Pretend

LD Optical Illusion Art Spring 2020

[written sometime in April 2020]

New York doesn’t let you pretend.

You live here to imagine, to hope, to believe in something better, but you cannot pretend. It’s why those of us who love it here love it so much, and why others can’t imagine living here. In normal times, you can’t pretend; in pandemics, you can’t even dream of it. 

Inside your apartment is your life in a box. If you’re lucky, you love the people inside the box and they love you. You have food and drink and heat and cleanliness. If you are extra lucky, you have quiet and comfy places to sit and sleep.

You are extra lucky.

The minute you go outside you know how lucky you are. In a pandemic, when you hear a siren, or a bird, you know it’s not normal times. And the things you’re grateful for in normal times feel so insane now. You see the top of a tent on your daily “escape” walk to the park. A woman yells for help that she’s HIV positive on the corner and it feels even worse than in normal times.

That you as an individual - that we as a people could be so ill-equipped in a moment like this, that the fragility you have thought about in your most imaginative moments is as real as you feared. That might be the part that stings the most.

As a self-proclaimed realist that others call pessimist, you’re comforted by the fact that no one here has any time to pretend. These same people will be the ones to lead us out of this mess. 

Eyes wide open. 

You often roll your eyes when you think someone is believing their own hype. New York may do just that to get to the other side of this. You couldn’t imagine it any other way.


Mom as Yogi

H Whale L FishEach day during our time in isolation, I click on an article or ten in hope of reading it later. Some sit and languish until I eventually read them or decide they are no longer relevant or worth my time. Last week, I clicked on one, and knew I had to prioritize it sooner rather than later. As someone who has practiced yoga on and off for 20+ years for the Eastern and the Western reasons, and someone who fell for the Bhagavad Gita in college thanks to a philosophy class and a Hindu best friend, We All Must Become Yogis (American Scholar) brought me to tears this morning.

One of the many ironies of the pandemic is the way it has intensified our awareness of how little control we have over the future. It has intensified our awareness; it has not created uncertainty. In our pre-pandemic world, we reassured ourselves with the story that we were in control. The pandemic refutes such blindness. Change is the constant. We cannot weave a different story now. 

In my never ending quest to become a better person and a better wife and a better mother, primarily through trying to be less mean, less yell-y, less reactive, I have drilled into trying to "be still" as much as possible during this shit storm of the unknown. I was speaking about it with my sister yesterday, and how I am trying to practice with vigilance what Jennifer Sinor describes so beautifully here:

From my seat beneath the ash, “I hate you” becomes “Will you hold me and tell me that everything is going to be okay?” When I am able to still my body and really listen, then the only possible action I can see is to move toward him while the Earth spins beneath my feet, the ash grows toward the light, and the virus spirals through the air. I leave my seat to find my son, invested in the action but surrendering the results.

If I'm able to carry one thing consistently into a post-pandemic world, it is this. Also, I took the Bhagavad Gita off my shelf and put it on my nightstand weeks ago. Tonight, I will start reading again.

 

 


We, the people, deserve better

Trump Building Columbus CircleI just finished reading Pro Publica's Two Coasts. One Virus. How New York Suffered Nearly 10 Times the Number of Deaths as California, and we, the people, deserve better.

This isn't just about NYC or SF. This isn’t about political parties or small towns or big cities. This is about how, what the most optimistic of us in this country believe about public service for the public good, turns out not to be true. Leading is hard, full of difficult decisions, ones that many of us would never want to have to make. So many leaders on the local, state, and national level have failed to make the right decisions, when presented with data from scientists and experts who have spent their entire CAREERS studying the very specific realities with which we are now faced. 

“They are the experts in this world, and so with every decision I’ve made, I had to feel confident in the science and the facts and the data,” she said. “They’re the ones who understand this stuff and know what’s going on and what it can do. And I trusted them.” - Mayor London Breed, San Francisco

Whether based in ego, or fear for their chances in the next election, or some other consequence that was not DEATH, it just makes me so very sad and filled with rage. I have spent much of my career and personal life helping leaders communicate with each other and with the people who depend on them (in much lower stakes situations) in timely, detailed ways that provide direction, guidance, and clarity. There is ZERO excuse for our elected leaders to not do the same. 

Information sharing in the midst of a pandemic halted.

Leaving so much up to individuals to figure out what to do, how to behave, wonder if they’re being paranoid, or taking too many risks, has created and deepened divides that have become so much more evident in recent years - and it has cost lives. While the individual stories of charity and hope should not be ignored, they should not have been needed in the way they were. We are better than that. We deserve better.

While we are still in the thick of this (though some think we’re not) I plead with those in office and those who work for and with them, to truly reflect on the mistakes made - and admit, at least to yourselves, that mistakes were made and improvements are needed - so that WHEN (not if) this happens again, or something worse, you do not repeat them. Get your s*!$ together. Listen to the experts. Work together even if you don’t like each other, especially if you don’t like each other. Communicate. Do better. Our lives depend on it.


How Will the Coronavirus End...

Following are excerpts from a recent article in The Atlantic about the coronavirus pandemic. In it, Ed Yong reflects on our history and the way we think about emergencies as an American culture and imagines two futures. Today, I'm choosing to believe the more hopeful one.

 

Veterans of past epidemics have long warned that American society is trapped in a cycle of panic and neglect. After every crisis—anthrax, SARS, flu, Ebola—attention is paid and investments are made. But after short periods of peacetime, memories fade and budgets dwindle. This trend transcends red and blue administrations. When a new normal sets in, the abnormal once again becomes unimaginable. But there is reason to think that COVID-19 might be a disaster that leads to more radical and lasting change.

 


 

One could easily conceive of a world in which most of the nation believes that America defeated COVID-19. Despite his many lapses, Trump’s approval rating has surged. Imagine that he succeeds in diverting blame for the crisis to China, casting it as the villain and America as the resilient hero. During the second term of his presidency, the U.S. turns further inward and pulls out of NATO and other international alliances, builds actual and figurative walls, and disinvests in other nations. As Gen C grows up, foreign plagues replace communists and terrorists as the new generational threat.

One could also envisage a future in which America learns a different lesson. A communal spirit, ironically born through social distancing, causes people to turn outward, to neighbors both foreign and domestic. The election of November 2020 becomes a repudiation of “America first” politics. The nation pivots, as it did after World War II, from isolationism to international cooperation. Buoyed by steady investments and an influx of the brightest minds, the health-care workforce surges. Gen C kids write school essays about growing up to be epidemiologists. Public health becomes the centerpiece of foreign policy. The U.S. leads a new global partnership focused on solving challenges like pandemics and climate change.

In 2030, SARS-CoV-3 emerges from nowhere, and is brought to heel within a month.


Moms Can't Cry

Rain on Window March 23 2020Moms can't cry.

Not during pandemics.
Or earthquakes.
Or scary rashes.
Or high fevers.
Or stomach bugs.
Or actual wars.
We're not allowed. 
We are the compass.
The mirror they look to to make sure it's all going to be okay.
It's exhausting. 
Too much really.
We can sing and dance and help with math.
And say it's safe to eat the fruit and play basketball.
Just the four of us.
Even though I'm not sure.
My body aches.
My heart hurts.
It's all going to be okay.
Right?
 

Grateful for Headaches

IMG_8158Head. ache.

I started getting "migraines"on the regular shortly after I turned 40 a few minutes ago. I had also started running to join H in a race (but not really join since he was nearly done with that race before I started) so of course I told myself that I shouldn't run because that was clearly the cause. It wasn't. 2+ years later, specialists, tracking, medication, etc. and I still get them and don't have something that "cures" them in the moment. About 2 a month. I don't like to call them migraines for some reason. I think they're tension headaches. I don't want to be labeled. 

Anyways, I have one right now. Started last night when I went to bed early because I had stayed up beyond too late the night before, a very rare occurrence these days. Was dull but not going away. Meds were not touching it. Got worse throughout the night and by the time I got up this morning, I knew a day at the office was not in the cards. I will work today. I am not sure how long I will last. I am stressed at the amount that "needs" to get done and the constant feeling of being behind. But that's for another post.


This is where the grateful comes in:

  1. I was able to make a decision.
  2. I was able to make a decision that I wasn't going to go into the office today.
  3. I was able to go in to the office, get my stuff, and come home.

In the daily life of privilege I lead, I don't always remember the grateful. I try, but it doesn't always happen with the logistics and scheduling and rescheduling and mapping of responsibilities in our family, most of which still fall on the older two of us.

I am so lucky to have a job, a boss, colleagues, finances, location, partner, and the trust of others to make todays like this possible. Headaches suck. I am so lucky.

I am also grateful for the lovely MTA employee on the subway platform that shared a good morning smile with me on the way into the office and recognized me on the way back just 20 minutes later and acknowledged me again. "What are you doing back? Did you forget something?" Yes, yes I did.


Fly, Birdie, Fly

Henry run away on beach 2015People often say that as your children grow up, you have to let them go, let them fly. For this anxious mother, I have to let them go so that I can fly too.

It was the fall of 2011. My three-year-old was in preschool five whopping half-days per week and it was glorious. He had gotten a coveted morning spot which worked exponentially better for all of our schedules - including his one-year-old sister - than the two afternoons per week the year before. In one of our first weekly updates from the teacher, she announced they would be going a class field trip to a nature center. Out of town. On a school bus. What?!?! School itself didn't stress me out, but field trips off the island were a whole other story.

I did what any normal neurotic, anxious, fearful-of-death mother would do and got to work looking up laws about seat belts and car seats on school buses in New York! I mean, the West Side Highway and Saw Mill River Parkway are essentially race tracks! And buses tip over - like, all. the. time. It turned out that it was in fact against the law to put a three-year-old on a bus not in a car seat. Phew. I could couch my fear in the law - one of my favorite things to do! I'm not crazy. SEE! It's right here. But I didn't want my kid to miss the trip. So, of course, I drove him in our car. Yes. I. Did. He was too young to be embarrassed and I was too proud and self righteous and it was a great trip. And the bus didn't crash so those other kids got lucky too.

Flash forward to 2017. My now nine-year-old has been on countless school trips. I went on a lot of them in the early days. I was anxious about things like crossing streets and likely things like him falling off the subway platform. As time went on, I admitted to myself that I HATED going on field trips. It's not fun to be in charge of other people's children. It's not fun when kids misbehave or feeling like I have to tell them what to do. It's not enjoyable being vigilant. It's exhausting. It's not fun losing all the (flexible yet demanding) work time and figuring out how to get it all done. I still go sometimes - in a pinch - or if he asks - because I know I'm lucky to still be asked and because I get to learn cool stuff and because my schedule allows it.

I think part of my lessened fear and anxiety has had to do with my son getting older and me being more ready for him to do more as he experienced more of life without me and still came home at the end of the day. I had always worked, but mostly part-time and mostly from home, with him with a sitter within 5-10 blocks if not in another room for his early years. As he spent more time at school, with friends, at activities, I could breathe the tiniest bit deeper when he was away from me. My brain also had become occupied with more - juggling more work responsibilities and a second child left just a little less time to obsess and worry. 

I've also actively worked on reducing my anxiety. For this particular representation of it, a few months of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT*) was very helpful. I was going for pretty intense anxiety around some health challenges (other posts to come) and did some work to transfer some of what I was learning to the "I'm afraid my kid is gonna die" anxiety. I have been a fan of talk therapy for nearly 20 years and gone on and off over the years. After trying the medication route with not much success, CBT was recommended and I was in fact the prime candidate my doctor thought I would be. It's not perfect, and as my CBT therapist had to tell me more than once, his goal was to help me REDUCE the anxiety, not ELIMINATE it (which had always been, and still is - don't tell him - my goal). There would be spikes and valleys, he said. And there are. But thanks to that work, for the most part, I've been able to get down from the spikes more easily and more quickly than before.

He is on a trip to Ellis Island today. I don't even know how they got to the boat. 

I better go make a call.

*I did not plan to mention CBT in this post and this is not an endorsement of it. It has been helpful to me, as have lots of other things. I'm certainly not a qualified medical professional and it would make me anxious if you thought I was.


Inside Outside Upside Down

A couple of years ago, I tried this daily journaling "thing" and, while challenging for a bunch of reasons, it was also a positive experience. On the eve of my 40th birthday, I'm going to try it again. The first topic is Journey, with the following quote:

“There is only one journey. Going inside yourself.” — Rainer Maria Rilke

Going inside is crucial. But if you don't take what you learn when you go inside and use it on the outside, does it really matter what your journey is? Of course it matters, but in my own personal journeys inside - down rabbit holes and up to the sky - I am often focused on how I will use what I'm figuring out to do better, see more, help others, live a more peaceful existence. Is the Western in me too strong to just be? To just journey for the sake of the journey? I find that almost incomprehensible, though very appealing. To journey for the sake of the journey. I almost felt that way once, backpacking through Europe. But even then, it was about learning, expanding, deepening, and it changed the course of my life and the way I look at so many things forever more. I could not "unsee" or "unlearn" or "unknow" the things I had experienced and come to recognize. The same can be said of becoming a mother - for sure. While that journey is more outward in its daily expressions, it is beyond a doubt an inward journey of learning so very much that I never even knew could exist before I was living it.

And, now, today, on the eve of my 40th birthday, I begin to think about the new journeys ahead, the years, the moments, the experiences, the ambitions that I'm finally allowing to reawaken step-by-step, moment-by-moment, trying to remind myself that as so many things, this journey is not linear. It's not meant to be. It doesn't have to be. It would be less revealing if it were. I am still and likely always will be terrified of something or many things, because, that, that is part of me and I think always will be. But I am certainly pushing myself in new and different ways to tell the fear to wait a minute, an hour, a day - because I have something more important to do, to figure out. I have a journey to go on and I don't know where it's going to take me quite yet, but perhaps that's the point. If I keep telling myself I can't wait, perhaps this is the moment I will start believing it's true.


We Are All Wounded

We are all wounded.

Some of us more obviously than others.
Some of us more deeply.
But we are all wounded.
 
It's shocking really.
With all the wounds we have
that we can look so unwounded,
so healthy, so full of life, so
every day "normal."
 
We really should be applauding 
and applauded.
Each. And. Every. One. Of. Us.
Every. Day.
 
It's kind of messed up that we 
bring these tiny beings into the 
world, knowing that they too
will be wounded. Immediately. 
 
And often. 
And that they'll wound us.
Even more.
 
It's not so simple as us wanting
them to unwound us or fix our 
pain.
 
But rather. We know.
Even with all the wounds.
The pain.
The fear.
 
This place, this life, the magic, 
the other wounded beings.
 
It's all worth it.
 
Tend to your wounds. Help
others heal from theirs - or
at least.
Distract them from the pain.
 
Remember.
Acknowledge.
 
Try not to wound yourself or 
others on purpose.
 
This is what matters.
 
by Karen Dahl
written at the Genius Bar on Friday 1/15/16. I should have my phone confiscated more often.

Partnership

 

Thank you.

 

For making it possible for me to do this important work.

For making it possible for me to do this important work.

 

I feel lucky.

 

To be the one who gets to pick her children up from school.

To be the one who gets fly away for an exciting project at a moment’s notice.

 

It is special.

 

When I get to be the one to fly away for an exciting project at a moment’s notice.

When I get to be the one who gets to pick his children up from school.

 

Thank you.


For taking care of us, often at the detriment of your time, your energy, your space, your you.

For taking care of us, often at the detriment of your time, your energy, your space, your you.

 

I wanted you to know I see you.

 

How hard you work. Every. Single. Minute. Of. Every. Single. Day.

Putting on your brave face every day. Your calmness when there’s a storm inside. Your certain tone when you don’t know the answer.

 

Sometimes it feels like.

 

We’re plodding along.

We’re ships passing in the night.

 

I didn’t want to let another moment pass without saying it.

Too far apart to see, to feel, to touch.

 

I love you. Thank you.

I love you. Thank you.

 

___

I wrote this for Brian and me today. I think I/we needed it. xo - kdahlface