In my last essay I talked about quitting my Twitter account on New Year’s Eve. I spent several weeks considering that decision and planning my departure. I assumed that would be my one big change going into the new year.
Well, on January 2nd I also quit my local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. Leaving DSA surprised me as much as anyone, though it feels like the obvious best choice in a period of big turmoil. This platform isn’t the right place for me to share my reasons why (not now anyway), so instead I’ll just tell you how I feel — hurt, angry, sad, relieved, and very, very salty. “Salty” in the sense that I feel quite irritated by what has happened to me, but also I feel literally salted from all the Doritos, mixed nuts, and cheese I’ve been eating in my time of grief. Doesn’t help that I’m also premenstrual at the moment. What a start to the new year!
Emotionally, I’ve been a wreck. But a very self-aware wreck. Having come from the “squash your feelings because you might get on your drunk dad’s nerves” school of family dysfunction, I’m still pretty new to this “feel it out” strategy my therapist recommends. Sometimes I struggle with drawing the line between feeling deeply and overthinking, because a big part of this emotional tumult involves processing so many personal experiences from the past few years. I guess I’m giving myself permission to ponder a lot of memories that make me scream “WHAT THE FUCK?!” internally while making lots of judgmental Bowie faces at my bedroom wall.
The trouble with all these big feelings is that they exhaust me. Before the new year, I’d been so used to distracting myself in emotionally difficult moments by doomscrolling Twitter. I mean, it’s honestly hilarious that I used to deal with deep disappointment in other people’s bad/weird behavior by… taking a deep dive into the myriad horrors of the world! “No time to consider this slow burn trauma, I’m too busy wondering whether more of us will die from plague or climate change in the next five years.” Focusing on massive, systemic injustice doesn’t necessarily make me feel good, but it can help me feel awful about something other than the ways I personally have been harmed in a bad situation.
But now my only social media vices are Facebook (ghost town) and a brand new Instagram account (confusing, boring). Sadly, neither of these offer much distraction. So instead I pay attention to all these heavy thoughts and feelings. I get mad and sad. I cry a lot. Yet I can’t stay in that mode nonstop, so I also permit myself to spend time being present for the very mundane and miraculous now.
For instance, I’ve become so aware of sunsets. These days it happens around the time I start thinking about dinner. Almost every evening, I glance out my kitchen window right when the sky is turning hazy pink. Even on cloudy days I notice the light shifting in that southwesterly direction. I’m also very aware that the sun sets about fifteen minutes later than it did a few weeks ago on the solstice. Thank goodness for daily meditation! Practicing mindfulness has brought me to a place of noticing this steady, incremental progression toward the equinox, and it feels good.
But here’s the really big news from my occasionally zen mind — I am newly taken aback by how often I’ve mistaken thuja trees for pines! This Christmas my husband gave me a field guide to trees of the Carolinas. I like to study it before bed, sometimes just to remind myself that deciduous leaves will return in a couple months. But in the absence of leafy limbs, I’ve come to appreciate our region’s abundant conifers and their reliable shades of green. I love to stop and stare at them during long neighborhood walks, the way big city tourists stop to gape at skyscrapers. Some of these trees in our neighborhood are so old and tall that I’ll never get an up-close glance at their foliage. So when I can get a close look, I find myself gawking every time. And I’ll be damned, so many of these local trees I’d lazily labeled as “pines” are actually thujas (commonly known as “arborvitae”). To think all these years I thought I was seeing sharp, pointy needles instead of soft, scaly ones… that’s the kind of detail I missed when I had more of a doomscrolling-brain.
On sunny days I make myself take long walks under the big, open January sky and pay special attention to the conifers. Upon returning from one of these recent jaunts, I found myself googling “cypress trees North Carolina.” And that’s when I learned NC is home to the eastern United States’ oldest trees — the bald cypress on the Black River near Wilmington. According to this Nature Conservancy post, “The oldest identified tree, scientifically labeled BLK69 and locally known as Methuselah, dates back to 364 AD.” I literally gasped upon reading this. I’d already been planning to take a winter beach trip to Wilmington. And now I can look forward to basking in the presence of an ancient celebrity conifer?! I feel so lucky for that.
Thinking about Methuselah helps ground me. Now there’s a living thing that’s seen some shit. Imagine all the creatures that ever came into contact with that tree. Methuselah has outlived them all and will probably outlive me, too. Pondering its longevity helps put both my doomscrolling fears and my personal woes in perspective. In the wake of a couple tough but firm new year’s decisions, I’ve changed my daily life considerably. And that doesn’t always feel good. In fact, the impact of this change feels like A LOT. But clarity brings its own rewards. Because even if it means processing a bunch of painful thoughts and memories, I also happen to notice the difference between the sharp, pointy needles and the soft, scaly ones.