We Need to Talk About How We Talk to Each Other

Right now sucks. For everyone.
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A pile of the trash and laundry I've been neglecting in my living room somehow felt right for this post...

A pile of the trash and laundry I've been neglecting in my living room somehow felt right for this post...

Every night for the past week, I've woken up with a sense of dread at 2 A.M. As I lay in the dark, I know exactly what I'm supposed to do. The best treatment for my chronic insomnia is to break the cycle; to get out of bed with a book the moment I'm aware of being awake. Instead, I punish myself. I let my mind race through a sentence-by-sentence checklist of the post that went live at midnight. I've usually read it so many times I have it memorized, but I scan it for something I could have missed. Something that could be taken as hurtful or insensitive, or simply the wrong way.

Having a public-facing job during a pandemic is challenging, to say the least. At the same time I'm processing my own grief and resisting the urge to crawl into a hole of depression, I'm doing my best to write or edit ten blog posts a week that are entertaining, helpful, and informative. And in many ways, that's a gift: The challenge to create uplifting content has given me a reason to bake croissants, try out new shows, and hold myself accountable to moving every day. I love my job, and I'm grateful to have one now more than ever. But it also makes me vulnerable to not just my own negative self-talk, but to everyone else's. 

Every night, I've given in to the urge to pull out my computer at 3 A.M. and pull up the comments. Recently, without fail, there's a negative one waiting for me.

For as long as the internet exists, there will be negative and critical comments—and that criticism is often valuable. We should all stand up for what's right, and influencers should be held accountable because they have influence. I knew when I accepted my role at cupcakes and cashmere that I would be opening my life up to this community, and I've learned valuable lessons from comments that made me question and change my own behavior. The problem is that very few of the critical comments we've received over the past month have come from an empathetic place of teaching. Instead, they're coming from a place of projection, frustration, and correcting. They're coming from a place of fear.

And instead of one or two per day, there's one every ten minutes.

In the span of a single day last week, I received comments and DMs about writing posts that are too fluffy, writing posts that are too heavy, spoiling Harry Potter, failing to cover USPS and other topics I don't have the emotional energy for right now, recommending a novel that's considered by some to be controversial, and using the term "non-essential." Within minutes of that afternoon's post going live, comments appeared calling my ethics into question for not being vegan, responding that the "COVID posts are getting pretty repetitive," and reprimanding me for my decision to spend $4 on exposure-free grocery pick-up.

On Instagram that day, I received a comment in response to a post where I wrote that I'll be holding Jonah's delicious pastries accountable when my jeans don't fit this summer (which is true, by the way). They wrote, "shouldn’t we be prioritizing our literal health right now? I’d rather be alive and well than have my jeans fit." As if I wouldn't be too.

I've developed a thick skin over the past six years of publishing my writing online, and can honestly say it takes a lot for a negative comment to get to me under normal circumstances. There isn't one comment I can point to and say, "That's the one. That's the one that makes me feel this way." Few are mean enough to warrant deleting per our comment policy, and some of the comments that feel the most cruel start with "I don't mean to be critical" or "I've been reading for a long time, and..." And for every negative comment, there are tens of positive comments. (But ask me which of those I can quote back word for word.) 

It's simply the sheer number of them; the endless, daily barrage of corrections, feedback, expectations, and projections that's frankly exhausting.

We are all feeling, raw, scared, and sensitive right now. We should be—it's a raw and scary time! Because I share so much of my life, there's a false assumption that I share all of my life. But there are countless things I'm going through as a direct result of this virus that I'm not ready to talk about publicly. And recently I've felt like a pandemic punching bag. 

I am doing my best in the face of this pandemic: I'm limiting my exposure, sheltering in place, working from home, supporting small businesses from a distance, donating my time and money to those in need, and creating inspired content even on days when I feel less-than. Yet it feels like I'm walking on editorial egg shells. Every sentence I write needs to come with an asterisk acknowledging my privilege, downfalls, and intention.*

But here's the thing: 1.) Content is going to be repetitive right now. We are entering Week Six of sheltering-in-place and are creating up to ten posts a week and, 2.) I can only speak to my own experience, so a post on "My Strategy for Grocery Shopping While Sheltering in Place" may provide you with tips. Or it may not. And before you suggest freelancers, the analytics do not lie (the vast majority of you simply do not click on posts that are written by anyone other than our team) and we think it's really special that we have a platform where you know most of the writers by their byline. We have no intention of changing that part of cupcakes and cashmere.

A very small team of humans creates the content you see every day. We physically cannot be everything to everyone, and we are not going to be covering the difficult topics we promised early in March because as many of you correctly guessed in this thread, no one on our team has the emotional energy to unpack environmental awareness, or any of the other incredibly important topics right now (but we will get to them!).

There are times when you may need to look elsewhere for the content you crave—and you should! The last thing you should be doing is reading a post that makes you feel bitter or angry right now. If you don't want to spend money right now, do not click on the roundup of exercise gear going live later this week (like most of our posts, it will be very obvious from the title). If you are convinced that you are grocery shopping the best possible way, or would rather walk through the aisles than spend $4 on pickup—great! Keep doing that! 

Normally, I use this space to write my weekly column, "The List." Every week, I publish recommendations for media, activities, and recipes. I often spend most of the day Sunday working on it, and choose nearly all of the books I read and shows I watch based on things I think are worth reviewing. It takes me hours, every single week. 

But this week, I couldn't do it—I felt depleted and depressed. When I began to test-out a pasta, I broke down before cooking it. If this was a normal List, I would have told you about how the sweet, perfumed fennel made it a sleeper hit. I would not have told you that Jonah ended up making it while I drank wine in the living room adjacent to our kitchen, and cried.

I am happy to be vulnerable with you, but I can't bare my soul in every single post because a.) I want cupcakes and cashmere to be an escape for you and b.) I promise, you'd get tired of it. ;)

We are all in scary, nuanced situations right now. Maybe you feel like your situation is worse than mine, or maybe you feel lucky. But it's all scary and it's all valid. And as my mom says, "What do animals do when they're scared? They bite." We are all animals, and we all bite from time to time—but we need to be aware of why we're biting, who we're biting, and how often we're doing it. 

Whether you've been on the giving or receiving end of a bite recently (I've been both), think about how you talk to other people. I'm trying to be honest with myself and with my friends; to use this time to channel love instead of fear. Right now sucks. For everyone. It's simply a shitty time that I'm doing my best to endure, and I know you are too. But if there was ever a time to practice love, kindness, and empathy, it's now.

And seriously, this pasta is good enough to get you through a breakdown. Trust me.

*I am privileged. I'm privileged to have a job, be able to work from home, and have a platform. I don't use the word "depression" lightly. It's perfectly alright if my jeans don't fit, just annoying that I won't be able to wear them! I am not vegan, but I respect those who are. Harry Potter has been out for thirteen years, so I can't help you there. When we write "non-essential," it is not because I believe you are not an essential person. Speaking of which, I cannot imagine what health care and "essential" workers must be going through now because I am not one. But what I do know is that their bravery and empathy inspires and astounds me every single day.

UPDATE [4.21.2020]: Your comments have been INCREDIBLE. I initially planned to go through and respond to every single one of you, but I never imagined there would be so, so many. I just wanted to say THANK YOU. From the bottom of my heart. I was a reader for about five years before I started at cupcakes and cashmere and only commented once in that entire time (you can still see it on this post, if you want a laugh 🤦🏼‍♀️😬), so I don't know why it surprised me to see such an outpouring of support, even from readers who have never commented before (!)! My heart feels so full. And—this is crazy—for the first time in weeks, I slept through the night last night. Thank you.