I’m Trying Softer in a Hard World

The world is ending.

What are you reading until it does?

I usually avoid sensationalism. In fact, I hate catastrophizing in any form. Perhaps because my father is an expert at it. Growing up, I would ask to sleepover a friend’s house and be met with, “what if you’re kidnapped?” A frightening retort to hear at 11 years old, I’ll tell you that.

Recently, I spent the day celebrating a friend’s birthday at the local Waldorf Astoria. A bottle was sent to our group of friends with a side of berries and juice, delivered by the maître d’hôtel. We drank it (of course) and when I mentioned it to my dad days later, he shook his head and asked me to consider that it could’ve been sent by the cartel because “that’s one way they pick and isolate women to entrap them.”

At first I was annoyed. Really annoyed. It was the Waldorf. In Orlando. You know? The family destination capital of the country. I remembered why I seldomly share details with him.

After giving it more thought, I realized it has taken my entire adult life to understand my dad and I did not grow up in the same world. He spent his youth defending national interests from communists at the border of Honduras and El Salvador. I spent them in New York City drinking free beer from a WeWork tap where my friends and I were paid to track digital trends.

When I visit my parents house these days, I brace myself for the inevitability that my dad will start up on the subject of who has recently died, and how. It could be a stranger on the news, a classmate he hasn’t seen in 40 years, a tragic event but he’ll tell me about some event or the other with incredulity. As I’m writing this it’s occurred to me that it’s a symptom of his own terrible fear of dying — something his particular brand of Latino machismo will never permit him speak about. The vulnerability it requires would be too costly, and certainly go against every rule that has helped him survive for 58 years. And that’s what he learned to do growing up in a country racked with political tumult — survive. If he can just see danger coming and clock its patterns, surely he can keep himself and his family safe from it.

Of course over the last few weeks, we’ve rediscovered just how illusory the sense of safety we create for ourselves actually is.

One of the reasons I keep myself from writing (publicly) at times is because the responsibility to say something when a tragedy occurs feels far too great. But it’s occurred to me it suffices to say the only thing there is to say: Things are terrible. I can’t fathom the choices Ukrainiana are forced to make right now because I’ve never had to. And there’s no way one could possibly know what it’s like unless you have also had to run from your home under the threat of terror. And I simply have not.

Thus, I let it be enough to pray that goodness and mercy follow every step of those fleeing. I pray they’re comforted by people rising up to this moment in history, to care and shelter. And I pray for citizens stuck under the chokehold a conflict they have no authority over. There’s historical and geopolitical complexity to this situation I won’t pretend to have a sufficient grasp upon. I hope that this will free you from the pressure of thinking you have to and that we can focus instead on any opportunities to alleviate suffering.

On the subject of alleviating suffering in its various forms, I’ve been reading the book Try Softer written by Licensed Professional Counselor Aundi Kolber. It discusses burn-out culture and how to re-integrate your mind, body, and emotions after experiencing high periods of stress. Written from the perspective of a faith-based application, I appreciate Kolber’s thoughtful consideration of the clinical as well as the practical.

Her chapter on our nervous systems has me thinking about is how ill-equipped we are at appropriately processing a terrible and costly tragedy that is completely divided from our lived experience. As I’m typing this, I’m listening to jazz play from the kitchen while my husband loads the dishwasher. I thanked God for the filtered water I poured in the bottle I’m holding. I’m fed, I’m warm, and I know where all of my loved ones are at this very moment. If I were given nothing else but the things I’ve counted around me, I’d still be unimaginably privileged. Full stop.

That can be true and yet I recognize so many of my friends (or myself) in Kolber’s writing. A generation of anxious workaholics running on mainly caffeine and the goodwill of their internet connection on any given day in the middle of a pandemic. And studies say it’s not sustainable. Go figure.

I recommend the book if you’re trying to understand your natural rhythms and how they stretch to adapt to our modern world.

Speaking of being stretched: that thing you didn’t get to do over the weekend? You’re off the hook.

I mean it.

You’re totally off the hook if you didn’t get to laundry, or meal-planning, or that work-out.

You’re alive.

You’re existing.

You’re on a huge rock floating through space as it orbits the sun and you’re doing fine. In fact, much better than you think in fact, if you’re here with me, because you’re among a friend.

One that will tell you the truth, though. And that is we indeed are all going to die, but not today.

Today we’re going to put our favorite playlist on, text someone that we miss them, and sit in our favorite spot to read the next chapter of a really good book.

Today, I promise you that’s enough.

On The Two Year Anniversary Of Pandemic Living

Image source unknown

I wish I would have written throughout the course of the pandemic.

When it began, I mean.

I wish I would have captured the multitude of questions and anxieties the last two years have wrought in real time. But I suppose one is busy surviving.

The last normal birthday I can remember was my 29th.

My family and I planned to reunite at Morimoto in Disney Springs for cocktails before going to the movies. We grabbed a table in the lounge area upstairs which hadn’t been wiped down, but it was a busy evening so I didn’t think twice about sitting down to secure our seats.

The server attending us arrived quickly, unnecessarily apologetic for the brief delay. “Sorry about the wait,” she said as she sprayed a large bottle and wore thin plastic gloves like the kind you might see on someone making your sandwich, yet no mask yet. The smell of bleach filled my nose.

“Oh, and the smell! We’re getting really clinical with it now,” she added implying we’d seen the news but still embarrassed. She wiped a dishrag across the table surface in full sweeping motions and seemed overwhelmed.

If you want a job as a teenager in the US, you usually go into either retail or food service. I’ve found that people usually remain in one or the other once they have, unless of course they have had the privilege of not working through high school at all. My siblings and I individually went into food service. I worked as a hostess at a pizza restaurant and later slung smoothies to my peers after school wearing a tie-dye company tee. My brothers have each worked as servers so between the three of us, going out to dine can feel like we’re competing to see who can be the most polite to service personnel. We’ll stress our “please,” overuse our “thank you,” and stack our plates after each meal. This evening was no different.

“Totally fine! We’re not really in a hurry,” I replied, thinking of our selected showtime but figuring there would always be another. This year, I didn’t carry with the expectations and pressure birthdays are usually pockmarked by. I just wanted to have a nice time.

Earlier that day, the governor of Florida had announced that the first two deaths in the state. But they were elderly and had traveled internationally…

A few days later, the first cruise ship would be prevented from docking as a result of 21 passengers testing positive. Metropolitan cities like New York City had already experienced a ravage by the novel coronavirus, the rest of the country had not. The majority of Americans were still saying “it’s just a flu,” or at best simply trying to carry on with a heightened sense of caution and consideration. Like us.

But the tension in the restaurant that evening was electric and nervous. People kept their distance from others, strangers looked at each other shiftily in passing as if the symptoms of Covid would stare back. We tried to make the best of it, thankful to be among family in one place but certain it’d be our last reunion for a long time. I ordered a lychee martini and our server told us it wasn’t available because the lychee wouldn’t come in from China anytime soon.

Since that day, the world has changed about 3,000 times over. Maybe more.

While I might spend my waking hours cleaning, working, reading, walking the dog, thriving, surviving, consuming, I arrive here and feel the sudden compulsion to account for the ground upon which I find myself standing. I need to discover the ring patterns that have appeared among this forest since, and pass on what the trees have told me about the time that’s passed. Who I’ve become as a result.

Who we’ve become.

I’m asking that question as I prepare for birthday to come around again next month. When I consider who I am now and how I’ve changed, I’ll notice my spirit catching with an alarm that didn’t exist within me before. It’s subconscious. Not exactly fear, it’s not quite terror. It’s more like a state of hyper-vigilance and nervousness remaining from the experience of my parents catching (and surviving) Covid before the vaccine was available, from observing how few people remain when our community contracts, and the fatigue of two-years worth of moral Olympics when you’re just trying to go to the grocery store.

I’ve become curious about this feeling, and how it’s emerging in others — at this point in the shared timeline of our collective trauma. We are a band of brothers, you and I, carrying on because we must. Anyway, there’s a question I find myself most unable to shake in isolation, clamoring relentlessly to be asked. It’s the investigation I engage as I write, figuring these days are still odd, and new, and worth logging.

What have we survived?

And Suddenly It’s Spring

A brief list of things I’ve been doing other than writing –

  1. Moved to a new neighborhood! We are now 15 minutes north of Downtown Orlando where we previously lived.
  2. Sourced furniture to replace the oughts of post-collegiate life like an Ikea media console with the old candle burn we used to cover with a ceramic yellow bulldog.
  3. Downsized a wedding.
  4. Canceled the wedding.
  5. Rescheduled said micro-wedding to 2022.
  6. Consumed four Real Housewives franchises spanning across a decade of time. (Someone recently referenced knowledge of the Real Housewives universe as encyclopedic which would have annoyed me if it weren’t accurate.)
  7. Re-evaluated my relationship with alcohol as a direct result of pandemic-related banalities.
  8. Coordinated my family’s first reunion in 5 years. We’re driving to a local beach house where we’ll shelter in place with High Noons and carbs.

Gosh, it’s March again and I regret not blogging more regularly, like when the pandemic first reached critical mass in the States. I recently rewatched the clip of Donald Trump saying,

It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear. And from our shores, we — you know, it could get worse before it gets better. It could maybe go away. We’ll see what happens. Nobody really knows.

February 27, 2020

and truly felt like my brain short-circuited.

Some days I still have trouble believing we existed within the same timeline that reality tv caricature Donald J. Trump appointed his son-in-law real estate developer Jared Kushner to oversee our response against the most devastating pandemic of the 21st century.

I remember the last normal day in the old world because it was my last birthday.

Upon returning from a weekend in St. Augustine together, Roy and I joined my family at the acclaimed Morimoto restaurant in Disney Springs, a highly-trafficked tourist shopping and dining destination on Disney property. Our server apologized with an awkward yet friendly chuckle about the extra-caution required as a result of the increase in Covid-19 cases, 77 a day as of that point. She sanitized our table a few times. Food-runners wore gloves. But my family and our significant others gathered, seven of us shared appetizers and drinks cautiously yet ignorantly.

After all, we had no idea what the year ahead would bring.

As I approach my birthday once again, I feel both traumatized by the dystopian realities this year has impressed upon humanity and uniquely aware that the unrelenting cup of suffering that has poured across the world has scarcely missed me.

I consider the months we’ve spent visiting the grocery store with masks on and jaws clenched, fearing we’d rub our eyes or mouth with our own hands, the hesitation we’ve felt over hugging kin, greeting neighbors, lingering too long.

Earlier this week, I thought about trying to get disinfecting wipes for my mom and conspiring against the purchase limits that were necessary thanks to individuals hoarding pallets of essentials for theirs and theirs alone.

I think about visiting my mom on her birthday last month while she was in the worst shape after her Covid diagnosis. I set up her backyard with balloons, banners, Baby Yoda decals from Party City on the sliding glass doors. My dad woke her up from an afternoon nap and she sat outside with us while holding a comforter around her shoulders. We sat 8-feet apart and laughed through two masks. There was no cake. Although our visit fell outside her contagion period, I still worried about the ethics of seeing her at all. Although she sat with us for an hour, she has no memory of this afternoon at all.

Two days later, my dad went to the hospital with Covid-induced pneumonia and I wondered once more whether I’d see Spring with both my parents.

They recovered.

Over half a million people in this country didn’t.

I have so much more I want to say but for now, I hope we may just share a moment respectfully considering the many Spring did not come for. They were someone’s loved one.

I am glad you are still here.

A Love Letter to New York

One of my best friends recently moved a couple miles from where I used to live in Brooklyn.

This friend and I have shared everything from Betty Crocker boxed brownies while sitting on her rooftop in high-school to cigarettes, clothes, secrets and grief over puppy loves lost.

Her friendship has remained one of the most consistent things in my life. Although I am thankful to be one of the people sending her off to a new chapter in the city that never sleeps, I feel a longing for the life I used to know in a world that no longer exists. I considered buying a $50 round-trip to visit her in Cobble Hill next month, but it feels irredeemably selfish to travel for pleasure while we grieve 200,000 lives lost to Covid.

If nothing else is true about New York City, it’s that no two days are the same. I used to say the city has a way of slipping into your veins, once you breathe subway air long enough a film of grit enters the bloodstream and you carry it with you the rest of your life. There’s a reason so many songs and movies are produced in ode to its bustle. NYC is dirty and unforgiving — you know they’re not lying about that.

But she was once yours, and that’s what made her beautiful to begin with.