Greetings from the basement of my childhood home in Minneapolis, where I now work at a desk where a picture of my high school boyfriend at prom peers down at me as I work. (My husband has oddly said nothing). Beyond the oddities of existing in a space frozen in time, I am so very lucky to be here with my family where both my husband and I can work from home, while attempting to raise our 16 month-old with the very welcome assistance of my mother.
It has now been almost three months since the world felt “normal”. At this stage, the only way I can operate is by not projecting too much in the future, but I have observed how, without the pressures of the city, without makeup or getting dressed up or seeing just about anyone outside of Zoom calls, I have changed.
Stopping the routine of life has brought both great stress and great clarity. As I think about what I will take away from these incredibly difficult times, I land on a few themes:
Clothing and makeup is performance
I came to Minneapolis originally on what was supposed to be a three day business trip. I have been living mostly off of the clothes from the early aughts that I had abandoned when I left for college. Not having access to my closet has helped me realize, for both good and bad, that clothing is a performance. Now I wasn’t a great wearer of trends before the pandemic, but I think I will be more inclined to dress for my own comfort going forward. This is not to say that I plan on abandoning style, but I will be more aware of the physical comfort of how I dress as I go about my day. The same can be said for makeup. I see myself pairing that down to a touch of tinted sunscreen and a slick of mascara. Meanwhile, I have invested in better skincare, that feels like a more enriching self-care than spending time on contouring.
Community is foundational to happiness
Having spent time in my childhood home reading through old journals and letters, I saw that I was quite a lonely and anxious high school kid. Since then, I have learned that relationships – with friends, a partner and family – have been the key to finding connection and with it avoiding that anxiety. I have group texts, one-on-one calls, and the occasional zoom cocktails with friends that have been raw and hilarious and a huge help to normalize my feelings and avoid the anxiety to which I am prone. As we emerge into whatever this new normal is, I want to remind myself to continue to invest in that community. Hopefully with real hugs and strong cocktails.
No more “I do my part” – It is time for activism
Beyond my everyday choices of how I present myself to the world and the community that I want to keep and nourish, the most important thing I have come to discover is that my individual actions will be insufficient to address the crisis that this pandemic has revealed.
Our economy is broken; there is no social safety net for too many Americans; the legacy of slavery persists in the massive unequal health outcomes we have seen, and a society engineered to make us consume is not a sustainable one (or particularly fulfilling). I will no longer be blind to that crisis. I can no longer say, well I can only do my little part. I have to speak up, we have to speak up. This does not come naturally to me, I am not someone who self-identifies as an activist. I am naturally quite reserved and do not like to rock the boat. But, If I am going to look at myself in the mirror, I simply need to get over that. If I am silent, or just think that being kind to those around me is sufficient, I am still part of the problem.
As we emerge from our basements, or small apartments, I hope that is the lasting change. That we learn about topics that may at first feel beyond our grasp – whether about labor, race or the environment – and then that we speak up, even when it is uncomfortable. It will only be when the non-activists types like me (and like you) stand up and speak out with our communities, at work, on social media, and in the voting booth, that we can hope to rebuild an exciting, just society. Great change can happen, out of the Great Depression came the New Deal, the most progressive era in America’s history.
The quote I return to often comes from Rebecca Solnit in her book, Hope in the Dark: “Inside the word « emergency » is « emerge »; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters.”
Maxine Bédat is a superstar in the sustainability scene as the founder and director of The New Standard Institute, an organization poised to transform the global apparel industry by enacting critical and science-based environmental objectives.