By Anne T. Donahue

I think all of us can agree that we live in hell, and there’s no real end in sight. I, personally, tried to spend time outdoors this morning (watering the flowers, if you must know) and was met not just with the feeling I was seconds from passing out, but a hairstyle that somehow morphed into a bale of hay, triangle in shape and crisp in texture.

So thanks to our respective realities, I vote that previous how-to guides for happiness and/or stress relief are now null and void. I will never meditate, I refuse to walk around outside when it feels like soup, and I will not listen to an app narrate a book to me while I’m trying to sleep because if somebody did that to me in real life, I would fight them until one of us reached our bitter end.

Therefore, on that note, here are the balms for the soul I’ve been clinging to. Do they require time? Not really. Technique? Not at all. Sifting through blouses at Value Village? Maybe. Anyway, this is how I’ve been combatting any/all feelings over the last year or so. Just don’t mistake me for anyone with real knowledge or answers, I beg you.

Guy Fieri/Bobby Flay
On Friday nights, Food Network airs a Bobby Flay night and for hours and hours upon precious hours, we’re treated to a marathon of Beat Bobby Flay. It’s the only show, to me, right now, that matters. It is art, it is funny, and it makes me want to become a chef if only to go on myself and challenge him to making snickerdoodle cookies. I escape into a world where the only thing that matters is to challenge a famous chef to a culinary duel; where I’m best friends with the celebrity hosts who chirp him – where, should we meet, Bobby Flay would fall in love with me until I had to remind him, “Nothing can ever happen until you let me hold your cats.”

And then on Saturdays, it gets better. Guy Fieri. Diner’s Drive-Ins and Dives, classic mash-up episodes, the weird pandemic series that takes place in his backyard. Unless you’re aware of something I’m not, this is Guy’s world, and we’re just living in it. And on days where I feel particularly terrible, I cash in my one-way ticket to Flavortown and remind myself that somewhere in this fucked-up world, a man with beautiful blonde hair is calling a sandwich “dynamite.”

Value Village
I like things that are inexpensive because I personally can only afford inexpensive things. Enter: Value Village (or any thrift store) where for hours you can zone out and rifle through men’s plaids and old YA books to transport you to a simpler time. (See: I will re-own every Sabrina the Teenage Witch book.)

The thing is, thrifting is no-pressure time consumption with no pressure to buy or talk or do anything outside of trying to find pieces that look like they were once used in Reality Bites. When I thrift, I think only of what I’m looking at, I don’t look at the time, and I exist only to browse and consider while exchanging occasional knowing nods with the staff. (As in: I know that they don’t care if I buy anything or not.) Also, it’s an air conditioned space that allows for drinky-poos and snacks, which is made even better because I recently bought an eighties leather jacket for less than the price of a movie ticket.

The movies, sadly, I do not go to because I just don’t have the attention span to see anything past the previews.

Plants
Nature’s gift. Not to us, mind you, but a gift nonetheless. (They owe use nothing.) I morphed into a plant person sometime in 2019 and now they are my markers of personal success or of their own obvious failings. (I have never killed a plant in my life: they all chose to die, and for that, I won’t forgive them.) (Also, I tend to overwater out of love.) I like plants because they’re cheap, they’re beautiful, and they make me feel like I’m looking at the promise of hope, since here are, living together. (In sin.)

There’s something very peaceful about putting a wee something into a pot and making sure it doesn’t die. And there’s also something very humbling about having to learn how to keep a plant alive. They’re complicated and finnicky and make us pay attention. And I love that! Because not only does it mean I stop thinking about myself, but I spend hours Googling mealybugs and whispering “please go” to them in hopes that they will listen. (They do not, and the mealies took my jade.)

Neighbourhood cats
I have a cat, his name is Barry, and he will kill me one day, mark my words. But there’s also Fran: Fran, the neighbourhood cat who’s gone by Dexter and George, depending on whose house she’s at. Fran, the cat who’s adopted me and my mom and has taken her own chair in the living room and absolutely plastered it with her hair. Fran, the cat who pees on our home and tried to pee on the snow shovel downstairs because she wants the world to know we’re hers. Fran, who won’t stop bringing us dead animals she caught to show she cares.

So maybe actually what I’m saying is to get yourself a Fran. A non-committal sweet muffin who will walk into your room at 3 a.m. and meow in your face so she can leave. Find yourself a tiny lady-baby (or baby-boy) who pines for you until something better happens outside upon which they will fee. Befriend the cats in your neighbourhood who do not want to hear about your stupid problems, Anne, and do not care about whatever burden you’re carrying. Are there treats involved? Food? A small bowl of fresh water? Okay, fine. But when that is done, it’s still impossible to return to where you were mentally. First, because it takes hours to appease a neighbourhood cat. And second, because the rest of your thoughts will be consumed by where they went and whether they’re okay.

(I never said I was a mental health expert.)

Need a little more Anne? Read more from Anne T. Donahue right here!

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