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.
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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!”
^^ 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.
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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.
There is a certain magic that comes with moving to New York City. You show up with your suitcases — and in my case, your two literary cats — and begin your quest to find whatever it is that brought you here. For some, it’s the culture, the hustle, the access to anything at anytime. For others of us, it is a job or education or love. But perhaps beneath it all, the real reason drawing so many of us in, is the reputation of New York City itself, presented our entire lives as the city with endless potential, the place you’ll find exactly what you need, and then some.
It all started over a dinner conversation. One of my best friends mentioned she’d heard of this event called Daybreaker. Originally held in a warehouse in Brooklyn, Daybreaker is a sunrise dance party that travels around the tip of Manhattan on a boat from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. The goal of the event, which is held across the U.S., is to inspire community and wellness through a giant dance party and for the earliest of early birds, a 5 a.m. yoga sessions to really get the good vibes flowing.
The more she described it, the more I felt the event’s siren song calling to me for no other reason that I needed to understand why this existed. And not only existed, but why hundreds of thousands of people around the country were voluntarily getting up before the sun to dance with a bunch of sweaty strangers before heading off to their 9 to 5pm.
And one year later, with my bathing suit pinned into my skirt, I found myself waiting in line to board this party boat about to break the dawn to the best of my abilities.
^^ In our house, it’s impolite to let anyone have an afternoon nap alone. ^^
This past month has certainly taken a different turn from the last. Instead of being able to share adventures from the city, this month I can only share the adventure of hunkering down in my apartment and using my dishwasher as a drying rack for all my hand washed socks.
I’ve been trying to journal everyday during self-isolation to document the ways the world, and I, are navigating the pandemic. I know it’s something I will look back on in the future and say, wow, remember that? I am looking forward to those days of looking back — of eating pasta on open patios in the sun, laughing with friends as our sunglasses become slightly askew from our second glass of rosé, and saying, “Remember when we were all in New York for the pandemic?” Those days might be very far away from this moment and while tempting with their siren songs, I’ve been trying to stay focused on the present and what I can control in this moment. Easier said than done of course.
^^ Outside the closed Brooklyn Library on a Saturday evening waiting to celebrate a friend’s birthday with a socially distanced walk in the park. This was much earlier in March, now we’re all self-isolating separately. ^^
^^ This was said socially distanced birthday party which was a sweet reminder that the little things can actually mean the most. ^^
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 Trash by 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 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.
I’ve officially hit that point in winter called the dregs. It’s that point where the novelty of comfy knitted sweaters and layering up and freshly fallen snow have worn off and now everything feels just borderline annoying.
The 15 minutes it takes to layer up and leave the house, the constant battle of choosing to keep my snow coat on while on the subway and potentially develop heat stroke rather than have to carry an extra layer. The lack of sunshine for days at a time and the constant damp rain. The lack of snow but the rotation of the same snow jacket everyday. The constant hand washing of my favorite sweaters because they’re filled with subway sweat by the end of the day. Not being able to go on long walks due to the wind peeling off the first layer of my facial skin with its ferocity and the intense indoor heaters turning every other bit of exposed skin into a raisin.
Whew, even just reading that back you can tell, we are in the DREGS!
And yet, five years after moving to New York City, I’m still here, much more prepared than when I arrived as a Southern California native, and somehow, even more in love with living here. I know it’s hard to tell after reading through the paragraph above, but that’s the thing about New York, the complaining often comes from the deepest places of affection — much like when you’re talking about your loved ones.
So how much do I love New York City? I love it enough to own two snow jackets that make me look like giant raspberry-colored sleeping bags every day. I love it enough to learn how to endure wearing a snow jacket inside so I don’t have to carry it around when shopping (the key is to take off your scarf and unzip the jacket, it will change your entire game!). And I love it enough to still try and find the silver lining in the deep dregs of winter.