Creating a Sanctuary in the Age of the Rona

Alexander Hardy
getsomejoy
Published in
12 min readSep 9, 2020

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Meet Rita Louise the Croton, left, and Mary Clarence the Neon Pothos (via Instagram)

I wasn’t expecting her until Sunday, but when I jumped out the shower and into some clothes after Mr. UPS buzzed and fled, there she was, at the top of the stoop under Downstairs Woman’s maxi single-sized package, here to pry open the creative floodgates and end the Age of Aintshitness on Friday morning. Finally.

Hey, Deskeisha.

I brought her upstairs, freed her from the box, put on Duckwrth’s new album, SuperGood, got the fan a-spinning to keep the titty sweat at bay, and assembled her immediately.

This summer, I moved into a new apartment in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn after three-and-a-half years of floating in the wind in El Bronx. I still do my daily dance with disbelief about being here. I arrived with clothes, books, dreams, and lots of kitchenware on July 1 and spent that week crying like a motherfucker and finding order in the boxes and bags.

Between developing and promoting my Literary Therapy writing workshops (which start Wednesday, September thee Sixteenth); facilitating mindfulness moments, writing sessions, and grief & loss trainings for companies and union members; Pornhubbing; and bemoaning that I have to cook and feed myself every blessed day, I hadn’t made much time for sanctuary beautification. I’ve kept myself, Rita Louise the Croton, and Mary Clarence the Neon Pothos alive, though. Some weeks, that is enough.

Keep them bitches alive for ninety days, I promised myself when I brought them here in my shopping cart from Natty Garden that humid July Monday. I mist Rita Louise a few times a week and everything because she’s tropical and needy.

The sneaky thing about houseplants is that they don’t tell you you have to stay alive to care for them. That’s not on the instruction tag they push down in the dirt with the light and water recommendations. That’s a pretty big omission, I’d say. When Rita Louise’s leaves turn brown, chances are that my spirit is also parched and screaming for help, and I be like, “Girl, I feel you,” as I water and mist her.

So, just a heads up that unless you have technology on your side, houseplants require living humans. They’re your chirren. I don’t want Sandra Rose writing about my scandalous open Chrome tabs and dead-ass plants, so…might as well keep on keeping us all alive up in here until my ticket to the Great Eternal Electric Slide arrives.

I’m not pressed to go shuck peas in the hereafter with the ancestors, but when that happens, include my plantbabies in my obituary. They’ll have name tags to make it easy.

While sanitizing Deskeisha’s legs and surfaces, I envisioned the projects I would plan, the work I would avoid, and the breakfasts I would eat here until I secure the right dining situation, and felt 9.74% less spiritually ashy. Baby steps.

I have accepted that turning the Casa de Joy from some place I’m staying into a home will be a process. A journey. I opted against scooping a matching bedroom set from FrontOperation Furniture. I wanted to be creative and intentional about how I filled this space. My nesting coincided with the Global Nonterrible Office Desk Shortage, because everyone from the neohomeschooler to the non-touring hippity-hopper to the homebound talk show host is setting up a classroom or office or studio in their living room right this moment and has grabbed every desk on Janet Jackson’s Internet that didn’t have a Hateful Principal’s Office, Undersexed Woman-Detesting Professional Gamer, or Hoarder-in-Training vibe.

I’ll be all desked up for the next global pandemic, though. Shit, I might get another to be extra ready.

There was no reason to rush to fill the apartment, as I have no plans to entertain anyone other than Sir Terminex and his natural deodorant during his monthly visits for the foreseeable future. Sure, I made my Mental Health Monday broadcasts and workety work moments happen on my lap and stools with nifty ring lights clipped to chair backs and such, but getting Deskeisha in place was essential to being more creatively fruitful and feeling safe and settled enough to let my mind wander.

Learning the neighborhood via the whiting dinner with greens and yams with what was supposed to be seafood macaroni and cheese from Bed Stuy Fish Fry. Important research.

After assembling Deskeisha and rewarding myself with a slice of cheesecake, I finished and sent off two price quotes (for organizations interested in my virtual wellness programming) that had me stressing and questioning my worth and abilities all week. Taddow.

I haven’t had my own space since I fled Panama in August 2014 to avoid killing myself. Every day here is a celebration. I am still learning to stretch out, unclench, and exhale after becoming an expert at crunching myself into the tiniest corner and existing — but not thriving — within and around other people’s situations to not disturb the peace or outstay my welcome. With on alert becoming my default, spending years just comfortable enough to move with a few hours’ notice or crash elsewhere for the night if there was fighting, I cherish sitting still. And being quiet.

Despite writing and talking to folks on Janet Jackson’s Internet and beyond about self-care, I’m pouring into myself for the first time in years and relearning what life outside of survival mode feels like.

In terms of sanctuary beautification, I am still exploring what my aesthetic is and what I need in my space to feel safe and at home. I knew I needed hardwood floors and counter space to get my empanada game together, but what else would help me let my soul glow and fulfill my ancestors’ wildest dreams or whatever? A grits dispenser? Self-cleaning baseboards?

One thing I have been doing a lot of in here is sleeping. Sleeping down, which I believe would have been our ancestors’ wildest dreams. To nap like a motherfucker.

Since leaving my apartment in Panama, I have been in other people’s spaces (loved ones and shelters) and unable to consider whether the Saint Damita Jo Jackson mural in the living room will feature deep red spirals from The Velvet Rope era or the pillowy bayangs from the Rhythm Nation 1814 era. Plastic couch cover or nah? Do they make hanging deep freezers? How many plants is too many? And so forth. I have an arts & crafts basket, my coloring book, colored pencils, and my Bop It!, but what color will I paint the grits mill/creative studio/chokey?

So much to consider.

There’s a moment during Death, Sex & Money’s recent interview with Nigerian-born writer and artist Akwaeke Emezi where they discuss what it was like settling into their new home in New Orleans and “deeming [theirself] worthy of extravagance” within their space even if it’s just for them and there’s no family or house mates to “witness it.” It blessed my soul and reminded me to enjoy this process of self-exploration, indulgence, and homebuilding. And helped me recognize the limiting effects of a lack-based mindset. Listen here.

A few weeks into living here, I put two tacks on separate ends of one bedroom wall and hung a piece of twine between them. I took a yellow piece of construction paper from my expanding arts & crafts basket and wrote, YOU ARE SAFE. with the fat black marker. I put the cap on, stood back, and burst into tears again. I thought I had completed my last Big Cry, but the lie detector determined that was a lie.

Next to that, on an orange sheet: ARE YOU PREPARING TO DO SOMETHING WACK?

Weeks later, on a green sheet to the right of that, FINISH YOUR DAMN BOOK.

Seeing those each morning I wake up unmurdered in Janet Jackson’s America reminds me that I haven’t ceased and desisted in the War on Spiritual Ashiness, and that I have a wall on which to hang these reminders, inside a room I don’t have to share, inside an apartment I just paid rent for with both my bank account and my boogina still in tact. Blessings.

You gotta keep it real with yourself. (via @coloredboy Instagram)

It took personal affirmation, writing it out via journal, reminders from friends and familia, and thug motivation on the walls to believe — not just know — that it was okay to unpack, throw boxes away, take up space, daydream, make noise, have nekkid breffis, leave dishes in the sink, ban coleslaw and Jeffree Star supporters, and do whatever I need to do to be okay.

Part of establishing a sense of safety means doing what I need to do to afford my sanctuary, keep my phone on, and pay my automobills without stress or trauma. I feel alive and joyful to be offering mental health training and joy-flavored programming that is informed and inspired by once harrowing and shameful experiences and professional insights.

It feels affirming to have people believe in the six-week “Literary Therapy: Writing (for) For Your Life” curriculum and therapeutic writing workshop I have developed around using writing to explore isolation, self-love, loss, transition, joy, community, and imagination during this raggedy moment in history enough to register, trust me with their creative and wellness journeys, and invite others in their communities to do the same.

I never thought I would be excited to pay rent, power, gas, and Internet bills, but here we are.

I even started working with a financial wizard to bring clarity and an end to terror surrounding my personal and financial situations. Collaborating with her to get a clearer vision of where I am and where I am planning to go in the next one, three, and five years encouraged me to envision myself and the work I want to do in the future in a way I had not allowed myself to do in ages. I felt 18.14% less spiritually ashy and set up for success having a budget and a comprehensive yet unintimidating multi-tabbed spreadsheet of numbers that didn’t induce migraines.

Also essential to comfort and safety: giving myself more grace, and including myself in the number and believing myself when I tell people in my sessions that none of us really knows what we’re doing in this recession-flavored pandemic, especially with a dumpster-hearted Swampdonkey-in-Chief determined to kill the shit out of all of us, and to give yourself and others all the grace you can muster.

Easing into my third month here, I am still working on feeling that sense of safety and comfort deep down in my bones. Healthy routines and all that jazz. I joined the neighborhood Facebook groups. I make coffee or a smoothie and take my journal and my Stoop Blanket down to wave at and say, “Good morning” and “Alright now” to my chillaxing neighbors before and while I do my morning pages out front. I am building a mental map of the good and terrible restaurants nearby. I still tell myself out loud, “YOU ARE SAFE!” at least once a day, and occasionally check, unlock, and relock the door, though.

But I am more intentional about centering my needs and keeping my mind right when talking to people about feelings all day. I watch Living Single and Veep to replenish after my grief & loss sessions. I embrace the pants-free agenda when I am off camera and not frying plantain or bacon. I have fewer Big Cries.

My name is finally on the mailbox.

A cheesecake on a plate topped with blueberries, strawberries, and kiwi (via @alexgottaeat on Instagram
Cheesecake with a blueberry, strawberry, and kiwi moment on top (via @AlexGottaEat Instagram)

I got supplies for a hanging window herb garden and got overwhelmed by paint swatches down at the Home Depot this weekend and it was wonderful.

I brought Starkeisha the Purple Waffle plant and Penny the Succulent home and set them up atop Deskeisha.

I’ve been more intentional about taking time to pause and be super present in the moment. Grounding myself by checking in with all my senses and surroundings. Rather than emailing and cleaning and folding clothes and doing presentations while eating, I try to spend more time just eating. Or tethering my mind to the kitchen when I’m chopping or cooking something. I spoke to Judy from the MyLife mindfulness app team about dishwashing as a tool of mindfulness, how mindfulness helps me feels safe, equity in wellness spaces, and visualizing and creating your sanctuary. I never imagined I would enjoy scrubbing plates, but it makes me feel calm and reminds me of my childhood home.

I’ve been taking bubble baths and reading Wow, Now Thank You.: Essays by the legendary Samantha Irby and Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson the Great.

I also found a therapist through my primary care physician, a brilliant Black woman I recently followed from one practice to another. My requirements were that they be a Black, queer person who was informed about and comfortable navigating and supporting someone healing from the ways trauma impacts your ability to relax or feel valuable or at peace, your ability to imagine, to feel whole and lovable, etc., because my previous therapist — a Black gay man on the retiring, less curious end of his career who meant well but always managed to circle back around to prayer and what works for him — was not, and I don’t have time for that shit, please and thank you.

Meet Starkeisha, left, and Penny, right, (via @coloredboy Instagram)

I knew not to be blinded by identity similarities, none of which ensure capability, compatibility, or that they are not an enemy of progress or an agent of dumpster-hearted white supremacy. I knew not to be blinded with eagerness since I hadn’t had a therapist since last December, pre-Rona. We are two sessions in, and I am happy with the match so far. We are still feeling each other out, and are in the dating phase, but I’m glad that, after connecting dozens of people to therapy this year, I prioritized finding one for me.

I am working to get firmer about differentiating between work time and off time and not entangling my worth or the quality of my day with my productivity level. Workaholism can be a coping mechanism for managing anxiety, depression, trauma, and other fun things. Thankfully, I am getting better about at least recognizing work-obsessed patterns and language, and unchaining myself from self-imposed unrealistic workloads, expectations, and habits gifted to me by white supremacist capitalism—chastising myself for being “lazy,” por ejemplo, and being my own ashy-spirited, oppressive dumpster-hearted boss.

Procrastination and avoidance still keep me from being great(er). And I acknowledged to my therapist that I felt silly hoping to suddenly be “healed” and clear-minded and decisive and self-loving the moment I moved into the Casa de Joy. Again, that’s where the grace comes in. Collaborating with them to make sense of the year, my future, and what’s under self-defeating habits has brought Hope to the stage again. Alright, now.

I’m working through my kitchen fatigue and made a few jars of green sauce and a few dozen non-terrible empanadas in addition to the cheesecake with the blueberry, strawberry, and kiwi moment on top. Though her guidance on achieving the proper empanada dough texture was, “…You just have to know,” I feel more confident and closer to being ready to send some home for Grandma’s approval with each batch.

Empanada assembly is also a form of meditation. Your lack of focus will show up in the patties. “But that’s okay,” Grandma told me during a pep talk. “You just figure out what didn’t work and keep going.”

I want to move beyond this space of being surprised and suspicious when good things happen to me and into the Land of Being Accustomed To And Anticipating Abundance, Because Why The Fuck Not? In time.

Meanwhile, I am thankful for silence and for HBO’s Lovecraft Country, bell pepper-nosed leading men, the Tea with Queen & J podcast, and Häagen Dazs Trio Crispy Layers Ruby Cacao Crackle Pistachio Sweet Cream pints, which have been bad for my waist but magnificent for my spirit.

Shoutout to living.

See what else I’ve been up to here.

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Alexander Hardy
getsomejoy

Grits-powered writer, home chef, & mental health warrior. Founder: GetSomeJoy + The War on Spiritual Ashiness. getsomejoy.com + thealexanderhardy.com