During yoga classes, my teachers would often remind me — usually amid an especially prolonged chair pose — to be mindful not to rush through the transitions. “They’re often even more important to be present within than the poses themselves,” they would say in that melodic yogi voice that makes everything sound poetic. Sometimes I would forget the minute the last word came out of their mouth, so rushed was I to alleviate the shakes and pains of my muscles, but on good days, their words would sink deep into my little heart, inspiring me to slowly move with extra depth and care into the next posture.
It’s such a basic idea, the concept of being present within the transitions of life, and yet amongst the upheaval brought on by change, presentness and grace are often the first thing out my window as I want nothing more than to hit a definitive destination.
Where are you in your pandemic journey, sweet friend? Has your obsession with sourdough evolved into an obsession with Star Trek, or have you found yourself adapting back into older more settled routines that are less about a productivity panic, but more about you? I hope that’s the case. I feel like I’ve been ebbing back into that space myself, where my evenings have become more and more centered around doing things that help my brain feel less like an overly shaken snow globe with its repetitive tune on full blast.
A few weekends ago, my girlfriends and I threw our well worn selves, Maria’s pup Billie, and an infinite number of road trip snacks into a car and three hours later, and for the next three days, found ourselves strewn across the lawn of a gorgeous cabin in Hunter.
2020, the year the world saw a pandemic, a nationwide racial injustice uprising, wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes. And the year I started couple’s counseling with my creativity.
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On the day that I’m writing this, Brooklyn’s heatwave has broken for the first time in a month and today feels like it’s passing more slowly under the steady drumbeat of raindrops and storm cloud. My windows are all thrown open and perhaps I’m just imagining it but I keep catching the faintest smell of Fall in the air, that unmistakeable crispness. Today has felt special not only because it feels like the city is finally taking a deep breath for the first time in a while, but I feel like I am doing the same.
I’ve been calling it “pandemic brain.” It’s that underlying feeling of constant anxiety that accompanies every hour, making every task just a little bit harder without me even realizing it’s there. A few weeks ago I was sitting writing an email on my couch, trying to push through the looming exhaustion wall I had so far attempted to ignore for the sake of productivity, when it hit me, “Wow, this entire situation is hard. Like hard hard. And I think I’m really struggling.”
It’s funny how something like that can sneak up on a girl. One minute I’m drinking my fifth cup of ice tea, typing away on my laptop, and then next I’m staring at my cat whispering, “Um …. are you okay? Are you sure? Am I okay? How am I supposed to be okay when I have access to so few things that help me stay balanced!”
^^ Art by the amazing Alessandra Olanow. ^^
Some of my earliest memories are cruising around on my bike. When I was five, my dad took me to the park next to our house where I timidly stumbled to follow the sidewalk lines as I became acquainted with my new lack of training wheels. My bike was purple and pink, with a white seat, and a vinyl basket up front for my various stuffed animals to enjoy a front seat view of the world. The second I hit my stride, going from wobbling like a newborn calf to proper bike legend, I loved the freedom of just being able to take off. As a family, we’d take our bikes on vacation and weekend rides around our city, but when I hit the infamous teenage years, I refused to wear a helmet. According to my peers, it was uncool to keep your cranium safe and there was a rule in my house: No helmet, no bike riding. So I stopped biking, eventually giving away my more adult bike by then, and forgetting more and more how much I loved the freedom of two wheels.
For the last five years in New York City, I had told myself I wasn’t a bike person. I was afraid of the traffic, I didn’t know how it worked here, and where would I store a bike anyways? And yet, every time I’ve ridden a bike around the neighborhood — either through rentals or Citibike — what a high! How had I gotten to the point where I believed I wasn’t a bike person? And what does being a bike person even mean?
Before you ask, I am still pumping myself up to try out bicycle trips around Brooklyn this summer. But as I’m working up my courage, inspired by stories of my friends’ trips to the beach and Red Hook, I’ve come to realize that a huge part of this bike hesitancy has been caused by the fact that I’ve told myself I’m not a bike person. Brain, you sneaky little minx, what else have you been telling me that I’m not!
I took my first journalism class on a whim after transferring from a Biology to English major my freshmen year of college. “Introduction to Literary Journalism” I believe it was called. If this is starting to sound like the beginning of a romcom meet cute, that’s because it is exactly what this is.
I often look back and fearfully wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t taken that class. If I had signed up instead for intermediate sculpture or women’s studies, or had heeded the academic counselor’s advice and not taken the max amount of units every quarter. Would my passion for writing have eventually found me? I like to think so because looking back, it was always hovering on the edges waiting for me to notice it.
Growing up I had been drawn to medicine because it seemed the most tangible way to help others. But the more I began to study journalism, and eventually start writing as a career, I quickly learned the pen can be just as powerful for doing good. Stories empower people, give space to difficult conversations we struggle to have, and shine light on the truth that people try to bury. Stories make us laugh and feel seen and push us to learn from perspectives far beyond our own communities. Stories keep the past alive but also allow us to make our futures better. They’re just, well, you can tell I’m a big fan.
Writing has always been a rollercoaster of emotion for me. The highs of getting to interview someone about their passions, the lows of missing a deadline. The high of the byline, the low of the rejection letter (or worse, the ghosting rejection letter). But the more I wrote, the more I wanted to write. There never felt like there was enough time for all the ways I wanted to engage in storytelling.
But two years ago I stopped writing.
^^ Art by Alessandra Olanow. ^^
On Tuesday I woke up knowing it was an anxiety day. Perhaps the emotions from my nightmare were trying to creep their way into the daylight or maybe my subconscious was further processing the fact I am fully living in the altered-now-normal reality of the pandemic, but I recognized the sensations immediately. The tight chest, the sudden feeling of fragility, the inability to find a root cause, the overwhelm — an anxiety day was here to stay whether I knew the reason or not. And rather than pretending the anxiety didn’t’t exist and pushing through, I’m learning how to care for myself instead, a habit that’s becoming more and more important during this time.
^^ Turning 30 in Prospect Park with these little loves and the handsome man behind the camera. ^^
In mid-March I went to my first socially distanced birthday party just days before New York City went into lockdown. We all met at the park, and sitting in a circle we wondered aloud about the the virus. We ate dessert and laughed and went home, not yet realizing it would be close to two months before we saw each other in person again.
In April, I attended my first Zoom birthday party. It was for my childhood best friend Imali and at the time, crowded amongst the squares of 40 other friends also in self isolation, I still couldn’t fathom this situation extending all the way until my birthday at the end of May. Yes, it was getting worse everyday but the idea of it continuing six weeks from then seemed impossible (*laughs heartily at past self*). Yet a week later, I went from thinking “this will be over soon” to quickly Googling how to make a funfetti birthday cake for one.
Dear Fellow White People,
We have to do better. As individuals, as families, and as a community. It is on all of us to be actively dismantling (hell, blowing them all up!) the systems of oppression, built for our own privilege, that have been killing Black Americans for centuries. When the protests first started in Brooklyn against police brutality and the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless others, I really struggled knowing where my voice and presence should be. Was it at protests? Was it speaking out online? Was it collecting donations for black-led racial justice organizations? Was it within meetings rooms or talking with family and friends? Was it reading? or petitioning local and national lawmakers, representatives, and police chiefs?
Of course, it’s all of these forms of showing up, but it’s been important to learn how to do so mindfully and with the awareness of empowering, and not, detracting from Black voices in my support of Black lives.