A Guide to Being Soft During the Apocalypse

Updated: Aug 1

Written by Zadie McCracken & artwork by Althea Alano

One of my New Year’s resolutions this year was to be softer. Less tough. Less repressive and rough and rude. Kinder, gentler, more open, more relaxed. Softer. I would cry whenever I felt like it. I would be vulnerable, tender; the ability to feel without embarrassment or regret would be my superpower.


When this pandemic and lockdown began, the challenge became greater. We have all had to be more adaptable and hardy than I hoped to be. We have all had to be keen and caring and strong. I initially resisted this need to push through – but one cannot spend every day curled under duvets, staring at the internet and quietly sobbing.


So. What to do? How to be? What does it mean to be soft during a pandemic, a lockdown, a quarantine, a social-distancing, self-isolating, these-are-all-new-terms extravaganza?


I wrote a list. Mainly for myself, but also for you. I hope you’re doing okay. I hope you know you can cry at movies. Here is my guide to being soft during the apocalypse:


Dispatch #006: The First Big Quarantine Fight and a Face Dive on Howard St – This article should make you weep and feel warm inside, at the same time. Leandra is a whip-smart writer, and here she spins an anecdote into a narrative into a moral. Also, this comment by BuffyAnneSummers97 made me feel marshmallowy af:


BuffyAnneSummers97 14 hours ago I think love is that interlocking-fingers-under-foot boost you give scrappy childhood friends when you’re scrambling over garden walls to do naughty shit. Safe in the knowledge they’re about to scrape an elbow pulling you up. There is no argument last week, no question of in-group out-group lunchtime dynamics in this moment. There is only the wall to be conquered.



This video from the Good News Movement via Aisling Bea’s Instagram – just. pure tears.


Derry Girls on Netflix – What a show. If you’ve somehow missed out on this gem, like I had until a few weeks ago, GET AMONGST IT. It is funny, yes, but also outrageously clever, and so cute it’ll hurt your heart. The ending of the second season especially – had me sobbing.



This episode of Modern Love the podcast – Modern Love is the softest and most diverse series of love stories out there, but it’s also a bit of a hit-or-miss when it comes to matching your mood. An Empty Heart Is One That Can Be Filled, written by Lily King and read by Zoe-Lister Jones, is perfect for any occasion. King’s heady descriptions of falling in love during a writer’s retreat in New England make me giddy, and the comedown that is her heartbreak is exquisitely painful – you will feel in your chest as if it is your own. You can read the essay instead of listening to it here, but know there is something delicately special about lying on your kitchen floor and letting Lister-Jones’ voice fill you up.



John Robins' speech for Sara Pascoe – Once, Sara Pascoe and John Robins were the it couple of the British comedy world. When Pascoe left Robins in 2016, plenty of devotees were left sobbing on their kitchen floors, grief-struck. The breakup was big, personally and publicly. It became the topic of both of their 2017 Edinburgh shows: Robins’ The Darkness of Robins and Sara Pascoe’s LadsLadsLads, both of which I highly recommend (but not for softness). When Pascoe’s first book, Animal, won a Chortle Award, it was Robins who gave a speech in her absence. It was awkward and hilarious, and, ultimately, very, very sweet. If you want to feel bittersweet about relationships and their inevitable endings, watch.



Emailing – Ah, the email. Like a DVD or a desktop computer, emails are very recent history partially, but not completely, discarded in favour of the new. I’ve been emailing more regularly these days, and not just for work – I email my family, my friends, my grandparents, my goldfish. I highly, highly recommend it if you want to feel like a Sally Rooney character falling in love for the first time.



i_luv_dirt’s Instagram stories about gardening – “chaos gardening is my passion i say as i keep on nearly squashing random batches of spring onion growing up from the depths of hell”. My friend Klari’s Instagram is great in general, but their stories about gardening (which include anthropomorphic strawberries, delicious puns and an ongoing battle against slugs) are the creme de la creme. They’ve put all their garden thoughts on one cheeky highlight, so you can get caught up in no time.



The montage in the first episode of Feel Good on Netflix – A lot of Feel Good is more complicated than pure softness. However, there is a montage at the very beginning, when Mae and George are just getting together, which will melt your heart and make you want to run away with your high school crush.



Spiral by Pinegrove – I’m not entirely sure how a song which only lasts 56 seconds can make me feel such a range of emotions, but Spiral did it. This is a beautiful, adorable, catchy song that might just distract you from the gaping hole of boredom and fear in your chest. Also, it is pretty easy to play on piano and doubles as instructions for how to look after yourself right now. Win-win-win.



Tenderness 2020 – Softness (i.e tenderness), as a cultural concept, is complex. It has been under and over estimated; read about and mused and ruined and reminisced. In this essay, Em Meller confronts the interactions and contradictions of capitalism and tenderness and art. She writes with nuance and purpose. If you’ve read this list and thought ‘blah’, Tenderness 2020 might be the food-for-thought you need.




Be well. Be soft. I hope my list will help you cuddle and cocoon yourself. Sometimes it’s easy to be hard and angry and cynical. You bounce around, pretending you are tough on the phone. I promise the world is better when it is softer. I promise the world is better when you can feel it. I promise the world is better with you in it.


Zadie Mccracken is a Melbourne-based writer, performer and creative producer. In addition to her practice, Zadie likes to-do lists, personality tests, glitter and television. You can find her all over the internet, but especially at her website, https://zadiemccracken.wixsite.com/home, and Instagram, @zadiemccracken.



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