Everyday has proven to be a little different as this period of self-isolation stretches on. Some days remain relatively normal as I am still working full-time and the hours of the evening fill up quickly with writing or chatting with loved ones or watching Alta Mar or Locke & Key. But then somedays, like today, are steeped in a heaviness that remains difficult to shake. It’s on days like these, the blue days I call them, that I find books especially important in providing me another world to escape into. Whatever day you’re having, I hope you know you’re not alone in it and that despite how it may feel right now, this will not last forever.
While in my last post I gave recommendations for books that will give you a good laugh and books that would give your heart all the feels, this time around we’re traveling to a different shelf on my bookcase and talking about fantastic fiction and noteworthy memoirs to keep you company during this time of self-isolation.
I had originally planned to write this blog last night, along with filing my taxes, spring cleaning my closets, building a blog business plan, calling 127 people, and baking a pumpkin loaf. Not to spoil anything, but what I actually accomplished was finishing Tenements, Towers and Trashby Julia Wurtz and the Netflix original series Alta Mar — two things that hold zero productivity points on paper but in reality, gave me a much needed respite from the constant intake of pandemic news.
The first day of self-isolation, when we were asked to officially work from home, I found myself hyperaware of my sudden need to lean into productivity and almost guiltily, have something to show for my time at home. “Uncertain about a situation? Make a list about it!” my brain yelled at me while playing a carnival organ. “There is no anxiety to see here behind this curtain! Just focus on these good ole’ fashion, unrealistic to do lists that will eventually bring you anxiety but until then, will distract you from the anxiety already brewing over the pandemic!” My brain is very theatrical in times of crisis. Bless it, it’s like an ever running production of The Cursed Child and Moulin Rouge combined.
Productivity, for better or worse, has always been my coping mechanism through uncertain times, giving me a fake sense of control in times when I really had very little. It should work wonderfully in theory, but then again so should MC Hammer pants. What my productivity coping mechanism almost always fails to take into account is that sometimes what my body actually needs is to slow down, acknowledge the uncertainty, and just be.
Going into week two of self-isolation, as cases of coronavirus ramp up by the thousands in New York City, I’ve been trying to avoid as best I can the social media posts displaying all the things one can accomplish during their time at home. Work out everyday and get a six pack, learn a new hobby, learn a language, clean out your entire house, write a novel — this is your time to make all your dreams come true! At times it has felt like every voice is yelling to be a part of the conversation that we all need to be making the most of our time at home.
And this conversation is driving me absolutely crazy.
I have always found a special kind of solace within the pages of a book. Whatever my mood or the circumstances of that moment, books have been constant through all the chapters of my life and given me both anchors when I felt adrift in the larger world, as well as expanded my perspective far beyond just my own experience. I try to read every day because for me it’s a form of meditation. Now more than ever, I find myself spending most evenings wading out the uncertainty of the coronavirus from my couch, immersed between the covers of a book with a large mug of tea. In the hope of providing you with the same solace my favorite books have provided me, here is a handful of book recommendations to keep you company during your time of self-isolation.
I originally sat down to write a piece about the time one of my best friends and I went to a 6 a.m. sober rave on a boat that circled lower Manhattan for two hours. But then the past week happened and with it, a sudden shift into feeling like the U.S. was crawling towards the beginning chapters of “Station Eleven.” By now, you’ve received probably hundreds of emails from friends, family, organizations, your own workplace, companies, and brands talking about the coronavirus. In New York, it was at first hard to believe that a pandemic was happening when the spring sunshine was burning deliciously bright overhead, but then the streets began to empty out and almost all NYC institutions temporarily closed — the most personally alarming being the NYPL. When the NYPL (and later, Disneyland!) closes, you know it’s the real deal here.
On Friday morning, I thought I would do a last minute Trader Joe’s run before leaning completely into my new socially distanced life. Hundreds of other people must have had the same idea as I spent 45 minutes waiting in line to get into the store where employees ran around trying to restock as quickly as possible. When I finally left at 11:30am, having waited in line to check out for over an hour as we snaked through every single aisle (which on the plus side, meant a second round of grocery shopping), the store had already been depleted to bare bones. I felt grateful to how calm and kind everyone was throughout the process, all of us stuffed together like sardines trying to fill our tote bags with food as the store quickly ran out of carts, but in that moment it was an alarming reality of what was to come.
Precautions around the coronavirus went into overdrive last week in New York and on Wednesday, we were officially asked to work from home for the month in order to help slow the spread of the virus. It takes a major incident to slow down the city that never sleeps, but practically overnight it has all but come to a halt. And perhaps the hardest part, it’s all still a bit unknown with all of us just waiting in the wings to see what happens.
Today, amongst the many other thoughts pin balling around in my brain, I asked my therapist about balance. Specifically, if it’s possible to find balance while juggling all the priorities that make life feel fulfilling?
(Unrelated, how New York does it sound to start a story with, “I was talking to my therapist”? The answer is very, though perhaps not as New York as yelling at someone for using an umbrella even though it’s actually raining. But I digress.)
It was a conversation that then followed me into my yoga class. Between warrior twos and pigeons, the teacher quietly stepped in between our mats talking about setting down our expectations of needing to do everything. “Adulting is hard,” the teacher said, in what I can only describe as “the yoga teacher voice,” a mixture that sounds like the smell of vanilla and lavender. By this point, having run into the life juggling conversation twice in one day, and later a third time while finishing the book What If This Were Enough? (highly recommend), it felt like a bit of a sign to invite it home for tea. So here I am, with a little note to all the life jugglers out there.
January was the first time in a long time that I was sick sick. Like take-off-work, hole-up-in-the-corner, eat-only-soup kind of sick — which should come as no surprise since almost everyone I know has been hit by sort bug or another since the new year began.
If a friend were to come up to me and say they were feeling ill and considering taking a sick day, I would nearly insist that they did.
“That’s what they’re there for!”
“Your health is a priority above your work ALWAYS!”
“No one wants you to bring your sickness into the office, so go home and take care of yourself!”
I’d say these off without even thinking, believing in them wholeheartedly because, well, they’re true. But despite knowing there is nothing more off-putting than someone showing up to work visibly ill and on the brink of contaminating the entire office, on a Tuesday night in January I found myself Googling at 3am, “how sick should you be to take a sick day?”
I wanted to start this blog post off with something profound, but all I want to talk about right now is Hem sitting with her paws extended towards the radiator, snoozing away on her scratching post. She only wakes up when fat squirrel runs past on the fire escape and after the excitement has died down, she puts herself right back to sleep, content with the warmth and the music and the constant snuggles from her over-loving mother. It’s so adorably cute, how am I expected to focus on anything else?
If you had told me ten years ago this would be my daily view from New York, I would have been both a little bit skeptical and anxious with anticipation because it’s where I hoped to end up. And yet, the journey to get here has been so different than I ever could have imagined.
It’s always the first and last months of the year when the real reading momentum kicks in. In January 2019, I found myself devouring five books before the month was up. Despite best intentions, this momentum began to ebb as the months got warmer, my workload heavier, and my willingness to just sit and relax often felt at odds with my desire to get things done.
But just like the activity of walking around the city, I learned this year that reading is meditation for me. Sometimes I find it so easy to fall right into a book (like with The Silkworm, whew!), while other times, it takes real restraint to make myself stay seated and reading, ignoring the 64 “do not forget” notes my brain keeps interrupting the storyline with.
While I didn’t hit my reading goal this year, I did manage to shave down my in-house unread book collection from 130 to 90 books thanks to a jet lagged clear out session inspired by the question: Am I actually going to read this? Once I unburdened myself of the idea that I needed to read things just because they were famous/popular/historical, it felt so much easier to get rid of books I’d been carrying around for years. And I mean YEARS! I am currently reading a book I bought in 2009. That was 11 years and five moves ago! No book should be waiting in the wings for over a decade, they deserve better than that. So my quest to finish all my unread books continues and fingers crossed, by 2022 I will have completed it.
As we close the page on another year, here were some of my favorite books I read in 2019.
There is something deeply humbling about being a beginner as an adult. Covered from bangs to cuffed ratty jeans in clay, I’ve spent many a pottery class watching the vase I spent 45 minutes working on fly off the wheel in front of me or the glaze on a piece I loved coming out looking rather vomit-ish.
In 2015, I signed up for a wheel pottery class — something I’d never done before. Arriving the first day, it appeared I had hit upon a secret club of other 25-year-old ladies having quarter life crisis as we dawned aprons and spent hours hunched over our wheels waiting for our creations (or perhaps lives?) to take shape.
That first semester, my class included a girl named Laura who took to pottery like a YouTuber takes to a photo op against a wall of fake flowers. From the first class, Laura was making mugs that held their shape, graduating quickly to complex designs like tea pots and casserole dishes with lids while the rest of us stumbled along in the dark creating bowls without bottoms and vases that “purposely” leaned to one side. At 25, I was a beginner beginner again, something I hadn’t been in years. It was a humbling feeling, to say the least. But as I continued to pursue pottery over the next three years — showing up each week to cover myself in mud in the pursuit of making a mug — I realized just how important that feeling was to me.