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Photo essay: Plants of my pandemic


I’m one shot deep into full inoculation. On my calendar, April 19, two weeks after our second shot, is circled in red, the outline of a wound, the unceremonious ending of a dread-full chugging along. I feel… complicated about it? I’ll be able to go hang out. Visit my masked neighbors. Be out again with people and friends. That makes me so happy but I am also shy about making plans, anxious about over-committing, afraid of under-committing. I feel like I have atrophied to my desk chair and the monotony of quarantine has emptied me, a hollowed tree trunk on its side. I have been growing behind a fence, having a conversation with myself in a gated space. And I feel trepidation about what to do once it is gone.


Happy My Birthday!


I turn 35 today! Wooooo! I feel reflective today because I’m smack in the middle of my thirties—a decade that I can say, halfway through, I have loved. “Transformative thirties” doesn’t sound as sexy as “dirty thirties,” but here I am. Transformed and sexier than ever.


What did you do in the last five years?

I quit drinking, got married, traveled the country, began a visual art practice, became a better writer, paid off all my student loans, started a savings account, finished grieving some old ass trauma, became a better partner, became a better friend, earned a full-time remote writing job I love, and learned I have narcolepsy (and learned how to treat it).

New in the shop, American Girl.

What was the biggest lesson of the last five years?

That thoughts and feelings are not final. They can change. And when they change, I change. Two things can be true at once. I can thrive in ambiguity now, not chaos; I learned how to tell the difference between those two things. Every day I make a choice to learn from my mistakes, give love, accept love, figure out where my mind is heading and get ahead of it—either rolling out the welcome mat or gently steering myself in a new direction.

I have learned the spots in me that are tender. I have learned why they are wounded and what they need to heal. I have learned how to get excited about the information that comes with rigorous self honesty, even when it’s unflattering. I welcome the news that self exploration uncovers. I like being in constant conversation with myself because it helps me show up in the world the best way I can.

What did you accomplish in the last five years that makes you the most proud?

Not proud necessarily… more like in awe: The work I did on my mindset and my spirit, and the expanded, nonjudgmental self awareness that is a result of that work. This has informed every relationship in my life and made them better in a profound way. And now I’m paying it forward. Recovery is a gift that keeps on giving.

What do you want to do in the next five years?

Ohhh yes, the good stuff! I want to act on this self awareness that has been gifted to me in the last five years. I want to take everything I’ve learned and focus it on doing the things I feel called to do. 

How will this manifest?

I will become a better writer and artist. I will be a better friend for myself. I will pay it forward to people I choose to let into my life. I will be fearless.

What do you hope your life looks like five years from now?

I will be proud of myself. I will know myself and recognize how I have grown since 35. I will be happy and excited about my choices. I will look as forward to my 40s as much as I am looking forward to the rest of my 30s right now. 

What are you grateful for today?

The chance to do this again! A birthday is just another day. Another opportunity to tell the people I love that I love them. Another opportunity to take my fears and turn them into fate. I am grateful for the love I have been given, and the person I have been. I am grateful that my mistakes haven’t been life-shattering. I am grateful for the girl I have held inside myself every birthday before this one. I love her for getting me here. A birthday is a moment to celebrate her too, all the “me” I used to be. I am grateful for this life and love watching it unfold.


Outtake: perplexed as to why I can’t take a screenshot while actually taking a screenshot… and falling into every stereotype about technology and aging in the process.
There we go. Cheers, from my Zoom room to yours.

Give yourself space for grace


This past month I reorganized how I approach getting creative work done throughout the week. I’ve long been able to use mornings to my advantage, writing and making art before I “clock in” and start the 9-to-5 grind. I’ve never been able to do it consistently though. For every one day I was able to be in the zone before breakfast, there were two days when I’d convince myself to do “job work” just so I could get in a better headspace to do “creative work,” but then never quite get around to that part of things. Now it’s one day for every seven. The mental drudgery of the past year has required an outrageous degree of emotional stamina (and, thus, creative stamina). Right now I feel like a success if I get even one side of my two-part work equation accomplished each day.

In respect for this state of being—and a fledgling tenderness for my little-engine-that-could instincts—I’ve decided to give myself a freaking break. I’ve adjusted my expectations and shifted to the mentality that Monday through Friday I do “job work” and Saturdays and Sundays are solely devoted to “creative work.” The difference in this seemingly obvious/standard setup is that I don’t feel shitty for only doing “job work” on weekdays when I had plans—plans that, at this point, are unrealistic—to somehow cram “creative work” into the margins. This stupid pandemic has taught me the value of giving myself the grace for space. And I’m gladly taking it. This new plan has freed up energetic space formerly reserved for anger at having to do “job work” in the first place and shame for seemingly prioritizing it over “creative work.” And, you know, shame and anger are a dynamite stick and work stress is the match (i.e., impulsively quitting my job in a self righteous moment of VIVA LA CREATIVE WORK rage). 

Speaking of, happy Pisces season, fellow fishies. (@pisces.sensitivity)

Some other things I’m digging:

1) Amor Fati

For those feeling a similar dearth of stamina as we round the bend on a year of quarantine, I lovingly pass along to you a concept that has recently helped me power through: Amor fati is a Latin phrase that describes “an attitude in which one sees everything that happens in one’s life, including suffering and loss, as good or, at the very least, necessary.” It’s like radical acceptance + optimism + c’est la vie + Timon and Pumbaa hakuna matata + idgaf-but-i-also-care-a-lot… all rolled into one feel-good philosophy. If nothing else, the pronunciation of amor fati sounds like “a more farty” and it will for sure put you in a better mood to hear very-serious-people say “a more farty” with very-serious-face:

“My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati. That one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it—but love it.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

An Ohio “bull,” Spark!

2) The *~Chicago Bulls~*

Hot on the heels of my Dennis Rodman obsession, I’m now a Bulls fan? The spontaneity innate in a basketball game watched in real time has been a welcome and exciting reprieve to evenings that we’re whiling away in wait for vaccine appointments. A book, a show, a podcast—all have an ending that has already been decided; they are indulgences I can choose to partake in at any given time. A basketball game, in contrast, is on a schedule. I have to watch attentively, and my Bulls (jfc, listen to me!) are like friends I get to see ball every other day. Lol… This sounds sadder when I type it out. Really, it’s been fun and I’m doing OK.

Justin + Jackie + Dennis = <3

3) First scenes

I’m trying to write the opening scene for a fictional story and I’m struggling with how to make it wallop the reader with an understanding of my central character AND make them want to turn to the second chapter immediately after reading the first. I was trying to think of my favorite first scenes in books I’ve read, but I kept coming back to a TV series instead: the very first scene of Killing Eve, starring Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer. I didn’t know which of these badasses was the serial killer in the show, so I won’t tell you all about it just in case you don’t either. Just watch the clip below… I think this scene is the best first scene I’ve ever experienced, in a book or TV show or film. I had no doubt who the psycho was after I watched this wildly surprising first scene, which has an ending that made me gasp. All with zero dialogue. Writing goals for life! (Or, in this case, serial killer murder death.)

What’s your favorite first scene? Shoot me links to your faves!


P.S. Love is everywhere. Hang in there. We’ll be together again soon.

Irving Park, Chicago, February 2021

Art as self-authorization


I spent most of January in an escapist headspace, burrowing down into several subjects, my fascination with which have taken me by surprise.

1) Richard Yates. I read Revolutionary Road in 2008 when the movie came out because my tween brain imprinted on Titanic-era Kate and Leo in 1997 and I’m pretty much subconsciously committed to following them in a space ship to Mars if they were featured as star-crossed lovers in its alien-infested bowels.

But. I never watched Revolutionary Road the movie for some reason? Probably because I read the book first and it was devastating; too devastating to see on screen right afterward. Fast forward almost 13 years later, the movie’s on HBO Max and with all this quarantine time on my hands, I gave it a crinoline-skirted whirl and… god damn. Devastating, yes indeed, but I was surprised at how differently I thought of the characters and the plot with some years as an adult under my belt. (APRIL, I KNOW, IT SUCKS YOU CAN’T SELF ACTUALIZE BECAUSE OF THINGS OUTSIDE YOUR CONTROL, BUT YOU LUCKY BITCH, JUST ENJOY YOUR HOUSE AND WORK-FREE LIFE OMFG.)

Perhaps my bleak outlook is quarantine related. Or could it be because the movie is different from the book? I bought a three-book tome of Richard Yates’ work and decided to find out. This turned out to be the biggest January 2021 gift of all! What a cynical, destructive, brutal, little worm Revolutionary Road is. 😍 Like the girl-smirking-at-house-fire meme in book form. I love it, and I find such unrepentant catharsis in how slowly but surely Yates dismantles each character with the kind of rage-eyed honesty no one wants to be in front of but, if you see the people the way he does, feels so rewarding and relieving to watch.

And how he does it is startling. Funny almost. You can’t even see it coming. Example: The following savory paragraph about how the children can sleep comfortably now that their parents have stopped fighting (because mom and dad are high on their unrealistic self-deluded fantasy that will eventually kill someone but we’ll get there soon enough!).

“They could lie drowsing now under the sound of kindly voices in the living room, a sound whose intricately rhythmic rise and fall would slowly turn into the shape of their dreams. And if they came awake later to turn over and reach with their toes for new cool places in the sheets, they knew the sound would still be there—one voice very deep and the other soft and pretty, talking and talking, as substantial and soothing as a blue range of mountains seen from far away.”

Then, next paragraph, like a slap in the face from a surly sugar plum fairy:

“This whole country’s rotten with sentimentality,” Frank said one night…

HA!


2) Dennis Rodman. I know, girl! I don’t know! Whyyy?

This minor obsession was inspired by another thing we finally watched: The Last Dance docu-series, which chronicles the 1990s Chicago Bulls as they went for their sixth and final title. At first I was really grooving on Scottie Pippen, learning about his playing style, often relegated to the second paragraph (rightfully so) behind Michael Jordan (GOAT). Then I met Dennis “The Worm” Rodman. Like, basketball Dennis Rodman. I’m so compelled by him! I’m trying to figure out why? I love the way he played basketball, I know that much. Gutter ball go-getter, beast hunter of the rankest of rebounds, trash-talking trash man king of the trash can people…


3) Art as self-authorization. That both of the angry, broken-hearted people listed above struggled with addiction issues all their lives, is the only thing not surprising to me.

I’m interested in people who have channeled extraordinary pain into something else and then turned that “something else” into a brand new something else. Something only they could do or make or be. And if it’s got a little dash of rebellious, self-supporting stank on it, even better. Dennis Rodman became his own performance art piece on the basketball court after accepting that the love/loyalty he thought existed in the world did not, in fact, exist; turning into Dennis Rodman as we now know and (I) love him was the alternative to suicide. For Yates, writing about loneliness, hopelessness, and self-dishonesty the way he did throbs with recognition; this is someone who lived most of their life feeling like a balloon within a balloon, disconnected from others and bumbling about in the void.

Maybe what’s appealing to me about Yates and Rodman right now relates to the third thing I thought about a lot this past month: the idea that being an artist is simply a matter of self-authorization—authorizing yourself to see what you see and express it however you see fit, then move on. I dig that. Feel inspired by it. Even when it comes from deeply flawed sources. Especially when it comes from deeply flawed sources (who have tried and failed to redeem themselves over and over). For those artists I am “rotten with sentimentality.”

Related: Below are some videos I made for my gallery’s Instagram stories this month. I ~authorized~ myself to learn how to animate my work and post it even if I don’t think it’s perfect yet. Can’t wait to see what February brings. Stay healthy, friends.

Mom Genes


Memphis


New Playground


Yo Yo Mama


Six smartphone apps I’m using to stay motivated this year 🤞


Yes, 2020 pulled up the floorboards of our contemporary societies and shoved our noses in the rot. We’re all glad the year is done, while also recognizing that a change of the Gregorian guard means pretty much nothing except a mindset shift. I got you. Same floorboard-free boat, baby.

So, armed with a fragile optimism and a new year’s-inspired reaffirmation that the only actions I can control are my own 🙃, I’m sharing six apps I started using in the past 12 months that have helped me feel not so gross about everything. And you can too!

For current events: Audm

This app offers audio versions of magazine articles from a range of national and international publications. I like it because I don’t have to buy a million magazines or subscriptions (which I used to purchase in a flurry and follow-up only with a sweaty regret of the space they eventually take up on my bedside table). And Audm saves me time. I can listen to the latest issue of The Atlantic, for example, while I wash my face masks or clean my zombie-repellent flare gun. 

Audm is one of two apps on this list that isn’t free (see also: Sun Basket). But at only $8.99 a month, it’s worth the time it saves me, the depth of knowledge it offers through the articles, and the variety of publication sources—not to mention their archives—to choose from.

For fitness: Pumatrac

Rarely does one download a free app and, soon after trying it, find one’s self exclaiming, “HOW IS THIS FREE?” But it’s 2021, anything is possible, and Pumatrac blew my cynical lil millennial mind. This ~free~ training app is from Puma, so there are ads for the brand’s clothes and workout items, but only on the homepage, and the ads are shockingly unobtrusive; way less distracting or overwhelming than most banner ads or YouTube spots. (Trying to read an article on a newspaper’s website at this point is like trying to uncover a dusty old article from the bottom of a stuffed time capsule.)

The app has video workouts in a variety of themes, like HIIT, pilates, running, and ballet. You pick a workout, download it to your phone, and then go through the circuit with your “trainer” in tow describing the technique and doing the workout with you. It’s as close to an in-person class as I’m going to get right now. My other favorite aspects: It tracks your runs, connects to your Spotify so you can listen to your own workout playlists in the background, and includes a daily calendar feature so you can plan your workouts for the week in advance and, hence the name, track what you’ve done in the past. The calendar automatically records your workouts to each date after you’re done.

For food: Sun Basket

I signed up for Sun Basket, a subscription meal kit delivery service, mere days before the pandemic started. It’s proven essential during our continued shelter-in-place predicament. The food is nice and fresh, and the app where you select your meals for each week is easy to manage. Sun Basket is based in San Francisco so, as you might expect, it has the sustainability thing down; the food is responsibly sourced and the packaging shows up with recycling and composting instructions. 

I also like that I can order more than just meals for the week. The app has a la carte options for snacks, pre-wrapped breakfasts, yogurt, dips, juices, soups, salad kits, cuts of meat, and more. In a time when long, luxurious grocery shops are a thing of the past (oh, to spend a day dillydallying in the magazine or pasta aisles!), this app has been a game changer for my desire to eat healthier and more thoughtfully.

For books: Libby

My brother, who is a gentleman and scholar and a librarian, recommended Libby last spring after I complained about OverDrive, the app I was using to download and listen to library audiobooks. He was, as he often is, right. I love Libby (which is by OverDrive). Superior to any other audiobook-related app I’ve used, Libby’s books download fast, the audio is smooth, and the download and returns (and remove-from-phone!) processes work efficiently. 

I also like that Libby directly connects to my Chicago Public Library branch, which means when I log on to the app, I’m visiting my branch’s homepage. It’s become my one-stop app to place holds on physical books, as well as peruse, request, and listen to audiobooks. I like that Libby tracks my progress as I listen; lets me set my preferences for item searches, like format and availability; and has an intuitive UX that makes me excited to find my next read—err, listen. 

For time management: Asana

I love learning new project management tools. I’ll admit it. Asana, a familiar program to me thanks to several freelance clients who use it, is far and away my favorite. Asana is just so easy to use and manage. The flying rainbow narwhals that occasionally shoot across my screen when I check off a task don’t hurt either.

The user friendly simplicity of Asana is exactly what I need for my individual *stuff*. When I started building shop.jackiemantey.com last April, I wanted a place to dump all the tasks I was racking up—a list that kept getting bigger by the hour as I moved through the process and realized how much work it would be. I tried Asana for this purpose, and it delivered.

With the free version, I’ve created several channels for various projects, separating them by art, writing, and personal goals; then I divided those up by project; then projects by tasks; tasks by dates; and so on. The board view is better for brainstorming than a Google doc, and the calendar view is more ideal than putting tasks on my personal cal. I also like that I have a place to dump related links I find or ideas I have that correspond to a particular project, versus putting them in a notes app or emailing them to myself to place later.

For calm: Insight Timer

This meditation app is free and lets you choose from numerous guided recordings based on meditation type (i.e., sleep, yoga, singing bowls, cello music, mindfulness); intention (i.e., feel grateful, don’t freak out, really don’t freak out, calm the f*ck down); and, most valuably, timeframe (i.e., 5 minutes, 30 minutes, an immortal’s nirvana-ish eternity). With Insight Timer, you (I) can easily find a five-minute “calm the f*ck down” meditation, for example, to help you (me) out between Zoom calls. Or zombie attacks. Or whatever embarrassing, disheartening news is next. 🙃


Illustration A Day Project entry, geometric illustrative graphic design

365 of 365: Done!


The day after Christmas 2019, I jumped into the Adobe deep end and purchased a year’s-long subscription to Illustrator. I was eager to learn the program, though I can’t remember why? Less expensive than buying canvas and paint, maybe?

Regardless, it turned out to be the best investment of 2019 (and we bought a French press that year!). Making an artwork every morning proved to be an anchor of consistency in a chaotic 2020, a way to visually track my growth in a moment when time started to feel like an unreal flat circle.

And you know what they say: When life gives you time that feels like an unreal flat circle, turn those flat circles into abstract illustrations. Or something.


Three benefits of a daily creative practice:

  • It breaks down big tasks into bite-sized baby carrots. Doing something daily means you can pick a task that only takes 20 minutes a day and still feel (and be) very accomplished by the end of the week. This makes finishing your Big Project feel mostly carrot, minimal stick. 
  • You learn to trust yourself. I mean, it’s similar to why you teach kids to make their bed every morning. It doesn’t really matter if the bed is made; they are going to just sleep in it again the next night. But it does matter that you learn to trust yourself to do small things in service of your future self. Getting into a made bed at the end of a long day feels so much better than getting into a messy one, right? The self-loving follow-through is what becomes the habit, not the act of the habit itself.
  • You get better at whatever you’re practicing. And you make some cool ish in the meantime.

In other words, I’ll be back at it in 2021. Cheers, friends. I hope you have the happiest, healthiest new year!


I said good day, 2020!


When Justin and I moved into this apartment a few years ago, I loved the place. It was bigger than the tiny Lakeview studios we’d been living in separately, and it had a three-panel window that looked out into the park. A dream! After a few months of living together, though, we realized it was way too small and, well, our home decor tastes did not align. Where I saw a place for some lovely thrift store trinkets (the bane of Justin’s existence), he saw room for his signed Rocky poster (the bane of mine). This apartment taught us to compromise and we stuffed ourselves and all our belongings into its tiny closets. Then, I promptly spent three years complaining about it. I wanted to move to a bigger place. I couldn’t wait to leave, looking up condos and bigger apartments on Redfin, Facebook, et al.

Of course, karma pulled out its spindly little finger and decided to teach me the value of staying still and staying put by bringing on a year that has required me to stay nowhere but here. Then it took its yellowed pointer and pushed salt into the ironic wound: I was diagnosed with narcolepsy in February of this year, started medication that helps me stay awake throughout the day in March, and had nothing to do with my newfound energy and wakeful outlook except stay home April through what feels like forever.

I, like most people who haven’t eaten at a restaurant since mid-March, went through a range of feelings this year. Late March through April, I really enjoyed staying home. My introvert self secretly delighted in fact that everyone else was at home too. The slower pace was a welcome reprieve from the going and the doing.

But by June, the country was on fire and my beloved grandpa died. I said goodbye to him on my sister’s phone. I watched him take his last breath via pixels on a two-by-five-inch screen. I stayed home for the funeral, Zooming in to the calling hours and the ceremony as I watched my family say goodbye to him for me. It was awful not being there; worse to know my grandma, safe in a visitor-free nursing home, couldn’t go either; alarming to see so many of my loved ones not wearing masks. The funeral was a briiing-brriiiing wake up call to the reality that many were not taking the reality of a pandemic personally. It made me doubt why we were doing so if no one else was?

This ushered in a period of grief, not just for my grandpa, but also for a lost Chicago summer. A seemingly lost year of our lives, filled with self-doubt about what the “right thing” was in the first place, and a feeling of loss surrounding something less tangible than time squandered—the truth of how fragile everything we took for granted could be. Our collective health, our scientific institutions, our communities, our democracy, and on and one it went.

We did the best we could. Justin and I went to the park across the street occasionally. We went for walks, spooning sherbert onto our tongues from dusty sidewalk seats. But it wasn’t the same. I was sad. So sad about all of it.

By fall I was in acceptance mode and experienced the numbness that comes with knowing this is just how it is, how it’s going to be for a while. I began to mentally prepare myself for the fact that we could be living like this until spring 2021, at the earliest. My autumn was consumed with professional work. I was grateful for the distraction but also experienced frustration that I couldn’t release the work stressies anywhere other than another room in our one-bedroom place. I couldn’t go work from a new cafe, find a forgotten gem in the Chicago scenery as I walked to and from my destinations. I couldn’t enjoy the life our high rent was a trade off for. I couldn’t escape into planning for our next trip—or looking at new places we could move to; after all, who knew what next year would look like and where we would want to live or even be able to afford to live. 

I missed my nieces and nephews so much. November marked a year since I’d seen any of them. The baby I bounced in my lap last Thanksgiving I now watched toddling and transforming into an adorably drool-faced sprinter over FaceTime. I longed to hold them, to play, to just feel their curious energy mingle alongside mine in real time. A new niece was born and, sitting in my office chair, I cooed over her perfect cherub cheeks while tears made a salty line down mine.

My dad got Covid at the end of November, and I fretted helplessly two states away. I lived through the cognitive dissonance that transpires when caring for someone sick means having to stay far away to keep them and others you love safe. Waiting for texts on his condition became an hourly grind. The anxiety didn’t lift until the day he sent me a video text from the farm, which meant he was finally recovered and healthy enough to go do his retirement chores, to see the bunnies and feed the hogs, the highlight of his average lung-strong days. 

The pace of the city slowed to a crawl but the people throbbed with rage. I began to feel cautious walking alone at night in a neighborhood that has always felt comfortable. I got more honks than usual, and more unmasked men came up to me than ever before, empowered by the chaos to take their shot. I’d turn them down and keep walking. Several followed me home, and I disarmed them by talking about my husband and asking about their plans for tomorrow.

Through all of this, I started to see our third-story walkup in a new light. Our apartment became a safe space, a warm glow connected to familial and friendly lifelines that could keep me whole, even if they were miles away. I found friends on the internet to talk to about sobriety, the pandemic-inspired isolation triggering so many of us recovered. I grew close with an awesome woman I met in late 2019 at a comedy show, our friendship forged over weekly Wednesday Zoom sessions. I strengthened friendships I already cherished, taking walks in so many parks I’d never been to in the city. I gained a writing group that now has 10 screenshots of our monthly Zoom-based workshops to add to our quarantine photo albums. I grew my writing and visual art practices, even as my exterior life wilted to a one-block radius. I found an online therapist that makes me hopeful for what’s next. I watered my jade plant that sits on the sill overlooking the park. She’s got the best view in the house and so do I.

I began to feel so grateful for my job. Grateful for the internet and a remote career that feels creative and aligned with my values. Grateful for a salary that made it so Justin didn’t have to go out either. Grateful for security and income to pay the rent. Grateful for taking that test in February instead of later in this weird ass year. Grateful for not getting Covid and a family relatively untouched by the carnage. Grateful for a best-friend-roommate husband. Grateful for the groceries, the snail mail, the time to focus on art. Grateful for no kids, no mortgage. Grateful for all the decisions that led us to be here, safe and sound, despite all that 2020 wrought. Grateful for an apartment like this, small but manageable, happy and warm. Healthy, most of all.

As I write this, there are nine days left in this unexpected, totally bananas year. Nine is my lucky number. Here’s hoping 2021 proves to be a lucky number too. Or at least a sane one. I’d settle for sane, waiting here by the window I’m fogging up with bated—but grateful—breath.