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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.
Since moving to New York City in 2015, the number one question I get asked is, “Do you think you’ll move back to California?” Sometimes it’s a bit more pointed with “When are you moving back to California?” but I respect that my grandma is a woman who likes a deadline and to do list as much (if not more) than I do.
I am guilty of asking this question all the time too, curious how others see their time in this city as a stop or the final destination. And during this time of physical distancing, I have been thinking a lot about the idea of home. Can home be two places? Three? Four? Five? When is a place granted the title of home and what does that mean to different people? What does that mean to me?
Last Sunday evening, as per my usual cool kid routine, I sat down to organize my planner for the week. It’s a whole thing — the colored pens come out, lists from the previous weeks make an appearance to be condensed into one space, and by the end I am feeling so full of organized life that I can’t help but scoop the cats up for a dance party.
Typically this is how it goes but last Sunday, with my colored pens and lists at the ready, I realized I didn’t really have anything to fill in my time after work. And then my brain immediately turned into this …
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The answer I’ve been giving and receiving most this past month when asked how I am is “highs and lows, highs and lows.” Is there any other way to describe April?
While March felt like sudden whiplash with the world shutting down practically over night, April instead felt more like a reckoning with the longevity of the pandemic and its effects, of big questions and new needs, and trying to navigate what my new now looks like.
I am often asked what New York City is like right now and I feel like my answers always fall short. They fall short because I am deeply privileged during this time, with a job that easily transitioned into working from home and a grocery store around the corner that doesn’t have too long of lines, which means I am rarely leaving my neighborhood, no longer taking the subway or Lyfts, and trying to avoid crowded spaces as much as possible. Easier said than done in New York but like everyone else, I’m trying.
On good days, I treat myself to walking into neighborhoods a few miles away, and on the best days, my feet get to enjoy their old routine of finding their way to the water where we peer at Manhattan across the river. Seeing her there but not being able to travel over, it feels like missing an old friend. She looks oddly quiet as I take her in from Brooklyn, and I find myself missing most the afternoons I would spend reading on a bench in the sun while drinking tea on the Promenade.
The first show I watched when self-isolation began in March was the Netflix original series
Locke & Key. I had never heard of it before, or knew at the time it was an already popular comic series, but was drawn in by the trailer promising what seemed like Alice in Wonderland meets Pan’s Labyrinth meets Coraline.
The show starts with the Locke family moving from Seattle to a small town in Massachusetts to live in their late-father’s childhood home. The family has just survived a shooting at the hands of an unstable student their father was treating who ambushes their home, killing their father, and attempting to gun down the rest of them as he demands answers around the Locke family house and the keys.
Hoping for a fresh start, the Locke family moves across the country to an incredible family mansion that turns out to also be magical, as the youngest son, Bode, begins discovering magic keys around the house. But not all magic is good and as Bode attempts to find more, he unleashes a dark spirit that has been trapped in the family’s well house and is determined to destroy the world. With supernatural forces at play, the Locke kids — Tyler, Kinsey, and Body — must investigate the mysterious circumstances around their father’s death in order to find the answers and discover nothing is what it seems, including the hero they thought they knew.
It’s an amazing show, but what really stood out to me as a viewer was how Locke & Key digs into the intertwining of grief, PTSD, and trauma — an intertwining that has deeply impacted my own life, but I have rarely seen represented on television.