Spend $75 or more on shop.jackiemantey.com this month and get a free print of “Pay Attention” (pictured above, to be mailed August 1). // Original image info: “Albanian Solider” (1906-1914) from photographer Augustus Sherman’s collection of photographs from Ellis Island, which is worth a scroll this Fourth of July weekend.
Pandemic is over. A new season has begun. Right? It feels like it. But it also feels as if we don’t know how to come out of something as a whole. For an event that happened to all of us at the same time, it also remains a reminder of how devastatingly singular we all can be.
Maybe it’s because we’re trying to come out whole in the first place. Why do that to ourselves? The past year or so was a massive fracturing of everything we thought we knew and understood. How does one recover from something one survived? That’s a question I’ve been trying to find an answer to my whole life.
Today I walked a mile to the dentist to get a crown put on to replace a temporary crown currently on one of my molars. Here’s a list of things I saw along the way: a man in biker shorts juggling three balls while running, a car with a giant Puerto Rican flag flying from the left passenger window and a giant Pride flag flying from the right one, and this flamingo bike:
I feel most like the man pointlessly juggling while running when what I really want to feel like is the person in the flag car. I’d settle for at least feeling like the flamingo.
By the time I arrived at the dentist, I checked my phone and saw they’d called several times. My crown hadn’t arrived yet. Someone in some factory somewhere is backed up and still making it, this fake cap for something inside me that rotted away while I sat inside and watched the news do anything but sit still.
Maybe we’ve been whole this whole time. Maybe we were rotten to begin with.
Either way, it feels nice to hold others in my arms again. To let them see my unmasked smile. Even if part of it is fake. Or at least temporary. For now.
I’m excited to have a new essay and artwork featured in the Spring 2021 editing of IntimaJournal of Narrative Medicine!
My essay, titled Sleep to Dream, is the story of how a recent medical diagnosis has been a surprising, missing plot point for several of my self-narratives.
“Fatigue is my kryptonite. The never-ending scramble for sleep is simply part of who I am. That was the story I told myself, anyway. Then I fell asleep while alone in a late-night Uber ride and finally admitted that slogging through these onslaughts of exhaustion was cause for concern.
That’s why I’m here, trying to make small talk with an uninterested sleep technologist pushing electrodes onto my head…“
Five years is 1,825 days. It’s 12 steps and two weekly meetups. It’s one husband, three therapists, and a better best friend. It’s a boost on a bad day. It’s a confession on a good one. It’s a letting go of all that was lost when drowned. It’s noticing flowers bloom, leaves change, skin prickle, water bend, sirens howl, clouds melt, squirrels race, backs curl, dumplings steam, cake melt, chest tighten, pink glow, humility work, and truth help—for the first time, over and over. It’s the distance it takes to be the same shape, stitching, color, and silhouette of spirit—turned right-side out. It’s the whole of all that is countless.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.”
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.
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.)