Current Affairs

The Magic of Windsong

People don't often want to know about or really hear your sadness or your fears.

They want to tell you it will be okay

but you already know that, you're a human with a big brain.

There doesn't seem to be a lot of room in the world these days - space

to be, to process, to work through.

When you find a place and a people who are doing the same kind

of working through as you - and who get it so much that they can't wait

to provide that same kind of experience for you,

well, that makes you want to hold on tight.

When those "people" include horses who can see, smell, and feel your

excitement, your anticipation, and yes, your nervousness too, and 

they are here for all of it to teach you things that will carry you 

your whole life through, well, that just might be heaven.

When there's a guide who is wise beyond her years, who wants to

create the place for you to have the space and takes the time to make

sure you notice the brilliance of all that you are learning, that, my friend,

is where the magic happens.

When it all comes together during the scariest time in our collective

lives, and we are at first joyous because it's a thing to do, an experience

to provide - in real life - and then we realize that the magic being

created will last long after the masks are gone, well, there really are

no words for that.

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I thought you should know

It's been a year.

More, actually.

Tears flow more easily.

I ache.

I am older, we are all older, except for those of us who didn't get the chance.

I can't quite place the metaphor yet.

My rich, white family has prospered by almost all accounts.

We have had annoyances, grievances, inconveniences, and losses of all kinds.

But not death, loss of life, job, security, family, or love - there may be more love.

We can (almost) see, touch, breathe a little more easily.

We're doing "our" part but it will never be enough. never. ever.

Knowing is not enough. Doing is not enough. Grieving is not enough.

Most moments I think we (you and them and me) will be stronger, better, kinder, closer as a result.

Still, I cry.

Too much.


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?
 

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.


Why I love my neighborhood...

I just ran out to the overpriced market across the street to get milk for my last "afternoon-coffee-that-will-keep-me-up-tonight-before-the-kids-come-back" to avoid the larger, less overpriced more crowded market a whole 2.5 blocks away to save a few minutes and some potential aggravation - including stairs!

Got the milk, made myself feel guilty when I saw the price, got 2 half gallons instead of one for no good reason and went to get in line. It was quite crowded - like, I had to wait. The gentleman in front of me had a NYC version of a full load of items (3 bags worth) which he took out of his cart one at a time and then was doing it for delivery so he had to fill out a form and it was taking a bit more time than usual...

While I was waiting, there was a ruckus in the line next to me and a customer was yelling for a manager and saying very loudly, "if she doesn't want to deal with the public she shouldn't work here...I'm the customer..." and more, including starting to call her names as he walked out of the store waving his arms and staring at everyone. I don't know what started it or who was right or wrong but my money is on the cashier not having done anything wrong...well, except, she did respond back with some swears after he called her swear names...but, I mean, come on.

The manager was there, told her quietly to calm/cool down, and then all I heard after that was customers offering support to her. Including the older gentleman in front of me (who, to be honest, I thought might have said something against the cashier based on an interaction I saw him start with an employee stocking shelves earlier, and just generally because I judged a book by its cover). He leaned over and said something about people being rude or something to that effect and then told her to try to keep her cool and not let them bother her.

No one - and there were quite a few around - really seemed to bat an eye, make a fuss, and she was thanking people. People say New York is this big scary place where everyone's anonymous. It's really not. Not when you live here. And, even sometimes when you don't. I know my neighbors (not the ones at the store today) and I believe in many small ways, we're all looking out for each other here* in ways not dissimilar from the best suburban and rural neighborhoods I know.

And, now I'm drinking my yummy iced coffee, with milk made from gold.

*Never was this more evident or meaningful than on 9/11, but that's another post or book altogether.


Village People

When we moved back to New York after a seven-year "hiatus," one of my 8 billion concerns was whether I would find "people like me" again. While I'm pretty outgoing, I've worked hard over the years to find and cultivate friendships with a variety of folks that feed me in different ways, friends whose lives I hope I add a fraction of the value to that they do to mine. This time it felt different. Since I had left town, I had gotten married, had my first baby, and was pregnant with my second. "Me" felt pretty significantly transformed since my last go round here. Not to mention, I had quite unexpectedly stumbled upon pretty special friends (read: lifelines) through my new moms group that I was pretty sad to leave (second only to my OB/GYN, therapist, and chiropractor).

Well, add this to the list of 7,999,999 worries that were a waste of energy (I really should listen to B more) - and not just because I found new friends, wonderful treasures, in different corners of my new life in New York, but also because, as I had been able to before, I "brought" many of my existing village with me. Not physically - that would have been uh-mazing - but many members of my village came with me via text and email and phone call and even long periods of silence because life just does that sometimes. And, it's exciting to think about new people who may join my village, for a night, a year, or forever. They're not all "just like me," and never have been, which is part of what makes them so perfect to be part of my village.

My "lightbulb" moment happened over the course of these past few weeks (Can lightbulb moments take weeks? It does take weeks for me to change lightbulbs.) when I was in the midst of obsessing once again about all sorts of micro and macro issues around work, family, identity, what "really" matters to me, what I want my life to look like today, tomorrow, forever. What I want my week to look like next week. None of these things are new obsessions for me - or for many members of my village to hear about, unfortunately for them. But most of my village knew that this particular moment was yet another step in my process of continuous figuring-it-out and trying to make the best decision when there is no right decision (or so I'm told). And, one by one, as I reached out, each member of my village dutifully stepped up to help me through it in his or her own particular way. And, it felt kind of awesome.

Luckily, I only engaged a fraction of my village on this one. This way only some of my village will still be too exhausted next week time I need. It also felt good (and always does) to be able to support some friends who needed me to play a more active role in their villages recently. #Callme.

Maybe it's come with age, or maybe I'm just too tired for this particular worry (most of the time) anymore, but it's finally dawned on me that my village - while made up mostly of individuals who aren't in each other's villages and who span generations, careers, family make-ups, and all sorts of other things - well, they'll always be my village. And while we may fade out of each other's villages over time and need and be needed with alarmingly different intensity and frequency, I just feel so damn lucky for having a village and finally recognizing that it doesn't actually have to consistently exist as a cohesive group in a physical space to work...though one of these days I am going to get my village together for an Oprah-worthy celebration...we'll wear white, there will be cocktails, and masseuses, and...

Thank you village. I love you.

PS - crossing this worry off the list gives me a lot more time to worry about other things like flying, kids' swimming at summer camp, over-under-scheduling children, work, childcare, finding time to work out and eat healthy on a consistent schedule, oh, and cancer. Thank goodness.