How’s It Going In There? 2022 Edition - Transcript
This is a transcript of a “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” episode entitled, “How’s It Going In There? 2022 Edition.” The text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future for accuracy.
Listen to the episode here.
When I was a kid, I loved making time capsules. I would get a shoebox. I would put in a Lisa Frank sticker, a pencil with one of those fancy topper erasers that you could never actually use to erase anything because then the topper would be ruined, a note from myself, maybe a cassette tape. I’d bury it in our backyard. I absolutely should not have been digging without knowing where things were buried. I guess I could’ve struck a gas line, because I was digging pretty deep.. You have to dig pretty deep to bury a shoebox. And then the next week, I would dig it up immediately, because I had no patience.
This episode is like that. It starts with a time capsule of 2020. This is an episode that we recorded in March right after Minnesota started shelter in place because there was this new thing sweeping the globe, a global sensation, called COVID-19.
We were disinfecting our groceries with Clorox wipes. We were stockpiling basics. We were watching and listening to news of a horrible thing that was killing people all around the world. We were living in a dystopian novel — or movie, I guess! — and trying to pretend like it was all okay. It was all going to be okay. This would be over in two weeks. Right? In the meantime, we’d just tie a napkin around our faces, bandana-style, or we’d stay home. It would be over!
It … was not over.
We made this episode with help from our listeners in that time, and I actually did forget about it, unlike those time capsules of childhood. I forgot about it until a listener messaged me on Instagram and said that this was the episode that they listen to over and over, one that they revisited often. And I thought, “WHAT? WHY? This one? This episode, recorded in a time that felt so terrifying and hopeless and bizarre?”
And I listened back to it. And what I hear is not only terror, and it’s not ONLY bizarre, but it definitely is not hopeless.
So we decided that we would revisit it. We’d make a couple updates. (More than a couple. We made a lotta updates. This is a good episode.)
I’m Nora McInerny, this is “Terrible, Thanks for Asking,” and this is “How’s It Going In There? 2022 Edition.”
But first, we’re going back in time to March 2020.
Ralph: Is this going on like, TV?
Nora: No, it’s not going on the TV. It might go in the podcast. Do you know what the podcast is?
Nora: What's it called?
Ralph: Still Kickin?
Nora: It's called “Terr…”
Ralph: “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.”
Nora: There we go.
Hello everyone. It’s Nora McInerny, and this is “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” — COVID19 edition, coming at you from my car. If you’ve been listening to the podcast, you know that we’ve been recording and interviewing from my noisy ass house, where I live with four children, a husband, and a shih tzu named Stacy.
Right now it’s quiet, because I’m in my car, in the garage, and I yelled at the kids not to stomp around in the house above me. But on an average day in the time of corona, our house sounds like this:
Sophie: Q, no! Just ... will you guys … I’m gonna snap soon.
Nora: Okay, let's —
Sophie: I've snapped many times but, like, again.
Nora: Okay, boys. Could you leave the room and shut the door? You can come back if — one of you go find my coffee cup and bring me my coffee, okay? I have no idea where my coffee cup is. Oh my god, what the hell, is it …
Truly, I never know where my coffee cup is. But I do know where my kids are — they’re RIGHT HERE. They’re always RIGHT HERE. And they’re blessings. I mean, what would I do without them? They’re wonderful, they’re wonderful, and also please leave me alone. I know where my kids are. And I know where you are. You’re at home. Unless you’re an essential worker, in which case you’re stocking our shelves, saving lives, dropping off the tampons we forgot to buy before this nightmare started. THANK YOU. Thank you.
But the rest of us? We’re at home.
Nora: This better be recording. I'm Nora McInerny. I'm just wondering: How’s it going in there, everyone? How's it going in there, wherever you are? We are in the suburbs of Minneapolis, Minnesota. We’re in our house, where we've been for a while. We've left the house to take a couple of walks every day. But today it is gray. It is rainy. March is the most…
Ralph: Mom, where did you first see it?
Nora: I think that it's in the kitchen, or it's on my desk, or it's in the bathroom. We've gone on a couple of walks. We send the little kids out on, like, trips ... like I just described to them, which is that right now they're on a hunt for my coffee cup. Who knows where I set it? So we are in the pink canopy bed of our favorite daughter, Sophia, who earlier today, you know, was just enjoying a nice little sob at the kitchen table. I have to say it was a beautiful cry.
Sophie: Thank you. Thank you. I'm very happy that you think that.
Nora: You’re a cute crier.
Sophie: Thank you.
Nora: So you were crying. Why were you crying?
Sophie: Because this isolation is very hard. Especially for someone who is an extrovert and very social.
Nora: What's hard about it?
Sophie: Not being able to be around the people that I really enjoy and, like, seeing my friends and being able to, like, touch them? Which is, like, something that, like, you don't realize is really important until you can't have that. I don't get to, like, go to school and see my best friend and, like, just hang out and, like, have a good emotional talk. Not cry, but just talk about the stuff and, like, give each other a hug. Very important. You don't realize how, like ... how important it is and how much you need it until you can’t have it from them.
Nora: I think when you describe not being able to go to school for a couple weeks. Thank you, Baby. I think most kids are like, “Yeah, that'll be frickin’ rad.” But what's it like in real life?
Sophie: It's horrible. And as a person that actually does enjoy school... like, when it's… most of the class, and not every single class, but like... I'm someone who does enjoy getting to learn and being able to, like, learn new things. It's hard not being able to be there. I just feel lazy, and I think that, like, people don't understand. When you're in school, you're like: Oh, this sucks. I just want to get out. But then you get out and you have nothing to do except for playing video games or try to, like, occupy your own time, where in school everything is calculated.
As I record this, we’re going on I think a month of isolation. And it’s gotten harder in some ways. Can you imagine being in 8th grade and being stuck with your family all the time? Well, imagine it, because it’s the reality for teenagers now. And it’s easier in others. Like, okay, am I really homeschooling my children? Absolutely not. Not in the least. I mean, we are doing distance “learning,” but mostly their teacher, their best friend, their mentor is the internet, specifically Disney+.
We are taking regular breaks to play Mario Kart — god bless the Nintendo Switch. We have ice cream every single night. We have done a couple of puzzles. We have had several major breakdowns. We love each other. And we’re also a normal family … where our 13-year-old sometimes wants to, in her words, strangle her older brother.
Sophie: He just gets on my nerves. [laughing] Like, I can't do it to the little boys ...
Nora: [laughing] You cannot attack your little brothers. But your older brother? I mean ...
Sophie: Yeah! I can do that! Like ... I wouldn't kill him. I wouldn't hurt him. But like, would I just slap him?
Sophie: Yes. Do I sometimes have the sudden urge to slap him? Yes. But then I'm like: Oh my god, I shouldn't do that. It's like when you have, like ... when someone's drinking water and all you want to do is just hit the water bottle?
The entire premise of this show is based on emotional honesty. On daring to tell the truth about how it feels to live in a world where life is really hard. Kids are pretty good at telling the truth. I interviewed my children because, look, I’m at home, they’re accessible to me in this pandemic. I need something to fill the time. If you’re looking for a free idea on how to entertain your children, turn on your phone, use voice memos, and interview them. But be warned: If you interview one, you must interview them all.
Ralph: I'm 7 years old. My favorite color's blue. My name is Ralph.
Nora: How is… how's it going in here?
Ralph: Um, good. Little frustrating because Mom keeps working, and it takes a while. My big brother is just doing stuff so I can't play with him. [sighs]
Nora: We had this conversation at night, do you remember it, and you were really, really sad when I got out of the shower, and you said, “I'm just not used to this.” What are you not used to?
Ralph: Staying home for a very long time, because I wanna go to school, see my friends and play outside. But I have to stay inside while I'm here.
Nora: Do you know why we're staying inside?
Ralph: Because of the coronavirus and to protect other people from getting sick.
Nora: Yeah. Yeah. I felt bad the other night because you were very, very sad, and you said you were having a hard time controlling your emotions. Would you believe me if I told you a lot of grownups have trouble at that, too?
Nora: What do you think grownups are worried about?
Ralph: Them getting sick and their children getting sick.
Nora: Are you worried about anything?
Ralph: Um. I don't really know.
Nora: That’s good.
Yeahhhh. I don’t really know either. Worried about everything. Worried about nothing. So… we’ll be right back.
We’re back. And I’m done talking to my kids — for this episode, and also in general! I just need to be alone. I’m sitting in a car, just trying to be alone.
Right now, life is hard for all of us. A bad thing is happening to all of us. And yeah, it’s harder for some than for others and yeah, we’re all in this together theoretically... but in practice? Some people are taking on a LOT more of the burden, some people are going to be much, MUCH more affected than other people. Some of us are experiencing tragedy and some of us, like me, are experiencing a light-to-mid inconvenience.
All of us are stuck in this strange in-between, where the lives we had are no longer the lives we are living, where the things we counted on are no longer count-on-able.
This episode, you’ll hear from fellow TTFA listeners around the world who are all going through it, right along with you. We put all the questions we asked them in the show notes, so you can do this exercise on your own, too. Because sometimes, the person we need to give a straight answer to is us.
A lot of us watching the news back in February and March, we saw what was happening in Italy, but we didn’t understand that we were staring at a crystal ball. And if you’re like, I DID, YOU DUMMY! Good for you. But a lot of us were watching the news oblivious that we were watching footage from our own terrible future.
We got this message from Nicole, in Bergamo Italy … one of the hardest hit cities.
NICOLE: We've had a death in the family, and the funeral was really different from what we're used to because there are so many folks who have died. The funerals are quick and no-nonsense. One right after another, about 15 minutes in length. Nobody touches anybody. Everybody is six feet away from each other and it's just boom, boom, boom, one after the other. There's a limit as well as to how many people can attend the funeral. And it's four. So...yeah. Not everybody gets to grieve in the way that they want to.
Soon, this wasn’t just happening in Italy. And it wasn’t just on the news. And it wasn’t just news stories. It was a part of our daily lives, interrupting and complicating how we live, how we interact, how we die… and how we grieve. And we have never been great at grief here in America. We typically give people maybe 3-5 business days of bereavement leave. Go ahead and check your policy right now. But you can usually count on having a funeral. On gathering all your loved ones close — real close, maybe too close, honestly — to say goodbye to the person who died. Just like you could count on having a goodbye. On being able to hold your person’s hand while they crossed to the other side.
One of the illuminating parts of isolation is a new appreciation for gatherings you take for granted. When someone dies, you have a funeral. And when someone is born… we celebrate! Before that baby is even here! Or, we used to celebrate.
KATE: I'm about six and a half months pregnant with our first, and it's become very isolating. We had to cancel the baby shower. There are no more maternity classes or support groups. And I have to go to all the prenatal appointments alone, and especially with the sonograms it's really hard. My husband and I got legally married earlier than we planned because we wanted to start having children a bit earlier so that my grandparents would be here to meet them. My grandmother and my grandfather aren't in the best health, and so we thought that this would be a way to make sure that they can meet their great grandchildren.
On Sunday, my grandfather suddenly passed away. Because of the pandemic, we couldn't take a red eye to the West Coast to be with them. We couldn’t go visit family and friends now for comfort. We can't hold a funeral and don't know when we will. To go through pregnancy and grief at the same time is already strange and painful. And I feel like I don't really know how to do it alone, especially. So it's… it's tough because... the isolation in New York is almost kind of like an old fashioned prescribed period of bereavement, you know, but it's indefinite.
And I guess the rest is waiting for a little while. You know, sitting with the feelings, sitting for the next three months of my pregnancy as the baby — she's a girl — you know, kicks and reminds me that she's still here. And sitting with the rest of the country as we kind of wait this all out.
We’re waiting it out — waiting to cross some kind of finish line that separates this reality from a future where we can hang out and hug, and go sit in our cubicles and complain about the guy who cuts his nails at his desk, which has never happened in my time at APM but happened at every other place I ever worked. Why do we do that? When we come back from this pandemic, let us all bring our best selves to work and let us all leave our nail clippers at home.
For some of us, this virus was a full interruption to a nicely lived life. The virus was THE bump in the road. And for some of us, this virus is an extra scoop of stress on top of a sundae of anxieties and stuff that has gone wrong. It’s extra guac on a plate of disaster nachos. All of my examples are about junk food, but it’s really an extra F in a series of WTFs.
JOSSE-LYNN: I have not worked now in about six months because I'm also a full-time caregiver to my husband. [He] was diagnosed with glioblastoma, which is, like Nora would put it, just a fancy word for Stage 4 brain cancer. We have had many ups and downs with this diagnosis, but COVID-19 is definitely bringing everything to a new low. Having our kids at home all the time is making it very hard to have some alone time that I need so much to stay sane. When the kids aren't pulling me on one side, my husband is pulling me on the other.
I stay up at night thinking this is what's going to kill him, not the nasty cancer he's been battling for the last 15 months. I stay up at night wondering: What happens if I get sick? Who's going to take care of the kids? What happens if he gets sick? Will he get his treatments in two weeks? Is he still a priority? If he doesn't get his treatments, then the cancer will kill him. What if he gets a seizure? What if I need to call an ambulance? I'm scared for my husband's doctors that I've come to know so well. What if they get sick? And my ultimate worry is: What if one of the kids gets sick?
One of the things I thought when Quebec started to slowly ask its residents to stay home and had daily press conferences was that everyone was kind of getting a taste of life with cancer or another deadly diagnostic. You have to be careful when you go out. You don't have answers about everything. You live with anxiety and stress like you've never felt before. The future is uncertain. My days are filled with worry while trying to raise good and balanced children amid the chaos.
It’s all these things — not just worry about health and staying alive, not just worrying about funerals and diagnoses and ventilators. It’s worrying about holding together your jobs and your home and your families and all of the many, many things that make a life together work.
So, there’s that level of terror … of not knowing who will survive, or what you’ll do. Of not having health care in a country where … honestly, do I need to go on another health care rant?
And then there is this other side of the spectrum. Where things aren’t totally falling apart, but they’re also … not great.
BRIANNA: I work in a non-essential field in a job that can be accomplished from home. So I've continued to work throughout this pandemic, and it feels really weird. Everything I do feels trivial. I'm so riddled with anxiety all of the time. And in the middle of it, I'm expected to stay productive and to continue doing my job. And it's just very strange. I realize there's quite a bit of privilege to even having a job right now, but it does just feel so exhausting to have to act like everything's fine and normal when it's not.
I have a tip for this, actually: Don’t pretend it’s normal! Don’t do it. Resist the urge to try to dress up this pandemic like a staycation. Acknowledge how weird and awful this is. Say out loud, to yourself and to your children: I HATE THIS. THIS IS THE WORST. And then… keep going. Because it’s not normal, and it’s not okay. But it’s happening.
None of us have done this before. None of us know how to be, or what to do. So make sure you’re honest about how it’s going in there, and know that like everything else, your feelings are subject to change without notice.
Sophie: I wouldn't go so far as depressed yet, but numb. I think it ... depressed is a very strong word to use. And I, like ... like I'm in the mood to just eat a bunch of chocolate chip cookies and ice cream and marshmallows but I know, like … it’s not good for your health.
SUE: So I'm surviving a day at a time in this strange reality, where it feels like time is standing still. And I am having faith that it will not always feel like this and gratitude for the things and the people that are still here.
TORY: Here in New Zealand, there's a saying, which is “Keir Kahar.” It's Maadi for stay strong. And I really hope that you can take that message on board from us, and that you're going to be okay.
DAN: So how's it going in here? Resigned, worried, but also looking forward. Cautiously courageous.
JOSSE-LYNN: How's it going in there? Well, trying to hold on, trying to survive, like a lot of people are doing these days. The world is changing. You just don't know how or when. I just hope I'll be able to get back up again when it does. Stay safe, everyone.
And don’t forget to check on your friends. Friends you’ve not seen in a while. Friends you’ve not heard from. Friends who ... left your podcast to go work on “The Daily,” maybe.
HANS: Hi, this is Hans, long-time listener, first-time caller. That's not true. I am the former senior producer of “Terrible Things For Asking” and current fan and excited participant. I mean, excited might be a bit of a stretch in this moment. I mean, how excited are any of us?
So, I'm trying to do things. I'm trying to learn the piano. I've tried many times in the past, but it's going to stick this time. Trying to spend a lot of time snuggling my dog. Trying to spend a lot of time appreciating small things. Watching things that allow me to laugh and allowing myself to feel that laughter. I'm trying to send messages to my family and friends who are working in care situations or testing situations and about whom I'm genuinely concerned.
And I'm trying not to predict anything. I'm trying not to assume what I'm going to be like or what the world's gonna be like, or what we're gonna think or feel or need, even though it’s kind of my job to do that. I'm trying not to be too predictive and let things just be what they're going to be when they're gonna be it. But you know, that's hard.
All right. I love you all, you all are amazing. Keep up the amazing work. Be strong. Be safe. Talk soon.
We’ll be right back.
Before I get into the conversation with the kids, I want to say this: All of us are someone’s kid. All of us are former children. And all of us -- every single one of us -- has been through a LOT. There is a LOT going on in the world, and most of it is not great! Honestly, recording this, I’m like, “Well, we are on the verge of World War III but … time to make a podcast! The world depends on it!”
So, on a Monday night -- after school but before dinner -- I called the kids into my room (by that I mean my new office, yay!) one by one to see what they had to say about the last two years.
First was Ralph. The last time he was on the pod, he was 7 years old. He left first grade for “spring break” and never went back. Now he’s a big guy … with big questions.
Nora: OK, so tell me your name.
Ralph: My name is Ralph.
Nora: And how old are you?
Ralph: I am 9 now.
Nora: And how do we know each other?
Ralph: Because you're my mom. You're my mom.
Nora: And do you know what podcast you're about to be on?
Ralph: Uh, “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.”
Ralph: Can I swear?
Nora: Can you swear? I would prefer if you don't swear, because again, a lot of people are going to hear this, and some people really don't like swearing.
Ralph: Oh, yeah. Can I just say “crap”?
Nora: Yeah you can say crap. Yeah. And right now, if you want, you can say whatever swear word you want to say.
Ralph: [BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP]
Nora: Jesus, Ralph! God!
Ralph: What! You said … [laughing hysterically]
Nora: Those are like really, really bad ones! It's like the worst ones. Ralph! [laughing hysterically] Oh my god. OK. Let- no more of that. OK, no more of that. OK.
Ralph: [laughing] You said I could swear!
Nora: Can you tell me what covid is?
Ralph: Covid is covid. Covid is a virus like a computer virus just for humans.
Nora: And COVID changed your life a lot.
Ralph: Yeah, it did. Because now I would- like sometimes, you know, when you're- so people out there. This happens to a lot of people, especially me, because I get claustrophobic sometimes. Not all the time, sometimes. And I when I um, so when I put on the mask for like an hour, my mouth will get really hot and my teacher would yell at me just for, like doing this … so I can, like, get some fresh air and then stop. But I'm like, [gasping] OK, I'm ready.
Nora: What's been the hardest thing about COVID?
Ralph: The hardest thing would probably be, let me think. We'll be right back after this quick message. Let me think. Oh, my. The worst thing? You making me read books to pass the time. I know, everyone. It's OK. Stop applauding. It's OK. I'm just funny. I'm just funny. I'm just funny. It's OK.
Nora: But you also, I mean, you did. You left your classroom in first grade and you never got to go back?
Ralph: Yeah. Is it okay if I cry?
Nora: Mm hmm.
Nora: And, you know, you did a very brave thing too. Which is you started second grade and I couldn't go to your classroom with you. So you had to walk up to a building that you'd never been to ever before in your whole life?
Ralph: The first day I was actually out there until, you know, for a very long time just looking for my classroom and I had 10 minutes to prepare. So I was like, “Get ready, get ready.” Because I wanted to make friends that day and I sat alone in the corner of the room eating lunch.
For fairness, I included our littlest in this episode because when he was 3, he couldn’t really participate and just heavy-breathed into the mic or antagonized his older siblings. But now he’s 5, so this is what he had to say about the past two years:
Nora: Do you know the name of the podcast you're going to be on?
Q: Yea- no.
Nora: What's the name of your mom's podcast?
Q: I don't know. [gets answer from Ralph] “Terrible, Thanks for Ask.”
Nora: That’s pretty close. Do you know what COVID is?
Nora: What is it?
Q: It's where you get sick a lot.
Nora: And how do people get COVID?
Q: By not wearing masks.
Nora: And do you wear a mask?
Nora: And you wear it to school?
Nora: And does everyone in your class wear it?
Q: No, [unintelligible] doesn't because he's fully vaccinated.
Nora: So are you!
At this point, the conversation hit a lull. He was distracted by the pleasure of having a microphone in front of him while digging DEEP in his nostrils. He is a nose picker, just like his mama. I am so proud. But honestly … COVID has been 40% of his life and probably close to 100% of his conscious memory. So we switched topics, and I asked him about his favorite thing to talk about.
Nora: Can you tell people about scorpions and what they need to know about scorpions?
Q: Baby scorpions are the most dangerous type of scorpions in the- on Earth because they don't know how to use their venom and they could probably kill you with their venom.
Nora: How many boogers are you going to eat during this interview?
Nora: Okay, all right. Cool.
Okay! And finally, our third and final guest, only because our oldest moved into his own apartment, yay! This is Sophie. She’s a high school sophomore, and the last time you heard her voice, she had just left 8th grade for spring break and also never went back.
Nora: OK, so let's talk about how COVID has- I mean, here's what I thought when I listened back, like we really thought it was going to be, like ,a couple weeks.
Sophie: Yeah. I mean, I remember just being in eighth grade and all of a sudden in like being at the end of the day and everyone being like, “See you never.” And I was just hoping that that wasn't true, so I kept saying, “No, I'll see you tomorrow, see you tomorrow.” And then the notice came that we weren't coming back to school and we moved later during COVID, so I genuinely never saw those people again.
Nora: Tell me about starting ninth grade.
Sophie: Oh boy. It started online, and I knew absolutely no one, because I was new to the state, new to the school, which, everyone was new since it was freshman year. But I talked to one girl, we became friends, and when we met in person, we were so excited. And I remember going to the bathroom and walking out and her, like, us facing each other just out of random occurrence, I was like, “Is that you?” And she was like, “Sophia?” And then we just started crying and hugging because like, it was the first time we'd seen each other in person after, like, talking for months.
Sophie: It was such an odd experience, but it was also so magical because, like, I hadn’t been around people my age for almost a year. And, like, coming face to face with, like, my new best friend in a new state at a new school, it was an amazing experience. But it was definitely interesting my freshman year, because we'd have classes that were like in-person, like we'd be in-person, but we'd also have Zoom open, so that, like, the people online could still participate in the class. And I honestly really applaud those teachers for making that work, because that must've been so hard to, like, be able to teach like in-person and like, have a whole class of online students and there are so many people that just never showed up.
Nora: What do you think adults need to know about kids who are living through this?
Sophie: That we're trying our best. And like, we got handed a shitty set of cards to play with. Like, everyone has their own problems, but this is something that everyone is going through. And it's also nothing that, like … it's nothing that our generation has experienced yet. And your generation hasn't gone through parenting it. So really, I think it's just patience on both ends, on like … there are going to be times where, like, Covid's going to affect friendships and like, you're not going to agree about different political views. And just seeing more patience in that, because your kids are going to have differing opinions. Not in everything, but like, I know, we have our different opinions on like ... I don't know.
Sophie: Jeans, yeah.
The craziest most bananas thing about the past two years is that … you’re still here. I’m not just saying that, either. All of you, all of us, experienced this worldwide tsunami of suffering, compounded by our own life experiences: changes, losses, heartbreaks. All of the normal things in life. None of us were spared and so many of us did not make it through. But you’re here. And in these past two years, I hope you also found little moments of beauty, tiny flashes of light in this long, dark hallway.
There was so much GARBAGE going around at the beginning of the pandemic. I remember seeing things like, “If you don’t come out of this lockdown with abs, what are you even doing?” Well, to answer the question, I was eating bowls of ice cream with knockoff Lucky Charm marshmallows in them every night and wondering if we’d still have a job, if we would all live through this. Worrying not only about my own family but your family, every family on this earth, every person, and just mentally spiraling, because all the kids were at home, and some parents couldn’t do that, some parents just didn’t have jobs where they could also homeschool and like, could I homeschool? No. I was terrible. I yelled at Ralph once for not knowing how to right-click because I was stressed about work. I was stressed about a podcast. Was I really stressed about the podcast? Or was i stressed about the idea of job security, because are people gonna even wanna listen to podcast called terrible, thank for asking when the whole world is falling apart and podcasts only exist if there are enough advertisers and advertisers were pulling their dollars and nobody knew what the future would hold and RALPH HOW DO YOU NOT KNOW HOW TO RIGHT CLICK? Well he didn’t know because he was in first grade! He barely ever clicked, let alone right-clicked!
It felt bad to feel bad, because some people had it worse. It felt bad to feel good because how DARE you. How dare you.
When we think about the past two years, it’s so BIZARRE that we are all walking around and posting on TikTok or Instagram and picking out outfits and eating dinner and driving our cars like the world hadn’t just ground to a HALT. Like we didn’t miss out on weddings and FUNERALS and graduations and proms … and for everyone who says who cares about graduation or prom? You did. You did, when you were a kid. You probably did.
We missed out on first dates and we missed out on the kismet of walking into a restaurant and seeing a long-lost friend. You know what I missed? I missed eavesdropping. I missed sitting in a crowded space across from my husband and being like, “Zip your lip, buddy. We’re not on a date. We’re on this date next to us. Okay? And I'm about to hear the minutiae of someone else’s day. I’m about to hear somebody make the best pitch for themselves and you can tell that this date is circling the drain but he just tried to order a bottle of wine for the table!”
I missed hearing about the minutiae of strangers’ days when they were just having coffee with a friend, and I was just sitting next to them pretending to do my work. I missed people. I feel like we all missed each other.
A few weeks ago, I went on a hike. And my family crossed paths -- literally -- with an older man and his older dog. Our little Chiweenie, Meredith Grey, was all up on this man’s dog. Sniffing. Yipping. Being a 1-year-old. And this man and I exchanged hellos, and then we were just talking. And when we were done, 25 minutes later, I knew that his wife was dead and that he had four kids: a butcher, a banker, a Home Depot employee … forget what the fourth kid did. Fourth kid was a cop. Okay. I knew that this man goes on this walk once a week. And he also used to go hunting with his friends — quail hunting — but you know, as you get older you lose friends because of life, or they die. And when I tell you I wanted to give this man my number and commit to hiking with him once a week … I wanted to. I did not do it, because I am learning boundaries, baby, but when I go back on that hike, I will absolutely keep my eyes peeled for him. Because he made my day, too. He did. Hearing all of that, just being reminded of the humanity that is so up close to us. It really did. It just made my day.
The strangest thing about being alive is that the biggest things you experience -- personally and as a society -- will someday just be history. They’ll be memories in a journal, or I guess the cloud. They’ll be events that our grandkids study and memorize and try to dissect and make sense of. And maybe they’ll look back and see how some of us were trying to turn a stay at home order into a “staycation” or get really into baking, or knitting, or how we showed up for each other, or how we turned away from each other, or turned on each other.
Even the most privileged among us have been living for TWO years in a near constant state of heightened stress, ingesting a constant firehose of uncertainty and human suffering at a mass scale that our parents have never had to do. Our grandparents. Our great grandparents. It makes SENSE to be struggling right now. It makes SENSE to need a tranquilizer and a weighted blanket to fall asleep at night (that’s what I use), and it makes sense that yeah, you wake up with a knot in your chest or you feel like, “Eh, I don’t know, maybe getting out of bed is overrated.”
It’s also -- and I really do mean this -- okay if you’re doing okay. Really. It’s okay if you’re not at the end of a rapidly fraying rope right now. It’s not as though struggle is some weight that can be redistributed. What I mean is, if you’re okay right now, that’s not MAKING someone else less okay. It’s not as though you struggling would make someone else’s load any lighter.
And I’ve said this before and I will say it again … your suffering is not a self-improvement exercise. You do not need to come out of this experience -- or any other experience -- a better version of yourself. You do not need to alchemize this into something meaningful, something shiny, something WORTH IT. It is okay -- more than okay, amazing, really -- if what you did in the past two years is survive. If you woke up and did your best -- or even didn’t do your best -- and just got through it.
We are not meant to be constantly striving, constantly optimizing, constantly reaching and clawing and accomplishing. It is more than impressive enough to just SURVIVE.
At one point, I was talking with our friend Hannah Meacock Ross about our daily lives and she said, natural as anything, “Well, I wouldn’t call it thriving.” Just rolled off her tongue. And I laughed and said, “No, I wouldn’t, either.” We do not need to be thriving right now! That is okay!
I am going to do something absolutely vile and read a part of a poem to you by Mary Oliver. It’s called Wild Geese. I’m only gonna read part of it … or maybe I’ll read the whole thing. If you don’t like it, just skip forward 60 seconds and hopefully you won’t hate me for this. But I'll risk it.
You do not have to be good
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert repenting
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
Love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world foes on
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes
Over the prairies and the deep trees
The mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
Are heading home again
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination,
Calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
Over and over announcing your place
In the family of things.
That is all for this episode. You do not have to be good. You do not have to be better. You still have a place in the family of things.
I love you guys. I really do. Every once in a while it just hits me. I’ve been doing this or almost six years, and some of you are new, and i love you, and some of you have been here since day one, Lloyd Elmore and others, and it just really does, it means a lot that we get to do this work, and we get to do it because you are here.
This has been, “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.” I’m Nora McInerny. “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” is a production of APM Studios at American Public Media. Executives in charge are Lily Kim, Joanne Griffith and Alex Shaffert. Our executive editor is Beth Pearlman. Our team includes me, Marcel Malekebu, Jordan Turgeon, Jeyca Maldonado-Medina and Megan Palmer. Our theme music is by Geoffrey Lamar Wilson. I sincerely hope you look him up. And I recorded this in my closet, where I realized there is so much street noise. And it is cold. I’ve already complained about how cold my closet is but it’s important that you all know that podcasting is just not glamorous, it's hard work. Every day I wake up and I work so hard at typing and thinking and, yeah, man oh man. Man oh man. That’s a joke. It’s a joke. It’s a joke. It’s a joke. And that’s it. I think that’s it. I think that’s it.