I hope you’ll find this moving

Yesterday I locked the door for the last time on my apartment. It was the place I’d lived the longest since I left my parents’ house at 17 to go to college (a relatively paltry 26 months).

The place was spotless, and it was no longer my home.


An anecdote: I moved to DC just about four years ago into an apartment in an L-shaped building. I lived at the tip of the short arm of the L. For various reasons, a year later, I moved into a unit near the crook of the L. For other various reasons, nine months later, I moved into a unit halfway down the long arm of the L. Now, I have moved to an apartment at the tip of the long arm of the L. How to extrapolate where I’ll go next? Will I be flung off the long arm? Whither?

When I lived in the apartment at the crook, I had a commanding view down over the interior courtyard and over the city blocks beyond. There is an apartment with an oversized patio at the top of the long end of the L. While I looked down from the crook, I sometimes saw the woman who lived in the apartment with the patio sunning herself. She was pregnant. She would lie on her outdoor couch and rotate herself, her belly gleaming with sunlight.

The next time I looked down on them, from the place I stayed for 26 eventful months, she was holding her baby.

That’s my patio now.


I can be a little philosophical about it now, because I’m sitting in a room that has been unpacked. I feel calm and in control of my life. This is very unlike the state of mind I have been in for the last four days, and which I will continue to be in as boxes and furnitures need moving. As the floor becomes inexplicably dirty (do I exude these particles from my feet? How else to account for it?) As I find, at the base of bag after bag, bizarre little trinkets I need to meditate over for ten minutes before I can convince myself to be rid of them:

Take, for example, a keyring I found. I don’t know when I acquired it. It must have been a gift. It is a gleaming hematite finish, and it has the Cal logo on it. It’s a nice-looking keyring.

I have a keyring already. I do not need another. I do not need to add weight to my keyring by adding this one. I do not know anyone who needs a Cal keyring (although if you do, fair reader, please let me know very soon). I should get rid of it.

Or…

I could put it in the bottom of a different bag, with different random items, and surely someday in the future I will find a use for them.

Surely I will not, next time I move, curse myself for doing this time after time. No, this keyring is unlike all the other knickknacks and old papers and broken pencils and unclaimed spare keys that I’ve hated lugging around in the past. This keyring is something different: a potentially useful object. There is no worse sin than to purge a potentially useful object.

Look at this scarcity mentality that demands I shove these potentially useful objects into the backs of bags in drawers. It bears no resemblance to the reality of actual abundance around me. There are keyrings aplenty if I need them. And next time I need a keyring, am I really going to go searching through all of the bags full of potentially useful objects? Do I even remember that such bags exist, when it isn’t currently time to miserably move them place to place? Sadly not.

Friends, I have moved somewhere between 17 and 26 times in the last 14 years, depending on how you count. You’d think I’d be excellent at it by now. I am not. Catch me a few hours ago trying to negotiate keeping both of the dish-draining boards and all of the plates from both our houses.

A plague on that behavior.

So hold me accountable to this next time: I’m changing my ways. I’m saying goodbye to items that once served me and no longer do. I’m going to haul less out of this place than we just hauled in, or else I’m coming out feet-first.

And to you, empty room, I say: thank you for the last two years. Good luck with your new folks.

2020: Downhill

There are less than six months left in 2020. (Aside: I want to be able to write “There is less than six months left in 2020,” because I’m less interested in the countable number of months than in the uncountable amount of time, but it just looks so completely wrong that I can’t bring myself to do it. (Other aside: remember this pedantry later.)) I have yet again set goals for these next six months, which I plan to share for accountability!

But also! As I said last time, it seems crazy to be setting goals right now, what with all the trust in the future that that requires. If the first half of 2020 has taught us anything, it might be that we really can’t count on life looking any particular way at any particular time. Sometimes things just change. Sometimes there are murder hornets and maybe also flying snakes and they’re not even that big of a deal because there is so much else going on.

I’m not one for sports analogies. I needed help understanding the problem when Pete Buttigieg, way back many years ago in January, referred to Kobe Bryant’s achievements on the “field.” But even I understand the inherent drama about entering the second half of a sport thing. Are we up? Are we down? Do we have everything to lose or everything to gain? Etc.

And I think if I understood sports, I’d know that you can’t plan the second half until you understand the strengths and weaknesses of your team. Here’s the thing: I always expect future-me to be an absolute superhero, a champion of efficiency who may also be able to time-travel, who squeezes 24 hours of productivity into an 8-hour day. She bears no relation to present-me, but I applaud present-me for this optimism.

So my work recently has been to accept that present-me, who needs a lie-down between tasks and who sometimes comes to covered in chip dust at the bottom of a Wikipedia k-hole, is the one I’m asking to do all of this. I’ve tried to give her a reasonable ask.

After that scale-back, I’m feeling pretty okay about my ability to do what I set out to do in the second half of 2020. Here’s what I’m aiming for:

  1. Take an online course on intuitive eating (half done)
  2. Play the piano at least three days per week, and be able to play one specific song fluently by the end of the year.
  3. Write a SFD (shitty first draft) of Book Three. (Note: this one I’m not at all sure will happen. “Not with that attitude!” you may object. But…seriously.)
  4. Perfect my query letter and send 60 queries for Book One.

Check back in 6 months to see how it went, assuming the internet still exists and I have not been murdered by hornets.

(Now, a final note on pedantry and the efficiency of present-me: I got waylaid for literally 24 hours by whether to say there “are” or “is” less than six months left in 2020. This is not the behavior that future-me expects from present-me! As a team, we will have to work on this.)

Goals in the now-times

Back in the before-times, I made some goals for the first six months of 2020.

lol.

It had been my intention all along to come back here and check in on those goals at the end of June. But as you may have noticed, the world has been doing something that looks a lot like falling apart, or (more hopefully) metamorphosing, between then and now.

I had no idea in early January that in the next six months I’d be up against a long bout with pneumonia, a global pandemic, a big transition in my family, major social upheaval, and getting ready to move apartments.

But here we are!

Mural on the Metropolitan Branch Trail by @marnimanning, used with permission.

These are over-the-top, bang-you-over-the-head type reminders that we are not in control of circumstances. We are not in control of the future. But making goals is an act of putting trust in the future.

That’s a tension I struggle with. I often look into the future with a jaundiced eye, unable to believe that anything good will come of it unless I wring it out with sheer effort. I’m consistently wrong about this. Time demands that I understand it will always surprise me.

Despite all this, I’m going to do a little reflection over the next few days to figure out what I want to put my attention and energy to in the second half of 2020. I’m going to set goals exactly as I did in January. I do not know what the world or my own circumstances will look like in late December. I’m going to try to live in that place between trust in the future and humility in my own ability to control it.

All that said, how did I do on 2020 goals part 1?

  • Querying Book One: ✔️
  • Semi-detailed outline for Book Three and reading at least one research book: ✔️
  • Therapy at least once a month: ✔️
  • Comfortably running ~5 miles regularly: Absolutely not in this climate. Migraine city. Could reassess once the swamp cools down this fall. Could not.

Honestly, I’ve never felt more grateful that I happen to be an introvert.

Still sun, the other one

Today is the summer solstice: the first day of summer, and also the day the light starts falling back again, little by little.

Isn’t that interesting, that the beginning of something can be also when it starts to end? Ooh, aah, a metaphor.

My fear of scarcity manifests as this desperate white-knuckle desire to do it all, fill the day, squeeze every last bit out of the time, check the boxes. And then that task-masker self spurs rebellion from the other self, who refuses to comply, who manages to be late to work even when the commute is about thirty feet and doesn’t even require clothing, because she would rather lie in bed reading, or who passive-aggressively zones out during meetings playing Vertex (highly recommended).

It’s a weird mix, living with both of us at once.

But it’s actually fine. Both of us, together, we do manage to pursue our goals, and also to rest and connect. And, with some help, we’re learning to follow our joy first and foremost. Listen to that little spark that is delight, and watch it ignite. Follow that.

So that’s what I’m choosing to take from this solstice, the sun’s pause, the top of her magnificent annual stretch. Don’t give into the temptation to listen to the scarcity, which might say “There it goes. The nights will get longer from here on out. You haven’t made the most of the summer,” or the day, or the weekend, or the vacation*, or whatever it is. “You haven’t accomplished enough. There won’t be time to do it all.”

Instead, try the enoughness. Let the long light today be enough. That’s where life is located, I think.

*remember vacations?

Easter.

Y’all know I love thinking out loud about time.

Today is Easter. What does this fact mean to you? Perhaps it brings up memories of egg hunts and pastel-foil-wrapped chocolates. Perhaps it is a fact of deep religious significance, a time of hope and joy. Or maybe it reminds you of a time in your past you’d rather forget. Quite possibly, it means nothing to you.

For me, the religious calendar is a rich source of meaning: it layers over whatever is going on year to year, encouraging us to consider what it is to feel joy, grief, hope, regret, as our lives shift and change. Opening up to this kind of ritual pattern can be meaning-making. It opposes the robotic sameness that can permeate everywhere and every time. It forces us to look a little harder and see what is going on beneath what is going on.

On Friday, Good Friday, we cloaked ourselves in ritual grief and loss, forgetting the coming ritual joy of Easter Sunday.

Sometimes, like now, there is a wide gap between the message of the day and what it feels like to be living in it. It may be Easter on the calendar, but the circumstances feel a lot more like a prolonged Lent with no end date in sight.

I’m not sure where to go from here. I’m writing today’s post live with no plan. I feel a little glum and uninspired.

But then I watched the live Easter service from my boyfriend’s hometown church. The pastor was outside at the chapel in the woods, and in this living room the windows were open, and I couldn’t tell which of the birds were singing outside here and which were with her. That’s a bit of hope.

Then, because why not, I watched my own local church. The humans inside were few: just the priest and his wife, the assistant priest, the organist, a liturgist, and the camera operator. A tot of wine in a coffee mug and an Oreo stood in for the Eucarist. (Eucarish?) But the sanctuary was splendid with candles and white cloths and flowers surrounding the cross at the altar. And the organ fluted something mighty. The few humans in the sanctuary shouted and clapped as the phenomenal postlude came to a close. That is something.

The Easter 2020 setup.

Thankfully, Easter is less a cause of political shouting than Christmas. But like Christmas, the reality of Easter is a syncretic mish-mash of sacred and profane, ancient and modern, spiritual and consumerist, Jewish and Christian and pagan.

A lot of us can’t stomach contradictions like these. Perhaps because a lot of religious types insist white-knuckled on the purity of their traditions, any syncretism, any muddiness, is an invitation for the irreligious to roll their eyes and disprove the religious. Take Easter: its very name in our language has nothing to do with its Christian content. It is likely the name of a Germanic pagan goddess of dawn. The Christians evangelizing in the British Isles must have shrugged and retained her name and the trappings of her spring celebrations, which overlapped credibly enough with the passover.

And now, we’re doing some bizarre mix of all of it: celebrating the Christian resurrection of Christ on a date tied to the Jewish passover, with all kinds of spring fertility rituals that clearly have nothing to do with either of those things. (Etymonline reports primly that “the paganish customs of Easter seem to have grown popular c. 1900; before that they were limited to German immigrants.”)

But if we can find a way to blend all of these things together in a more or less stable solution, albeit one that forces us to explain to bewildered children what bunnies have to do with eggs, and what eggs have to do with Jesus, then I guess we can find a way to make meaning out of a really weird Easter.

Hallelujah anyway, as they say.

The first time.

It’s been the last time for a while for some things, yes. But some are starting, or starting over. 

It’s the first time in a while for cherry blossoms snowing down onto the grass and onto my head. Petals on a wet black bough.

The first time in a while for windows open all day and into the evening, for birdsong carried into the house on a breeze tinged with flower blooms and fried chicken. Shouts of children, and wild men, and women who exercise with their faraway friends through a laptop in the sunny courtyard.

The first time in a while for the first flush of tender neon leaves shouting at the sky in the forest canopy.

The first time in a while for long walks in the middle of the day, near the end of the day, getting muddied and lost in the neighborhood national park, watching the black lab throw himself into and into and into the water for the ball.

The first time in a while for strangers passing at a distance, eyes meeting, not daring to breathe, except to whisper, thank you for your kindness. Not wondering what they mean.

It’s the first time in a while for dusting down the tops of the books in the bookshelf, because it’s there to do, and the light is falling in through the window right on it. You wouldn’t usually be there to see it.

The first time in a while to catch up with that one person. It’s been nine years, can you believe it?

So much happens in nine years.

Spring sounds

As I’m guessing you’ve noticed, the world has gone a little quieter. This is one of the blessings popping up like stubborn shoots in the chaos.

Here’s another:

Via NASA

If you, like me, find noises in general objectionable, now is a great time to open a window and listen. The birds are going absolutely bonkers. Are they always, this time of year? Probably, but now there are fewer cars and trains and crowds to drown them out. Maybe it gives their tiny ears a break, too. 

(Excuse me for a second while I Google “do birds have ears.” This is a well-researched operation, folks.)

Just now there is one making a bona fide ruckus somewhere outside. It’s echoing off the buildings. I’m very proud of her, whoever she is, screaming out her cause. 

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Me and my pneumonia, walking at our pace

For the last several weeks, I’ve had company everywhere I go (which, for reasons that will soon become evident, has not been many places). Walking pneumonia. Sounding like a cross between an exotic, possibly sentient, plant and some sort of CDC PSA, it’s not very interesting. It’s the sort of illness where there’s not much to say or do about it. You’re just sick for a while. You have pneumonia in your lungs, for a while. You have little energy and little appetite. You have a low fever, on and off, for a while. You cough it out. There’s no cure or secret to it, as far as I can tell.

I keep thinking it’s over, but the reports of my restored health have been greatly exaggerated. It just keeps coming back in the form of unpleasant fevers after a few days of activity. This sends me back to slug mode, barely leaving the house and infrequently putting on real pants.

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Spending time in non-time.

You may have noticed that the months September, October, November, and December contain clues that they used to be at a different spot in the calendar: September was once seventh, October eighth, November ninth, and December tenth. You may also have heard that this was because July and August were added later, to honor Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus, respectively, knocking the whole calendar askew in the process.

BUT DID YOU KNOW

…that this is a lie?

July and August weren’t additions to the calendar; they were simply renamed from Quintilis (5th month) and Sextilis (6th month). The renaming spared them the embarrassing fate that the following months suffered, spending eternity with misleading prefixes.

No, the reason for the shift is that the latest additions to the calendar were January and February.

Bear with me: the original Roman calendar had ten months of 30 or 31 days, starting with March and ending with December. This only took 304 days. The other 50 days in the lunar year were monthless.

Winter.

A time so dark and slow it didn’t even bear naming. Just the long wait until time would finally resume in March.

Eventually, the Romans deigned to allow time to go on, even in winter, and January and February were born.

I’m struck, though, by the notion of living without time, but only for a while. Now, we are able to free ourselves from day and night, winter and summer, through the magic of electricity. A single hour of a lightbulb’s worth of light from an animal-fat candle used to require 60 hours of work. For most average people, then, night was simply dark. There wouldn’t have been enough spare labor lying around to justify lighting the night. And in winter, the nights are long and dark. Imagine sitting inside, struggling to stay warm, in the dark, for sixteen hours a day.

That is life without time. That is a taste of eternity.

Now, I’m not an ancient peasant. 60 hours of my labor can buy me actual decades’ worth of light. My HVAC system means I can stay at 70 degrees all year long, if I want to, except if I dare to go outdoors. I should be immune to winter.

But I’m not. It gets into me anyway. It feels endless, especially when the frigid wind is whipping right into the seams of my coat, and when I’m taking the train only in disorienting darkness. When there’s no hint of living green, just brown and grey through bare trees. (West Coasters: you fortunate green-winterers don’t understand).

Maybe there’s some wisdom in letting this be non-time, rather than trying to count down the days until it ends. It’s just a pause, an empty lung, a long sleep.

Eventually March will come.

Credit once again to the History of English podcast for this fun fact about January and February.

On doing nothing.

I haven’t been doing much recently.

Especially the last few days. I’ve been feeling a little under the weather. This means a lot of lying on the strangely comfortable floor under a blanket.

I nap, and play games, and read, and write a bit here and there, and FaceTime my family, and in moments of tremendous ambition, go out for a meal or some exercise.

There’s some big part of me that feels pretty defensive about this. To answer “nothing” to the inevitable “what did you do this weekend?” feels like a betrayal of conversation itself. It feels almost passive-aggressive, like I’m withholding something, or else it feels like a cry for help with a life that needs filling.

Another driver is the problem with many names: FOMO (fear of missing out). Or, if you enjoy incredible long German words, Torschlusspanik (gate closing panic)—the fear, as night draws in, that you won’t make it back inside the city gates before the gates close at curfew. Much like a medieval peasant with a dread of being trapped outside with the outlaws, I have a fear of time passing and leaving me behind, and opportunities slamming shut before I had a chance to explore them.

This is, typically, irrational and unwarranted. I am not a medieval peasant, and my future is probably not full of bloodthirsty outlaws. But that’s beside the point.

But doing nothing is also, ironically, something I’ve been wanting to do more of. In recent years I’ve had lots of moments of feeling over-committed, and I hate all the resentment and drama that tends to go. along with that. In times like these, I start to fantasize about what it would be like to have nowhere to be, no tasks that needed completing. All the freedom in the world to do what I please and say yes or no to the whims of the day.

So much of my life is spent caught between these poles, trapped in that in-between, nowhere space between action and inaction, between something and nothing, neither pursuing the relaxation that I crave nor getting tasks done, but feeling increasingly awful as I play infinite levels of a mobile game that is throwing my entire nervous system out of whack and making me nauseous.

The goal is to find that space of beautiful nothing-doingness, where I produce nothing of external value and I enjoy the minutes as they pass. Where I’m free to do exactly what is right at that moment.

This weekend, that’s looked a lot like lazy floor time. It also looked like writing this, rather than some rather more involved (and possibly more interesting) posts. But this weekend has also looked a lot like contentment, so I want for nothing.