Reasons to Live Through the Apocalypse
A meditation on small joys & a poem by Nikita Gill
When I was unpacking this week, getting settled into our new home, I found a little canvas-covered volume that my husband Jon gave me right after my diagnosis—a one-line-a-day, five-year memory book. Now that we’re here, we’re going to start filling it out together, committing to memory the magic in the every-day.
For the last few months, small joys have been my sustenance, whether it’s the crisp new pajamas printed with camels and flowers I got as a gift from a community member (never taking them off); or Wednesday’s stroll through Prospect Park, my first without a walker; or all the tulips blooming in window boxes and flower beds around Brooklyn; or the fried chicken and red beans and cornbread that a new neighbor, who’s originally from New Orleans, dropped off on Thursday (as she insisted, “That’s just how we do it”); or the conversation I had on Friday with a nurse named Jackie who said that because of an interview I gave, she had signed up for the bone marrow registry and was waiting on her swab kit, already excited about the prospect of being called to donate.
Often these small moments fade from view with the passage of time. What makes it into our memory banks are the bigger things—either the zeniths or the nadirs—but what we end up longing for and leaning on in hard times are the little quotidian comforts and delights; they lift and carry us from day to day. Noting these joys is a muscle I’ve been consciously trying to exercise: training the eye to see them and training the mind to hold onto them.
I do want to make a distinction here between the practice of celebrating small joys and the culture of “toxic positivity,” where we’re told to be ever-grateful, to always search for the silver linings, to put a positive spin on all experiences, even the profoundly tragic. The author Barbara Ehrenreich has written critically about this cultural phenomenon with far more nuance than I can in this missive, but it’s a topic I’ve thought a lot about, especially in these last months. It’s easy to feel pressure to be someone who “suffers well”—grateful and graceful and stoic 24/7. But that doesn’t allow us to exist fully, to experience the full range of the human condition, from happiness to grief, from gratitude to envy. I love observing tiny daily joys because it feels natural and easy, not forced, not pressurized, not all or nothing. And not only has the practice helped ease this difficult passage, it’s helped me identify what lifts me up, and then I can cultivate more of it.
Here on this last Sunday of National Poetry Month, we’re sharing a piece from the poet Nikita Gill called “Reasons to Live Through the Apocalypse” and a prompt inspired by it. I love this poem for so many reasons, one being that it’s composed as a list, which is such an inviting form—so freeing and fragmentary and so much like how the mind works. I hope it inspires you to consider all the things that buoy you.
And if you get a chance, let me know in the comments—what’s one small joy from the last week that you’d like to hold onto?
P.S. Today we’re gathering at the Hatch, our virtual writing hour for paid subscribers, from 1-2pm ET. It’s going to be an extra special 100-day project edition, and I can’t wait to see your beautiful faces. Join us here!
P.P.S. I’ll be sending out another 100-day project check-in in just a few days. But for anyone who is new here, it’s not too late to start now!
The Isolation Journals is my newsletter for people seeking to transform life's interruptions into creative grist. Both free and paid subscriptions are available. The best way to support my work is with a paid subscription, where you get added benefits like access to my advice column Dear Susu, an archive of interviews with amazing artists, behind-the-scenes tidbits from me, our virtual writing hour the Hatch, and other opportunities for creative community.
Prompt 192. “Reasons to Live Through the Apocalypse” by Nikita Gill
Sunrises. People you have still to meet and laugh with. Songs about love, peace, anger, and revolution. Walks in the woods. The smile you exchange with a stranger when you experience beauty accidentally together. Butterflies. Seeing your grandparents again. The moon in all her forms, whether half or full. Dogs. Birthdays and half-birthdays. That feeling of floating in love. Watching birds eat from bird feeders. The waves of happiness that follow the end of sadness. Brown eyes. Watching a boat cross an empty sea. Sunsets. Dipping your feet in the river. Balconies. Cake. The wind in your face when you roll the car window down on an open highway. Falling asleep to the sound of a steady heartbeat. Warm cups of tea on cold days. Hugs. Night skies. Art museums. Books filled with everything you do not yet know. Long conversations. Long-lost friends. Poetry.
Your prompt for the week:
What are your reasons to live through the apocalypse? Record them in a prose poem or a long, lovely list.
Nikita Gill is a British-Indian poet, playwright, writer, and illustrator living in the south of England. She has published seven volumes of poetry, including Your Soul Is a River, Your Heart Is the Sea, The Girl and the Goddess, and Where Hope Comes From.
Featured Community Member of the Week
El Chen is an artist currently living in New York City, investigating what performance-making can do for communal wellbeing. For her 100-day project, she is painting—a choice she made viscerally and intuitively. “I feel at ease when I let my teeny brush help me process and release my emotions,” El writes. “I used to have a hard time dreaming. For whatever reason, painting has made it incrementally easier to poke at what I desire. It feels like I’m painting my way home to myself.”
Learn more about the 100-day project.
Watch Suleika’s interview about the importance of a bone marrow registry and how you can save a life. Learn more about becoming a bone marrow donor at bethematch.org.
For more paid subscriber benefits, see—
The Hatch, our monthly virtual gathering where we write (or paint or draw or piano-play) and connect as a community
An exploration of the benefits of habit-stacking, plus a community discussion thread
A behind-the-scenes peek at my latest painting and a meditation on how to keep showing up for your creative practice when life interrupts