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Posts Tagged ‘pandemic’

Here we are in mid- to late November: Thanksgiving literally around the corner, Christmas peeking over the horizon. The days have grown short here in Boston, and my morning runs are taking me under increasingly leafless trees.

The holiday season holds so much love and magic for me, but there are some painful memories, too, and this year – whatever else it turns out to be – promises to be a departure from the norm.

I don’t usually travel for Thanksgiving, so was not worried about skipping a plane trip or explaining to family why this isn’t the year to be together. (I am dealing with those things around Christmas, and I’m sad about not spending my annual week in Texas, eating my mom’s cooking and playing with my nephews and catching up with so many people I love.)

My guy and I are going to hang out and cook this week, and while I’m looking forward to that, I’ve still been sad about our teeny Thanksgiving. This is only our second year together, so we don’t have long-established traditions, though we would probably be eating with friends if not for the pandemic. But I finally figured out the other day what was making me so sad: for me, Thanksgiving is about welcome. Creating it, finding it, receiving it. And this year, that concept has felt thin on the ground – or, at least, profoundly different than usual.

This year has held so much isolation for me: so many hours alone in my apartment, trying to plan pandemic-safe interactions with local friends. I miss having girlfriends over for tea, or meeting up at a cafe for an after-work cuppa. My arms ache to hug the friends I still see and the family members I won’t see this year. I miss walking into Chrissy’s house like it’s my own, chatting about music with my coworkers, making plans to visit faraway loved ones. I have struggled to find welcome, and create it, this year when we all know that we can best love each other by keeping our distance.

I am trying, this week, to create welcome where I can: texting friends near and far to check in, attending last night’s Christmas choir rehearsal on Zoom, going to a couple of small in-studio yoga classes. On Thursday, my guy and I will cook our favorite side dishes, and I’ll drop off some sweet potatoes on a friend’s porch (her kids don’t like them). I will remember past Thanksgivings, in church basements and friends’ houses and my mother’s kitchen. I’ll listen to my favorite Nichole Nordeman song, and soak in the company of the man I love. We will welcome each other into this holiday with its joy and complications, and somehow, I hope, that will be enough.

If you’re celebrating, I wish you a lovely Thanksgiving.

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Over the weekend, we hit eight months of pandemic life here in Boston. It worries me, honestly, that not much seems to have changed over the last eight months. People are still getting sick and dying; hospitals and essential workers are still stretched thin; we are still in a strange not-quite-normal limbo. Closer to home, I am still furloughed, and still spending a lot (a lot) of time alone in my apartment.

These autumn days can feel like feast or famine: one day might hold a long bike ride with my guy through falling golden leaves, a nourishing walk with a girlfriend, a yoga class in the park (we squeezed in a few more outdoor classes when the mercury hit the 70s last week). Other days, I might not say a word aloud to a human being until the afternoon, though I check in daily via text with a few loved ones. My in-person circles, always smallish, have shrunk to three or four dear friends, plus my partner. Sometimes it feels impossible to conceive of how we’ll continue this way. (It’s all very Waiting for Godot.)

The isolation is wearying, and sometimes I wish I could spread the interactions out to make sure I get the right amount every day. (I do try, but it isn’t always possible.) But I am also conscious of something else: a steady sense of gratitude for the good days, whether caused by community or sunshine or a satisfying writing session or all of the above.

We do what we can, I (and many others) have been saying for months now. We wash our hands, wear our masks, put off trips to see loved ones or visit favorite places until it’s safe to do so. We find creative ways to connect with folks we love. I send photos of autumn leaves to friends in Idaho and California and Scotland. I curl up in the evenings with a middle-grade novel or the latest Sara Paretsky mystery or an episode of Mary Tyler Moore. And, when the opportunity for feasting comes – be it pizza around a friend’s table or a bear hug from my guy or a ride to the grocery store – I take it.

Some days still feel like famine: I feel acutely the lack of the small interactions at work and in public that made up so much of my days. That seems likely to continue for a while. But most days offer richness, in both surprising and in durable ordinary ways. And for now, as we head into winter (not without trepidation), I will feast when I can.

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Someone mentioned last week that we are six months into pandemic life, and I had to pause a moment. Six months? On some level, of course, six months is a blink – and in other ways it has been the longest, strangest half-year ever.

With wildfires on top of the pandemic and racial injustice, and a president who seems either unable or unwilling to respond properly to any of those, it can be tough to simply move through the days. My former colleague Juliette has started saying “pandemic good” when people ask how she’s doing – a response I love for its snark and honesty. (I follow her on Twitter because she’s a homeland security and logistics expert, and also because she’s reliably, relatably human.)

Doing yoga in Piers Park the other night (under a hazy sky), I stepped one foot back into a lunge and could feel myself shaking a bit. This multiplied when we got to crow pose, which I love but have not mastered yet. But I didn’t feel worried at any point that I was going to come crashing down: I felt shaky, but strong. And it came to me: that’s where so many of us are these days.

I am still furloughed (through the fall semester) and trying to figure out both freelance work and possible next steps. I miss my family, whom I haven’t seen since Christmas. Most of my friends are adjusting to new remote or hybrid school setups for their kids, often while working remotely themselves. My guy is still working at Trader Joe’s, a job he is thankful for but which carries a risk. We are all dealing with some form(s) of loneliness, worry, isolation and fear.

And yet: we are learning, slowly, what we need to survive or even flourish in these strange times. (For me: strong black tea before a morning run, in-person time with my people as often as possible, ginger-turmeric granola, bear hugs from my guy, good books, plenty of hand lotion to counteract all the sanitizing.) We worry about how we’ll keep going, and then we get up and do it. We are dealing with tech issues and unemployment tangles and trying to get our heads around a new season and waning hours of daylight. We are meeting for socially distanced walks and bike rides and picnics in the park. We have no real answers (does anyone?) but we are doing the best we can.

Shaky, but strong. That’s where I am today, and most days. We are building resilience even as these strange days take everything we’ve got. We are still here. There is still joy, and beauty, alongside anxiety and strain. And we get up each day, make another cup of tea or coffee, and keep going.

How are you really doing, these days? I’d love to know.

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harborwalk-trees

We’re (more than) three months into quarantine – my personal clock hit the three-month mark last weekend. Massachusetts, like a lot of states, is slowly reopening, even as coronavirus cases continue to appear. Recently, I’ve been out to a few local businesses that were closed for a while, but otherwise, my routine hasn’t changed much since March. And I’m frankly sick of it.

I keep seeing essays or tweets around the Internet of things people want to keep from this time: more time with their families, fewer commutes, less traffic congestion, and so on. That’s all fine and good – and I have a few silver linings of my own. But honestly, there’s a lot from this time I don’t want to keep.

I don’t want to keep the constant, gnawing anxiety: will I get sick? Will someone I love get sick? Will I/they be able to afford the medical bills? What if they don’t get better?

I don’t want to keep the constant risk/reward calculation (what one friend called “mental actuarial tables”) that goes on in my brain every time I leave the house. I am sick and tired of mentally estimating the risk of a walk or a hug or a trip to the grocery store. I miss being able to plan travel, or have anything but a walk or a Trader Joe’s trip to look forward to.

I don’t want to keep the constant isolation, so acute it sometimes makes me cry, sitting here at my kitchen table with no one else around. I miss my coworkers, my librarians and baristas and yoga instructors and especially my florist. Most of all I miss my friends, even those I have seen since quarantine started. We go on walks and wave goodbye from behind our masks instead of sharing a meal together and parting with hugs. It helps, but it’s not the same.

I don’t want to keep this incompetent president, unwilling to listen to scientific experts or wise advisors, fanning the flames of partisan division for his own selfish ends (or because he just likes chaos, I can’t tell). The U.S. response to the pandemic has been fragmented and inadequate, and I am frustrated and sad that so many people have died.

I don’t want to rush into a post-pandemic “new normal” until we can do so safely, and I think we’ve got a long road ahead. I will keep taking precautions and wearing a mask when I go out, for as long as it takes. But I don’t want to keep so many aspects of this time. And I needed to say so.

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Happy Tuesday, friends. Here we are in week 11 of this strange restricted life, and the world is turning toward summer. I ran this morning by the water, through haze and humidity and (eventual) bright sunshine. The beach roses are blowing and the purple iris are budding, and I’m wearing my favorite denim shorts and growing herb seedlings in my kitchen window (until I can get some soil to pot them).

We are deep into whatever kind of “now normal” we are all creating for ourselves, and while there’s beauty and joy in that, today I wanted to acknowledge: I miss how it used to be.

Here in Massachusetts, we’re moving slowly into a phased reopening, but masks and social distancing and other restrictions will be part of our lives for a long while. There are some parts of “normal” we simply won’t get back, at least not for the foreseeable future. And that hurts. So, in no particular order, here is a list of things I miss:

  • Hugging my friends.
  • Browsing my favorite bookstores.
  • The library, especially the central BPL branch near my office.
  • Hanging out at coffee shops.
  • Making travel plans, which are all obviously on hold at the moment.
  • Running to the grocery store to grab “just one thing.”
  • Walking outside without a mask.
  • My family in Texas (the Zoom calls are fun, but not the same).
  • Going to friends’ houses for dinner or just to hang out.
  • By the same token: having people over to my house.
  • My colleagues, and the musical chitchat that passes for water-cooler talk at Berklee.
  • Sitting in on workshops and talking to our students.
  • The buzz of commencement season in Boston and Cambridge.
  • Going to yoga classes in a real studio.
  • Going to book events at a bookstore.
  • Walking to Downeast with my guy on a Saturday night to sample ciders and talk to the folks behind the counter.
  • Planning for summer festivals and concerts.
  • Going to the hair salon (they’re starting to reopen, but I’m going to wait a while).
  • My florist.
  • Waking up without the constant low-level (or higher-level) pandemic anxiety.

What do you miss?

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One of the things I hate the most about this pandemic: it’s playing on and heightening all our usual fears.

As a recent divorcée who lives alone, one of my deep fears is disappearing: being forgotten, ignored or simply overlooked. I’ve worked hard to build and maintain my relationships over the last year, and I’m deeply grateful for my community, both local and far-flung – though the loneliness still hits hard sometimes.

Several weeks into quarantine, it became clear I was going to need more than FaceTime dates and Zoom calls to stay connected. Fortunately, several of my girlfriends feel the same, so we’ve been going on walks, either here in Eastie or along the Charles River.

I won’t lie: it’s weird not to be able to hug them, or invite them upstairs for a cup of tea. But these socially-distanced, masked walks are still feeding my soul. We get to soak up the fresh air and (often) the sunshine, trade small anecdotes about our days and/or talk about the big life stuff. Sometimes it’s work and relationships; sometimes general pandemic craziness; sometimes we dive into books or fashion. Being together in person, even from six feet apart, is seriously the best. (The longer evenings also help.)

How are you staying connected in these strange days?

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Hello, friends. I’m about out of words today, but I did want to share some tulips, and point you to a podcast episode that came to me (via a dear friend) at just the right time.

Dr. Brené Brown is a researcher, speaker, author and fellow Texan – you may have heard of her work on shame, fear, bravery and leadership. Sometimes her work really lands for me and sometimes it doesn’t, but this episode of her newish podcast, Unlocking Us, definitely hit home.

She begins by acknowledging that we have collectively hit weary (and this was a month ago, so boy have we ever). She then talks about a plan for filling in the gaps for each other when no one in a family unit is operating at their usual capacity. I liked her phrase “settling the ball” – a holdover from her kids’ soccer days – which speaks to how we address challenges after the initial shock has subsided. And she addresses the tendency to minimize our own suffering, and how that hampers our ability to be kind to others.

I have a longtime habit of minimizing my own problems; it is deeply rooted in the don’t complain ethic that ran through most of my childhood. But the truth is that we are all struggling here, in many and varied ways. If I can manage to be kind to myself, it will help me be kinder to others, because there is more than enough empathy and love to go around.

Give the episode a listen, if you like, or feel free to share other resources that are helping you. We are all in this together (cue the High School Musical finale) and the more bits of wisdom and joy and patience we can share, the better.

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