When I first started writing this post, we had not descended into the chaos of Covid-19. Things were as normal as they could be in an imperfect world. Now that we are months into a new world, and remixed understanding of what it means to live, I think it’s time for me to share what I entered 2020 thinking so that I can remember how to exist with a sense of purpose. I hope it does the same for you. So, here are the thoughts of January 2020 LaKase:
I’m old. There’s just no way around that fact, but I’m OK with it. Sure, my knees pop when I sneeze, I have memory lapses, I hate when people pull up in front of my house, and… You get the point. Wanna know why I’m not mad about being too old to make it past 10 PM? Here’s why: getting older means that I have a serious knack for survival and adaptation, which (if I may be so bold) makes me feel like a bit of a superhero.
To put it mildly, last year was difficult. There were plenty of downs to compliment the ups, and I received more “no thank yous” than I thought I could handle. I pushed my creativity to a breaking point. It all weighed on my spirit so heavily that I went to sleep on December 31st of the last decade dwelling on the mistakes of my youth (thank you beer!) until it hit me that I was already trying to waste the future on the past.
If you’re an anxious over-thinker you might understand this tendency I’ve described. If not, let me do my best to share what it’s like. You think and think until your thoughts become so vivid that you feel yourself in that memory, physically reliving it. Only, you can’t change anything. Things remain imperfect, and you remain rooted in present day. You begin to feel overwhelmed by the permanency of that fact, that nothing can be perfect. Paradise eludes us all. Yet, I’ve come to learn that paradise is attainable if you shift your perception ever so slightly to the left of what feels right.
It’s no secret that I love the works of Toni Morrison. One of her books that has haunted me since reading it years ago is Paradise. Mild spoilers for the book to follow!
The book tells the tale of an all-Black town in the Midwest called Ruby, that has been hell-bent on perfection and order since the citizens were liberated from the bonds of enslavement. They carved out their own plot of paradise through hammering out any deviation from the patriarchal systems they believed kept them safe. Only the noblest of Black folks could stay, women had no say in the forward motion of their lives, and outsiders were regarded with disdain. The climax of the book comes when the men of Ruby attack a group of women living in an abandoned convent, because they believe them to be a dangerous blight on the perfection of their town.
That’s a lot right? You can expect no less from the late Mrs. Morrison, and that is why I will forever miss her. This little book contains commentary on race, colorism, misogyny, abuse, and the exchanges of power between men and women. However, what I’ve been coming back to lately is the way she challenges our perception of paradise, how we cling to notions of perfection even as we are dragged to our doom.
The people of the town of Ruby were so focused on protecting their ideals and themselves that they run off any chance at real happiness. They discard their own peace and obliterate a group of women who could have healed them all (leave it to Toni Morrison to inject some magical realism into a seemingly straightforward work). Love and life are dealt deathly blows all out of fear. The quest for power, nay order, serves to snatch away an semblance of either.
Don’t focus so much on the bad that you lose the good. When I read Paradise for the first time as a young woman, I was struggling to find my place in the world. As time has inched forward, I believe I have found that place, but now – as I revisit it – I’m working to reevaluate how I will maintain my sense of safety and belonging. I’ve realized that all my new year anxiety was tied to this fear of the unknown. A fear that I would lose what I’d worked so hard to build, as I had already struggled so much in the previous year. I, like most people, crave the idea of paradise: no pain, no struggle, no ending of joy. But what is there to keep us growing in the elimination of hardship?
Instead, I’m working to remind myself that love can be paradise, freedom can be a haven, and there is so much more to finding our perfect places than our location and archaic rules. So, good luck in 2020 and beyond. May you craft your own slice of paradise each day. Better yet? May you be brave enough to not destroy your happiness for fear of losing it.