You know what is really awesome? When you are just an hour into your horrific, five-hour drive through lower Wyoming and your son (the one you are heading to pick up) texts to tell you a friend whom he sat next to at dinner the previous evening just tested positive for Covid. This normally wouldn’t be a huge problem, but the next three weeks are big for us. There are two birthdays, scuba lessons, graduation, a graduation party at our home, and then a trip to Rome to board a cruise. We would really prefer to remain Covid-free. We kind of need to.
But, sadly, viruses do not give a flying fig about your plans. They’re jerks that way. So, Joe is going to be wearing a mask at home and eating and drinking and sleeping separately (even in the car on the ride home) until he gets through 10 days symptom free and with zero positive test results. Because a car is such a small, enclosed space, I might decide to wear a mask in the car even though Joe is wearing his, just in case the seal on his mask is not entirely optimal.
It’s possible Joe is fine. He was vaccinated twice and boosted last November. He had Covid in 2020. The same is true for all four of us. I know we are being a bit overcautious, but we are committed to doing everything within our circle of control to ensure Luke gets to attend his graduation in person. Keep your fingers crossed for us.
The pandemic. Am I right? I lived the vast majority of my life never using that word. I vaguely remember reading that word in history books once or twice before I hit 20, but that was as much as my brain ever considered a pandemic an actual thing. In the past two years, however, I don’t think I’ve gone an entire day without mentioning it. Honestly, I am sick of the word. Sick. O. It. I am almost as sick of the word as I am of not having a day alone in our house, watching my hands bleed from relentless hand washing and sanitizing, running out to buy more hand lotion, wearing masks, hearing people complain about wearing masks, getting vaccines, hearing people complain about getting vaccines, taking Covid tests, hearing people complain about taking Covid tests, and trying to explain how science works to others and remind myself about it, as well.
I know. I know. We are not out of the pandemic. (There’s that word again). No one has any idea when we might be out of it. So we are in limbo. We’re going on a cruise next month. At least, we think we’re going on a cruise next month. It all depends on whether we can manage to stay Covid-free between now and then, even as cases are on the upswing again. Now, if this was 2021, I’d say that would be no problem. We’d just hole up at home and skate our way onto the cruise with a clean bill of health. But this isn’t 2021. It’s 2022, and 2022 is apparently 2019 again. No masks. No crowd size limits. No restrictions whatsoever. It’s a free-for-all. Everything is back up and running. Sold out playoff hockey games. Sold out concerts. Parties. Dining out. It’s all back, baby. And we are here for it. We are SO here for it, so ready to be here for it, that our May calendar is packed. No lie. Here is is.
As you can see from the tiny dot underneath every date (save 5/23) between now and May 31st, we have something going on every day between now and the end of the month. I plan to keep the 23rd open for the nervous breakdown I will be having. Why is our calendar so full? Well, let’s see. There’s senior prom and all our usual appointments for therapy and haircuts and doctor’s appointments and the like. Then hubby and I are flying to Pasadena to see a concert, booked a million years ago before we had anything on our calendar. We get back late on Sunday night and then Monday I load a different, pre-packed suitcase in the car and drive to Washington to pick up oldest son from his sophomore year at college and then drive the 1,085 miles back home across five states. Then it’s our youngest’s 19th birthday. Then there are graduation parties for friends’ children and more events for our own son’s graduation. We are going to another sold out concert (in our city this time) on the 24th. The 27th is my damn birthday, but that should be low-key because hubby and I are in class that entire weekend trying for get scuba certified. Then it’s basically June, and we have graduation practice and will have family in town. Then it is graduation and woohoo! We’re almost done! But we aren’t because we are hosting a graduation party for Luke and his friends. Then on the 6th we have to clean the house for the house/dog sitter, buy dog food for our security beasts, shop for what we need for the trip, find our passports, pack, get Covid tests to prove we can take the trip, upload results of said Covid tests to the Celebrity Cruises web site so they will let us board, and get on a plane to Rome on June 8th. Did I mention we still have a puppy who is, well, a puppy and a senior dog who is, well, not exactly a puppy? What the hell was I thinking? Finish strong and you can collapse on a boat? They have limoncello and ouzo where you are going? Hold on, sister. You can make it. I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.
I realize this is a lot of sniveling from a white woman with an embarrassment of riches in the areas of wealth and good fortune, but it’s my full calendar and my introverted, whiny butt will complain about the lack of quiet, sit-in-bed-all-day time if it wants to.
Just please don’t remind me that in 2020 and 2021 I begged for my life to be, and I quote, “back to normal,” because of course I did. Who wasn’t wishing for that same thing after being stuck at home with spouses and children and pets for months on end? We all wanted out. Now we’re getting what we asked for. Don’t remind me I did this to myself. Of course I did. Be kind and please say a silent prayer to Jesus or Allah or Vishnu (or even the Flying Spaghetti Monster God of Pastafarianism) that my heart holds out, at least until we get to Santorini. Then I can die, exhausted, happy, and at peace at long last in an ouzo haze.
My husband and I are finally finishing Season Two of The Morning Show. Reflecting on the beginning of the pandemic as I watch this show, it’s crazy to think of where we were two years ago. How little we knew about Covid-19. How terrifying it seemed. How quickly we pivoted and changed the way we educate children, shop, and work. How we started sewing masks, stockpiling toilet paper, having video chats with family. It seems so normal now. At the time, though, it was all new.
We moved across town four months into the pandemic. Our oldest graduated high school in a single person ceremony, with a graduation address delivered remotely by one of his favorite teachers in May of 2020. Our youngest spent the 2020-2021 school year going back and forth between in-person learning and video classes. We took my mother-in-law, who had been in an independent living facility, out of that living situation, and she began splitting time between a basement apartment in our home and a townhome next door to my sister-in-law. My husband has been working from home for two years. He has been back into his office three days in that time. Everything is different now. Even as we hit pockets of time when it almost feels we’re back in 2019, our world has been changed permanently.
It’s simultaneously impressive and depressing what we humans are capable of. The good and the bad we’ve seen over the past two years has been something else. We got sick, but created a vaccine. We left the office, but kept the economy going. We did our jobs from home while helping our kids complete their lessons. If you had told me in December 2019 that we would be living through a worldwide pandemic in 2020, I would have rolled my eyes. I couldn’t have imagined what that would be like. If you’d told me then that I’d daily be checking Covid cases on a map on The New York Times web site, I would have laughed. If you’d told me that people would attack each other or be pulled off airplanes because of paper masks or the lack thereof, I would have thought you were crazy. It has been a wild ride.
The world is funny. Not funny, haha, but funny the way we hairless monkeys get ourselves into and out of trouble on an endless loop. We really are something else.
To protect my mental health these days, I keep most of my news consumption to online articles because when I watch television news and see the strength and resolve of the Ukrainian people as they undertake what may well be an in-vain attempt to salvage their nation, I often have to leave the room to cry. I just can’t. It’s too much. Coming off two years of a global health crisis that kept us indoors and away from the greater community that binds us, my coping strategies have reached their limit like an old, elastic band that has been sitting in a drawer for ages and now will break when stretched. Just when the light at the end of the tunnel came into view, an aging white autocrat in Russia decided to push his limits.
I saw a video today of a four year old who approached his waiting school bus, got within fifteen feet of its steps, bent over to put his mask on, and then fell backwards with dramatic flourish onto the concrete, as if the prospect of the school week was more than he was capable of handling at that moment. We are all that kid right now as we wonder how much more insanity, unrest, upheaval, heartbreak, hardship, and stress we can take both at home and around the world.
For almost 77 years, the world has known peace in Europe. That peace has existed my entire life and all but three years of my parents’ lives. While my parents had a solid concept of the horrors of war through their parents, I had only what I saw in films. Aside from the 1980s era nuclear holocaust fears I had courtesy of our Cold War with the Soviets and “The Day After” television movie that haunts me 38 years later, I have felt mostly safe in our geographically isolated American bubble. That ended the other day when Putin’s army invaded a sovereign Ukraine, and then shit got real when he dangled the threat of a nuclear attack.
In an opinion piece on the CNN site this morning, six global voices weighed in on Putin’s invasion. Marci Shore, an associate professor of modern European intellectual history at Yale, had this to say about Putin: “This no longer felt like a man playing a high-stakes chess game, now it felt like a scene from Macbeth. My intuition was that an aging man facing his own death had decided to destroy the world. Ukraine is very possibly fighting for all of us.” This does indeed feel like the situation. While texting with my geopolitically savvy son last night, we discussed what can be done about the war as Putin begins to feel the squeeze of the joined hands of the free world around his neck. Joe told me, “The goal of the west should be to sanction as much as possible and create a counter propaganda machine to turn the oligarchs and Russian people against Putin.” And while I realize he is 100% correct, it means this war in Europe does not stay in Europe. We are a global economy. People around the planet will feel the sting of Putin’s actions in higher fuel costs, and those higher fuel costs will trickle into the costs of goods manufactured and sold around the world. The sanctions imposed on Russia will touch us all one way or another.
These financial hardships will be our contribution to squashing tyranny and, hopefully, restoring stability to Europe. Are we up to this task? I’m not sure. For the past two years, we’ve witnessed a steady cavalcade of tantrums over wearing a mask. If we weren’t all on board with covering our noses and mouths to suppress a transmissible, deadly virus, how willing will we be to suffer financial hardships for the sake of protecting democracy on a continent across the Atlantic? Are we smart enough to recognize that our peace and freedom are tied to the peace and freedom of citizens on the European continent? Will we be able to channel the ghosts of our American predecessors and adopt the WWII war-effort mindset of “Use it up – Wear it out – Make it do – or Do without”? Will we withstand financial hardship inside our own households and country, however long it takes, to protect the freedom and peace we have taken as a given for three quarters of a century? Man, I hope so. I would like to think we still have better days ahead.
We are a global people now. We need to act in the best interests of others to maintain our own best interests. As long as the majority of us in free nations are able to comprehend and live with that fact, we might be able to vanquish Putin, return Europe to peaceful homeostasis, and avoid nuclear fallout. The question remains, though, do we have it in us to continue living in an uncomfortable and perhaps increasingly painful holding pattern until better days arrive or are we just too soft now?
It’s my night off, so I am just barely going to post something here. It is hard to write a blog post every day for 365 days. I know I am only like 181 days into my 365 days (so about halfway), but some days you just need to give your mind a break. Today I took the dog to his puppy training, went out to dinner with my family, and went downtown to see Lewis Black perform stand-up comedy. And that is the sum total of what I accomplished or thought about today. It was a very chill, brainless day…until the ride home.
On the way home from seeing Mr. Black, my blood cursing with vodka tonics, I began thinking (via a lyric by Depeche Mode, if you can believe it) about my youth growing up Catholic. All I managed to decide is that growing up Catholic messed me up in ways that I don’t dare try to unpack here. These things, however, do explain why I am an atheist now and why, while I appreciate what some people get from religion and faith, I want nothing to do with any sort of organized religion. Catholicism made me crazy. It kept me trapped in a paradigm I didn’t agree with but had a devil of a time escaping. There are so many layers to my Catholic upbringing that I can’t decide if it was the Polish ancestry that did me in or the combination of being Polish and Catholic. Either way, it’s taken me 53 years to reclaim my brain. And I’m not going back into that quagmire of guilt and pointless obligation and ceremony and bullshit. If it works for you, God bless you. As for me and my house, we will stick to science. Maybe it was Lewis Black and his firebrand approach to reality that got me riled up and thinking about the insanity I have put up with. Maybe it is just the fact that I had to go out to a show and present my Covid vaccination card and wear a mask? Maybe the pandemic has brought me to this point where I am sick of the insanity of life these days.
Check back with me tomorrow, when the vodka has worn off and I am hopefully able to devote some time to a coherent thought. For now, I’m going to sleep because I deserve a good night’s rest. Thanks for traveling with me. We can take some more steps together when the sun is awake again. There is all sorts of absurdity in our world. It’s no wonder some of us end up a few bricks short of a full load.
I was reading through The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown today when I came upon this:
“The heart of compassion is really acceptance. The better we are at accepting ourselves and others, the more compassionate we become. Well, it’s difficult to accept people when they are hurting or taking advantage of us or walking all over us. This research has taught me that if we really want to practice compassion, we haveto start by setting boundaries and holding people accountable for their behavior.”
This hit me hard because I have had a long-term struggle with boundaries. As a child, I learned that it was not okay for me to set them. So as an adult, to avoid conflict, I have continued to shift my boundaries to accommodate what someone else wanted or expected of me. Doing so made me bitter without any understanding that the bitterness was coming from my giving what I wanted and needed away to keep someone else comfortable. Giving others their peace took away my own. Not setting boundaries kept me stuck. Understanding that keeping boundaries is essential to being compassionate to myself and others empowers me to stand my ground, to make room for myself, and to find that peace I have been lacking.
Over the past year, I have been working a great deal on boundaries. I didn’t come at this through the knowledge that it would allow me to better practice compassion. I came at this because I finally got to a point in my life where I realized that not having any boundaries in place for myself was no longer a tenable situation. The pandemic, and lockdown particularly, taught me I need boundaries to stay sane and to be pleasant towards others. I learned that I need space. I need silence. I need peace. And I need to stand up for myself to have these things in my life. If I don’t set boundaries, if I am not willing to ask for (and demand, if necessary) what I need from others, then I will forever be a grumpy, negative person who feels powerless. I don’t like that. I don’t want that, and I don’t want to be that person. So, I am learning to set boundaries and to accept that those boundaries will piss some people off and completely alienate others and that is not my concern. My concern is keeping myself and my sense of self safe from those who would use my difficulty in advocating for myself against me.
“The only people who get upset about you setting boundaries are the ones who benefitted from you having none.” ~Unknown
“You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep others warm.” ~ Unknown
I might start saying no more firmly this year. You might hear me saying things like, “I understand that is what you want, but that doesn’t work for me.” I may full well make some people uncomfortable by refusing to do what they think is fair and right because I believe it doesn’t align with my core values and what I need. This will be hard for me because I was raised to believe people would only like me if I made myself likable by acquiescing to their whims. But I’m old enough now to understand that it’s not only acceptable but imperative that I set boundaries where I need them and tend to them to keep them secure and impenetrable. I will ruffle feathers and others may use my boundaries as talking points to turn others against me, but I no longer care about that. I’m exhausted from being the willow tree that bends. I’m ready to be the rock that the tree learns to grow around.
“It’s not that we have little time, but more that we waste a good deal of it.” ~Seneca
I have wasted a ton of time since the pandemic began. I can’t even begin to calculate how much time. If you checked my Nintendo DS, you could probably find a record of how much time I spent playing Animal Crossing during lockdown (okay, and beyond). It would be a gargantuan number of hours. Add to that the time I spent on TikTok or researching travel I could not undertake or playing Archery in my text threads with my sisters or reading tweets, well, it’s embarrassing. I know that my misuse of time stemmed, at least initially, from the overwhelm of being in lockdown and uncertain about what was going to happen with the pandemic. But, once things relaxed a bit, did I get back on track with living my life? No. I did not. The ups and downs of “do we mask” and “can we trust the vaccines” and “why am I wearing a mask when so many people aren’t” and “how far do I have to travel to get a vaccine” and “what do you mean cloth masks aren’t effective enough” and “will there even be room at a hospital if I have a stroke or something” made me want to check out. So, I did. I continued to bury my head in nonsense.
But then we went to Hawaii for Christmas, and I put my phone down more often and lived. I sat in the sun on warm, black lava rocks, and watched the waves roll in shades of turquoise. I walked among swiss-cheese rocks and looked for shells both teeming with life and devoid of it. I woke up to the sunrise ten out of eleven mornings there. I felt the sand between my toes, smelled plumeria blossoms, and tasted fresh, Kona-grown coffee. It felt good to be alive again.
I missed living.
So today I spent some quality time with our puppy because he makes me laugh every day. I savored my food and appreciated it. I went to my meditation meeting and listened intently to what the other participants said about their practices. I worked hard to be present all day.
Maybe it was my Hawaiian holiday. Maybe it was watching Don’t Look Up. I’m not sure what has brought me to this place, but I have definitely been more present so far in 2022. I’m tired of wasting time and then being frustrated that I didn’t do all the things I wanted to do. I know what I want for this year, so I am setting an intention to show up for my life and the people in it. I’m going to spend some time this week figuring out what that looks like and how I think I can best accomplish it. And then I am going to get busy living again. It’s not a New Year’s Resolution. It’s a Life Revolution.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” ~Henry David Thoreau
(Warning: Spoilers for the above mentioned film exist below this text. If you haven’t viewed this film and think you might want to in the future, you might want to skip this post for now.)
A couple nights ago, my husband and I finally got around to watching Adam McKay’s satire Don’t Look Up on Netflix. When I first saw the movie trailer a while ago, it intrigued me. Then I happened upon myriad reviews by professional film critics and, based on their nearly universal panning of the film, I almost skipped it. I am glad I did not because it has been turning over and over in my head since I watched it Saturday night.
Don’t Look Up is a satirical film about American scientists who discover a planet-killer comet on a collision course with Earth. Try as they might to inspire the government and the American public at large to take this threat seriously, no one really seems to. The messaging just isn’t there, and people are too distracted by noise (social media, famous personas, politics, faux news, and their own biases and self-absorption) to check in long enough to realize this is the end of the world as we know it. They are so busy looking down that they don’t even see the comet hurtling towards earth until it’s too late.
McKay has stated that the film is about our lack of response to the scientific evidence behind climate change (Al Gore would agree this is a problem), and if writer/director McKay says that is what is about then I guess that is what it is about. And while it had to be cathartic for climate activist Leonardo DiCaprio to embark on a thinly veiled, paid, unhinged rant in the film about our combined ignorance and lack of action on the comet (climate change), I still only vaguely felt that was the true impactful message of the film. Sorry, Mr. McKay.
What I took away from the film, if you strip away all the comet nonsense and/or any topic you want to insert in its place (like the pandemic), is that Americans are lost. Like, literally unable to see what is happening right in front of our faces, running-around-blinded-to-reality lost. Why are we lost this way? Because our heads are always downturned towards the phones in our hands. This is the irony of the phrase and the movie title “don’t look up.” If we were able to unplug ourselves from our phones, social media, the siren’s call of the text message alert, Google in all its iterations, and all the myriad other distractions we hang our lives on in the palm of our hands rather than paying attention to what is happening in our immediate surroundings, then we might be capable of fixing the broken planet. As it is, with our acquired inability to focus on the present and our acquired ability to check out of reality constantly, we really are doomed. Distracted by shiny objects in the film, a comet wipes out the planet because people literally can’t, or won’t, look up and see it approaching. Distracted by shiny objects in America today, we have ignored climate change, bickered about personal freedoms rather than focusing on public health during a pandemic, and concentrated more on the romance between Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck than on the crisis happening in our democracy. We seriously are our own worst enemies. The film drives this point right off a cliff like Toonces the Driving Cat.
I have to say that by the end of the movie, I was rooting for the comet to wipe everyone out.
I know there is still good in the world. The only way to find it, though, is to step away from our screens and get back to the work of being human, of interacting with each other in person and not through anonymous mean-girl comments online, of recognizing our shared humanity and acting like adults. Yes. It’s hard work. And it will be even more difficult now that we’ve grown accustomed to our distractions. We are out of practice. But if we’re to stem a climate change meltdown or pull ourselves out of this pandemic or restore faith in our fellow citizens and our democracy, or maybe even destroy a yet unseen comet heading our way, this is what we need to do. We need to step away from our devices, read more, and brush up on our interpersonal communication skills. The dinosaurs lasted approximately 165 million years. Modern humans have only been around 200,000 years. I’m no longer sure that homo sapiens were named correctly. I don’t think we’re all that wise.
We’re sitting at home watching Queer Eye on Netflix (full disclosure: I’m only sort of watching because I am doing on some online shopping with my eyes) and someone on the show mentions there’s a difference between existing and living as you get older. This caught my attention. It is easy as you age to fall into habits and get into patterns that don’t leave much room for new experiences and personal growth. After all, you’ve been around 5, 6, 7 decades and you’ve got a history. People hold you accountable to that history. You’ve been defined, and being thus defined you settle into place like gum stuck under a table. You are stuck, and you exist in the well-worn grooves.
I’m going to be 54 in May. My husband and I will celebrate 27 years in August, and later that month our youngest will begin college. This is when the gum can get stuck to the wall. I know a lot of people my age and older (and even younger) who are stuck. There is nothing new in their lives. There is no freshness, no growth. They are existing.
I don’t want that for my life, but I know that since March 2020 that is what I have been doing. I have been simply existing. I’ve been lazy about self-care and home care. I have been going through the motions. And, yes. There has been a lot of change, stress, anxiety, and adjustment these past two years just trying to negotiate our Covid-19 world, and I have to give myself a little grace for that. But I am ready to move beyond this stagnation and start living again. I’m ready to carve out a place to care for myself and not self-soothe by checking out. I’m ready to accept myself where I am at and move forward and live again because time isn’t slowing down, Covid isn’t going away, and the longer I stay stuck the more difficult it will be to pry myself loose.
If you did a self check in right now, where are you? Are you living or are you existing?
When I was a teenager in the 80s, I hung out at the mall. I played in the arcade, had the occasional strawberry julius drink from the Orange Julius store, bought Smurfs and clothes there, but mostly I went hoping to run into cute boys I knew from our church who lived nearby. It was pretty much like the mall scenes in Stranger Things, except there was no demogorgon. After I graduated college, I worked retail in a Mervyn’s store in a mall in Boulder for three years. All of this is to say that malls and I go way back.
Like my younger self, I went to hang out at the mall tonight. I haven’t spent any measurable time in this nearby mall for about two years. I’ve picked things up from there while I remained in my car. I’ve walked into the Lego store for about 3 minutes, masked of course, to look for a coveted set. I know many people have not eschewed malls during the pandemic the way I have. I know many people haven’t blinked an eye about going out indoors in public spaces unmasked, but we had Covid-19 in our house a year ago and I’ve spent the past year trying to avoid getting it again. Tonight, though, my husband and I threw caution to the wind because there was holiday shopping to be done, so we spent a whole hour inside Park Meadows Mall. We went for the last hour the stores were open, so it wasn’t busy like it will be this weekend or the weekend after that, but we were not the only ones who had the same idea.
Once we came through the hallway from the parking lot and hit the main part of the mall it all felt familiar again. The wafting scents from the Nordstrom perfume counter took me right back. It might sound strange, but I took a mindful moment to inhale and be present. I was out in a mall for heaven’s sake. Being a strongly introverted person, I normally don’t enjoy shopping surrounded by other people so I took to pandemic shopping on the Internet from my home like a Labrador Retriever takes to water. But tonight hubby and I actually enjoyed being in and looking around a mall. We spent most of our time in, ironically enough, the Amazon 4-Star store (I had no idea such a thing existed) and a local boutique looking for unique gifts and stocking stuffers. It’s amazing what you miss when you shop with determination rather than curiosity.
In the end, we left with some fun finds we can’t wait to share with our family and friends and the conclusion that we will probably have to return some night next week to finish the shopping we started. We left with something else too, the feeling that maybe it’s time to start getting out a bit more…within reason and as Delta and Omicron allow. We are fully vaccinated and boosted. We can still do the things at off-peak times and find a bit of normalcy. To that end, we’ve also started booking travel for 2022 because we need to move on. If we end up having to cancel because of travel restrictions, we’ll fall off that bridge then.
We’ve had a taste of the freedom of our old lives BC (before Covid), and I think we kind of liked it. Life goes on.