad
You may be saying, "Yes, duh, I've been sad every damn day since January 20th." But, for me, everything since the inauguration has felt so manic and scary that all I was doing when I wasn't taking action was panicking. Then, on Tuesday afternoon I was meditating and I got hit with a wave of grief. I was at work so I couldn't cry and I couldn't really even acknowledge it, but, the longer I kept ignoring it the more trapped I felt. Then, my mother called me and I instantly started sobbing. I told her I felt like a hopeless, tired, miserable little kid. When I finally said that, and when I had someone to sit with me and simply witness my grief, without telling me to get it together, or calm down, or try to cheer me up, or even say it's going to be okay, I felt better. The world was still the world the next morning, but, I was able to make saner, calmer, more adult decisions because of it. Thanks, mom.
It may seem cheesy, but if you're up for it, pick someone in your life you trust with the directive that they do very little in response other than offer an encouraging word or rub or back or whatever and just see if you can allow yourself to get quiet and get sad. If you end up crying, great, if you end up just saying a bunch of things that are on your mind, great, if you end up sitting in silence for ten minutes, great. Then, do the same thing for them. I think sadness comes when we stop, which is why so many of us don't stop, but if we allow ourselves daily spaces to be sad, sadness won't stagnate and turn into despondency. Pro-tip: Cry in the shower. Hot water will be cleansing your body, no one will be able to see or hear you, and you can listen to The Cranberries "Linger" at full blast while you do it. Seriously, the champagne of crying.
Read some damn poetry. This week was the first week I had a hard time coming up with a self care step. And then I read my friend Vanessa Jimenez Gabb's knock-out poem "Raise" on Verse Daily and I realized OF COURSE.
Poetry is life-saving. It reflects to me all of the things I need to say and hear, and the things I don't yet know how to say or listen for. And afterwards, poetry gives me the time to sit quietly with all of the pleasures, discomforts and recognitions it stirs up - and I think those personal, pondering moments are where a lot of personal growth comes in. So, take some time with your favorite book of poems. Or treat yourself to a new book. The other great thing about poems is they require so little time from us in our busy lives, and yet, the spiritual returns are huge.
Here's a reading list to get you started:
Images for Radical Politics by Vanessa Jimenez Gabb
In Full Velvet by Jenny Johnson
There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker
Night Sky With Exit Wounds Ocean Vuong
Cannibal Safiya Sinclair
Thank you Amy Gall for all the brilliant ways to care for ourselves in times of uncertainty. I feel honored to share this small part of her extensive work with you, Dear Reader.