west for the winter

If you told me last November that right now I’d be living in Hawaii, with my grandma as my sole roommate, working remotely for a tech company, in the middle of a global pandemic…well, I wouldn’t have believed you.

But, by April of this year, if you told me the same thing…well, I probably would have believed you. Allow me to explain.

This spring, my traditional “plan ahead” mentality came up rough against the unpredictability of COVID and our rearranged world. At first I thought I could still plan six months in advance. But soon the gravity of this thing set in. I readjusted my planning-perspective to two months out. Next time I looked up, the world was flat on its back. My timeline became one month out. Then, three weeks. By August, I couldn’t think more than a few days ahead. While not totally dissipated, my “plan ahead” mentality had been beaten into the Earth by reality. And my willingness (dare I say enjoyment) for continued spontaneity had shot through the roof.

So when, in early October, Grandma and I were sitting by the ocean in Santa Cruz and she threw out the idea of “going to Hawaii for the winter,” it didn’t sound as unreasonable or impossible to me as it would have a year ago. Nor did it sound too last minute to me, as it may have at the beginning of this whole pandemic-hoopla. In fact, it sounded totally reasonable, possible, and right-on-time.

(Literally the day/time/place we cooked up this plan, sitting on West Cliff in Santa Cruz.)

Within the span of a few weeks, we’d purchased out-bound flights for the first week of November and found a condo on the Big Island to rent through the end of January. My sister and Grandma coerced a way for her to take care of Grandma’s dog Sugar while we were gone. And I subtly informed my bosses that I’d still be working PDT hours – but from the Hawaii time zone for a few months. (Conversations which I navigated with the utmost humility. After all, “I’m going to live with my grandma in Hawaii for a few months” comes-off differently than “I’m going to live with my grandma in Boston/Denver/Minneapolis for a few months”)

After sorting out the logistics of dogs and work (two of the most important things in life, I’ll note), there was little additional coordination required for our westward migration. Part, in thanks to COVID’s radical simplification of our lives, and part as a result of the life stages that Grandma and I are both at. Me: without a dog, spouse, children, lease or mortgage…and with a currently-remote job. Grandma: without a spouse or children relying on her (if anything, she’s relying on the grandchild, a’hem, *me* here 😉 )…and with the forced-flexibility of all her social engagements already moved to Zoom (Mahjong, chair yoga, women’s group, *multiple* book clubs, film club…the list continues).

The only real logistical hassle to navigate was getting onto Hawaii itself. The islands opened to visitors in mid-October, requiring double-testing and proof of negative results to bypass the previous 14 day quarantine that had kept non-residents out since the spring. This involved us scrambling to get a rapid-test from an approved provider (and receive proof of negative results) within 72 hours before departing the mainland. Then, we were rapidly re-tested when we arrived at the airport in Kona before being “released” onto the island. I’ll spare the additional details, but it was an interesting experience to go through. I’m especially curious if it’s a model for how travel could begin to safely open up in certain areas pre-vaccine (e.g. other islands, or countries with tightly controlled borders, like Israel).

(Waiting for rapid re-testing at the Kona Airport.)

Anyways, we arrived November 4th, mid-election (as we all know, we couldn’t say we were “post-election” at that point) and settled right back in. “Back in” because my aunt and uncle lived in Kona in the early 2000s, and so my grandparents spent the good portion of many winters here with them. And, to my good fortune, when Hannah and I were little, my parents would pull us out of school for weeks at a time to join in the fun.

Thus, being in Kona now as a “temporary-resident” really does feel like revisiting an old home. Grandma and I swim at the same beaches after work that I played at as a child, wander the aisles of the same Walmart looking for snacks, smell the same aromas (read: dead fish) at the local harbor…there is comfort in this full circle.

(Surf check at one of our favorite local spots – Turtle Beach.)

As we’ve settled in, Grandma and I have quickly developed the most wonderful, basic weekday routine.

  • 530am – I get up an hour before work to read (yes, I wake up at an absurd hour to read!) and journal. Grandma is usually still sleeping (precious!).
  • 7am – I starts work and desperately try to hide I’m in Hawaii so that coworkers don’t feel jealous (tank tops and the reflection of palm trees in the windows behind me on video calls make this challenging). Grandma makes coffee, checks her email, announces to me the news of the day (“more COVID here, more COVID there, Trump is an idiot”).
  • 10am – I take a break (it’s 12pm in California) and walk down to the harbor and back up to the condo, which is followed by sweating, which is followed by a cold shower, which is followed by returning to work. Grandma has usually had at least one Zoom call already.
  • 3pm – I wrap up work. Grandma and I decide which local beach to go to, depending on if we want to 1) snorkel, or 2) “bob” (in the waves). We drive down to the beach of choice, get in the water, and forget the world at large. Bliss.
  • 430pm – I rinse off the salt water, swap my swimsuit for my workout clothes, and walk home. Grandma drives.
  • 6pm – Dinner. It usually looks like a “dorm-room” dinner (eggs, veggies, rice, random left overs). We sit out on the lanai in the dark (lights exist, but neither of us like light…good partnership there!) and look at the stars. Grandma casually drops treasure troves of never-before-heard family lore onto me, and I concentrate really hard to remember it all so I can write it down later.
  • 7pm – We turn on Gilmore Girls. We’re rewatching it together. It’s basically the best thing ever. Just as cute a scenario as you could imagine.
  • 845pm – I’m zonked. I journal, read, and go to sleep. Grandma stays awake, listens to her radio, makes a midnight snack, and semi-sleeps (the way, apparently, all old people seem to do!).

On weekends we sleep in (so like 7am?) and read a shit-ton (right now I’m reading To the End of the Land, The Great Believers, and Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History…classic Cass combo). We go to beaches outside of Kona, and grocery shop for the week (some epic farmers markets), and Grandma shares more family lore. We are also taking a weekly online course together, from a professor I had while I was studying in Israel about non-Jewish communities in Israel. “Inter-generational learning” the professor calls it. Pretty rad.

This is all to say that going west for the winter (turns out you can even say that coming from California and have it mean something) has been splendid so far. Of course, it is a privilege beyond measure to be safe and healthy AND in paradise while the world-at-large aches in so many ways. This situation has left me oscillating between complex emotions of guilt and gratitude, but I am trying to seat myself in the latter rather than the former state of mind.

Each day here feels like another deep, soothing exhale after such a tragic last 11 months (personally and globally). And for that I am deeply grateful. Recently, I’ve felt as though I’ve aged a decade just since January. I haven’t asked Grandma, but I think she feels the same. So, here’s to the next few months of winter, “west of the West” – may this time add back a few years of youth for the both of us.

then & now pt. 1

Good morning wonderful people! Recently, I’ve been writing short comparisons between daily experiences in pre-pandemic times and the world we live in now. Below is a free-write I compiled Wednesday morning, loosely based off of a NYT Pandemic Diary prompt. No scene feels more striking, mundane, and *different* than a trip to the grocery store. I hope you relate, and perhaps are inspired to jot down a few of your own observations on “then and now”.  

The date was March 13, 2020.

It was noon, and I was at the grocery store for the sole purpose of a chocolate bar. (Chocolate, I argue, is a food not a dessert, and it is appropriate to eat at all times of the day). The store’s crowded parking lot hadn’t set off any alarms for me. Neither did the elevated bustle at the door. Even upon entering the store, it didn’t register to me that the scene I was stepping into was evidence of the world turning on a dime. 

Headphones in, music on, auto-pilot engaged, I entered, weaving between people to get to the store’s chocolate section. I compared chocolate bars for a minute, picking up and putting down at least five before settling on one. Probably scratching my head and touching my face at least as many times, too. 

On my way to check out, I bumped up against maskless shoppers, passed by toddlers plopped on the ground at parents’ feet, and slid between couples staring at empty shelves…empty shelves. It was the empty shelves that caught my attention first. I hadn’t noticed them on my way in. 

Then, when I got in line, I saw carts packed high with cans of tomatoes and beans and rice and hand sanitizer?! Every cart had duplicates of each item, making each shopper’s selected stockpiles strikingly obvious. Rumors of quarantine and lockdown had been circling, and many companies had already gone WFH, but standing in that line was the first time I genuinely wondered: Wait, are the floodgates opening, is this corona thing – which seemed so distant and ephemeral – really here with us and among us?

I tried to take mental stock of the food we had at home as I stood there with my one measly chocolate bar, absurdly close to the family in front of me in line. We have quite a bit of food at home, but should I still be loading up? I pondered, the concern slowly rising in me. Suddenly, it felt like I was in some sort of denial if I left the store without at least a few extra things. 

So I dipped out of line, grabbed a basket, and filled it with what remained on the shelves – a few boxes of pasta, granola, tuna (in retrospect, my gathering was more psychological than practical). When I got back in line, two shoppers near me recognized each other from school and embraced without hesitation. I thought nothing of it. I checked out, chatting briefly with the friendly cashier. Despite the chaos, his smile was big.

Outside, I loaded the groceries into the car. Before turning the car on, I pulled out my chocolate bar, and broke off a piece with my hands. The chocolate melted in my mouth. Delicious. I licked my fingers. 

The date is September 1, 2020.

It is noon, and I am at the grocery store for more than a chocolate bar (because the calculated risk of a trip to the store for just a chocolate bar doesn’t make much sense anymore). I grab a cart (methodically wiping down all its surfaces) and stand outside of the store in line waiting to enter. I am six-feet-apart from others, on spray painted dots with smiley faces and “your safety is our priority” slogans. 

Somewhat vigilant, I enter the store. Shoppers are proportionally populated to the building’s square footage. Even so, I cast a wide berth around people as I load my cart, as if in an invisible bumper car. “No, after you, I insist!” I subconsciously evaluate the density of aisles before I proceed down them. I’ll come back and get the peanut butter later, I tell myself. (Of course, I forget the peanut butter). 

I don’t browse anymore. I don’t pick up five versions of chocolate bars – or any items for that matter – to compare. I try to touch as few things as possible. I resist every urge to scratch my face or adjust my mask. If I find myself in the unfortunate position of needing to sneeze, I hold it in as if the world depends on it (no pun intended). 

When I go to check out, I find myself an empty dot to stand on. I feel like a buoy, along a line of evenly spaced out shoppers: bobbing a little left and right, but never too close to the person in front or behind. No one chats in line. Two people recognize each other and they wave, without getting any closer. 

When my turn comes, I unload my items on the conveyor belt (which is damp with disinfectant). I reach around the partition to hand the cashier my card. We chat briefly. It’s hard to hear him behind his mask. He is friendly.  I find myself searching his forehead and the corners of his eyes to see if he’s smiling.

Once I’m home, I wash my arms up to my elbows, lathering and scrubbing and rinsing, as if I were a surgeon. I unload the groceries, then wash my hands again. I never used to wash my hands all the time (I am not I was not particular about germs), but now…well, now is now. 

I unwrap the chocolate bar I bought this time and cut a piece off with a knife. The chocolate melts in my mouth. Delicious. And just before licking my fingers, I catch myself, wiping them on a napkin instead.

100 COVID / Quarantine Observations

I love lists. It’s something I both adore about myself and exhaust myself with.

This morning, I felt inspired by a list I read yesterday: Two Hundred Fifty Things an Architect Should Know (Michael Sorkin). So here’s an unedited, uncoordinated list of 100 things I’ve observed/learned/remembered in quarantine (Because 250 felt like…ugh. A lot for this morning).

  1. I despise reading books electronically.
  2. Less is usually enough.
  3. The same neighborhood walk-loop looks different each day.
  4. The dogs are the real winners here.
  5. I am still capable of throwing tantrums.
  6. The reason my last name has no “w” in it isn’t what I thought.
  7. Hugs are medicine.
  8. Given the choice of a dozen breakfast options, I’d still choose fried eggs.
  9. Cinnamon on fried eggs is REALLY good.
  10. A Gentleman in Moscow (Amor Towles) might be my favorite book. Ever.
  11. Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd), too.
  12. Untamed (Glennon Doyle) also changed my life. (Ok. That’s it for books.)
  13. I miss dinner parties.
  14. I miss wandering the supermarket for fun.
  15. I miss inviting people inside.
  16. I don’t miss the yoga studio as much as I first did.
  17. A home yoga practice isn’t as dreadful as I made it out to be for all of those yrs.
  18. FaceTime is a saving grace.
  19. FaceTime doesn’t replace face time.
  20. Chocolate solves most problems.
  21. Building new professional relationships over GVC is hard.
  22. WFH forever freaks the sh*t out of me. [the concept]
  23. Boundaries – worktime, space, relationships – are essential.
  24. Flowers brighten up the house.
  25. We all want to feel connected.
  26. Many of us are truly living in our homes for the first time.
  27. I don’t actually mind my toenails unpainted.
  28. I miss the desert.
  29. My grandparents are lonely.
  30. “Marie Kondo-ing” your digital life is…exhausting + liberating.
  31. No ability to plan into the future = forced presence.
  32. Many people are struggling.
  33. The impact of COVID will last…forever.
  34. The new normal won’t be the same as the old…requiring more grieving.
  35. Public space design will shift radically.
  36. We are experiencing the same “thing” but we are each experiencing different things.
  37. I love olive trees + white roses.
  38. “COVID” is enough of an excuse for anything.
  39. We can retell old stories and find more inner freedom.
  40. Moving our bodies is really important. Any way. Some way.
  41. California is [objectivly] the best place to SIP.
  42. No one is taking vacation from work (if they’re employed).
  43. Employed corporate America [+ here, tech] is going to face major burnout.
  44. “How are you?” is a f*cked question.
  45. “How are you (really)?” is better. Kind of.
  46. I need a haircut.
  47. I am sad about a lot of things.
  48. I am happy about a lot of things.
  49.  COVID is really making me look at all the things.
  50. I am grateful for employment.
  51. I wish bananas didn’t make me constipated.
  52. I don’t like the color orange.
  53. Linen is the world’s supreme fabric.
  54. I’m having nature withdrawals.
  55. English is a hard (so hard) language to learn/teach.
  56. Cleaning out stuff sometimes makes me want more stuff. Ugh.
  57. Grief is very stubborn.
  58. Some days are harder than others.
  59. We all need individual attention right now.
  60. Humans are ridiculously adaptable.
  61. Self care ≠ Self indulgence.
  62. Laying on the ground outside solves many problems.
  63. Pro sports / live music / college / dating / conferences / airports will never be the same again.
  64. I can usually benefit from taking my own advice.
  65.  We all benefit from valuing friendship + humor over most things.
  66. Anticipation of suffering is usually worse than suffering itself.
  67. Getting “dressed” for work in the AM can change the psychology of my day.
  68. Documenting is therapeutic for me.
  69. Living at my parents’ home is wonderful + exhausting.
  70. The Sunday Review is the best section of the New York Times.
  71. The animals of our world have no idea what’s going on.
  72. It’s weird to see my pictures from “before” – crowds in Jerusalem, Rome, NYC.
  73. The world screeched to a stop, but our lives ached as we slowed.
  74. We might miss things about this time…when this time becomes that time.
  75. I remember the “lasts” from before COVID quite clearly. Last yoga class. Last time at a store. Last hug from a stranger.
  76. I miss the ease of pre-COVID public spaces.
  77. When we have all the time in the world, the connections we keep / let slip can say volumes.
  78. My responses are my responsibility. Repeat.
  79. “How can I become more FREE today? How can I FREE others?” are good / helpful questions.
  80. Even w/ all my privileges / advantages, this is hard.
  81. No one but you is keeping score on your life.
  82. Eat the frog.
  83. Making plans is ok as long as you’re ok w/ changing them all.
  84.  Flexibility and indecision are not the same.
  85. I miss the hot food bar at Whole Foods.
  86. We don’t always need to explain ourselves.
  87. I miss the mountains.
  88. I miss hugging my friends.
  89. Social media can be whack.
  90. Sleep solves so many problems.
  91. I love wearing sundresses.
  92. Writing cards + letters is important. People love snail mail. (No, you can’t get COVID thru mail…right?)
  93. Our president is a buffoon.
  94. Underserved populations and people of color are disproportionately affected by this crisis.
  95. Old actions can be repeated w/ new meaning.
  96. We are not entitled to our lives.
  97. We never know. But the opposite is also true: We always know.
  98. “Should” is such an unhelpful word.
  99. I am scared the world will never look the same again.
  100. I am thankful the world will never look the same again.

 

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documenting strange times

Hi wonderful people— I hope you are safe and well out there.

Can I ask you a (maybe personal) question? I’m going to assume yes. I’ve been thinking about processing methods a lot lately (because let’s be honest, there’s a shit-ton to process right now), and I’m curious:

How are you processing this moment in time? 

At a foundational level, I think many humans process the world through documentation. We make sense of our conditions by taking stock. This comes in many forms. Some are artistic (writing, photography, sketching, video), while others are quantitative (data collection), social (relaying stories to friends, passing down family folk-lore), or the product of our technological age (Instagram-ming, Tick-tock-ing…is it a verb yet? idk). Sometimes we document to engage in later analysis or share our experiences with the world. Other times, documentation has no external purpose. It is simply a way for us to see ourselves, a silent nod of self-validation.

My default processing (documentation) method has always been writing: journaling, blogging, brain-dumping thoughts on tiny folded up pieces of paper, opening a million one-sentence “Notes” in my iPhone app. And since March, when COVID hoop-la surfaced in California, I’ve been writing like a madwoman. But I’ve also begun to crave creative new ways to document this strange and uncertain time.

One medium I’ve discovered? iPhone screenshots. Without even realizing it, I’ve been “journaling” my COVID shelter-in-place experience through screenshots since early March. Funny, random, heartbreaking, comforting, and poignant. Looking at them as a set now, these screenshots (and their corresponding timestamps) are the mind’s modern-day polaroid: instant snapshots of what I was thinking about, resonating with, or responding to. A record of fleeting moments I wanted to save to see again.

Here they are, below.

Also, if you’re so inclined, please let me know how you’re processing or documenting. (Or, if you’re like one of my best friends, who said “I’ll tell you how I’m processing— I’m NOT”, well, then please tell me how you’re not processing and what you feel. That counts too!) I can’t wait to hear from you!

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[March 7] I was monitoring travel restrictions to Israel in anticipation of a spring trip I had planned. A few days later Israel closed its borders to nearly everyone (not just NY, WA, CA). At the time, reading this article was bizarre. I remember thinking “What? How the hell can they even operationalize that?” Now, obviously, the concept of international travel in itself feels bizarre.

 

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[March 9] Still monitoring travel restrictions, I came across this timely PSA from February. I remember laughing and thinking to myself “There’s no way this won’t all be over by Passover [April].” How wrong I was.

 

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[March 10] This note notification popped up randomly on my screen. I was having a rough day. The reminder that we “never know” what good or bad may come our way felt serendipitous. I can tell you confidently that on March 10, I really had no idea.

 

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[March 11] The world felt like it was screeching to a halt this week. Everything was changing so quickly. I spent a lot of time thinking about how COVID might be a dress rehearsal for the end of the world. This quote resonated.

 

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[March 13] FaceTiming took on a whole new meaning this week. I added the term “social-distancing” to my vocabulary. On this call, we were guessing how long the world would be in this state. Even the least optimistic of us (me) guessed we’d be back to normal by summer.

 

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[March 18] My cousin moved from NYC to Portland and bought a Tesla. My grandma emailed us a dual picture of her father at a young age with his car. Things felt connected through time.

 

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[March 27] On Instagram, masses of bored people were posting #rough pictures of themselves, captioned “Until Tomorrow” (they would take down the photo the next day). I joined in with not one, but 15 photos. Why not.

 

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[March 30] FaceTiming with my original Israel gals (minus @Hannah). Earlier this year we were scheming a 2020 reunion for the five of us in NYC. Now it looks like we’ll have to stick to virtual.

 

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[April 3] G-bless my Grandma’s humor. I also love the email subject line. I hope you are all very OK too.

 

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[April 5] There’s been a lot of endless scrolling on social media. This is a post from 2018 I liked on a Costa Rican farm’s page. LESS seems like a good lesson for now.

 

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[April 9] I like looking at the mosaics of photos I’ve saved from other people’s accounts on Instagram. It’s like a living collage. Here there’re photos of yoga, child Holocaust survivors, Bar Rafeli pregnant (future pregnancy fashion goalz), fluffy dogs, and an important reminder: “You don’t have to use this time to ‘improve’ yourself.” Noted.

 

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[April 14] Another good reminder. I believe, at our core, this is what most of us really want.

 

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[April 14] A lot of old emotional baggage bubbles up when you’re stuck at home for weeks on end. Working on self-compassion is not some fluffy-flower-girl thing. It’s tough shit. Here are some resources.

 

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[April 24] This is from a NYT piece titled “When Life Felt Normal: Your Pre-Pandemic Moments.” I must have screenshotted it just because the room looks so peaceful. I miss being in beautiful spaces with other people. Especially yoga studios.

 

 

 

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[April 25] I remember seeing this headline and thinking “This is certainly a situation I never thought we’d find ourselves in.” Also, is it just me, or has no one heard anything about the election for like…months?

 

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[April 25] These photos, from a NYT piece titled “Denuded of Tourists, Paris Reveals Its Old Beating Heart”, made me feel quiet, still, hopeful, and peaceful. Some of the world’s most trafficked places are returning to their stewards: their residents.

 

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[April 28] FaceTime fatigue is a real thing. Which is why you need to keep it light and funny sometimes, too.

 

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[April 28] “The virus has collapsed distances.” This quote made me cry. How true, in so many ways.

 

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[May 2] This title made me think about all the accomplishments and celebrations (e.g. graduations) that people are experiencing alone right now. They are “Blooming Lonely” like the trees.

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[May 3] From a NYT piece, titled “My Restaurant Was My Life for 20 Years. Does the World Need It Anymore?”. Heartbreaking words that made me think about the overturn of our economy and precious small businesses. What will the world look like when “she wakes up”?

 

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[May 6] I sent a copy of this print (from the Oakland artist People I’ve Loved) to my best friend for her birthday. It’s titled “Lift Each Other Up.” We all need it right now.

 

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[May 9] As most of the country begins to face optional trade-offs, Silicon Valley is still mostly locked-down…I oscillate between jealousy and gratitude.

 

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[May 9] I needed this validation the other day. I’m a firm believer in sometimes Losing It.

 

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[May 9] Our beloved friend and neighborhood school secretary Anna started this GoFundMe to raise money for children whose parents are unable to provide food for their households. If you are able to, please contribute. All together now.

To be continued…stay tuned…love you all.