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Say 'yes' to the messy middle
Bringing back the magic with mutual aid, painted rocks, fringe boots and bigfoot research.
There’s no escaping the messy middle.
Toddlers go through the terrible twos while their parents go through the midlife shift. College athletes learn from the sophomore slump in the same ways that people who struggle with addiction get the real work done after the pink cloud of early recovery subsides. On a hero’s journey, it’s the abyss. In movies, the confrontation.
The space in between isn’t always so spacious. We’ve had water and power back for more than a week. Grocery stores are again stocked with whatever food we might need. My kids are back in school — kinda — and we’re starting to think about what the rest of the school year holds.
But thousands of people in Austin still don’t have water. Our homelessness crisis continues. COVID is either getting ready to spike again or maybe — just maybe — will start to fall for its final time. More people are getting vaccinated, even those who don’t quality, but it feels like signing up for “The Hunger Games” to get one.
It took awhile for me to give this a name, but once I did — the messy middle — it helps me settle in for whatever this specific time and situation has to teach us.
Pema Chodron’s “Comfortable with Uncertainty” is often my guidebook during moments like these. We’re finishing one chapter but the next one hasn’t been written yet. When I was almost divorced but not yet. When I was healing from a break-up but not yet ready to open my heart again. When my dad was dying but not dead. That one was the toughest.
Last week, I wrote about still being in awe after the thaw, and I’m glad to report that some of the magic has returned, even as we’re still figuring out what the proverbial thawing permafrost has released into the atmosphere.
As I go through more of these messy middles, the liminal spaces, the riparian zones in between where I’ve been and where I’m going, I’ve learned to lean into even the smallest sparks of joy and connection.
Those sources of magic I promised I’d be sharing with you each week, and here are the seedlings, the sparks I’m nurturing this weekend:
Making friends with fringe. I hadn’t had bangs since I was in high school, but in December, the fringe fairy visited me, and now I have a new haircut that I love. I also picked up a pair of fringe boots through my Buy Nothing group that have been giving me life lately.
Napping. The Nap Ministry has been revolutionizing how I think about rest and sleep. And capitalism and patriarchy and racism. Even if you’re already a professional napper, give them a follow.
Facetiming with someone under the age of ten. My niece is really into bigfoot lately. That’s right around the time I really got into bigfoot, too. We Facetimed and she taught me what she knew about the cryptid. My assignment is to learn about the Loch Ness monster and then teach her next weekend.
Belly laughs with a friend who has been on the journey. The first moment of relief I felt after the snowpocalypse was during a phone call with my friend Shimon, who is a laughter yoga coach. I’ve known him for almost 20 years now, so we’ve been through all the ups and downs and can find light and laughter in pain and loss.
Stretch. Yoga with Adriene’s “Breath” series has been a wonderful medicine during a stressful new year.
Paint a rock. The YMCA at Town Lake has re-opened and seems to be doing well. We went swimming for the first time in months over the weekend, and it warmed my heart to see these painted rocks by the front door. A needed reminder that creativity is a salve for the weary soul.
Give and receive mutual aid. I’ll be thinking about this one for a while to come, but in the past month, mutual aid seems to have gone mainstream. Volunteer groups are what kept Austin fed and with water and warmth during that awful week and beyond. The Austin food community kicked into overdrive cooking hot meals for folks while also bringing in enough funds to keep the restaurants and food businesses alive.
I have both received and given mutual aid in new and interesting ways, picking up groceries and house goods at the Statesman and distributing food, water, etc. to people in my circle. Also, we won our union vote to officially form the Austin NewsGuild!
Between the gift economy of Buy Nothing groups and the mutual aid of these social and community justice organizations, it feels like we’re seeing the birth of some long-lasting changes to how we interact with one another.
Society is something we co-create, and that feels more apparent now than ever. Birth is a messy, wonderful experience. As my favorite podcast host Alie Ward says: Life’s short. Cut bangs. Text your crush.