I did a thing this week. I took my first ever vacation!
I didn’t go to a conference. I didn’t go on a job interview; and, although I went to Washington state, I didn’t visit family. As usual, when we approached Seattle, Mt. Rainier poked above the clouds to welcome me back.
For the first part of the trip, I met up with my high school friends and we stayed at a beautiful lodge for two nights. It was the first time in about 30 years that the five of us had been all in one place. We had a great time. It was so wonderful to see everyone and catch up.
Afterward, I went on to meet up with another old friend, and we went to Mt. St. Helens. I’ve never been and always wanted to go. It was gorgeous.
The whole trip was more than I expected and everything I needed. It brought me back to Washington, to a younger version of myself. It also marked a transition. I visited Washington and came home to Virginia.
Saying good bye to Mt. Rainier was a bit bittersweet this time. I’ll be back to visit family and for more vacations, but it won’t be “going home” in the way it used to be.
All the travel this week means I didn’t get a Hydrow work out in like I wanted to. That means I’m going to have to start my 72 week streak over. And … I am okay with that. I’m starting a Hydrow challenge tomorrow, so I will start a new streak with it. A new home, a new challenge, and a whole new horizon to explore.
Abundance flows through my life right now. Nothing else quite describes it accurately. Through planning and a lot of hard work, my own and others, my team at work was going supposed to get some contracted help and grow by one last October. Unexpected delays meant the contract help didn’t happen in October as planned. However, through unexpected circumstances and chance, my team still grew by one in November. The contract help finally arrived in June this year. So in the end, over the last 10 months, my team doubled in size from two to four!
At the beginning of the year, inspired by my child hood best friend’s 50th birthday in July, I reached out to our high school friend group and started planning a get together. She is the first one of us to turn 50. The rest of us face that milestone next year. As we planned the location and set the dates, I realized this trip would be my first real vacation. A trip where I was going to see friends, not family. A trip that was not to a conference or a job interview. A trip that didn’t involve eloping or renewing vows. That trip will happen in about a week, and three weeks after I get home, I’ll be going on my second vacation. The second vacation happened purely by chance and it is an amazing opportunity that I can’t pass up.
Doubling my team, doubling my vacations, is there anything else I could call this year, except abundant? You know that each year around my birthday I choose a word for the year, a word that guides my thinking and interpretations throughout the year. My word for this last year was “balance.” So, I find all this abundance amusing. Not exactly surprising, but amusing.
We often only think about change in the context of upheaval and negative events, but accepting and adapting to good things, to abundance brings change as well. A larger team requires more from me, particularly right now when half of them are going through their first fall semester. My old work habits and routines don’t quite fit. Taking two actual vacations in one year forces me to adjust the way I think of myself. To confront the areas I’ve let myself believe I’d healed without prodding too deeply. Yet, everything is good.
And, well, as the title says, change is hard. All this abundance creates change that pushes at my growth edges, and I am not in a very comfortable place right now. I am grateful; I am joyful; I am excited, but I am not comfortable. I started noticing it when I made the first batch of granola in two years. When it became stronger, I made a pot of meat sauce to freeze for the winter, and rearranged two of my kitchen cabinets. That is when I realized I’d fallen into my old stress-relief patterns and that the general unease I constantly felt was that old piece of armor, foreboding joy, calling to be put back on. The cooking, the cleaning, the vigilance – I was trying to prepare for the disaster that must surely be right around the corner. It surprised me. I thought I’d put down that bit of armor for good a while ago.
Y’all have been around here long enough to recognize the Brené Brown lingo when you see it! As she laid out in Daring Greatly, gratitude and staying in the moment counteract foreboding joy. All I can do is say “Yes.” and “Thank you.” then enjoy it all. So, as we approach my birthday, it is time for me to choose a new word to help me navigate the year. Given the way these good changes are pushing at me, I think “present” will be my word for the year. Reminding myself to stay present will help me stay grateful and accept the abundance bringing change to my life … even when change is hard.
“Writing is a perishable skill.”
Last year, about this time, when I was first given the opportunity to give writing lectures to 200 students at a time, I started from this point.
Actually, I took a moment to challenge the room. I described how I’d already met so many of them in them center, signed them up for classes, workshops, and individual appointments. And, how almost everyone of those encounters started with the student stating some version of “I suck at writing.” I paused for just a second, made eye contact with various people, and I asked, “When was the last time any of you got better at something by walking around talking about how terrible you are at it?”
Some audible groans, chuckles, and head shakes filled the room.
I went on to tell them that writing is a perishable skill. If they hadn’t been writing in the last ten years – and very few of them had, then of course they weren’t going to be very good at it right now. I even did my level best to make a sports analogy about how if you stopped playing a sport for 10 years, you couldn’t expect to start playing again at the same level.
Last week, I did the same bit, but I sharpened it a bit, simplified. I still started with “Writing is a perishable skill,” but then I simplified, “which means writing is a skill.” A skill you can practice and develop. My lectures are a part of a series designed to shepherd the students through their cumulative degree process. At this point in the year, I’m trying to give them as much motivation, hope, and faith in the process as I can. Hoping they will start working on their writing skills to prepare them for the drafting work that will come in January – March.
I love this time of year, and I hate this time of year. I love the new class/new year energy. I hate the way I feel like a fraud for telling a truth I know I do not practice. Although I’ve journaled faithfully nearly every day of the last year, I haven’t done any sort of what I would call “writing” in that time. Nothing that I intend to share with an audience.
Looking back, when I wrote that last post about energy levels, I didn’t realize how depleted I was. I have perhaps needed this break. My entire life has been about pushing through, moving forward, which has been tremendously helpful. And, writing, specifically blogging has been one of the ways I’ve always kept pushing, even when I could only manage one post a month, or year. Yet, this past year, I couldn’t keep it up in spite of an excellent plan and outline for a series. I just had no more energy for writing. I didn’t have much energy for anything, so I rested.
My word for this year was “balance.” Thinking back, I can see how all the rest and all the pampering of myself I have done this last year helped to create a balance in my life. It taught me a bit about how to be in my new life. Yes, I am still trying to figure that out. My new life is full of abundance in just about every way imaginable and balancing in this environment has been about learning to embrace the time and space that abundance allows with massages, facials, retreats, and rest.
I felt like a fraud last year as I spoke about writing and that feeling only compounded this year. So, here I am. Attempting to work a muscle that I’ve let atrophy for the past fifteen months. It’ll take time and it’ll be clunky, but it’s time to get back into writing shape. Rowing for the past 70 weeks has taught me a bit about perseverance, but clearly, I’m still not the best at motivating myself.
Pre-ordering books sounded like such a great idea to me at one point. Once, I was so excited about a book, I pre-ordered it the moment it was possible, because I had the money right then at that moment. At that time in my life, there was no telling what emergency might have sprung up by the book’s actual release date, leaving me without the ability to buy the book. I pre-ordered and forgot about it. Never realizing that Amazon didn’t actually charge me for my pre-order. It wasn’t until the date of the book release, and I was finally charged for the pre-ordered book. Yes, an emergency had come up, and while it didn’t lead to a complete disaster, there was no way I would have chosen to spend $25 on a book that particular week. The result of that experience is that even today, when I know more about the system and can better whether a random $25 charge, I am very hesitant to pre-order a book.
I know it helps out author’s and there are more good reasons to do it. Recently, I even had a good experience pre-ordering a book. In mid-February, I’d pre-ordered a book due out on March 2nd. Waking up that morning, I got my coffee and excitedly opened my Kindle and dove in. That book was everything I expected and more. It was so good that by Sunday I’d finished the book I started on Tuesday, and ordered a physical copy, because I wanted to write about the book, underline things, and explore footnotes and sources in a way that I just can’t really do on a Kindle. Don’t get me wrong, the Kindle is perfectly capable of doing what I need. I just do not like to do my research in that way, and when I am writing with a book, I really need to be able to flip through the pages to find that passage I underlined.
Yes, you’ll get the title and hear about that book eventually, but it is going to be a few posts. The message of the book is important, dramatically important, but in an unfortunate way would be undermined for many people if I dove right in without some context. The title alone would turn a good many people off, or perhaps spur you to “hate-read” the book, looking for places to disagree with and discredit the author. So, instead of writing a quick review for the book review series, I want to use this book to start a new series.
Earlier this year, Tressie McMillan Cottom (TMC) started her new site, Essaying. She launched it with an amazing essay on Dolly Parton. Whether or not you love or hate country music, that essay is worth signing up to read. Dolly is the center of the piece, the subject, but the essay is not about revealing new aspects of Parton. The essay is about identifying what Parton reveals about our culture and ourselves.
After the Dolly essay, TMC’s follow up essay provided insight into her writing process. The essay titled, “Sleep Around Before You Marry and Argument” identifies two primary ways to research for what she calls a “strong narrative essay,” reading for consensus about a topic and reading around a topic. TMC describes reading for consensus as, “straightforward.” It is what it sounds like reading everything you can about one particular subject. Whereas reading around a topic, involves a little more detective work, it requires you to ask questions about the subject to define it, and to discover why it is important. You can absolutely see this approach at work in TMC’s article on Dolly Parton, even before she breaks the process down for us.
While what I am envisioning is unlikely to end up as an essay, before diving into the content of the influential book I read in March I want to read around the topic a bit with you. In taking this approach, I want to start with the fundamentals, and take you on a bit of a tour of what I’ve been reading about this topic for about the last five years or so. In the course of this series, I’m certain I’ll dip back into one or two books I’ve already covered here, but I hope that I’ll do so with new purpose and insight. So, as I ease back into regular entries, I’ll be cycling through my short book reviews, miscellaneous updates, and this read around. Yes, I am still reading other things, and I’m a bit behind with my reviews and updates anyway. I am not sure how long this series will be maybe just two – three entries, maybe a bit more. I’ll work to get it started in a couple of weeks.
Reading is the one thing I do with any regularity. Whether it is my measured 25 minutes each morning, incessant listening as I piece together a puzzle, or the occasional all day binge on the weekend, there is a book in my hand at some point every day. Consequently, when I determined to revitalize and re-shape this space, I knew I wanted to create a review feature. Not posting here regularly last year as I read through a mountain of books has one benefit, I always have a pile of material to choose from.
I knew I wanted to write a book review this week. I even knew which book I wanted to review this week, because it remains as vital and useful at this moment as it was when I read it last year. As often happens, however, the universe conspired to bring together disparate elements, putting them in relation until the underlying message and theme becomes undeniable. Now, instead of a fairly straightforward book review, there’s television, and social commentary. The only question remaining is where to start pulling this thread.
Energy is a great place to start. Last week, for reasons I couldn’t really explain, I ended nearly every day feeling like the figure on the far left. I was exhausted. In fact, on Monday night, I was in bed by 8:30pm and asleep before 9:00pm. The depletion of energy I felt by the end of the day felt inexplicable, because I was generally eating well, sleeping well, and would wake up feeling in the green. If I wasn’t completely charged like the image on the far right, I was pretty close. And, while I had work to do each day, there was nothing overtly stressful happening. I completed my daily task lists, without anything looming incomplete over me. Even the weather cooperated by providing a lovely bit of sun and warm weather to re-charge the world after our grim week of snow and ice. My exhaustion at the end of each day felt bewildering.
My week-night pandemic ritual has become nearly as well defined as my morning contemplations (dinner on the couch with 30 minutes of local news followed by The News Hour). Yet, this week I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t take in the news any more. Yet, I didn’t have the energy to do anything but sit in front of the television. Fortunately, Dr. Revolution chimed in at just the right time to convince me to finally start Bridgerton.
I’m late enough to this game that I don’t feel like I need to recap the standard fare about this show. If you haven’t heard about the intimacy coordinators required to make this show, or seen Regé-Jean Page on Saturday Night Live, the details are covered incessantly elsewhere. While I will admit the eye candy is lovely and the underlying romance swoon-worthy, this technicolor ode to Austen and Regency scandal sheets makes its way onto the blog for other reasons this week. I will elucidate below. For now, what I will say is that if you need a retreat from the world there are worse places to go than 1813 London.
Bridgerton follows the coming out season for Daphne Bridgerton, the eldest daughter of a Viscount. In this season a pseudonymous author Mrs. Whistledown begins publishing a gossip sheet detailing the events of the season. Daphne’s father has passed away, leaving his eldest son Anthony in charge of the family estate and Daphne’s courtship. As in often the case in such stories, Anthony is chaffing under the strain of his new responsibilities. Don’t worry, there are no spoilers here and I will not begiving you the entire plot run down. You only need the set up to understand that as Anthony attempts to exert his new authority as Viscount by making a match for Daphne he fails to consult her, and routinely dismisses her desires. Daphne often asks him something to the effect of, “Is it because I am a woman that you do not think me capable of knowing my own mind or understanding my own experience?” The question of a woman’s ability to determine her own desires, her own life, and to shape the world around her runs throughout the show underscoring many different plotlines. As does the way the men of the show continually fail to see women as fully developed people, not just as their role in society or function as an accessory to a man’s life.
Perhaps it is because I’d immersed myself in Bridgerton, that I started paying attention to just how many women are still forced to ask the same questions. Let me provide just one category of example, women’s health. Just this week, yet another friend shared with me the story of how complicated her relationship with her body and her health are, because she has consistently had to convince medical doctors to take her concerns seriously, to believe her description of her experiences, to treat her symptoms not her weight. She described how it has taken her so long to feel an ownership over her body and her health, after doctors – instead of treating her – asked her if she was faking her symptoms. I don’t know a woman without a similar story. If it isn’t an overt questioning of symptoms, “Are you faking it?” Ask a woman how many times the intensity of her pain has been questioned? How many times has she been treated like addict for asking for relief from that pain. My point is that women still, in so many ways, have to constantly prove the validity of their own experience.
The book, books really, I recommend today start from this point and explore the causes and costs of how women must navigate the world. Emily and Amelia Nagoski’s book Burnout: the secret to unlocking the stress cycle focuses entirely on women by identifying the elements that make life stressful for contemporary women and then providing a way for women to better manage that those stressors. The functional tips the Nagoski’s provide for dealing with stress are useful to everyone. Their discussion of the societal pressures creating stress creates a place where women can see themselves and their experiences taken seriously. The book becomes an expansive breath that reminds us that we are not alone.
To help frame their discussion of the societal pressures that create different stressors for women, the Nagoski’s rely on Dr. Kate Manne’s book Down Girl: the Logic of Misogyny. They identify Dr. Manne’s concept of Human Giver Syndrome as a significant stressor in women’s lives. If I did not overtly recommend Dr. Manne’s book a couple of years ago when I first read it, let me do so now. Dr. Manne is a philospher. Consequently the opening chapter or two of the book, where she situates herself within the philosophical tradition are dense. However, the following chapters where she lays out Human Giver Syndrome and her discussion of misogyny are brilliant.
Within this pandemic, we are all being asked to give more than what we are able to currently receive. And, we are all being asked to do this differently depending on our race, gender, our socioeconomic status, and all the intersections of those elements in our lives. Burnout and Down Girl describe what it means to be a woman in this world. Yes, they were written pre-pandemic, but their lessons are still relevant. Down Girl helps us to name, see, and understand women’s experience in the world. Burnout provides us actionable practices to recuperate from our experiences in the world. Of all the books I read last year and could have chosen to review right now, I chose Burnout, because it is so helpful. If you don’t want to read the whole book, Brené Brown interviews Emily and Amelia Nagoski in the first season of her Unlocking Us podcast. It is a remarkable conversation that brought me to tears at least twice.
After this week, I understand why my energy is depleted so quickly, and in writing this review, I am reminded that I know what to do to replenish myself.
It’s been a cold and icy weekend here. Fortunately, both days I’ve convinced Moshe to wait until the temperature got above 30 degrees before we went for a walk. I love those mornings, because they are so quiet and allow me indulge in my favorite ritual. Drinking a cup of coffee in bed, in the dark, while I read on my Kindle Paperwhite.
I have no idea what other Kindles are like. For me, the Paperwhite is perfect for reading in the dark.
You’d think that, with all this contemplating, I would have something significant to say. You’d be wrong about that. Fortunately, I had material things to distract me this week! Last week, I finally ordered my last big rug purchase for the house.
I went into this rug selection thinking that I’d get a repeat of my multi-colored rag rug from my Aberdeen, NC kitchen. Then I started looking and I realized a jute rug would look amazing on top of my hardwood floors. I think it is also a nice accent to the plant corner in the bay window.
The point here is that for the last year a lot of what I’ve been contemplating is how to make this house a home that reflects who I am now. There are still things I need to do before everything will be the way I envision it, but the biggest elements for the public parts of my home are put together.
Skirting around the edges of all this contemplation is the question of settling in. I am doing my absolute best to believe, and act as if, I have found my home. As if this job, this house, this area represent the place I am going to be for a very long time. It seems so easy for some people to do this. To build gardens, to landscape their yard, paint walls, hang art with the trust that they won’t have to pick up and move in a few months. What I have realized is that none of that is easy for me.
Given how nomadic my life has been since 2015, I guess it makes sense for me to find it difficult to settle in to this place. The morning contemplations are helping, but I don’t have an answer for how to fix it, how to settle in and be in this moment. Yes, I know time is really the only thing that will allow me to settle. I’ll do my best to enjoy my home as time works its magic.
All week I’ve been keeping my eyes open and listening extra hard, trying to figure out what I would write about. While your skepticism is completely warranted, I wasn’t kidding last week when I said “I intend to be more regular about posts this year.” We’ve certainly all been around this block enough times to know that I am not going to make any promises about what “regular” means, and you probably shouldn’t set up any expectations about it either. Last week’s post had been brewing for a while, as had a series of book reviews that you are likely to see here over the course of the next few months; yet, as I planned to dust off this little corner of my world, I knew I didn’t want this to be all reviews all the time. All of this is a long winded way of asking your patience with a post full of random thoughts struggling to find its purpose.
Monday started pretty awesomely, when Moshe and I came across this friend during our evening walk. Just the night before, in my journal I’d predicted that this cold snap meant I wouldn’t see any herons for a few more weeks. Although I didn’t write it down, I was a little bummed, because it had been so long since I’d seen them. Finding this guy at our pond the very next day filled me with awe, especially when he stayed still as we walked along the pond in his direction.
I really hope my heron sightings are as common this year as they were last year. Last year, I often saw them flying across my path as I drove into work in the morning, or at home as Moshe and I did our morning walk. This year, working from home, I wonder how often I will get to see them. As the weather gets nicer and I want to get out of the neighborhood more often, I do know where I can go walking to improve my chances of seeing them often. This week, I’ve been reflecting on all the changes from the last year, but I have not been able to coalesce my experiences into anything yet. I’ve been trying to hard to anticipate the consequences and which changes I think will have a lasting effect. I need to sit with things for a while, before I try to name them.
Speaking of naming things, I’ve been thinking about identity again. Thinking about how our activities help define our identities and the labels we feel we can and cannot accept about ourselves. For example, one new identity I need to name and claim for myself this year is “pilgrim.” A good friend said she was going to do the Camino de Santiago this year. Although she longs to do it for real, walking the route from Portugal to Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain, this year the Camino is virtual. For $60 you can purchase an app that logs your progress, provide pictures of what you would see on that day’s hike, and if you want can provide you with a community to check-in with on the journey. If enough people want to do it with you, you can even form your own team / community along the way. The proceeds from the app go to support the hostels along the route that have been struggling during Covid.
And, folks, you’ve now reached the limits of what I know I am doing, beyond walking about 480-some miles from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela. My app tells me that while walking Moshe, and convincing myself to do a few extra miles on the treadmill, I’ve made 11% of my journey. I’ve not exactly been reverent about what I am doing, particularly since the friend who started all this nonsense has yet to start her own journey. So, I better take some time to figure out what being a pilgrim means to me before my estimated arrival in July.
My ever present identity crisis as a writer is also at play again this year. Because I don’t have a draft of my personal book yet, or any professional writing at any stage of the process, and I hadn’t written here in so long, I’ve been feeling like I shouldn’t call myself a writer any more. Hence, the intention to post here more regularly. Friday during my lunch break, as I sat catching up on my journaling, I happen to notice how much of this journal, started on 12/31/20, I’d worked through.
As I looked at just how far I’d written into this journal, I realized I was actually not as far as I normally would be. The year, my mood, and the way my morning habits have deteriorated have all meant that I’ve actually been journaling less than normal. I also started to think about my criteria for what counts as “writing.” I’m incredibly frustrated by my lack of progress on my personal book. Some of my struggle comes from the subject matter, and some of it comes from the way I’m trying to mix genre, and none of that is as problematic as my own imposter syndrome constantly telling me that I can’t write a book.
But, here’s the thing:
I have a book shelf full that proves otherwise. These are the 17 journals of various size that I’ve filled since January 2016, when I got serious about journaling. They each contain a minimum of 200 pages, many actually have more, and I have filled them all. Sure, the process and needs of writing the book I’m working on are different than those of journaling, but if I can fill these 17 journals, I can absolutely write the 40,000 words I need to create my book.
So, the other thing I did this week was make some changes to the house. I put together the plant stands I bought, so I could move the plant clan off my small desk. Moved my desk up stairs to the office, and created two different “working” spaces for myself. One side of the office is my “work from home” space, and on the other is my “writing” space. Hopefully, I’ve created a space that will allow me to channel the determination of my herons to make progress and finish the first draft of this personal project.
Last year, for the first time ever, I kept a list of all the books I read. As I made the list I decided ‘read’ included listened to, but I only included new books I listened to, not those I re-listened to as I waited for my Audible credits. The number of “new” books I read and listened too was 62, if I remember correctly. No one needs to know what that number would have been if I counted the re-listens.
Yes, yes, I know there are other options than Audible, and they are likely cheaper. But, listen, Audible is a known quantity for me. I know what day I get my credits. I know which narrators I love, which narrators I can tolerate, and which narrators to avoid. And, they recently started giving members access to a lot of free content each month. Sure, sometimes what I find there is trash, but sometimes it is exactly the trash I need. Am I happy that Amazon bought out Audible a few years ago? No. But, I assuage my guilt about giving Jeff Bezos money in other ways.
In addition to reading A LOT last year — which really didn’t feel like reading that much, last year was the year of crazy birthday presents that did not come on my birthday. Yes, there are multiple stories to tell about this; no, I cannot say when you will get them all. If y’all know anything about this space, it’s that I write about what I want when I feel like it. (Though, I intend to be more regular about posts this year.)
I believe was toward the end of September when my friend, Northwoods Renaissance Woman, sent me a message asking what I would ask, if I could ask Tana French anything. NRW earns her moniker because she takes amazing photographs, has her own radio show, and is in all ways cooler than any of us. For her radio show, she frequently interviews authors with new books coming out, and in the last year has snagged some impressive interviews. Of course, the Tana French interview was the most impressive for me. I gave her my question, and then waited rather impatiently for the interview and French’s new book to come out. Once the interview was complete, NRW sent me a five minute clip of French answering my question! I listened immediately, at work so I couldn’t actually squeal like a teenage girl, but that was exactly my reaction, especially when French answered the question exactly as I would have!
As soon as her new book The Searcher came out, I used the audible credit I’d saved for this moment, and downloaded the book. I binge listened to it over that weekend as I worked on a jigsaw puzzle. NRW had told me she was really interested in hearing what I thought of the book, so when I was done I texted her and we set up a quick video chat to talk about the book.
A few weeks later NRW tweeted about a VE Schwab book I didn’t realized had already come out. I mentioned how excited I was to read it, and NWR told me to let her know when I finished it. Once again, when I’d finished we set up an impromptu video chat to talk about our reactions to the story. We also talked about how much we enjoyed getting together to talk about books we read in common.
One of the things we both said we loved about it is that we do not have a book club. There is no deadline, no standard meeting, no agenda for the type of book we are reading, no special questions. We pick a book to read and once we’re both done, set up a chat. It’s been great, and we’ve picked some solid books, as you can see in NRW’s recent tweet, after our discussion of The Lost Book of Adana Moreau.
The Lost Book of Adana Moreau is an amazing book, particularly the first two-thirds. I was only a 1/4 of the way through when I texted NRW to say that this book made me feel like I was back in grad school. I know, I know that doesn’t always signify a good thing, but in this case it does. The book is such an interesting exploration of our identities and connections to one another. Even when it feels like the author takes a few too many side roads, you can see why the author is doing it. As I read I knew exactly which class and which professor I thought should teach this book. I even thought about emailing him to recommend it.
NRW and I are continuing our ‘not-a-book-club’ read along, and no you can’t join, because there is nothing to join. We are just two women, who get together to talk about books. Periodically, I’ll tell you when we find a gem like The Lost Book of Adana Moreau, or the other one we truly enjoyed The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue.
233 – the day of the year. (It’s a leap year, so there are 133 days left.)
158 – the number of days since I started teleworking and social distancing from people. (I visited three friends in Raleigh in July, and have been on a socially distanced walk with a friend.)
23 – the number of says I walked one extra mile on my “new to me” treadmill in June.
25 – the number of days in a row I have done yoga.
13 – the number of days until I turn 47.
1308 – the number of days the current president, a known sexual predator, has been in office.
Counting days. It is what I do now. Counting days, counting blessings, counting time, counting infections, counting deaths (174,178) until the numbers no longer register.
The counting started with my social distancing (SD#) that I keep in my journal. It was a way to build in reflection, to monitor change. I read enough fiction and non-fiction to have known from the beginning that this would be on-going, and that it would lead to change. I wanted a way to reflect about the way the social changes, changed me. Yeah, I know. It all sounds pretty bleak. It is and it isn’t. I am very well aware of the good in my life. One change, however, is that I do not use the good to hide from the difficult, challenging, and sometimes bleak, truth. As challenging as it is, I would also argue it is a good change.
How else has this time changed me? I don’t have that answer yet. I am here in the middle of it, counting days and trying to hold space. Trying to breathe in the tension between the blessings and joy in my life and the reality of the world around me.
Today I learned that 1448 days ago on September 2nd, 2016, as I celebrated my birthday, and unknown to me Judge Paul Benshoof used his signature to grant me a divorce, Chanel Miller had to watch Brock Turner be released from jail. I’ve been listening to Know My Name. It’s taken me a while, because I can only listen to so much at once. It’s taken me a while, because it is so powerful, moving, heartbreaking, and beautiful. It is out in paperback this week, and I encourage you to get it. I’m sad to know such a thing happened on my birthday; but, frankly, 2016 was my personal 2020, so I am also not surprised. I am angry as I listen that more has not changed. This year, on my birthday, I want only good to happen for Chanel Miller and all the survivors of sexual assault and sexual aggression in the world. We deserve it.
Sometime last fall, in the space between knowing my life would change and that change beginning, I started to read Hanif Abdurraqib’s They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us. Ouiser’s recommendations never steer me wrong. You can trust them as well. I savored this collection of essays. Reading for a few days in a row before turning to another book as the mood struck me, but always returning to dip back into the space and sound of the writing. Abdurraqib writes about a wide variety of music, by weaving his story into the experience of listing or attending a concert. He uses those stories to reveal the contemporary moment in a way that made me pay closer attention to the music filling my world. Everyone should buy the book, even if you only read “A Night in Bruce Springsteen’s America.”
There are so many tools that are made for my hands.
But the tide smashes all my best laid plans to sand.Neko Case – Night Still Comes
In the final pages of the book, Abdurraqib elegizes 2016. A year that many of us individually, and as a nation, struggled to survive. To think about what happened in the country in 2016, I have to carefully untangle each event – each death, each killing, each mass shooting – from the death of my marriage. For me, 2016 is an endless coordination, getting my ex-husband to help, alerting his family, talking with doctors, finding someone to care for the animals as I constantly drove from Bemidji to Fargo and back each Saturday from January – March, bringing him home, returning him to another hospital, and starting the cycle over. Navigating 2016 took every tool at my disposal, and, at every turn, each plan I made smashed against the reality that my marriage was over.
Abdurraqib’s elegy for 2016 takes a different approach. Describing his response to the horrific Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando, Abdurraqib recounts how the sounds of children riding their bikes reminds him that it is in the small moments of joy that we regain our strength to return to the fight.
And, as I think about 2016, I remember the phone calls. Long talks with friends and family full of tears and laughter. I remember the unexpected care packages. I remember the happy hours spent eating fried foods and deepening new friendships. I remember learning to accept the help offered. And, I realize how each of these moments renewed my strength. The cleansing tears shed with friends. The laughter at a macabe joke, because … what else can you do? The warmth brought by a smile and an invitation to lunch. The joy – large and small – made it possible for me to make it through the night I feared for my safety, for me to pick up the pieces as each plan failed, for me to know without a doubt when it was time to let go.
I do it for the joy it bringsAni DiFranco ~ Joyful Girl
‘Cause I’m a joyful girl
‘Cause the world owes me nothing
And we owe each other the world
Abdurraqib concludes, “Joy, in this way, can be a weapon–that which carries us forward when we have been beaten back for days, or moths, or years.” And I remember how beaten down I felt in the years leading up to 2016. How alone I felt trudging from one crisis to the next just trying desperately to hold it together, to make sure I could provide for my family. Yes, there were moments of joy in those years, friendships made, but I remember how my smile rarely reached my eyes, and my guard never fully came down. In 2016, joy became my weapon. It carried me forward each time an event beat me down. Joy also became the weapon of my recovery. It flooded my life in the fall of 2016: the house full of friends at the birthday party I threw for myself, the renewal of old friendships, the long mornings and afternoons on the deck, the comfort of the dogs and cat as we settled into our new normal. The joy in those moments, big and small, salving my wounds, healing me, and carrying me forward.