As a kid, I took piano lessons for a few years before deciding I didn’t like practicing and recitals seemed boring to me. Now, as an adult, I covet the impressive skills of piano players/singer-songwriters like Sara Bareilles who can so easily sing and play at the same time with such ease and emotion. I’ve taken a couple turns at the old ivories to sing and play at open mic nights but will still say such things as “I can’t really play the piano”. Here are some shots of me not playing the piano…
At any rate, since I have so much time on my hands right now (heyyy pandemic hey!), I decided there’s no reason not to pick up the piano again, just to play, not to perform and found a new joy in practicing which I never felt as a kid.
I have tried meditating and doing mindfulness exercises alongside Headspace and instructor-guided practice. They often tell you to think of the mind as the sky or river and as you get distracted or new thoughts come up, they are like clouds floating by, not getting fixated on these thoughts or the fact that you got distracted but moving them along. My mind almost always wanders during these sessions and when it doesn’t, it’s usually because I’ve fallen asleep. I do, however, find the guidance encouraging and forgiving, often noting a lesson afterwards. But I simultaneously don’t feel like I’m really hitting the point of meditation.
This year has given me a lot of time and reason to contemplate the definition of ‘home’. This should be a simple thing to answer: where is home? But I’ve slept under a dozen different roofs this year, only one of which was my own. Initially intending to pass 2020 as a traveling nomad, my plans were quickly derailed by a little thing called COVID and rather than being an intentional nomad, I became a bit of a pandemic refugee, moving from family member to family member (and friends who are like family) as I sorted through repatriation and unemployment.
The holidays are when you go home, usually the place you grew up and with your family. But this year, many of us aren’t gathering out of safety concerns and guidelines. I recently read The Power of Ritualand how historically, our sense of community and belonging was tied to religious institutions but with many no longer practicing religion, we have found that same comfort of community in other routines such as yoga, cross-fit, Friendsgivings, in my case this was my choir and flatmates. Another interesting books, Ikigai, discusses how being part of a community is integral to happiness and longevity. The pandemic has interrupted many of the activities that connect us and the associated feeling of belonging. And now, the inability to gather with family is disrupting yet another routine and comfort at Christmas. It sucks!
However, we can (and should) create new rituals to keep us grounded. I always thought of it as structure, sticking to a routine and a schedule makes me feel together, bringing order to the chaos. I made rules for myself in lockdown to keep that sense of routine but have let it lax as pandemic fatigue wears on. The same can be done for the holidays: our regular routines and rituals of being with family, singing carols, seeing Santa, Christmas markets (damn, I really love Christmas season) are things we haven’t had this year. This sounds remarkably like ‘hygge‘, a big trend in 2019 (great times…) about recognizing the little things that bring us joy.
I am a list maker. It makes me feel organized and productive and it also gives me something to focus on. When I’m weighing a decision, my sister always tells me to make a pro’s/con’s list but I’m far better at making to-do lists. When my trip in Asia was curtailed by COVID, I made a silver linings list about what things I would be able to do in London, where I was returning to for a month before ultimately heading back to the US. When further lockdowns resulted in my returning to the US after only a week in London, I also made a list of US activities to look forward to. After that, I gave up because none of these lists came to fruition. But while I was unemployed and dreaming of better days to come, I made a list of things I would do when I was gainfully employed again.
Top of that list was donating my COVID stimulus check which I had received from the US government. Granted, I was very relieved to receive one and tracked it down when it was sent to my old London address but once I was employed and had a steady income again, it felt like it could be put to better use. I was also in a position where I was able to stay with family, was safe and healthy, while so many were struggling as a result of the pandemic and existing inequities. And so, now gainfully employed and past the procrastination, having done some research, I launch into donating the $1,200.
The first group of organizations have been brought to my attention by a friend who has been donating $5 to organizations every Friday since July, dubbed The Friday Five, to raise awareness around these causes and to educate herself and others about their goals. So far, she has raised just over $900 (not including the donations listed below) which is incredible! And she has just launched a website devoted to The Friday Five so I encourage you, dear reader, to check it out!
Before Emily in Paris, I was Emily in London. While the show itself plays up stereotypes pretty hard, there is a lot about the show that resonates with me. Yes, it makes Americans look remarkably perky and optimistic but to be fair, in comparison to most of the rest of the world, we are very bright-eyed and bushy tailed (especially in our youth). Yes, it makes the French look unwelcoming and snobbish but when you start a new job (or even your old job in a new office) in a new country, you’re bound to ruffle a few feathers just by nature of existing.
Living abroad, you’re torn between this huge feeling of awe that you’re in this historic city, that you’re walking sites from movies and books on your walk to work, and this feeling of loneliness in not knowing a soul and having no one to share this awe with. Except Instagram, of course. When I arrived in London, I was greeted by one of those drivers holding a sign with my name on it. Granted, the poor guy had been standing there for at least an hour as I’d made my way through immigration and baggage claim. It was early evening and while I had been to London once before, I hadn’t driven to/from the airport: I’d spent about 3 hours lost in the airport looking for my friend and then took the tube which is at least 1.5 hours. So I assumed driving into London would take at least half the time. It did not. I can’t tell you why it took so long but I do know that it was still light out when we started off (and it was May so not the time of endless summer evenings) and it was close to 10pm by the time I got to my corporate flat, conveniently next to a pub on a Thursday (but not nearly as charming as the one on Emily in Paris).
In yoga, my instructor often says “embrace the wobbles” when we are working on a challenging pose. In order to reach stability, you have to keep your muscles engaged and be patient with the process. To get comfortable, you first have to be uncomfortable.
I went to my first Juneteenth celebration last month in Appomattox, Virginia. This was also the town’s first celebration, significant given both the local population and historical significance of Appomattox. It was here in 1865 that General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate army surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant of the Union army and the Civil War was ended. As part of the celebration, there were several speakers including a doctor whose name sadly now escapes me. But she was powerful and passionate and she also said that we are in an uncomfortable position and that’s where we grow. Embrace the wobbles.
In Harry Potter (because in my brain, all roads lead to Harry Potter), there is a conversation in Order of the Phoenix where Ginny tells Harry he should have confided in her about thinking he was being possessed by Lord Voldemort, that she too knows what it’s like to be under his control and confused, having been possessed by him in Chamber of Secrets. Harry’s response is “Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot [that happened to you]” to which Ginny says “Lucky you”.
So what does all of this have to do with anything?
I’m a history buff. Or rather, my parents are history buffs and therefore, it rubbed off on me. For my dad, history is his jam, with particular emphasis on the Civil War. We would take trips to obscure (and not so obscure) Civil War battlefields and watch documentaries on the big players of both the Union and the Confederacy. So I consider myself to know a few random facts about the Civil War and Reconstruction. However, despite Juneteenth appearing in my Google Calendar in recent years, I had no idea what it was. I honestly thought Google had made up a clever June Nineteenth name just ’cause. And boy do I feel ignorant.
In the wake of the protests spreading across the globe following the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, I felt compelled to do more. I didn’t want to risk protests during a pandemic (although I completely understand and support those who did). I wondered how these protests were different than the ones following Trayvon Martin’s death. How these calls for change were any different than those following the Sandy Hook shooting. Time and again, I’ve seen how people stand up and say “hey, this is wrong and we demand action” and then no action comes of it.
But this does seem different. My way of taking action may not have been public protest but I talked to friends about their feelings, I am examining my own behaviors and knowledge and have found that saying “that’s such a tragedy” or “the cycle of poverty is hard to break” just wasn’t good enough. So my friends and I started a book club. This might seem small in the scheme of things and having never participated in a book club before, had the potential to be derailed but so far, we have been able to not just educate ourselves on a topic but share other resources we have come across.
I take pride in being independent: financially, personally, physically. Pretty much any way you can be considered independent, I value it. But I’m also not above using other people’s Netflix log-ins to save a buck or two. In this quiet and also binge-worthy time of isolation, I’ve been able to catch up on a lot of shows I don’t normally have access to on platforms like Amazon Prime, Hulu and Disney+. This also means, I’m secretly enjoying messing up everyone’s algorithms for what the actual account owners should watch next.
For example, because you watched Fleabag (unfortunately with my dad…don’t watch Fleabag with any parents of any kind…until season 2, then it’s a lot safer), you might enjoy Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens. Why yes, thank you, I would. So here are some of my personal recommendations that your algorithm may not have found because your mom watches only documentaries and reads period dramas:
When I was a kid, I was fairly obsessed with history. Not so much the memorizing dates and battlefields but the day-to-day lives of people in the past. This sparked an interest in collecting old photographs which were quite literally a dime a dozen in antique shops. I love photography but I was fascinated by the older photographs which were often portraits with just a name and age scribbled on the back.
During one of my excursions, I came across some old letters. There were only three or so, all addressed to the same woman in Maine from a man called Leon. For years, I thought the recipient of the letters was a woman called Olive. It wasn’t until much later that I realized her name was actually Alice, not Olive. This cracked the first clue in researching who this woman was and who her penpal was as well. It’s sad to read the letters, just one half of the conversation; Alice’s letters in turn to Leon weren’t in my possession.
My young mind imagined perhaps it was a WWI-era romance taking place even if the letters didn’t feel particularly ‘Notebook’-y but census records corrected me. Alice and Leon were cousins whose families had lived together in Maine before Leon enlisted in the Navy. Stationed on the USS Quincy, he wrote in one letter, obviously in response to Alice expressing concern about the Spanish flu, that he didn’t even want to talk about that “bad stuff”.
I know how he feels! These days, we’re all bombarded with Coronavirus news, checking in on each other, wishes to ‘stay safe’. It’s hard to have anything else to talk about except how we’re doing in social distancing and isolation. But Alice and Leon talked about everything but the epidemic in their time, leaving it as just a small note in one of their exchanges. “I don’t want to talk about that, it’s upsetting”. The end.
Things that feel all-consuming in the moment often end up as just a footnote in our personal histories. That huge test you failed in school, the crush who saw you staring at him, the embarrassing presentation you gave in class. In the moment, they were catastrophic but in the long run; just a blip. I’m not saying this pandemic isn’t catastrophic or upsetting, it’s certainly worth a good chapter in history but it doesn’t have to define our lives or futures. What else are we learning in this time, about ourselves, our friends, our values?
At this point, I barely know what day it is let alone how many days we’ve been in lockdown. Like all coronavirus stats, how you count the days varies on a number of factors: are you starting when there was mandated stay-at-home order? Or just suggested? Are you counting when you personally started? Or when the nation did (oh wait, there’s not actually a national stay-at-home order, my bad)?
However you’re counting the days, it’s been a long time. And we seem to have hit the point of “quarantine fatigue” where it’s gone on long enough that we’re going a little nutty and the end isn’t in sight so we’re getting a little antsy to get back to “normal”. But in desiring that sense of normalcy, we also have to consider what is “normal” (said like the Dowager Countess, speculating on the definition of a “weekend”)? Some are saying we will never see the 2019 world again and we must adjust to a new normal.
Right now, I should be in Nepal, wrapping up hiking in the Himalayas. I should have pictures of Cambodia and Vietnam to share, thoughts on a solo birthday trip and hours on janky busses under my belt. A year ago, I was flying to Japan with friends for a long-planned adventure, my first to Asia.
Instead, I’m pondering past journeys and the what-ifs of my travel plans (and let’s be honest, life decisions). To pull me out of this funk though, I was thinking about something a friend said to me early in this self-isolation thing (it was actually only 3 weeks ago but might as well have been another lifetime). I was reading Under the Tuscan Sun for the first time, having been obsessed with the movie for years and years. The movie is a classic chickflick with pasta and wine about a woman (and Sandra Oh pre-Grey’s Anatomy and Killing Eve) who gets divorced and goes off to Italy to find her appetite for life, buying a rundown villa and putting herself and the home back together again. Basically, Eat Pray Love before Elizabeth Gilbert went through her life crisis and made it into another book/movie.