A Fresh Perspective
By Lyndsie Kiebert
This year, I’ve been given the opportunity to feel small.
This has come partially from my constant consumption of news about the virus, election and other things turning our world upside down. It’s also been a result of a conscious attempt to gain some perspective.
I guess a worldwide crisis can do that to a person.
As someone living with severe anxiety, the end of the world is constantly on my mind. What that end might constitute is nebulous. Some days, I am convinced that my loved ones are dying. Other days, it’s me who’s sick and dying. More often than not it is an effortless but nonetheless draining obsession in the back of my mind: I’ve lost my wallet, I’m being evicted, all of the food in my freezer has gone bad, someone has hacked my email account — you get the idea. At all times, it is a pressure to produce, accomplish, create and give meaning to each day. It is exhausting.
I’ve spent a good portion of my adult life mitigating these symptoms and finding ways to describe how my brain works to people who have been kind enough to try to understand. So what does any of this have to do with what I’m thankful for?
The year 2020 may have been a huge step backward in some respects, but for discourse surrounding mental illness, it was a huge step forward. For many people, the ultimate change of plans — stay home, disrupt your day-to-day life and, in some cases, even lose your job and sense of security — was a nightmare come true. I get it. Some weeks, the only thing helping me keep it together is the fact that I know what’s going to happen. When everything went into a tailspin and nothing about the future felt certain, I could have easily regressed into old, destructive habits.
Instead, I found community.
People were more candid about their needs and concerns. Now, as things went wrong for so many, judgment went out the window. It went beyond the quippy memes about being depressed and into uncharted territory: “Today is too much. I am not going to do a single productive thing and simply exist, because that is enough.”
There will be plenty of Hallmark Card discourse about how 2020 made us all slow down and appreciate the moment, and it will feel insincere as people continue to die from the virus and racial injustices continue to occur and people continue to be downright horrible to one another.
But I am grateful for the sugar-coated, silver-lining interpretation of this year, because a lot of us are just waiting and hoping and praying for an excuse to slow down — to be told: “This sucks. Take a breather. Being alive today is all that you need to accomplish.”
I am thankful for all the time I’ve spent with my dog this year. I am thankful for my cozy home and all of the food, blankets and notebooks I am able to squeeze into it. I am thankful for my fiancé, who keeps the wood box and coffee pot full. I am thankful for my jobs, and especially for the opportunity to tell people’s stories. I am thankful that our circle has been able to avoid the virus so far, and hope every day that we’ll be able to weather it when it does arrive at our doorstep.
Above all, I am thankful for the opportunity to feel small.
I spent several days in the woods this fall, in silence, hoping to leave with meat. I was looking up into the cedars, listening to the subtle way the forest lets you know it’s alive, feeling the cold and solid earth beneath me. It was after the Labor Day windstorm, and our regular stomping grounds had been catastrophically transformed. I felt a profound sadness looking around at all the broken treetops and obstructed game trails. Things had irreparably changed; yet, I heard birds chirping and squirrels scurrying across the bark of the still-standing trees. The breeze carried the same damp scent it always had, and made the young, resolute grand firs shudder in their familiar way.
The woods carried on, and we will, too. I’d never been so thankful for the reminder.
Truth, Community and Humor
By Ben Olson
Of all my holiday traditions, I think one of the most useful is when we all used to sit around the family Thanksgiving dinner table and say what we’re thankful for. Sure, this year might look a bit different because of COVID-19, but that shouldn’t affect this simple, good thing of showing gratitude where it’s due.
First and foremost, I’m thankful for my health and for the health of my family and loved ones. My sister — a schoolteacher with a heart of gold — gave us a scare a few weeks ago when she announced she had tested positive for coronavirus. I’m so thankful that she was able to get healthy again without any side effects. While a number of friends and extended family members have also contracted COVID-19, I’m so thankful that everyone has remained healthy.
I’m eternally thankful to have the love of a good woman who teaches me more about how to be a good human being than anyone else has in my life. We share a life filled with adventure, music, art and love, and I truly wouldn’t know how to continue on without her guiding light in my life.
I’m thankful for the members of this community who band together and help one another out, especially in times of crisis. The Reader has had some ups and downs over the years, but every time we enter another rut, the power of this community has answered in kind with kindness, encouragement, monetary donations and support. I remember the early days of the pandemic when I had to make the extremely difficult decision to lay off our entire staff for a few weeks. Sitting at my desk, cranking out the Reader by myself, I had a moment of weakness when I felt like this endeavor was probably not going to work out — especially in a post-pandemic world. Then I checked the mail and was brought to tears by the overwhelming show of support from many of you out there who reminded me that the Reader is a vital part of their weekly lives and they weren’t going to let anything jeopardize our existence.
I feel an enormous weight on my shoulders every week as the publisher of a newspaper. Some of my past careers were filled with responsibility and hard work, but never before have I had to bear it all to the entire community in which I was born and raised, each and every week, and accept the feedback that comes as a result. When we make a misstep, we are called on it. When we spell someone’s name wrong, you better believe I get two or three emails about it. Everything we do is scrutinized, criticized and picked apart, and that’s a good thing, because it makes us better at what we do. If we received no feedback — positive or negative — I would think no one was reading out there, or if they were, they didn’t care one way or another. Your feedback, while sometimes inappropriate and mean-spirited, is part of this job, and I appreciate you all for caring about what we print and how we print it.
Of course, the job is made easier by having editorial staffers like Zach and Lyndsie, who are absolute gems. They are both excellent writers and reporters who actually care about every word they write in this rag. I would gladly lay down in traffic for either of them.
Another thing I’m thankful for this year is truth. We are living in a strange era, folks. In my life, I’ve never seen such an assault on facts and truth as I’ve seen the past four or five years. I’m grateful that there are so many journalists in our country who continually seek truth over spin. The media takes a beating every day. While some criticisms are well deserved, the practice of fomenting distrust in the media only furthers the creation of a paranoid worldview that doesn’t do anything to serve basic truth. There are consequences to telling the truth, as many in my profession have experienced (including myself), but the fact that there are still so many reporters out there who show courage and strength to speak truth to power should be something we are all thankful for.
Finally, I’m thankful for humor, especially in our darkest hours. When the lights go out on decency, it’s sometimes a cathartic release just to laugh — laugh at our ridiculous battle lines and at our inability to make fun of ourselves. When we stare down at the abyss and laugh in its face, it proves that life is filled with so many emotions. Humor and laughter should always be kept high on the list, and it should start by examining our own ridiculous selves. If you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re missing out on an important part of being human in today’s world.
Thank you all for continuing to make the Reader a part of Sandpoint life. We’ve been through a lot together over the years. Here’s hoping there is more truth, community togetherness and laughter as we move forward.
Being Mindful of My Safety, Security and Support
By Zach Hagadone
Mindfulness is a scary thing for people with anxiety, depression or otherwise overactive minds. For more than 10 years I’ve spent about 45 minutes daily listening to self-described “relaxation” and “meditation” videos on YouTube, in an effort to calm the sickening waves of abstract fear and loathing that grip me with insensible regularity.
I have also unplugged and meditated the old fashioned way, taken walks, rowed boats, drank booze and smoked tobacco, played music, drawn and painted, telescoped and shot skeet, raised Venus flytraps and practiced archery, read mountains of books and watched too much TV, collected ancient coins and other historical gimcracks, acquired fencing swords and fought my friends, written piles of stories that will never be published, played video games, chopped wood and made fires, hunted grouse, hugged my loved ones and stared at the wall. None of those things have worked, entirely.
I’m medicated now — the second time in the past five or so years — and that has helped smooth out the peaks and valleys, but sitting and contemplating life (including my own gratitude) always feels like wandering into a densely wooded country full of hidden pits and the ravening beasts of fairytale lore.
But the daily practice of gratitude is an exercise in mindfulness — something that many experts say actually helps reduce anxiety and depression, but in my case only seems to make both more acute. I describe gratitude as an “exercise” because it is an effort. It requires us to think of ourselves as people worthy of receiving from others.
I have always had a hard time with that, even as I’ve been the beneficiary of enormous support — both in love, labor and money — from my nearest and dearest as I’ve charted this absurd life of a rural state editor/writer, somehow managing to ply my lower-mid-shelf scribbler’s trade in papers throughout the West (something for which I am grateful).
I suppose there comes a point when you have so much to feel gratitude for, the embarrassment of riches feels like it comes with psychological compound interest.
This year, of all years, feels like one in which those of us who can should count every blessing with extra-keen mindfulness — myself very much included.
No one in my immediate family has so far tested positive for COVID-19. The members of my extended family who have fallen ill with the virus have recovered. Both my wife and I remain gainfully employed. My two children are in school and excelling as best they can under the straitened circumstances.
After only five lessons, my 8-year-old son knows how to read sheet music and play it on the violin. My daughter at 5 is a better artist than I was at 10, and I’ve published hundreds of illustrations in more than a half dozen publications. Both will undoubtedly surpass me in the musical and graphic arts.
Meanwhile, I remain ever-more happily married as I approach my 15th wedding anniversary — as well as 20 years of coupledom with my wife (not counting an ill-advised lapse around 2002).
We rent a nice home and have filled it with books, musical instruments, games and toys, and we have a wood shed filled by the combined efforts of friends and family who helped gather, cut, split and stack all of it for the price of a couple of beers and the enjoyment of the doing. Our refrigerator and toilet paper bin are and have remained full without incident.
We have a good, reliable vehicle — a profoundly generous hand-me-down from family — enough money in the bank not to worry about every purchase (just every third purchase) and, barring my high blood pressure and anxiety problems, no one has any serious medical conditions… knock on wood.
I say this not to brag, but in recognition that so many people have lost so much this year. So many people will lose so much more — including, potentially, me and mine; there’s no way of knowing. Keeping that in mind, I can’t overstate how grateful I am to be here with the people I love, in a condition of safety, security and support. I hope the same for all of you.
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