Last night I dreamed of open water. We went to the water hoping for solitude only to discover crowds of people everywhere. Relatives, friends, strangers, none of whom I dared approach, all of whom invaded the space I’d hoped to have. Then I found a vast expanse of bright blue devoid of people. The water was at a perfect temperature for me to wade waist deep without feeling cold. I was so pulled by the water that I didn’t even take time to change into a bathing suit and just let my clothes be wet, knowing I could dry them in the sun later. I walked in the water amid twisted, fantastical, beautiful trees. The light caught on these trees in ways that I photographed, and every photo was perfect.
I am awake now and I still feel the pull of that water. I catch my breath at the remembered beauty of those trees. Someday I will travel to an ocean again. Today I must content myself with my 1/3 acre of plants and trees just beginning to wake from winter’s sleep. Chilly gardening instead of sun-drenched water.
I have a list of tasks for today. It is a reasonable list and sits in a row with the reasonable lists from earlier in the week. Most days I do most of the things on my lists because I’ve manage to size my obligations to fit into my available hours under ongoing pandemic quarantine. All of it carefully paced to be sustainable over the long haul. It is smart. Yet this week I feel stifled somehow. The hours feel long and I keep shying away from tasks on my list. Some of that is the normal anxiety I feel in the few days prior to teaching an online class. I love the concept of this one (Networking for People with Social Anxiety) yet I worry that I won’t be able to do the topic justice, that I’ll fail to provide my students with sufficient value for their expenditure of time and money. Teaching the class also requires me to expose my own social anxieties. In order to teach I have to be vulnerable, and that is scary. Anxiety over teaching on Saturday doesn’t fully explain my mind state today though.
So much of my pandemic experience has been learning to focus on the short term because long term had too many variables in it. This week has forced me to face that same necessity through the end of 2021. This seems to be the week when events I’m associated with for late summer and fall are making decisions or announcing decisions about their format for this year. For example, Gen Con has shifted their date to late September and announced that they’ll be running a hybrid show with in-person, online, and pop-up aspects. In light of their announcement, I, as a vendor for the show, have decisions to make about whether I’ll commit my crew to attending an in-person event. I have to sit here in March and stare across six months of unknown variables relating to vaccination, Covid variants, public behavior, transmission rates, re-infection rates, international travel blockages, and the hazards I don’t even know to look for. Weighing all of those question marks, I have to come up with a decision that I can stand behind. Each variable has its own freight of anxiety, it’s own catastrophization tree of possible terrible outcomes. My anxiety gnaws at it all, and the only way to quiet the anxiety is to keep my physical life small, controlled. Which then leads to me feeling worried that I’m letting anxiety dictate my life. Perhaps I should be brave instead of safe. But facing anxiety is exhausting, and I know that need to decide upon a path that I can maintain for at least the next six months.
Looking at the decisions in front of me, I’m fairly certain where I will land. And as I write that sentence my eyes tear up a little bit for the losses. Last year loss was imposed. Everything was canceled and I was relieved to just flow along the choices of others. I could be sad without having to be responsible for causing the sadness. This year, standing in this week, I know I’m going to have to choose loss. I will either watch others have an event I stayed home from, or experience months upon months of frazzling anxiety which will interfere with my ability to work and feel happiness.
The general tenor of public discussion is cautious rejoicing because we’re reaching the end of the pandemic. I wish I could join in that hopefulness, but I remember how it felt when everything was canceled. I worry that some of these bright plans for Fourth of July events and fall conventions will have to be canceled. My instinct is to take much smaller steps into a wider world rather than rushing to reclaim as much as possible as soon as possible. So I sit here with my choices, and I grieve for what they will cost me, and I worry that my instinct for caution will prevent others from having their full reclaiming of life. Perhaps this year should be met with bravery instead of caution. Perhaps caution will save us pain, stress, and loss. We can’t know yet. And that is hard.
Today is my Pandemiversary. One year ago today I knew that everything had changed and I was fairly certain there would be no going back. Even very early on, I was working through my emotions trying to set up a pandemic life I could be happy inside for a year or more. I cried for losses before many people knew there were losses. A year ago today WHO officially declared SARS-CoV-2 (Covid 19) to be a pandemic, Disneyland closed its doors, the NBA called off March Madness, and church meetings were canceled. Prior to this day last year I lived in a world where none of those things seemed possible, then suddenly I lived in a world where they were real. In the evening I made a quick run to the grocery store to pick up bread and felt the urgency and panic in my fellow shoppers. Did I even have a mask at that point? I can’t remember. We all stood in a long line, six feet apart, made anxious by the shelves picked bare. It would be months before supply chains adapted and the shelves were re-stocked again.
Yesterday Howard got his first dose of Covid-19 vaccine. The fact of that is a testament to scientists, lab workers, and manufacturers who, without taking any risky short cuts, pushed this vaccine into existence twice as fast as we believed possible. I scheduled the appointment the very day that he became eligible. Him being vaccinated reduces our load of fear because he was the most vulnerable of my household. We know that even after vaccination we need to be responsible for reducing risks to others. Our behavior probably won’t change much, but not having to carry that fear makes everything easier.
President Biden announced that he wants every American eligible to be vaccinated by May 1st. The state of Utah already announced that it will open up vaccinations to all adults on April 1st. These announcements sound like good news, they’re certainly good for my family, however I can’t help but feel that my country has elbowed its way to the front of the vaccination line. I have friends in Canada who will have to wait into August or September. For other areas of the world it will be even longer. This is not fair. Over and over the pandemic has shone a light onto all sorts of unfairness. So guilt will be mixed in with my gladness when I’m able to make appointments for my household to be vaccinated. We will be adding to herd immunity, but I hope that someone in some other place doesn’t have to pay the cost for our benefit. I have no say over how much vaccine gets shipped to which location in the world. I can only follow the directions of my local public health officials and show up to get my shot when they say it is my turn.
We still have a long road ahead. I think it will be 2022 before we can see what post-pandemic normal looks like. I know I will be careful in deciding which things get welcomed back into my life and when. I need to see what happens to case rates when vaccinations make people over-confident. I need to see what impact variants have. I need to see whether the vaccine effectiveness sticks around for longer than six months. We’ve entered a new phase, which is not the same as being cleared to go back to life as it was. That life is gone, whats next is something new. Vaccinations mean that I won’t feel a stab of guilt or fear each time I interact with someone in my pandemic bubble. It means I can again visit with a friend or two outdoors from several feet away. It means my 18yo can seek a job without being afraid he’s risking his dad’s life. It means we can begin to address the agoraphobia that some family members have developed without having to simultaneously face down pandemic panic. Maybe I can walk inside a church building at some point this year. I’m not ready for much more than this. Not until I see how the next months play out.
I wanted to mark today’s pandemiversary in some way, have some conscious recognition of the year just past. I’d half planned to have a fire in my firepit out on my pandemic patio. Then task followed task: car maintenance, shipping packages, listening to emotions, spending time watching a movie with Howard, laughing at cats, bringing in the mail, cooking shared food. It was all so normal, and the hours slipped away. Now it is cold and I don’t really want to venture outdoors to light a fire. But perhaps letting today be entirely ordinary is a better answer to pandemiversary than creating a ceremony. A year ago the world changed, today it just continued forward. I can’t think of any better evidence for our ability to overcome and survive whatever comes next.
On Sunday morning I heard a blue jay yelling outside my front window. It is common to hear jays yell as they fly through the neighborhood, but the frequency and persistence of this yell declared “danger!” even to my uneducated human ears. I stepped outside to find the jay jumping in circles in one of my trees. A closer inspection showed me the small screech owl who was the focus of the blue jay’s ire. I waved off the jay so that the owl could sleep in peace. The owl elected to move to a different tree. All was calm… until the jay found the owl again.
This set the pattern for the entire day, quiet, interrupted by a jay screaming, me stepping out to chase off the blue jay, followed by a period of quiet. The jay was persistent. He not only came back again and again, he also attempted to gather other birds and jays to help him mob the owl. Chickadees, juncos, and finches all showed up to yell at the owl. Mostly the owl hunkered down, not taking flight, and not offering any returning attacks, even when the jay pecked at is feet.
I don’t know that the owl needed me to chase off the other birds, but I felt like attempting to defend him was important. Owls move through the world so quietly that getting to observe one in my own garden felt like a minor miracle. Particularly since his roosting spot let me get within five feet of him. These pictures were taken with a basic cell phone, that’s how close I got, but I was careful to watch his body language and back off when he seemed nervous about me. It was this careful balance, close enough that the other birds flew away, not close enough to cause the owl to take flight. There were several long stretches mid-afternoon where no birds came to disturb the peace.
When I talked about owl sitting on twitter, there was a side conversation about how blue jays can be real jerks. I suppose that is one interpretation of the jay’s behavior. Except, the jay was not wrong. The owl, even a small one, is a predator who will absolutely kill and eat other birds. Once night fell, the owl would have the advantage. During the day, with a crowd of birds, the day birds had a chance to drive the owl away from their territory. The entire nature play between the owl and the birds was each feathered creature following their instincts. When dark fell, the owl took off and I’m not likely to ever see him again.
I have one set of thoughts where I identify with the owl hunkered down in a place that was only sort of safe while bird around him yelled at him or pecked at his toes. I can draw parallels to social media experiences or pandemic. There is another set of thoughts about the birds who banded together to try to chase away a threat to their lives by grouping up and yelling about it, which feels parallel to protests and community actions I’ve seen in recent months. The blue jay was a leader / instigator, but all the birds played a part, and if they’d managed to get the owl to take flight, they could have driven him far away. As it is, he isn’t likely to pick my trees for his daytime roost again. I hold all of these thoughts loosely.
Mostly I look at the beautiful pictures of the owl and think about what a miracle he is. Look that those ear tufts! and those feet! I marvel that something so small could be alive. He flies about the world taking care of himself while I’m unaware. The world is full of such feathered miracles. The jays, chickadees, juncos, finches, and sparrows are all miracles too. My world is full of wonder, and I’m glad I got to see some of it up close for a day.
I had a thing to do. It was a simple thing, and yet I kept not doing it. So yesterday my oldest also had a thing to do and we joined forces. I went over to her house and helped her photograph these:
Keliana has been making them for the past several months, and hadn’t managed to get them into her etsy store. So we made a little assembly line to get individual photographs of each bubble tree. They’re in her store now. Then we also took photographs of a pile of necklaces that I’ve been gifted and will be gifting onward via Twitter later this month. The whole photography session took less than an hour, yet neither of us had been able to make ourselves do it prior to making the appointment. Brains are weird that way.
It has me thinking about inter-dependence and the value of community. We’ve all been running experiments in isolation during the pandemic to varying degrees. Old systems for getting things done broke down and we’ve had to build things new. As I looked at each little tree with its own bubble, I thought about how they are perfect pandemic art. Each tree both constrained by and protected by the bubble that surrounds it. Hopefully this batch will sell well so that Keliana will have the resources to make more.
It is sixty degrees outside today and the sun is warm enough for my to sit on the steps in a short sleeve shirt. We’re finally on the front edge of spring. In only a few weeks more my spring bulbs will bloom with all their joyous color. Spring is an escape from the cold and dark of winter. Life feels full of potential in more ways than one. Howard is scheduled for his first vaccine appointment on Wednesday. The person we’ve most been worried about catching the illness will soon have the start of an immunological shield. I expect my vaccinations are only a month or so out with the kids to follow. Utah keeps opening up to new groups faster than expected. On a personal level I am glad. Though the reason for speed of offering vaccines is because people who were eligible didn’t sign up. Herd immunity is going to require convincing reluctant people to get their shot. Now we have a whole new set of questions in our lives. Which things that we’d ruled out of our lives are safe to bring back? Once my household has vaccines, what comes next? Going back to church in person? Jobs for my young adults? Having friends over for outdoor visits again? We’d grown familiar with the pandemic boundaries. Now we’ll need to define new ones.
The emotionally complex decisions that will be necessary in the coming months do not take away from today’s joy in spring. I feel like the plants, just starting to wake up and rejoice in the sunlight. I spent winter, and the pandemic, growing some strong roots. Now I’m ready to put out leaves and bask in the sun.
In two weeks I’ll be teaching this class. I’m very excited about it and have been happily collecting notes and reference material. Next week I get to start organizing that material and putting together the lecture notes. I’ll be drawing from my personal experiences as a person with social anxiety, neuroscience, TED talks, and other source material. The focus will be on helping each class member be able to recognize when and where anxiety may be driving their behavior and how to deliberately counteract that anxiety so that they can connect with others. There will be a focus on professional networking situations, but friendship and professional networks often blend together, so building friendships is also a big part of the class.
I’m still working to fill seats in the class, maybe you’d like to join me?
It doesn’t look like we did much when you compare to the before picture, but it was a significant amount of drywall to tear out and the pantry ceiling was a sandwich of drywall and plywood.
So now we have a new pile of drywall to fit into our garbage can over the next week or two. Next stage is pulling down some of those 2x4s. I need to use some of them for the grape arbor I need to construct before the vines leaf out, so I have a deadline there. I’m increasingly of the opinion that we need to move the door into the garage. Which means learning how to cut a door hole, install a door, and move a set of concrete steps. Gonna be a lot of work, but I think if I don’t do it, I’ll be annoyed by it for a long time. And since the door is currently where I want the fridge. I think I have to figure out moving a door before I hire an electrician. Unless I hire a handyman to do all of it, which has some appeal. I’ll have to see what the tax return looks like so I know what budget I have available. I’ll also have to see if my go to renovation guy has any space in his schedule. I suspect he’s booked solid for months. We’ll probably end up doing it ourselves and just hiring out the electrical work.
It is not yet warm enough for gardening to be pleasant, and yet the signs of early spring are starting. In my patio garden bed I can see the hardy little pansies already beginning to bloom and the spring bulbs have begun putting forth foliage. In only a few short weeks I’ll have many flowers. I’ll also get to see which of the plants I shoved in the ground last fall have failed to survive the cold. Sometime between now and then I need to make time to go and clean up the leaves and detritus from winter. The first gardening chores are often in the cold. In fact some of these garden chores are cold-dependent. I need to prune the grape vines and fruit trees before they put their stored energy into growth that I chop off. So I need it to be cold long enough to get these chores done, but I am so ready for the world to be warm again.
I have been much distracted this past week with preparing for the class I taught on Friday. I was teaching a newer presentation, one I’d only given a couple of times, instead of one I’ve given dozens of times over many years. The fact that it was about finding a good creative balance with Social Media (a nebulous topic with an ever-changing landscape) added difficulty to the endeavor. Which is how I found myself feeling some social media and promotional burnout while trying to drum up enough interest that I’d have more than a single registrant in the class. In the end most of the people who attended fell into the “friends and family” category, which was nicely illustrative when I had to answer the question “How do you get the word out?” Answer: start with the network you have and be patient when it feels like your efforts aren’t expanding beyond that. Because even the friends and family who showed up did so not because of relational obligation, they showed up because I had something to teach which was useful to them. I have to say that last bit out loud to push back against the social anxiety in my head which would have me disbelieve my own value.
This weekend I am supposed to relax. Rest my mind from preparing for class, promoting the class, and anything else related to the class. My mind does not rest easily. Ever. It constantly gathers information, evaluates, makes connections with other information, and then moves onward to gather even more. This is one of the reasons that social media like Twitter are woven into my life. It is a constant flow of information, and most of the tidbits are markers to deep wells of science, theology, history, etc. I dive down so many rabbit holes. But I was supposed to be resting, not collecting new information and processing it for the next time I teach about social media, nor gathering pieces for the presentation on networking and social anxiety next month. I’m supposed to be resting. One of the only ways I can get my brain to hold still and shut up is to feed it a flow of story. But it can’t be a new story because there are things to react to and process in a new story. Instead I pick a show I’ve watched before and turn it on to keep my brain occupied while my hands and body are doing something like crochet or dishes. This is not what most people picture when they think of taking a rest day.
One of the problems I’m having with resting right now is that I’m not physically active enough. With the exception of driving for a few necessary errands, my life is bounded by the walls of my house. In the winter I barely even step outside into the yard. I need to change that for all sorts of mental and physical health reasons, yet somehow the addition of cold amplifies all the other small obstacles to going out. In the winter I have to put on a coat and brace for cold instead of just stepping outside the door. The obstacle exists even if it feels stupid. When I can get myself outside and involved in a physical project, my brain will shut up some. This is why I’m looking to next week and hoping that the weather will cooperate enough for me to attack some vines with pruning shears. I have friends who want grape cuttings. And I have gardening plans around building better structures for my vines to climb. I look out my windows and think “I really ought to get started on that” but then fail to put on shoes or coat.
In my preparations for talking about social media, I looked through resources on ADHD. Any time I do, some of the behaviors and issues sound so familiar to me. I’ve just spent three paragraphs describing my brain as a noisy place that won’t rest and seeks constant input. Yet I don’t have ADHD. I live with people who do. I have many friends who do. I resonate with their energy and some of their adaptive solutions also work really well for me, yet the list of ADHD traits I don’t have is longer than the list I do. Some other descriptor is a better fit for how my brain works. Even though I was supposed to be resting, I ended up in a rabbit hole of TED talks. I listened to Jessica McCabe talk about what it is like to live with ADHD. It is a good talk and at the end of it I thought “I’m so glad that exists as a reference.” Then I clicked to another talk and listened to Jordan Raskopoulos talk about living with high functioning anxiety and thought “Everything she says is about me.” So I guess I found a better descriptor for how my brain works. Another click led me to Dawn Heubner talking about facing fear which had me making all sorts of notes for next months presentation. All those rabbit holes are full of really amazing stuff, they just aren’t restful.
Sometimes a thing that helps my brain to slow down and rest is if I let it dump all the thoughts into words. Pin all the loose ideas down into sentences and paragraphs. Something about that process makes my mind able to let go of the thoughts. They’ve been saved and won’t be lost. Which is why you’ve just read this exceedingly rambly post about all the things in my head while I’m trying to have a restful weekend.