Right now we need to do our part to love our neighbors as ourselves, and that also looks like taking care of ourselves. Art is a great, soul-filling way to take care of ourselves, because the best stuff points us to the true, the good, and the beautiful.
Comfort in Crisis | 13
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This is The Good List — I’m Tsh Oxenreider.
This is a work of art.
I personally have never been much of a worrier. There are times I’ve done things without that spike in adrenaline and can look back later and marvel at the fact that I did it as though it were no big deal. I remember when I was 15 I went overseas for the first time, to Latvia and Russia, only 18 months after the Iron Curtain fell — I went with a small part of my church’s youth group — and our youth pastor rightfully told us that unless we were going somewhere as a group, to not leave the hotel and wander. I was the second-youngest of the group, and what did I do near the end of our two weeks there? Of course, I got out and wandered around. I walked near the hotel, strolling the streets, looking at the architecture and trees and people, sitting at a park bench while an old man spoke Russian to me and I had no idea what he was saying, feeling like a total boss because I was out on my own. This whole experience was about an hour-long, but now as the parent of a 15-yr-old, who has way more international travel experience than I did at this age, I can look back and say, What on earth was I thinking? Good Lord, young Tsh, that was quite a big toe over the line.
(Side note: even though I’ve always been a good girl, first-born type, I’m only that way when it makes sense to my own personal sense of right and wrong and logic, which can be both good and bad, depending on the amount of wisdom one has. I admittedly struggle with rules that don’t make sense or seem arbitrary — I’m a Rebel in Gretchen Rubin’s 4 Tendencies model, if you know what that means. More on that in another episode, I’m sure.)
I’ve since walked around in all sorts of major global cities, many of them alone, a number of them without knowing with total certainty where I was going, and my adrenaline never once spiked because I knew, deep in my bones, that the odds were strong I would be okay. I’d be smart — stay where it made sense to stay as a woman on her own in that particular place, use public transport wisely, personal belongings where they should be, etc. etc. No strange parking garages at night alone, in other words (I may be a rebel, but I’m smart here). This sense of smart risk-taking has led me to some really great experiences I could have completely missed had I not otherwise leaned into my instincts — meeting new friends in Irish pubs in Dublin, providing impromptu playdates for our kids in Thailand with more new-to-us friends, having a better-than-we-could-have-imagined experience on the Nile because we were willing to go to the non-touristy part of town in Jinja, Uganda, where there are no roads and muddy pop-up stalls for neighbors to sell to each other and ask around until we found the local expert we were told would be worth finding because of his astounding knowledge of the natural world he lives in.
I say all of this to illustrate my point that by nature, I’m not a worrier. It’s like I’ve come equipped with a higher-than-typical tolerance for risk. And I say all to say, that with the current news trending right now, if you’re listening to this episode as it goes live, of the COVID-19 potential pandemic, my alarm bells have been quietly going off. And since they rarely go off, I listen when they do. And as a mama, self-employed breadwinner, and person with friends scattered literally around the world, it’s been a weird experience for me to have alarm bells ringing in me. They rarely get used, so their foreign sound is one I have to pause and listen to because, on their own, they don’t sound very comforting.
And I’m telling you this because if you’re not like me — if you’re the type of person who does often have alarm bells ringing; you tend to have a lower tolerance for risk — then I can only imagine how all this news must be feeling to you these days. We’re all in this together, and yet we each have varying degrees of tolerance.
Now, this episode isn’t specifically about COVID-19 or coronavirus, or even epidemics or pandemics — there are plenty of good scientific resources available out there that would do light years better than me about that stuff (in fact, my friend Science Mike created a great 101 video that might be of comfort to you right now, and I’ll link to that in the show notes as a resource separate from the main topic of this Good List episode).
In this Good List installment, I’m talking about creating a comfort basket of art in times when you need it. What I mean is, after you’ve listened to what news or science updates you need to listen to in order to be a responsible citizen and adult, after you’ve set up the necessary precautions for whatever situation you’re in, and as you continue to put into practice regular safety measures not only for yourself and your family but for the greater good of your local and global community — it’s absolutely imperative that you practice some healthy self-care so that you don’t become overwhelmed with anxiety. We need each other to be healthy, well-rested, operating from calm, and making smart choices, and one of the best ways we can insure that we do this well is by taking care of ourselves.
I say this because I’ve directly needed this sort of thing this week because of my heightened alarm bells, so I’m thinking that if you have a more normal-person’s sense of alarm, this is probably true for you, too.
And one of the best ways to take of yourself, after doing the good and necessary things like going to bed at a decent hour, not overdoing screen time, getting fresh air and exercise, and eating well — is consuming good art while avoiding the kind that’ll cause anxiety.
So yep, in this episode, I’m advocating for art in your life as a necessary ingredient in your self-care routine when things are anxious or stressful, no matter the situation. But we’re talking about accessible art, art that comforts you and feeds your soul. More on what I mean specifically after this really short break that makes this show possible — I’ll be right back.
We’re back. Now, when I say ‘art,’ I’m not talking about only the classic, literal definition of visual art you can see at a museum or hang on your walls (though that’s certainly part of it). In creating your basket of comfort art, I’m talking here about the art that reminds you what’s true, good, and beautiful about the world and about your life. It’s a distraction from the panicky news, yes, but in a responsible way, in a self-care-driven way that’s about being a healthier citizen and caretaker of others. I’m talking about making sure you’re balancing the input of that which can tip over into hyperbolic panic mode with stuff that reminds you of your soul, and why it’s good to be tender with it.
So what do I mean about a basket of art? Well, similar to a collection of goods you might have near your bed when you’re physically ill — some tea, medicine, a fuzzy blanket, maybe a barf bucket, essential oils — this idea is an assortment of your go-to favorite art that makes you feel better. It’s thoughtful, it’s specific to you, and it’s accessible.
So, I’m not talking about art that you might normally enjoy when your cortisol levels are normal, which is why it was a mistake for me to have watched Interstellar earlier this week, a movie I normally love but had completely forgotten that it was literally about the world ending.
And it’s specific to you — so, just because someone finds something comforting doesn’t mean you will, and it therefore doesn’t mean it has to be your go-to comfort art. If you’re not into reality shows, or period pieces, or People magazine, or sci-fi novels, then that’s not your comfort art.
And it’s accessible — we live in such a privileged society in this regard, because so much is accessible at our fingertips and from our homes. So, I’m not talking about those one-off art events, like concerts or outings or things you have to travel to; I’m not even talking about going to the movie theater. I’m talking about things you can find easily either nearby or directly in your home. And what a time to be alive for this, because never before in history have we had so much art so readily available.
Now, even though I’m saying everyone’s comfort basket of art looks different, I’m guessing that because this is for comfort reasons, for most of us this means stuff that doesn’t have a lot of stressful moments involved. And that can be harder to find that you’d think off-hand, because suspense is a key role in good art — leaving us on our toes, making us think, taking us on a journey, telling a good story. But there’s a fine line between storytelling and stress, and that’s what I think is key in finding the right art that gives you comfort in times of anxiety.
So, what does this look like, practically? Well, since everyone’s preferences are specific to them, your comfort art basket works best when you create it yourself. But I’ll tell you what’s in mine right now, if it gives you some ideas.
Now again, please keep in mind that I’m talking about art to purposely enjoy as a balance to preparedness and staying informed; I’m not talking about consuming entertainment in order to avoid responsibility and wisdom. This is in tandem with doing all those things I’ve already mentioned to keep me and the world around me as healthy as I can.
First, I like a variety — so for me, that’s thinking of a few movies, TV series, books, magazines, podcasts, and music playlists that I can pull out of my basket at a moment’s notice, whenever I need them. It changes, based on when good stuff comes out or what sort of comfort I need most, but here’s what’s currently in my art basket:
For movies, I go to Nora Ephron-esque rom-coms, like When Harry Met Sally, which I watched the other day. I hadn’t seen it in years, and it was a trip. Other similar choices are Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, and Julie and Julia — none of them perfect; all of them low-stress for me, and that’s the key.
Flat-out comedies are also really good, ones you’ve probably seen several times before so the stress that’s natural to a good story is decreased. For me, that looks like Back to the Future, The Emperor’s New Groove, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Ratatouille, Babe, and general feel-good movies like The School of Rock, Mamma Mia, The Holiday, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and even Parent Trap. It helps to have a few go-tos that I can watch with my kids, obviously. But I’m also an HSP (that’s highly sensitive person), so low-stress movies help me as well.
As for TV shows, for me it’s two categories: comedies (again) and historical dramas. So, Gilmore Girls is at the top of my list, as well as Parks & Rec, Brooklyn 99, and The Good Place, and then sweeping dramas, even if they’re over the top, like Downton Abbey, The Crown, Victoria, Poldark, and Call the Midwife — not necessarily because these are stress-free, but because they’re about a previous time when people overcame adversity (even if it’s fiction). This weirdly gives me a boost of confidence to take on my own current situation. And of course, near the top of my comfort basket here is The Great British Baking Show — the most recent season was a treasure.
In the books category, I need novels that take me to another place (and sometimes time) without major spikes in stress, so while I normally love books that keep me up at night, we’re talking comfort basket here. This often looks like classics for me — so, To Kill a Mockingbird, Little Women, Agatha Christie mysteries, short plays by Oscar Wilde, The House at Pooh Corner, My Family and Other Animals, and even Harry Potter, not because that series is stress-free, but because it’s so familiar to me it’s like going home. More modern reads I found comforting, even with a compelling, coudn’t-put-down storyline, are Where the Crawdads Sing, The Storied Life of AJ Fikry, The Boys in the Boat, comedies like Bossypants and Dave Barry Slept Here, and travel memoirs, like Under the Tuscan Sun, and if I might be so bold, my own travel memoir published a few years ago, At Home in the World, is pretty low-stress, in my opinion.
Podcasts are a bit different for me because it truly depends on the mood I’m in, but as far as recent episodes, I can’t stop talking about Reply All’s episode 158 called The Case of the Missing Hit — it was so, so good and had such a satisfying ending. Overall good feel-good shows for me are also Dear Hank & John, No Such Thing as a Fish, and NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.
And finally, as far as music playlists go, I veer toward two extremes: peaceful and relaxing, and upbeat and energizing. I’ve got two I created in Spotify that I’m happy to share with you.
Speaking of which — I know I just named a whole lot of things, which is kinda the opposite of what I want to do here at The Good List (I prefer to focus on just one item per episode), but since the work of art specified in this episode is to create your own basket of comfort art, I named a few that fit my bill. Your mileage may vary on each of these, and it’s important to create your own. But if any of this appeals to you, I’ve put my top favorites, the shortlist even from what I mentioned here, in a simple doc you can download for free as a go-to list you can reference when you want an idea but can’t think of your own. You can find it in the show notes.
But beyond the specific works of art mentioned in this episode — the point is to create art by creating your own basket of comfort art. Because we need to do our part to love our neighbors as ourselves, and sometimes that looks like taking care of ourselves. And I’m here to argue that art is a great, soul-filling way to take care of yourself, because the best stuff points us to the true, the good, and the beautiful.
Hi Tish, my name is Andrea. I’m calling from Parkersburg, West Virginia. I’m a long-time blog reader, Art of Simple listene and now I’m loving The Good List. I wanted to share a habit that has really changed my life and brought me so much joy. For perspective, I own a marketing company for non-profits and I work from home so I have the flexibility to choose my schedule most days. I’ll start with a problem then how I solved it. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I walk my dog right after taking the kids to school. I like that time because I listen to podcasts, get fresh air, et cetera, but I am finding myself being impatient with a dog who didn’t want to walk as much as he wanted to explore. Since that walk was a big part of my exercise routine, I was getting frustrated. It’s also really cold in West Virginia right now so it was hard to get motivated to go out first thing in the morning and then when I get back from the walk, I have to really, really convinced myself to do my workout app, which is where I focus on muscle building. That’s something that really matters to me. A few weeks ago. I started switching it up after drop off, I do the 30-minute app first thing. The dog is patient mostly, though he looks up there because he’s probably wondering if I’m going to walk him at all and then after I do the app we take the walk, and I’m already a little bit warmed up from the workout, if not completely sweaty. The cool air feels good, the walk becomes kind of a stretch and post-workout cool down, and I don’t mind at all if he takes multiple stops, because I’ve already gotten in a great workout so I’m much more patient. I’m just enjoying being outside. I’m still listening to my podcast, and it has just made me so happy just by switching up the order that I was doing things. It has been really awesome, and I’m excited to do this routine three days a week instead of dreading it and the dog is happy too so everybody wins. Thanks for letting me share my habit. I hope it helps someone else and I hope you have a great day.
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When I hang out online, I’m mostly on twitter @tsh and sometimes on IG @tshoxenreider. I’m most definitely at my newsletter, which you can sign up for free at fivequickthings.email. You can also find a transcript and the show notes of this episode, #13 at thegoodlistshow.com.
And hey guys — I want to hear from you! I really do. Tell me in just a couple minutes what one thing, work of art, idea, or habit is currently making your Good List, and I may feature your voice here on the show. Leave me a voicemail at (401) 684-GOOD, which goes directly to voicemail; or, simply record your voice and email the voice file, first stating your name and where you’re from. For reminders on how to do this, and everything else I’ve talked about, once more, go to thegoodlistshow.com.
Thanks so much to Andrea for sharing her current habit that’s making her Good List. Music for the show is by Kevin MacLeod, and thanks, as always, to Caroline TeSelle for her help, as well as my furry intern, Ginny. I’m Tsh Oxenreider — thanks for listening to The Good List.