I usually wait for inspiration to move me to write, and then I write in a kind of fugue state. I leave myself behind and tap into something other. It is like I enter a place made of ideas and thoughts, feelings and truths. I can describe them to others while I’m there. When I write from that place, I feel like I’m sending back letters of hope to the world.
I haven’t been to that place in a long time. And I don’t think they offer curbside pick up.
This pandemic caught our attention just after a trip back to Los Angeles. We reunited with family and close friends. We filled our hearts with love and sunshine, cat cafés and beach days. Our friends had a party for us just because we were there. That filled my heart to overflowing.
I thought I was coming home to a new job working for the Center for the Advancement of Public Action at Bennington College. I had gone through several interviews and had been in touch with the hiring manager and the person with whom I’d be working closely. We had discussed my starting date, my salary, my schedule. The kids were about to start school at our local public school here. Their paperwork was submitted, and their start date was scheduled.
So when we got back to Vermont, our hearts were full. We had connected with our former home and returned to bright possibilities here. By the end of the week, the grocery store shelves were almost empty, and (though I didn’t know it at the time) that would be my last trip off our property for two months. The potential job was closed due to the virus. And like a Gilligan’s Island episode, we were homeschooling alone on the mountain again after thinking we had set sail toward a new, socially integrated lifestyle.
Despite the disappointments and cancellations, I felt incredibly grateful for all this land we have here, for the chickens who lay us eggs daily, for the fact that it was a mild spring and not in the 30s and sleeting. I was thrilled that we could get outside and be perfectly safe on our 64 acres. I felt full of appreciation that we could stop by farm stands and never interact with another human while obtaining fresh, locally grown produce. I thought, “Wow. We have a perfect set up for such a time as this.”
In the stay at home/lock down phase, I had a sense of camaraderie with everyone I saw online. People were posting funny memes about their apocalypse outfit being pajamas instead of superhero clothes. Ellen was doing puzzles and legos on Instagram. John Krasinki did his “Some Good News” show from his house. I found comfort in the fact that we were all in this together. Some had it way worse than others of us, to be sure. But I connected with the sense that we all were facing a crisis as best we could—which meant staying at home.
But then, with this second phase and all the nebulous and conflicting information (things reopening while the number of new cases is still increasing), it’s been difficult. Negotiating the psychological needs for relationships, purpose, meaning, and belonging with the very real need to keep people alive and physically healthy has been like a terrible math anxiety dream. Wading through the information out there feels like wading through a mosquito infested swamp. The buzzing and biting of mosquitoes are all the fights people are having while I’m online just trying 1) to find legitimate info and 2) to feel a sense of connection to others
And that’s not even mentioning how awkward it is to navigate the social protocol of who you let into a social bubble and who you don’t and who you report your decisions to and what warrants a report (like do you tell your bubble cohort when you go to the grocery store in a mask? Or do you only tell them if you see new people—but what about if it’s outside? Does it go in the report if you definitely stayed 6 feet apart AND wore a mask?).
Vermonters are taking the virus precautions very seriously. If we replaced the actual summer Olympics with a Covid Preparedness and Recovery Olympics (at least just among the United States) Vermont would take the gold medal. There is a different level of independence and individualism here than I’ve ever encountered in the other 4 states where I’ve lived. Being self-sufficient is kind of the Vermont vibe already. Which is great from a physical health and sustainability stand point. But DANG. It’s intense for those of us who aren’t actually Vermonters.
Partly this is also because we live on top of a mountain without any neighbors. So, when we get stay at home orders, we literally don’t see another human for months. I have to go a mile to the mailbox and when I pass neighbors in their gardens or am lucky enough to see the mail carrier, I wave like I’m signaling a plane from a deserted island.
Sometimes it’s also easy for my psychological needs to get tangled with trauma. For example, it’s really easy for me to experience loneliness (and definitely interpersonal conflict) as a sign that “I don’t belong here.” I also find that my self worth, sense of purpose, need for nurturing relationships—they all get tangled in a great, big ball. My go-to is to always think that means I need to move.
In a pandemic, an impulsive move across the country doesn’t seem like the wisest thing, so this is really requiring me to deal with all this stuff in place. That’s not my strong suit. I’m better “dealing with things” while I’m packing boxes and moving on to the next place I’m going to live. But I promised Collin that I wouldn’t do a panic run from this life choice. I promised him that if and/or when we move somewhere else, I’ll try my very best to wrap this life up well first.
A panic run is a real thing people do when they get lost. Getting lost is actually one of my worst fears and incidentally also happens to me somewhat frequently because I have a terrible sense of direction. I’ve worked on both psychological lostness and also navigation skills over the past few years.
One thing I learned from a very wonderful wilderness instructor was that the best thing to do when you’re lost is stop, sit down, and breathe. Once you are calm, empty your pockets. Look at what you DO have. Get creative about what you could use and how. He even demonstrated this and said “I could even use the edge of my credit card to brush enough fibers off my jeans to make some tinder.”
The point is: you look at what you DO have and you empower yourself with the sense that you DO have resources. You do NOT panic. And you certainly do not want to do a panic RUN. You will end up even more lost and it will be harder for others to find you.
So, there is my very real share. I’m not sharing it from a heightened place of marvel or awe. I’m sharing it from—where else would I be?—my house. I thought that perhaps it would bring some comfort to others who may be struggling in some way to know that I am too. It’s not easy. This is a really difficult year. I think it’s important to continue to connect with others and offer hope in whatever capacity we can. This is me turning out my pockets and not panicking. I found some words in my pocket and I’m sharing them here. It’s my way of building a shelter, a fire, and knowing that I do have what it takes to keep myself alive until I’m out of the woods, figuratively speaking (and also in reality because I literally NEVER leave the woods anymore).
This is my way of saying that this is STILL an “unprecedented time” as so many emails let us know in the beginning.
I’m going to try to keep writing a little more frequently because it’s what I can do to help myself (and maybe offer some hope to others) during this time.
“So ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” —Leonard Cohen