Seasons

It’s officially fall. The air smells like a new season, the sun sets earlier, and our bedroom is a shade darker each morning  when our alarm clock goes off. I love this time of year, but I’m scared of this particular fall. With the cooler nights and the darker mornings, a tinge of malaise has settled over me. We all have pandemic fatigue. We were promised at the beginning that this would pass–that the strict lockdown in March and April would curb the spread, allowing for a normal summer. Then summer passed, its golden glow creeping further away into the horizon, leaving me here.

I felt like I was able to carve out a semblance of a summer despite the pandemic, mostly because so many of my typical summer plans involve getting away from people. We went camping, sleeping in thick forests swarming with more mosquitos than mammals, and kayaked on lazy rolling rivers. Thanks to some coordinated covid testing and a lot of planning flexibility, we were able to spend part of our usual annual week at the lake house with my family. The lake house is one of my favorite annual traditions, and though Kurt and I only got to stay there for 3 nights instead of the usual 7 due to the testing waiting period, it was well worth it. We  sat by campfires, cracking open cold beers while gazing over the flames at the sun setting over the lake, and I felt a semblance of peace. I can get through this year, as long as these moments can still exist, whenever I can make them happen. I hold them close, savoring their fleeting sense of beautiful normalcy, like capturing fireflies in mason jars and watching them glow before setting them free.

Fall has an uncanny ability to make me feel wistfully lonely. Maybe it’s the muscle memory of returning to school, all of those awkward adolescent years when I craved a John Hughes vision of what high school was supposed to look like while forever feeling outside of it all. Maybe it’s the sense memory of my recovery from knee surgery 8 years ago, when I went through one of the deepest depressions of my adult life, spending every day and night on the same corner of the couch while watching the leaves fall outside, grieving my temporary ‘new normal.’ That was the season we adopted River, who became my buddy in anxiety and isolation. She would curl her furry little body around my knee brace, tucked between me and the CPM machine (my daily therapeutic torture device) on the couch. The sight of changing leaves immediately brings back the memory of the CPM machine as it flexed my knee for me, its creaky pneumatic wheeze creeping into the background soundtrack of my Twin Peaks rewatch. 

This winter is going to be hard. We’re going to feel isolated, and alone, and anxious. It will end, at some point. The days will grow long again; the sun will return. The changing of the seasons will cycle through, as they always do, marking time in a physical, visible, immersive way that feels so familiar and vital. 

This fall, we have a second dog. It’s funny how it happened this way–we adopted Winnie in mid-August, one day after River’s 8th adoption anniversary. Winnie is floppy and goofy, somewhere between 8 months to 1.5 years old, mostly pit bull but has a snore that sounds like a manatee. We drove home with her on a late summer evening, Kurt at the wheel while I sat in the backseat holding Winnie, because we didn’t know if she’d try to climb over the seat or not. I’d forgotten what it’s like to have a puppy in the house, the need to constantly watch her, the mystery of not knowing how she’ll react to all her firsts–the first visitor at the door, the first car trip, the first run-in with another leashed dog. I worried about how River and our cat Esteban would react as the days went by. I worried that I had blown up our peaceful routine, introducing 44 pounds of chaos in an adorably cute, velvet-furred package. Quickly, we had to restructure our lives into a schedule that involved obedience training, solo walks for River, playtime for Winnie, crate training, socialization, puppy-level exercise. I had some meltdowns. At times, I feared it wouldn’t work out. Days passed, and it got a little easier. A little bit better. Summer melted into fall.

I’ve been so focused on my little corner of chaos, so much of what is going on the world has faded into the background. But once I leave my house, I emerge into an altered reality. The other pedestrians wear masks, and we make wide circles as we pass each other. Businesses have boards over their windows. More and more homes in our neighborhood display Black Lives Matter signs in their windows, many of them homemade. And these early days of October have already been so jam-packed with major news events, this post will be outdated within minutes of me clicking Publish. I can only imagine that the coming months will continue to be some of the wildest, most unpredictable times we’ve ever witnessed. And eventually, the season will change again. 

 

photo by Kurt Matsen

Celebrating a Birthday While on Pause

I turn 41 today. Exactly one year ago, I woke up next to Lake Thunderbird on a beautiful sunny morning in Oklahoma, had a wonderful brunch, then drove to Amarillo, Texas while dancing in my seat to Lizzo, my birthday twin. That day overflowed with joy and sunshine and roadtrip tunes, capped up with a night of ice-cold Shiner Bock and jukebox deejaying at a zombie-themed bar. Late into the night, Kurt and I sat on the front porch of our Airbnb, drinking local beers and watching heat lightning zig-zap across the vast Texas sky. The next day, we’d be back on the road to Roswell, New Mexico. This year, I’m  grounded.

Cheers!

We always travel in the spring, due to the convergence of my birthday and our anniversary. It feels strange to be sitting at home right now, scrolling past Facebook memories and knowing exactly what place we were visiting on this day last year, two years ago, five years ago.

I’m someone that likes living in the shoulder seasons. I’m trying to appreciate the quiet, lean into the pause. I find a lot of contentment in burrowing into my home life and surrounding myself with books and hot coffee and dog nuzzles. Days turn into nights, nights turn into a wine blur. All time feels like airplane time, when you’re passing through time zones, warping ahead or falling behind, and you watch dumb movies during this weird slippery gap in time because it’s not really real life. It feels especially strange to celebrate a concrete mile marker like a birthday right now. Sometimes I daydream about catching a wormhole out of this weird, seemingly never-ending flight and traveling back in time to the beginning of 40, waking up the camper and peeking beneath the window shade to see the sunlight glittering on the surface of the lake.

I got to experience so many incredible things in my 40th year. I visited three new states and a new country. I stood inside the ruins of an ancient village that was last inhabited in 1000 A.D., and in the last few months, I witnessed the rapid escalation of a global pandemic that has affected the daily lives of nearly every person on this planet. If there’s one thing I feel confident in saying, it’s that I have absolutely no idea what to expect in my 41st year. I am so grateful for every moment, every place I visited, every person with whom I shared every minute of my year of 40. I feel grateful and lucky to be here now, however weird and precarious this stretch of time may be.

 

Shelter in Place Diaries

When I was around 8 or 9 years old, my family took our first big vacation to Los Angeles, which is also my birthplace. The trip was two weeks of sun-drenched recreation: Disneyland, ice cream cones, face paint, and poolside dance parties to the Chipmunk Adventure soundtrack. When we returned home, I remember laying in my darkened bedroom in suburban Chicagoland, the light pouring through the crack of the door from the hallway, and feeling my heart hurt. I was homesick for another place, invisible strings tugging at my soul, telling me I belonged out west. It was my first ever post-vacation depression. I longed so badly to be back in California that the pain manifested physically, a dull ache filling my chest.

In early March, I woke up one Sunday morning in a listless, melancholy mood. It was still the Before Times, but not for much longer–in a few short days, the NBA season would get cancelled and the dominos of normal daily life would start falling. Though I had no idea of just how much the world was about to change, I had the oddest sense of homesickness for something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It reminded me so much of that childhood emotion of being overwhelmed with longing for a perfect memory.

Several weeks into Chicago’s shelter-in-place directive, the shock has worn off and I am now feeling the mundanity of day to day life in the time of COVID. There are so many things I miss, and I can’t wait until the day that I can once again go to a bar and sing karaoke with all of my friends and whoop it up with strangers while losing our minds over a Miley Cyrus song. My anxiety has dissipated into a yearning restlessness, a homesickness for my old life. I want to jump into the van and drive and drive with the windows rolled down and 70s rock pouring out of the speakers. I want to keep going until we land somewhere beautiful, at the foothills of a mountain range or alongside an alpine lake.

Of course, I can’t do those things right now, so I’m leaning into this quiet little life at home. As I remember from my housebound days post-knee surgery several years ago, a good key to batting back the sadness is to find little pleasures throughout the day that give you joy. Or as Agent Dale Cooper once wisely said, “Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan for it. Don’t wait for it. Just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at the men’s store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot black coffee.”

I am pretty excellent at giving myself little presents, many of them mementos from past trips. Big, leisurely pancake breakfasts on weekends. Playing records and enjoying the crackle of vinyl and swatches of album art. The corner of the couch that has the perfect natural light for reading while the dog naps on my lap. Hot, black coffee poured into a rotation of mugs I brought home from New York, or Copenhagen, or Orlando, or Edinburgh. The postcard of Glenfinnan and a kilted yoga calendar that accessorize my home workspace. Mailing pretty postcards to friends. Wearing my Ariana Grande hypercolor t-shirt on a workday. I am VERY good at enjoying gifts of red wine, way more often than I should (lay off me man, this is a crisis).

Local and world news is going to continue to get worse for a while, then it will start to get better. I can’t control any of it except for within the 4 walls of my home, where I am content to stay and wait this out. It’s literally the least I can do.

 

 

Hello From the Other Side

I’m writing this post from a totally different world than the last one from just a few months ago. I don’t need to fill you in on the coronavirus pandemic as I’m sure you’re well up to speed, and if you’re like me, have already spent countless hours panic-scrolling and refreshing news sites. Wherever you are reading this from, I hope you are safe and well and hunkered down at home. I send my strongest positive vibes to those who are sick or who have loved ones who are sick, those working in the frontlines of healthcare and other essential roles, and those whose livelihoods have been profoundly impacted by city and state lockdowns.

I look back on the resolutions in the post I made a few months ago and they’re shot to hell. Taper back on social media? LOL, my screen time reports are effed. Visit a new place every month? I’m laughing until it turns into ugly crying. Travel as much as possible, including that big bucket list-worthy destination? We canceled our big springtime trip to Japan. It all blows, folks. But I’m lucky so far. Kurt and I are both still healthy and employed, with the flexibility to work from home. We have a house with enough space for either of us to be on a conference call and not worry about the other accidentally wandering into the background in their underwear. We have a YARD.

Like everyone, I’m anxious and sad, grieving the loss of normalcy, and worried for everyone I love. I’ve seen a lot of memes calling this current lockdown heaven for introverts, but as an INFJ, I can tell you that this is not the case. Sure, I get anxious at big parties and I dread a networking event full of strangers, but I still love my people. I desperately miss intimate dinner parties and playing board games with my dearest friends. I miss passing plates around a table filled with chatter and conversation. And I do miss crowds!! I miss going to concerts and losing myself in the music, or seeing a play and feeling the energy emanating from the performers. The last place I traveled before the pandemic was New York City, and thinking back to that trip feels like another lifetime, but it was only mid-January. I saw live theater and went to a crowded bar where we sang show tunes, and we talked and laughed with strangers and didn’t think twice about being so close to each other. I wonder how long it will be until that feels possible once again.

I remind myself often that this is just temporary. We have Netflix and the internet and a giant stack of books I’ve been looking forward to on my bedside table. All of those dream travel destinations will still be there, waiting for us when all of this is over.

I keep returning to the memory of nearly 8 years ago, when I was homebound post-knee surgery. More than anything, I grieved the loss of my freedom to move about and ability to live my life as normal. During my 3 months of recovery, I spent increasingly identical days laid out on the couch, watching the summer fade and the leaves change through the glass windows. For a long stretch of time, it got harder, until it finally started to get easier. I used to leave the back porch door open, so I could see the tops of the trees from where I laid on the couch, and feel the breeze from outside reach me indoors. And finally over time, I was able to walk out that door on my own and resume my normal life.

On our second week of sheltering in place at home, I started leaving the porch door open again. 

Whenever we come out on the other side of this, we’re all going to be changed. I can’t wait until the day when it’s safe to find all of our people, all of us waiting for each other with open arms.