Our Post-pandemic Lives Start Now

Dreams, promises, etc.

The last time we spoke, I was riding the post-New Year’s high. Like everyone else in my social network, I was determined to make 2020 my year, despite the fact that I was barreling headfirst into my busiest semester of grad school.

Then coronavirus happened. The dreams I’ve been tending to over the past couple of years like my own private garden were suddenly impossible. Celebratory tattoo? Lol no. Dinner at my favorite Italian restaurant? Guess again! Movie night with my best friends? Sure, but only if you’re comfortable with video chat—which I am most definitely not.

It’s hard. But I’ve come to the conclusion that some part of my anxiety-riddled animal brain has been preparing for this sort of global catastrophe. By the time COVID-19 reached the U.S., I had resigned myself to months in self-isolation. I was ready. Sulky, as you can imagine, but oddly lackadaisical about it. Que sera, sera, as the old saying goes.

But it’s hard. People are dying. The internet is bloated with apocalypse jokes and well-meaning societal critiques. I have a tendency to withdraw when things get tough. Logging onto social media is exhausting. But what else can I do? Throw in the towel and embrace monasticism? The romantic in me could, under the right circumstances, embrace that vibe, but I’m still a human being with a deep need for connection and community.

It’s hard. I’m angry and sad and bored as hell. Everyone in my orbit is obsessed with Animal Crossing, and I’m stuck with the less desirable Sims 4, thanks to inaccessible gaming platforms. I spent a couple of days putting together a tiny home, with a garden and a clothesline and a box for my bees. I am pleased to announce that, after five hours of gameplay, I have finally realized that you can travel to places outside your hometown. Yesterday I enjoyed a night at the city park, with a crackling fire and a telescope to boot.

I don’t think that everything happens for a reason. But I’m trying to find meaning in this, even if it’s meaning of my own invention. Maybe this is God’s way of forcing me to work on my book. Maybe I’ve been holding things too tightly, and this period of quarantine is an exercise in letting go. Maybe I’ve been lying to myself this entire time, and I never actually intended to do all the things I said I would after graduation, like write and network and dye my hair.

I’m not a social person. I like my house, and my book, and the handful of people who gather around my dining table twice a month. I like quiet and blue skies, dresses and Keds and the plant section of our local Home Depot. I tried for years to be something I wasn’t, and all I got out of the deal was a particularly traumatic incident in my middle school cafeteria. I have long since accepted the consequences of social anxiety.

But I still want connection. I wouldn’t have spent three years and an obscene amount of money on an M.A. in Community Care if I wasn’t deeply invested in the bonds we form with other people. I’ve dedicated an entire section of my Notion to community—facilitating it, sustaining it, if-you-build-it-they-will-come it.

I realized last night that, yes, I should probably work on my book. I should probably see this time as an opportunity. So much of therapy is opening up to possibility and unlearning all of the ways you hamper your own growth, so of course I’m seeing this global mess in terms of potential for self-improvement. But I’m also starting to wonder if this entire pandemic is meant to mirror all my faults, namely my propensity to settle. 

I push myself. A lot. But I also settle. A lot. When I think about after—months from now, when the curve has flattened and I can go for walks without crossing the street two times in two minutes just to avoid an elderly couple in activewear strolling hand-in-hand down the sidewalk—I think about my friends. The people I love, and miss, and want so desperately to exist with in the same space. I think about all the weekends spent rearranging Pinterest boards when I could’ve been watching that one episode of Merlin for the eighth time in two months with my very best friends.

I’m wary of finding meaning in tragedy. It’s so easy to invalidate people’s trauma response by insinuating they can find meaning in anything if they just look hard enough. Many will not survive this pandemic. Others are too busy wrangling kids and working from home or wondering how they’ll make it through the next few months without a job. I am safe in my suburban neighborhood, with elderly couples in activewear and people yelling across driveways. Meanwhile, inmates are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus.

But I think that, at least for me, a lesson can be found in this pandemic. I think many of us will look back on this era of social distancing with keen, almost painful realization. We as a society are unlearning practices that are no longer sustainable. We are discovering what really matters. We are stuck in the present but are looking to the future with a better idea of what is possible, like working from home, and healthcare for all, and clear skies.

I’ve been trying to locate the root of my anxiety. I miss my friends so hard it hurts, yet I was perfectly content to avoid them for weeks on end back when things were normal. I am more or less done with school, which means I have time to do the things I said I would. But the things I said I’d do are scary. Editing my book is a long game, relying heavily on the assumption that people are interested in what I have to say. Networking is exhausting. I’m reminded of high school, sitting at the back of the classroom and wishing desperately that I was likable enough to be part of the cool kid group. Even reading—terrifying, as I come face-to-face with impossible talent that leaves me feeling cowed.

I watched Little Women yesterday for the first time. Everyone told me I needed to see it: “It’s about a writer! And finishing your book! That’s your jam!” I had every intention of seeing it in the theater, but time got away from me, which led me to me and my parents on a snowy Easter Sunday, gathered around the fireplace and watching Little Women.

The youngest of the March sisters, Amy, is talented, beautiful, and a little bit vain. She accompanies her aunt to Europe and focuses on her painting for a while, with dreams of becoming a great artist. At one point, however, dissatisfied with her progress, she gives it up altogether: “I want to be great or nothing.”

I don’t subscribe to that mindset. I never have. But it still struck a chord with me, I think because I have lived so much of my life in a bittersweet state of fear and desire. Wanting the world, but afraid to go after it.

Wanting to write, but afraid I’ll flop.

Wanting to make friends, but afraid of rejection.

Wanting, but putting my wants aside, because I’m busy with school, there’s always tomorrow, pushing myself will only lead to burnout.

But now the world is still. We are waiting with bated breath—we cannot go back, but forward is possible. We can go forward if we have a vision. I am regretting every Saturday spent rearranging Pinterest boards, years of passive engagement on social media because I can always start later, right, after school, after the pandemic.

If anything, the coronavirus has taught me that after is an illusion. After is now—this moment, this space between heartbeats. So I write. I work on my book, afraid of querying, of letting people see the garden I’ve been tending for a decade. I log onto social media, afraid of rejection, weary of “always being on,” but knowing that my vision is community and connection. I tell my friends I miss them. I dream of post-coronavirus movie nights, sessions around my dining table, existing in the same space as the people I love. And I promise myself that things will be different once this is all said and done. I will do the things I want to do, and I will do them gladly, remembering a time of disconnection and Easter blizzards, social distancing and interior design on the Sims.

My post-pandemic life starts now.

What’s going on?

I know I said I wasn’t going to transfer my website to a different platform, but I got the idea to host an interactive, resource-filled landing page via Notion. You can peruse my portfolio, my projects, and my personal resource directory, where I save everything from poems to articles on mindfulness and mental health.

If you follow me on social media, you’ll notice that I’ve been talking a lot about my book. I’m currently editing the first draft, and part of my accountability process is documenting the daily grind. I have an interactive #WaxingCrescent wiki on my website, with a synopsis, character bios, and more. I also added the book to Goodreads, which is a big step and honestly surreal. I would love for you to add it to your tbr—more adds equals more visibility!

I recently chatted with my Genentech contact and am so excited about the future of #SMAMyWay. I’ll be able to share some content with you soon, but in the meantime, I am still writing weekly columns over at SMA News Today.

Everything I love

There are no words for a tragedy on this scale. There are no words for tragedy, period. But know you are not alone. Do what you can, look after yourself, and please feel free to comment on this thread and let me know how you’re doing. I would love to hear from you.

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Floral masks (health but make it fashion), dreams of the Jo March variety, and six feet between loved ones,

P.S. Join me in capturing your hope for the future in a Pinterest board?