“I wish I knew what was going to happen” tweeted a friend of mine a couple of weeks or so ago. (Insert what has become the usual time has no meaning in a pandemic comment here.) I am wishing that, too. As a person who has always preferred to plan, to be in control, to know, this is a hard time. And still: grateful it’s not as hard as it could be, me and mine still healthy and safe and employed and able to buy food and wine and toilet paper.
Some views of our surroundings look normal, try to convince me that things are the way they used to be. There’s the shelf at the front of our apartment with the tv and games and records and the very neato paper art given to me by a good friend last December. But turn my head to the side to reveal the not-normal, a box of supplies for a stalled renovation, quarantined postal mail on the shelf near the door, waiting for a day or two to pass before reading and filing, just in case. The sewing machine out on the coffee table for weeks as we perfect our sewing of masks out of my stash of fabric. Who knew my hoarding keeping old plaid pj pants and other odd cloth bits would have come in so handy? And I am apparently a genius for keeping a couple of pairs of spent tights, which as it turns out are perfect when sliced up for mask ties, soft and stretchy and comfy.
We are trying to get out when we can, lucky to live near some big green spaces, though many many other people also live near these spaces. I try not to fixate on the still not insignificant numbers of people not wearing masks, especially the runners/cyclists who can be hard to avoid when they come from behind. Mentally high-fiving fellow mask-wearers, trying not to visibly stink-eye the mask-avoiders. There was a time not long ago when I was so much less judgmental about my fellow park-goers, I hope I can get back to that again.
A couple of weeks ago (for real!) we realized we hadn’t driven the car in a long time so drove out to the beach at Riis Park. I’ve been to Fort Tilden a few times about a decade ago but never to Riis Park. I think it always felt too far away and too crowded and too solely-beachy — beaches are not my favorite thing, and at Fort Tilden there’s a fun short hike to get to the beach which was pretty empty the times I’ve been. But our drive down was fast and easy, traffic very sparse, the same all over the city as many (most?) people are staying inside, saving lives, flattening the curve. The neon signs flashing those messages repeatedly all along the Belt Parkway made it feel like a disaster movie, the joy of no traffic cut through with the anxiety of disobedience. Does being in the car count as inside? Did our drive and socially distanced mask wearing beach walk unflatten the curve, even a little bit?
I have found it difficult to read beyond checking the news and state website 2x/day, really trying to keep the endless scrolling in check. So many books all around me (physically and digitally) but attention in such short supply. I suddenly noticed that the New Yorkers had been piling up on the side table and indulged in a Saturday afternoon spent mostly on the sofa to try and work my way through them. The oldest dated from March 3rd, and so it was an archaeological read through the changes happening in this city and the world, from just before things closed down to things beginning to close down to now (-ish, I’m still a couple of weeks behind). Admittedly it was a bit of a wallow, thinking about the last (and second to last) restaurant we ate in and the last movie we saw. It’s hard to believe that it’s been as long as it has, even as we don’t really know how long it will be until things change again. I wish I knew what was going to happen.
I haven’t been on the subway in 16 days, haven’t physically been at work in 9 days. That last time into work was just to check on a few things and grab some stuff from my office; I’m close enough that I could walk in, and with campus closed it was easy to stay at least 6 feet away from the few people I did see. We are all settling into our new work and college and working at a college from home situation, 3 people in (thankfully) 3 apartment rooms mostly online (though some of us are in zoom rooms more than others). The adults in the house have been fairly busy with work the past few weeks, actually, and while I do cast longing glances at my pile of unread books, I’m grateful that we are healthy and employed. We are so lucky.
I’ve found myself saying in several conversations this week — mostly proffered as one of the many reasons we are all so exhausted right now — that the cognitive load of this situation is incredibly high. It’s not just that we’re all washing our hands constantly and not touching our faces and trying to stay in as much as possible. It’s not just that we’re all suddenly working remotely, adapting to new methods of doing our work and collaborating with colleagues as well as new “office” space(s). It’s not just that the pandemic is evolving and changing so quickly while efforts by the federal government range from useless to dangerously misleading. It’s not just that we can’t travel to get to family or friends out of town, if anything were to happen to them. It’s every single one of those things at the same time.
While I consider myself to have a fairly robust tolerance for change, I am also fairly dependent on routines and habits. But while I continue to eat the same thing for breakfast Monday-Saturday, that might be my only routine that hasn’t changed recently. Every other routine and habit has gone out the window. I miss it all, even the parts I didn’t like that much, that I grumbled about or rolled my eyes at.
It has been a lot, it is still a lot. This weekend I’m trying not to work (much), and instead seeing if I can bring some focus to establishing new routines. The drastic reduction in physical activity is one of the things that’s hit me hardest. I’m no athlete but before this I did go to the gym a couple of times each week and do a ton of incidental walking and stair-climbing (like so many of us in NYC), and my body is very unhappy with the combination of less movement plus my somewhat less ergonomic workspace setup. My karate teachers are teaching our class online, and now that the weeknight session is a bit earlier than when we’re in person I can do that one as well as the weekend session. I need to figure out some other ways to get more movement into my day, and find a relatively uncrowded time for taking walks around the neighborhood or park. Maybe I’ll get my bike out and try to work some long rides into the week.
I’m going to have to let go of many of my preferred ways of doing things, because they’re just not possible anymore. I guess we all are.
Weird, weird, weird. This winter that is not a winter that is almost over is weird, and it is getting me down. It’s 53 degrees right now, will be the same and raining tonight and tomorrow. Raining! Sob. I have all manner of different kinds of outerwear, as is usual for many of us who live in cities and commute using feet or public transportation, but this year I am realizing that what I don’t have is a respectable-looking coat for when it is 40 degrees and raining. Which it has been for so so so many days this “winter.”
I am pining, pining for snow. Less than 5″ is what the official total is for the winter so far. Many winters we can get a guaranteed dose of snow when we travel to the northlands to visit family. But this year schedules dictated that our travels were just after xmas, and while there was some snow on the ground while we were there, it was not enough to nerd (cross country) ski. And in fact it also rained during our stay, and THEN had the nerve to dump a huge pile of snow the day we’d planned to leave, which necessitated our leaving early so we weren’t snowed in. The worst.
I love snow in the city, so quiet and busy-dampening. I’m so grateful to live so close to a park big enough to ski in when there’s snow. We walk through that park all the time year round, but skiing is a different way to see it. My all time favorite is when the snow happens overnight and there’s a snow day, extra found time to ski in the morning and read and snuggle with cats in the afternoon. A gift.
And there’s the lingering climate dread that this warm winter brings, too. Flowers coming up all over the place, buds on the trees, it’s just not normal for the winter. I’m trying not to be all doom and gloom but wow, it’s challenging this year. I miss you, winter.
“How’re you doing?” “Fine, good, weird? It’s weird.”
Even though we’ve officially been empty nesters for more than 2 months, I still find myself having some variation on this conversation when I run into folks I haven’t seen in a while. And it’s definitely weird, though perhaps not as weird as it was initially. The grocery bill is lower, the apartment is quieter, there’s less to clean during chore time on Sundays. One of the cats was initially confused when I moved to a different chair at the dining room table, but he figured it out eventually (and is right now camped out on my lap as I type).
This should not have seemed so sudden, but it still does. I’m sure some of it has to do with apartment living, in which we’re all more in each others’ space than I was with my family when I was in high school (in a house in a suburb). And there’s the bigger kind of realization, too. I mean, kids grow up and become more independent (we hope). In reality this is (should be) neither sudden nor unusual. What did I think was going to happen?
It’s been weird and surprising to realize that I do have more time, suddenly, actually. On the run up to the start of the semester people would ask “What are you going to do with yourself after he goes away to college?” which completely puzzled me at the time. I mean, he wasn’t a kid anymore, he had a summer job and made (or warmed up) many of his own meals and did his own laundry and vacuumed his own room, what was I even doing for him anymore at that point? But it turns out they were right, I do have more time. Even though I still can’t quite figure out what I used to do with it before.
So three weeks ago I dyed my hair purple. Not all of the hairs, mind you — really it’s more like purple highlights, though since my hairs are now more gray than not there are some fairly bright purple areas along with darker purple areas. While it’s faded a bit it is truly purple, esp. near my face. I think the folks I live with are used to it now, but I still have moments when I catch a glimpse in my peripheral vision or look in a mirror and think omg! my hair is purple! When I put it up it’s clear that the purple’s mainly on the top layer of hair, and the effect is like my normal gray + brown mix with a puff of purple curls on top.
I kind of love it. I really love it.
For a variety of good, silly, and just plain outdated reasons, this is the first time I’ve ever dyed my hair, though I’ve long wanted to. One advantage to waiting this long is that the gray means no bleaching is required, the dye can go right onto the hair, which saves time and is less damaging so yay for that. I also spent some time thinking about colors. When I was much younger I wanted burgundy, then later a very dark blue. Green is my favorite color but I’m too pale not to look ill with green hair, I think. The kids are all rocking a lovely teal bluish-green this summer, which makes me think of mermaids, but I think I’m too old for that. Purple is MUCH more mature. :)
It’s been weird to have what the salon called “creative color” as my first hair dyeing experience and at my advanced age. My pithy response to folks’ comments has usually been “had a big birthday, not a tattoo person.” Just as I’m getting more comfortable with the usual less visibility for women of a certain age, I’ve done something that results in more visibility. Sometimes it’s been fun — an enthusiastic complement from a woman at the gym (who was wearing a purple shirt), texting photos to pals and getting right ons in return. Sometimes it’s been a bit nerve-wracking — I had a couple of meetings with administrators + others at work right after I did it, when the color was brightest, and I found myself wondering how it would go over (it was fine). Someone said it was cool, someone else said I was brave, lots of people liked it on Twitter.
It’s been fine, really, and I mean for real it’s only hair, right?* Though a recent conversation with a colleague who works in IT reminded me about how easy it is for women not to be taken seriously in male-dominated spaces, and I wondered again about the impact of purple hair, which I imagine many would put directly into the unserious judgement bucket. Another friend said my purple hair might normalize it a bit for others in the workspace, which I acknowledge may be true even as I internally am annoyed that normalization is even needed because our bodies, our business.
And I’m (as usual) probably overthinking this, anyway, because it’ll likely be faded completely by the time the semester begins in late August, when all of my usual meetings and commitments start up again. I’m already a bit sad about the fading and thinking about when I’d feel comfortable to dye it again (and maybe dyeing it at home?). But for now it is summer, and my hair is purple, and it is awesome. <3
I spent part of this year’s first summer Friday in Manhattan getting some of my hairs dyed purple (more on that in another post), which I just realized was the latest recent outing to NYC places from my past. I’ve been in NYC for longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere else, and while the Manhattan time was only the first 7 years, it looms large in my brain and personal history construction.
My Manhattany spring has included pizza with the CUNY Pie folks nearish to the location of grad school #1, lunch with two of my most-admired fellow department chairs only a few blocks from our old apartment in Chinatown, dinner just south of Midtown along a walking route I once took home from work, and hair stuff that had me walk by a building where we looked at an apartment when we were first moving here. That last one always makes me laugh: the apartment was on Crosby St. just south of Houston and it was a pretty 4th floor walkup with exposed brick and actually within our price range. But, as NYC newbies we were nervous about the location, which seemed too quiet and dark at night. Of course once we’d been here for a bit we realized how wrong we were — and we only learned much later that we could have been Bowie‘s neighbors!
The nostalgia that has accompanied all of these outings has taken me by surprise, though it probably shouldn’t have. Last week I found myself thinking about maps and augmented reality, layering the routes and memories of the me of 20+ years ago onto the NYC of today. Sitting in that restaurant near Midtown it struck me that our view was only of older buildings, no gleaming glass and metal buildings rising higher than anything else in the neighborhood, and it was easy to feel the past muscling in on the present. But the train home over the Manhattan Bridge brings the present back quickly, downtown Brooklyn awash in construction. The past is still present to me there, too — we used to buy our xmas tree in the space replaced by the huge arena where I attended not one but two graduations this year.
I’m sure it’s probably completely normal to feel like all time is the present when there’s a big life change about to happen. I think I’m looking for ways to fix memories into something like permanence, which of course is impossible. But I think I’m also trying to remember what things used to be like as a way to convince myself that things will be okay after the big changes to come. It’s not totally uncharted territory, just a new layer on the old map.
I am in an airport, on my way home from the first of three trips to the Midwest in an unexpectedly busy month of travel. This airport is relatively pleasant, as airports go: spacious, free wifi, not too crowded, decent food options. Wish we had more airports in NYC that met those criteria, but of course I really wish that I could take a high speed train to these places instead of flying.
These trips are all for good things, family and work and family and vacation (in chronological order). It’s busy, though, and there’s a part of me that wishes I could spend the next month snuggled on the sofa with the kittehs reading books (I have some reading goals this year that I’m already behind on), or finding enough fire lizards that I can trade them in for a fireproof tunic to make it to Goron City.
2019 has snuck up on me a bit. It’s a big year in life stuff that I’m only just now starting to understand is a big year. These 3 trips can sort of be characterized as the past, present, and future: my first trip back to my father in law’s house since my mother in law died; a conference where I’ll present a paper (followed closely by a presentation on my research at a dinner for an award I just won at work, which took me very much by surprise); and attending an accepted students program at a college my teen is seriously considering (plus some extra vacation days).
The nostalgia of aging has also really snuck up on me. Music has been an especially intense time travel drug recently. How is it possible that the songs I love in the Captain Marvel movie are 25 years old? And this song, released just this year, which I’ve been unable to stop listening to because it evokes a time in my life that seems so recent but is actually, literally, no joke half my lifetime ago.
So many feelings, I don’t even know what to do with all of these feelings.
It’s another quiet holiday break for casa mauraweb, for which I’m again grateful. We’ve done some xmasy things and some family visiting and saw some art and ate good food and have more good food and friends events planned for the next few days. I’ve also gotten some writing off my plate, which was needed and is making me feel better about the several (sigh) deadlines I’ve saddled myself with between now and early February.
Leaving town meant driving, so much driving, too much driving, it seemed to me. Though really any driving is too much driving for me at this point. I’m more prone to carsickness the older I get, and the nagging anxiety I have about climate change (and the role of cars and driving) has gotten louder this year for sure. It’s tempting to blame the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which revealed that warming is happening more quickly than (some) originally anticipated. But really my increased unease dates to my reading of this summertime NYT magazine article Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change. You might want to read it, though you might not, depending on your personal threshold for retroactive anger and despair.
Because wow, my fighting against despair brain is all about alternate timeline fantasies right now. What if all of those efforts in the 80s had worked to create policies that would slow down global warming? What if Al Gore had actually been allowed to take office? What if the US hadn’t invested so heavily in cars and highways at the expense of public transportation and trains? And the worst kicker, the ultimate gut punch, what if we had a federal government that was interested in figuring out how to deal with climate change rather than actively, cravenly, corporate-greedily speeding it up?
It all makes me angry in small ways as well as big ways. I have to travel to Cleveland for a conference next year, and I keep looking at train and bus routes trying to figure out some non-ridiculous way to get there without flying which just does not exist, no matter how many times I check the maps and schedules. Jonathan told me the other day that apparently the distance between Beijing and Shanghai is similar to that between NYC and Chicago, and there are 39 trains each day between the two cities, a ride that takes 4 hours. FOUR. HOURS. We took the train to Chicago once in the 90s; it took 18 hours (in the regular seats, not the sleeper compartments, because grad students) and also broke down and we had to change to a new train. But we got to see Neil Young eating in the dining car, because he apparently doesn’t fly, so yay?
The big ways are the scarier ways, of course. What will happen, and when? Unpredictability of weather and other natural disasters, for sure. Should we move? Should we not move? Who can tell? We don’t fly all that much, maybe a few times/year total for all of us for vacation/family visiting/work (just me). Should we stop flying completely? What else can we do? I firmly believe that we are outside of the realm of individual solutions, though I also think that as an individual I should keep on doing the things I’m doing already to reduce my carbon footprint.
Ugh, I hate to end on a down note, but it’s hard to find climate-related anything to be hopeful about. I will say that I’m looking to get more active in climate justice work this year, maybe call it a resolution? And I’m cheered by the work of the young folks behind the Sunrise Movement. You may remember them occupying Nancy Pelosi’s office after the midterm elections, and they’re doing urgent work pushing for policy changes to mitigate the effects of climate change. If you’re looking to donate before the end of the year and are as freaked out as I am about climate change, maybe consider a donation to help them keep up their good work?
I am angry, so angry, angry and sad, like so many people are right now. I am doing the things I can do to help push back against the things that make me angry and sad. It’s hard to write about those things — they are big and I feel small.
So instead I’m going to write my lingering anger and sadness about Grimes. The past two years have brought lots of moments of reckoning re: our problematic faves, some moments bigger than others. Since learning about her politics I haven’t been able to listen to Kate Bush, for example, even thinking about her makes me sad. Though not nearly as sad as I’ve been since Grimes and Elon Musk came out as a couple and I had to completely cut her music out of my life.
Yeah, it’s small potatoes compared to so much else. But it feels like a betrayal on so many levels. She’d been that rare woman in music who did almost everything herself, not only writing and performing her own music but also producing, mixing, etc. Her music is weird and poppy and dancey and electronic and weird; individual songs often involve many tracks layering and looping lots of different sounds, which I think must also make mixing a challenge. Many of her more recent songs hit that feminist rage note that is sometimes so necessary. She worked with other women in music who I love love love. And then she allied herself with a rich powerful white man who wants nothing more than to be more rich and more powerful. The patriarchy at work, ugh. (Though I have to say that the prospect of him creating some sort of spaceship to escape Earth and taking all of the other rich powerful greedy cruel white men with him is kind of dreamy.)
Her first two records were partially instrumental and kind of quiet, making them super useful for me for two distinct reasons: calming and writing. Sometimes when I’m feeling anxious or unsettled I gravitate toward electronic dance music — something about the way many EDM songs layer sounds on top of other sounds hooks my brain into listening very carefully which I almost always find soothing, like it’s occupying my brain just enough that I can’t be worried about whatever it was I was worrying about. This brain hooking is also very useful when I’m writing. I usually find it challenging to write in complete silence and gravitate toward instrumental music when I need to write something; singing is too distracting, though sometimes very melodious instrumental can also be distracting. Electronic music is generally a good accompaniement to my writing practice — even if it’s energetic — because it keeps my brain focused enough not to try to sabotage myself (because writing is hard, and, let’s be honest, it’s always a struggle to write).
I am still sad and angry, but recently what has been helping me get over my Grimes melancholy is the new record by Orbital, Monsters Exist. This is their first record since Wonky in 2012, which I listened to approximately 1 zillion times while writing up the results of the big project my research partner and I did in 2009-2011. The new record is terrific — lots of dancey stuff and quieter stuff and absolutely helping me out in both the calming and writing arenas. It’s hard to pick favorites but I really like the first track on the bonus disc, “Kaiju,” which starts off sort of minor key and scary and turns into something major and joyful midway, sort of like my favorite track on The Altogether bonus disc, “Beelzebeat.” “There Will Come a Time” has a spoken word track that’s a bit dire, but there’s also an instrumental version on the bonus disc which is lovely. And the singles are also terrific — I’ve found the video for the first single, “Tiny Foldable Cities,” to be intensely mesmerizing, combining both my love of Orbital with my love of urban landscapes.
I took a day trip to Philadelphia last week, down and back on the train (<3 the train), my favorite way to travel always giving me lots of thoughts to think. I’d taken a longer trip requiring several airplanes and airports the prior week, and while it was a good trip in so many ways (not least of which were the spectacular views out the airplane window) I will never not feel that train travel is the Most Ideal Way to travel.
As the train gets close to Philly the gleaming new skyscrapers pop into view. As someone who spent their pre-college years mostly in the Philly environs those tallest buildings in the city will always be new to me, even though Wikipedia reminds me that the unspoken rule that no building should be taller than City Hall (lest it block the view of the William Penn statue on top) was declared passe in 1986 when the first building to surpass it in height went up. How can it possibly have been that long ago? The same year that I saw New Order at the Irvine Auditorium on the University of Pennsylvania campus, which I’d forgotten until I found myself standing next to that building last week.
I’m feeling pulled in all the directions recently — middle age and imepending life changes making me look backward and forward, time feeling weirdly both fast and slow. The impacts of budget shortfalls at work overfill my days, sometimes making me miss with an actual physical ache the slower pace I was able to have during sabbatical nearly 2 years ago. (How was that almost two years ago already?) I keep starting books and having to pause them for long periods which is not a good way to read, distracting and slow, always playing catchup. I write postcards and more postcards in support of Democratic candidates because that is the way I can be active in this last push before the midterm elections.
Time for the good things is moving too fast, and too slow for the bad things. Aging, it’s a trip.