The following is the full Editor’s Note for Issue 9:
let this be the healing
& if not let it be
Danez Smith, “little prayer”
Sitting here in the oppressive summer heat, a reprieve from the frigid winter that numbed my fingers and toes, I’m having trouble summarizing the lifetime experienced in the last year and a half. A time that’s felt, and feels, like standing in front of a funhouse mirror or walking through a Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Experiences of trauma, hate, grief, greed, injustice, passion, fear, growth, and strength. New and old clashing repeatedly until there’s no differentiating, though it all has its own weight. No work, only home. Repeat. No work, only home. Repeat. Work. Home. Repeat. Work is home is work. Repeat. Blurred days blending and gathering inertia, becoming an existential black hole to be constantly clawed out of.
The period since our last issue has been defined by a generalized anxiety, coursing through my flesh, feelings that had been bubbling to the surface for years becoming the baseline of daily life. The type of fear that made me feel like the main character of a Stephen King novel. Fear of every interaction possibly spurring a domino effect I didn’t even know was already occurring, of someone I know and love hurting, dying, brutalized – horror stories come to life.
In the moments of uncertainty and doubt, where nothing seemed to be moving forward and often felt as though we were moving backward, I grasped on to the small moments like a newborn baby clinging to its parent’s finger, considering the warmth and newness of it, trying to understand how it fits into the whole scheme of its miniature world. Mundanities, like walking my friend’s dog with no headphones in, feeding off his unabashed desire to explore every sidewalk crevice, know every blade of grass and house corner intimately, were pure and grounding. In those moments, there was no drowning out. Not with music, or alcohol, or productivity, only true presence and awareness.
I’ve long struggled with the expectation that every moment needs to be productive, every bit of time utilized correctly so nothing is wasted. And yet with so much time during the pandemic, so much space to create, it had been difficult to do anything. The looming knowledge of why I had the time followed me like a shadow, reminding me that others were in pain, struggling to live, fighting to survive. Instead of creating, I spent time evaluating how long the collective trauma would last, when I’d feel comfortable seeing my friend’s again, worrying whose wrongful death at the hands of police we’d be protesting next. Reflection brought my inner self outward, forced me to learn more about who I was and what I was passionate about. I sat with and accepted feelings that were hard to face, had honest conversations and searched for balance between social engagement and self-knowledge.
This space, however fraught, cast a light on the relationships I held close and uncovered how much those people truly meant to me, how they carried me through. I found calm in routines, like making breakfast at home or sitting with a cup of coffee and nothing else. They grounded me and were essential to enduring the inescapable dread. At times I had to question if I was disassociating, coping, or actually facing the reality of the last year, the past half-decade. But it’s clear now we need to take whatever we’ve learned and keep applying it, keep pushing, and continue to learn and shift. We shouldn’t succumb to a comfortable desire for “normalcy.” We have moved the marker.
When considering the past year plus and the path forward, the word I keep shifting my mind back to is intentionality. The routines and calculated risks of the pandemic gave space to the more intentional, gave strength to conviction and encouraged the existential nourishment gained from supporting the community. Knowing that time is fleeting, knowing that we can cease to exist so quickly, how am I putting care and thought into my actions? Am I only reposting stories online or am I donating to mutual aid funds, bringing food to pantries, participating in protests? Am I actually doing the work when I know I can?
We must continue to ask ourselves these questions of intentionality. We have gone through a collective trauma, an amorphous mass pain, and the immediate reaction is to push it deep down until it seeps out of our toes and act as if it never existed at all. But that would be a disservice and a dishonesty, threatening the negation of any lessons and the devaluation of any growth. Erasure of the last year and a half isn’t the answer. Reflection and connection through art and community is. That’s why Sobotka was created: to provide an open community for writers, and ourselves, to engage in. With so much necessary distance, isolation, and uncertainty since we spoke last, we hope this makes you feel human and unalone.
Chicago, July 2021