I worked from home Monday. It was the last time I got to choose.
I haven’t really cried yet.
I wish I could really believe my own attempts at feeling compassion for those not taking it seriously, but it seems easier to be mad at those individuals, it seems more likely I could change one person’s mind than to be angry at the system that created the conditions to behave a certain way, because the system also created me.
Drinking from the firehose of news is easier than facing my own sadness and disappointment. A Zoom workshop instead of an in-person writers retreat. Smiles covering heartbreak.
Until I am preparing lunch and realize how amped up I am, all adrenaline and nerves, to the point of nearly slicing a finger.
I look at my list of ways to stave off depression. This list, which includes “take a shower” and “wear real clothes” suddenly looks like a quarantine survival guide.
In the world of the blind, a one-eyed woman is queen.
An anxious queen. Queen of anxiety.
Uncertainty swirls. I try to slow it by finding order and control. But there is none to be had.
Will my depression flourish in this environment where hermiting is celebrated and pants are optional?
Virtual happy hour is now a thing. Friends break my heart with their words of doubt. I want to exchange words, to wrap a bow around my words for them, receive their words for me, let go of the mean words we have for ourselves. Give love.
What can I have right now? The love of a partner. The wind through the blooming quince shrub. The salty air on a cool day. Calla lilies. Sighs of a dog whose one week with us turns into two and no end in sight as long as planes carry viruses as well as people.
Tears seem like a slippery slope. What will come once I let them start?
I want to rely on a granite rock of love to help me, but it seems that granite will be even more slippery and hard and make it hurt more when I fall. So I want a pillow, a cloud, but something less temporary. Maybe a sandy beach, something that changes itself with the weather and ties but remains in essence what it is: a solid but soft place where I can sit or walk or run or stand, that supports me even when it’s wet, that makes me feel part of something much bigger than me, that gives me perspective and reminds me I’m human and that I’m me. And so that sand morphs around my feet and gives when I sit, I can scootch my butt around to make a comfortable seat, but I’m not changing the essence of its being, I’m just finding my own way of becoming with it. And it doesn’t mind, it gladly yields.
Although what am I giving in return? That love is very one-sided, because what can I give a sandy beach? What does it need from me, human? Maybe appreciation is enough? My gratitude for its support? Do I do that enough?
Thank you for wrapping me.
Are my words empty, just because they don’t start a revolution?
Grad school friends I haven’t seen in years, how much there is to say, and all we can say is “Covid.”
When should I run? When should I write? When should I work? When and how much should I read the news, check social media, read email? Should I go for a walk or into the backyard? I could do a puzzle! Take a nap, in the middle of a work day! Suddenly the options seem both endless and claustrophobic. Like the cereal aisle, like the menu of a diner, so many options that I freeze and can’t pick anything, or drool over the bananas foster but then order eggs and toast.
And then more choices, about a brother and mother and sister and how many pieces I care to pick up and put back together. The guilt that comes from realizing that care is a choice.
What do people think about if they’re not thinking about making things better or doing what’s next or improving? This is a genuine question, like what occupies space in brains that aren’t wired like mine?
Can I ever learn that I can deserve something because every human deserves and not have to prove to myself that I deserve it?
Can I deserve loving working from home?
Last night, I told my therapist, whose face was blurry and pixelated on the telemedicine platform and I wondered if that’s how he saw me: blurry. Last night I told him it was easier when I was ignorant and 23. When I didn’t know I was craving attention. When I didn’t know how mean I am to myself. When I could use my perfectionism for discipline and success. When I could blissfully dampen anxiety or depression with work or drinking or a social life or ignoring any sort of strong connection with another person, when I could save up all my emotion to be released, which ended up happening in my mid-thirties. So here I now am, wanting that shell back, it felt safe and self-destructive, sometimes more appealing than the curse of self-awareness. I have eaten the apple and know that I am naked.
And being naked feels cold and lonely but also makes the arms of another even warmer and more tender.
Long walks and Saturday pancakes and the dawning realization that not having anything to choose from or say no to or happening without me and no shoulds might be kind of amazing. Is this how introverts will take over the world?
Presuming we’re not all wiped out by a virus.
Or squashed by the fact that nothing seems fair. Nothing is fair. We can’t even agree to follow the rules.
Freedom and paralyzation.
Moments of clarity, wanting to be kind to myself and gently coax myself out of bed after a single snooze, wanting to be someone who doesn’t suffer from her struggles. And then my head hurts and I’m tired and can do nothing but a jigsaw puzzle.
And there are so many don’ts: don’t get too close. Don’t go out too often. Don’t drive to a park. Don’t go out in groups.
What about the dos?
Do go linger on the beach. Do go look for new flowers poking up among last year’s dead leaves covering the forest floor. Do draw on the sidewalk with chalk. Do get groceries for your neighbor. Do let your dog run into the ocean even if it means a bath later. Do put your own bare feet onto the sand and let the cold water tickle your toes. Do snooze your alarm. Do have another glass of wine or cup of coffee. Do say yes to another walk ostensibly because the dog needs it but mostly you need it. Do watch the sunset even when it’s cold and windy.
Well, Zoom weddings are now a thing.
What if I’m enough?
All I need to be right now is alive. (And take my meds. And maybe cry, I haven’t really done that yet.)
Alive is the ultimate beginning, a choice I did not make, and yet here I am, trying to take control.
What if we knew there was an atom from Shakespeare in the cheap wooden writing desk we ordered online? An atom of Einstein in our pen? An atom of a fifteenth century waif in the twenty-dollar bill pulled from an ATM in a hurry?
Maybe what I want are more walks, more runs on the beach dodging sand dollars, more afternoons in pajamas with Earl Grey tea, more living room chats, more Fiona Apple albums in the bathtub. No more happy hours without realness, no more using work as a metric of success, no more filling life with busyness and false goals. More living in accordance with my values and with people who share them and don’t try to talk me out of being me.
Ruminations begin with the word, “Should.” The word is at the front of my brain when I wake up, when I’m falling asleep, when I’m wondering what to do, what not to do.
“Should” doesn’t care that I’m operating at a limited capacity.
“Should” doesn’t let me see what is.
If I try so hard to meet the expectation of the “should,” I can’t even start.
So I throw away my mascara and eye shadow and stop wearing a bra.
But I still try to wear jeans every day. That’s for me, not anyone else.
I saw a single meteor after waking up early and stumbling to the beach. But I heard the waves crash and the stars twinkle in the dark which are just as wondrous as a meteor shower.
I have never been so happy to finish a jigsaw puzzle that will get glued together and framed mostly as a reminder never to do that one again.
I discover I’m not that disappointed hearing the news that we’re sheltering in place another month. Not disappointed to continue working from home.
I have a job. I have a roof. I feel very far away from those who don’t, even though I interview them for newspaper stories and try to understand the economics. Even restaurant owners want to be safe, first.
I still haven’t cried.
But I haven’t slipped. A moment of silence to appreciate Lexapro.
Doing nothing is now an active verb.
Are those who don’t stay home the same people who read the “25 Ways to Make Life Easier” articles and expect life to be easy? That everything is an inconvenience? Instead of as a shared struggle that brings us together?
Instead of sharing struggle, we share guilt.
We share guilt over not being good enough, not reaching the potential granted to us – we think, guaranteed us – by the American Dream. And so we strive to best each other, to outdo, to out-earn. To put our eye on the prize of money and material objects rather than on helping and making the world a better place. We place value on likes and retweets and clicks instead of on real hearts touched and connections made. Will the pandemic now bring us farther into those online worlds because they’re all we have right now? Or will we emerge, blinking in the bright light, in awe of the world around us and forget the cave we’ve been trapped in? Realize that although we were duped, led into a cave with the promise of treasure and magnificent stalagmites, it’s not a place to be trapped. So when we dig out from the collapse and enter the world again, will we now reprioritize the humanity, the goodness, rather than the chase for wealth and printed pieces of green paper that mean nothing except what we tell them to mean? Will we stop with the hacks and magic bullets and pills to cure what’s wrong, or will we move through what’s wrong and hard with the grace that comes from knowing it’s part of the human condition to struggle, to gnash teeth. Otherwise, we’re robots, productive and unfeeling.
What if my existence alone can make a difference?
I want to think about brushing the dog and seeing a hummingbird and my roses opening and the pea tendrils grasping the wire scaffold and the wall of nasturtium and the buds of radishes peeking above the dirt.
I was told a lot, as a kid, to have more patience. This thought comes to me as I tell myself to have more patience for people not taking the pandemic seriously, as they refuse to move over on the sidewalk to keep distance, as they rant about this being a flu, the protests about hair salons being closed, the crowded beaches.
But wait. Now, I know that the impatience is really anger.
So was that true, back then? Was I angry and didn’t know it because I was told to be patient?
Girls need to be allowed to be angry.
And I’m angry at the bailouts of corporations instead of taking care of the workers, the parents, the people. The obvious valuation of wealth over all else.
What if we all stopped trying to make more money than we can spend? What if we all operated like a non-profit: provide a service, pay those who give it, break even, success? Where did this value on hoarding money come from?
Is the hummingbird that nearly flew through my open window a sign that I was exactly where I needed to be in the moment or a sign that I was doing the wrong thing? The thing about signs is, they don’t interpret themselves.
Maybe it was just a sign that the rest of the world is still okay, it’s just we humans that are doomed.
You are not enlightened just because you have an opinion. You are not right just because you’re indignant.
I feel guilty anytime I feel excited over something. I guess this is what they call survivor’s guilt. But we can’t suffer all of us all the time. We have to take turns holding the load, the suffering a weight above us all. Sometimes holding it up, sometimes taking a break, sometimes holding our part lightly, sometimes escaping to the side of the road to chase butterflies and to dance and sing for those still bearing the weight. Not to run away, to escape, but to stay close enough to see the struggle and remember to return to help with the load and let others dance and sing, for their own freedom and for yours.
My dance looks like spilling coffee on my shirt and not changing, forcing a dog to lie on my feet, scrolling through Instagram on the toilet instead of reading the pile of National Geographic magazines piled up, eating ice cream and taking a nap after lunch.
There will be a before. There is now a during. But will there ever be an after?
Or will it be co-existence? Homeostasis.
There will not be an after for the 82,000 already dead.
And we’re supposed to be worried about this “both sides” shit?
Is the only way out of this to burn the entire world down?
Because right now the “both sides” looks like a side that wants to prevent people from contracting a killer virus, and a side that thinks opening businesses will somehow save us. It’s the economy, stupid.
Do we all have to die in order to live again?
There are also date nights on the beach waiting for the stars to come out and talking-not-talking about big things.
Long walks and nasturtiums and calla lilies and goslings and poppies.
Teddy bears in windows and mockingbirds and bushtits and cheese on toast.
Coffee and waffles and cuddles.
Added weight behind the phrase, “It’s good to see you.”
Signs of blossoms through the ash of a burning world.
Is this how people become reclusive, they feel about being near people all the time the way I feel during shelter-in-place? A visceral avoidance of something that could infect me, a bubble of anger anytime someone deviates from what I think they should be doing.
A flash of anger seeing protests for salons opening.
In truth, avoiding the reminder that there are other people out there to impress, to project my inner voice upon and pretend it’s them telling me I’m not doing enough, doing it right, get off the couch you lazy girl.
It is safer and kinder to observe pea tendrils wrapping around the neighboring jasmine plant, to count ladybugs on the apple tree and cheer them on in their aphid hunt.
But then a friend comes to your sand dunes and you sit ten feet away from her as the sun goes down, alternating sips of beer with pulling the mask over your face.
The shoulds are out in full force.
They are around every corner and in every crack of the couch cushions.
Every should is a calculus. A comparison.
But also there are rumblings of a desire to have a goal. But is that because I think I should have a goal or because I really want a goal?
Everything feels stuck and I tell myself it must be my fault.
Or it must be something I can problem-solve my way out of. Without asking for help.
George Floyd. Tears.
A dead moth on the baseboard that I don’t move for days. I was the last living thing to witness its life. That little bundle of moth-sized energy released back into the universe and I was right there so now do I have some of that energy in me?
Dust collects on the piano keys. Roses wilt in the peanut butter jar being repurposed as a vase. Coffee lingers on my breath.
I worry a smooth rock in my left hand, a rock I plucked from the beach, palm-sized so I can curl my fingers around it and turn it over and over while I sit on Zoom calls or consider what to write.
The world burns. Eight minutes and forty-nine seconds. The US hit the 100,000 mark of deaths. People dead. Tears and sighs and the contradiction of the power and the insignificance of little ol’ me.
The sun sets after 8pm, so we watch from our window, obeying the curfew with sadness the way we are following all rules right now.
The white man behind the curtain furiously pulls levers, creating unrest and division. But this time. This time. Perhaps he is finally exposed. He is strong, he gains power every time a woman quits her job to stay home with her kids, every time a Black person is denied a loan for a home, every time we hide behind the myth of a meritocracy.
This is why we cried on election night.
Wearing a mask doesn’t silence my words.
I am not the right person to lead a team discussion about race and I also cannot say no because the conversation needs to happen. Emails and texts and phone calls to a level I haven’t seen in a long time. Tears and emotions and overwhelm and then smiling and nodding at sentiments that are damaging and ignorant, biting my tongue because the words need to fly to show just where we are and how much work we need to do.
It’s not about me.
But it is about me when a woman trots by on the sidewalk, not moving over, with a mask around her forearm as if the virus will erupt from her skin. Is it better to flout the rules completely or to “have a mask” in order to avoid repercussions but defeat the purpose completely?
Anxiety as rumination, loud enough to be heard over the depression, loud enough to warrant a new prescription, a 20-block trek to Walgreen’s that counts as my exercise for the day.
I’m just so tired.
Glimmers of creativity and calm and self-care.
Glimmers of getting angry enough at my self-loathing thoughts to actually change them instead of just saying I will.
Glimmers of a life not involving the phrase, “you get a few minutes of your life back” if a meeting ends early.
Glimmers of looking around rather than planning everything to the second.
Glimmers of a clean slate and a changed world because of what we now know. What I now know.
Glimmers of optimism despite the fact my throat bounces with my heart.
Glimmers that this is not a test but a journey, and there is no score given and no grade to earn, not even pass/fail because we’re all going to die so even death is not a failure.
A birthday. My birthday.
Occassion for the first crossing of a bridge, the first foot stepped outside of the city, the first decision to travel for something non-essential.
It feels essential. But our definition is perhaps too influenced by emotion and desperation.
The moment has struck, of adrenaline wearing off, of realizing that this is life, right now, not a limbo in between what was and what will be. This is it. Life is now.
What is this world right now? A series of catastrophes and uncertainty.
That is not the world, that is humanity.
The world still travels through space and around the sun, we can measure it and predict the tides and the weather because there is still order and logic in nature. It is we humans who have deviated because we have ulterior motives to somehow be above nature, to control it, to put the individual above the group, but that is unnatural and disruptive. Who do we think we are to be above nature? Who do we think we are that we ARE nature?
What must we step on to rise above nature?
White women feeling guilty instead of angry. Did the same system train us to be guilty rather than angry? If we stay guilty, we will turn on ourselves, rather than use our anger to change the system.
Walking to the end of the rocky beach and scrambling up the hill rather than returning to the path. Startling people when we pop out of the trees seemingly out of nowhere.
Calling out friends for their mask-less photos, then letting go of the outcome.
And then. It’s July. Somehow.
I keep writing about burning it all down. Do I mean that for myself or for the world? My life isn’t horrible just because the world is.
The world isn’t horrible just because some people are.
Instead of leaning into the current and letting it take me, take all of us, to a new existence, to a place where the world is different and where we can begin again, I resist and convince myself that I’m drowning rather than floating.
My sister asks me what an upside-down life looks like. “What do you think you’re searching for?” And so I do a headstand in my living room.
I watch fireworks above me from the beach, illegal displays from backyards, from streets, from sand dunes. Ironically, it is not foggy this year.
Maybe an upside-down life doesn’t mean to burn it all down. Maybe it means to stop searching and striving and forcing and start living.
Maybe it means making my own definitions.
Maybe it means noticing when I’m trying to justify my feelings and desires with data and logic. Which is like trying to justify my own existence with data and logic.
There is one fact that is a justification for my existence: the fact that I am here.
I am here because I am here because I am here. The ultimate circular argument.
An attempt to have a drink at a table outside and feeling uncomfortable as the tables around us fill up and regulars moving between tables with masks askew, and being served Racer 5 pints in plastic glasses with lids on them.
An attempt to wake up at 4am to watch the meteor shower and seeing only a single comet streak through the sky. But it was a comet streaking through the sky.
An attempt to have a mother-daughter-sister phone call and making the mistake of scheduling it right after therapy and then being an absolute shell at the dinner table.
Sometimes the adventure of life calls for pressing on during a storm, slaying a bear, hacking back overgrowth with a machete.
Sometimes it calls for all eyes and ears on high alert, and sometimes it calls for games to pass the monotony of a never-changing landscape and one day looking exactly the same as the next.
Sometimes it calls for finding shelter, climbing a tree, reversing to find a different path.
And sometimes it calls for helping poppies by pulling off their pointy hats as they unfurl into blossom. Maybe that’s not helping the poppies, maybe that’s helping myself.
Tentatively driving into the outside world, becoming braver with each day.
Relief when we see masks in rural towns.
Relief at the simplicity of each day.
Relief at the poor cell service.
Relief when I could not think about anything and still care.
But then I remember, I’m a grown-ass woman and I can do what I want.
Including redefining what I “should” be doing. Redefining what success looks like.
Redefining triggers as ways in which I am unaligned with my values and definitions of success. The definitions that are innate and sometimes buried but screaming out for me to pay attention to them over the definitions society and our broken system want to give me.
Those definitions scold me in a school marm voice, telling me “too much” or “not enough” or “tsk tsk.” And I put my head down and say sorry and slink to the back of the classroom.
I am tearing up during my morning meditations, something I can never recall happening before.
I tear up because I can hear a voice cutting through the usual cacophony of my brain, a voice saying, “It doesn’t have to be so hard.”
Gentle and wise and I want to follow her to the ends of the earth.
I wonder what it would be like to think of motivation as a child’s hand tugging me towards something they want me to see, something as simple as a bug they’ve never seen, or a flower, or a smooth rock, or a seashell, their excitement palpable but tender.
Rather than a stone I have to push uphill, forcing and striving and easy to avoid.
Interrupting a team meeting to spread the news of Kamala as VP, and gratitude that the virtual room is full of colleagues I can say that around and know how it will be received.
Anxiety over a fever, one that lasts less than 24 hours, but that arises so suddenly that paranoia and second-guessing and worry set in immediately. I start to recognize the beep of the thermometer every time J takes his temperature. What have we done? Was it that stop for a beer that turned into a crowd before we could slink away? A trip to the grocery store? We wrack our brains. It was none of these things.
But there is also clean sheets and a sunset breaking through the foggy days and shared boredom and the shock of cold water as I dive into the waves in a sports bra and running shorts and tomatoes miraculously turning red despite the fog and a small voice outside admiring the flowers and large voices admonishing her for picking one of them and my silent voice sending permission via ESP.
Just like that it’s hot and I try to return to the trails on the hottest part of the hottest day and nearly wilt but I am free.
I feel glimmers of… what? Hope? Space? That I’m finally living in reality, what’s actually normal, rather than longing for what was or trying to rush to what’s next.
I know what this feels like, it’s the heaviness of grief lifting ever so slightly to remind me that there is a world still turning.
I have grieved before, and I will grieve again, and there is a moment that the veil lifts and it’s still hard and sad but it’s no longer isolating and prohibitive. The veil lifts to reveal what remains and a way forward.
Even the lightning and the fires and the smoke, devastating in their destructiveness, somehow remind me that the world goes on. Nature doesn’t care about the virus or about my internal struggles or about what is normal. And yes, nature is affected by human hubris, but it doesn’t care.
The world on fire brings me back to earth.
I tear up reading morning headlines.
I joke, “Like the tree in the forest, if I don’t go online to read about the world being shit, is the world really shit?”
And then realize my privilege that I can ignore the shit if I want to.
But even when I ignore it, the lies of the RNC are loud enough to bleed into my ears and I rail. More police shootings, more protests, more white kids not being called terrorists, more groups on the White House lawn with no masks, the ever increasing number of deaths now approaching 200,000.
And yet, somehow, I catch myself in good moods.
I try not to be guilty over them, and sometimes I’m not.
I can’t control the weather, but I can control what I wear in the storm.
I can’t control the rip currents, but I can control what direction I paddle to get out of them.
I have the tools but they’re not a guarantee of a quick fix.
The tools can help me with distress, a word that keeps coming up in therapy. Instead of working so hard to make the weather or the currents disappear, I can work on my capacity to navigate them. The goal is not the elimination of the hard thing—if I measure myself against that goal, I will always be a failure. If I define myself against that goal, I will never believe that I am enough just by being human.
And humanity, right now, seems to be more than enough.
The air still clings to the smoke and the fog in the morning, a damp blanket that gives me reason to mope even before I open the news of the day.
The things we do to escape the fog, the smoke, the virus:
Run up Miwok only to discover there is still fog up there, but at least no smoke, and I can celebrate fewer walk breaks than two weeks ago.
Wait until the afternoon to run, when the smoke clears and the fog lifts even just a little bit but not enough to need my sunglasses.
Drive 13 hours to Tucson, Arizona and give my mom a hug.
Wilt in the heat, with sweat collecting under my breasts and running down my back as I sit on the back patio on Zoom.
Celebrate J’s birthday with a candle in ice cream, prickly pear margaritas from the ruby fruit J foraged (with the stickers in his fingers to prove it), and food he cooked for me and Mom that she raves over, “Does he cook like this all the time?”
Yes, yes he does. Well, minus the prickly pear.
There is something at once comforting and scary to have two of the people you love most in the world, who are only in the same room together because of you, gently conversing outside your closed door while you Zoom and they pass the time.
I feel the ease and the love and it blankets me, and then I prick my ears and wonder, “What ARE they TALKING about?!”
There is something at once comforting and scary to not be needed to mediate, to smooth conversation.
We see the orange San Francisco sky as the rest of the world does: on Instagram, on the news, from comments on Zoom calls. The orange sky is the tipping point for my out-of-town friends to reach out, are you okay? they ask.
Well, no. But, yes.
And then, we leave, drive north until we reach the Grand Canyon, the shadows long in the late afternoon, bringing the landscape into brilliant 3D.
On 9/11, I am in the car on Zoom with a bunch of writers after having circumnavigated Sedona trying to find a camping spot for the night. From deep in a pine forest, which somehow has cell service, feeling guilty over having this class be an impediment upon a footloose day, with the glitches only technology can bring, I have people.
The teacher coincidentally had picked an essay about 9/11 for us to discuss.
There are no coincidences.
We return home over Sonora Pass and descend into smoke.
At 11:00 on Tuesday toward the end of a meeting, I am distracted by the promise of clean air out the window.
By 11:30, I have put aside my to-do list and am running, a celebration of the clean air and a eulogy for those still in fire.
I lean into a routine and the gift of air and the act of restoring trust in myself.