Reflections

Sometime last month, as the weather started warming up and the days began to get longer, I realized that I was breathing deeper, feeling hopeful, and closer to “normal” than I had in a long while. It made me aware of just how tense I had been this past year: shoulders tight, jaw tight, brow furrowed. All the time.

Like many of you, I have spent much of the last year tight with fear and anxiety, worrying about how to keep my loved ones safe, how to help the kids get through this, how to create positive memories in the midst of it all, how to practice gratitude, how to try and support those who need help and those who are working to make things better, how to be a friend without the luxury of shared time and space, how to prioritize, self-care, and keep connections.

My friend Nancy Hightower is a college professor and writer living in New York City. She spent much of the last year of quarantine alone in a city that is well-known for bringing people together.

Nancy, like many people, moved to NYC to be with people. What happens when all those New Yorkers, who usually breathe life into the public spaces that are the nervous systems of that vibrant city, are forced to disengage and isolate themselves?

Nancy would mask up and go on walks every day in her neighborhood, and she started taking photographs of what she encountered.

Nancy reflected in a mirror with trash on the streets of NYC.
Nancy reflected, from her Patreon post, “The Shadow Pandemic.”

What Nancy photographed over the last year is the subject of her Patreon (and for those who don’t know what that is, Patreon is a crowdfunding platform that enables supporters/patrons to pay and support artists for their work). She shared a lot of her photos with me over the changing seasons, and they were rich food for my imagination. I think it’s a similar reason that so many people took refuge in Animal Crossing, Instagram, and TikTok. We needed windows into worlds outside our own.

Nancy’s photos capture relics of this moment; they are tiny portals into people’s lives left on doorsteps and balanced on mailboxes, draped over fences and hung from lamp posts. It was as if New Yorkers, forced into their apartments and unable to inhabit their museums, cafes, restaurants, galleries, bars, and parks, started leaking bits of their lives and themselves onto the streets. Here was a cookie jar beside a pair of vintage cowboy boots filled with plastic flowers, there was a lamp and a typewriter and a bag of rice. Sometimes it felt like poetry, other times like an art installation, or a Rorschach test for the state of mind of a city mourning and struggling.

Nancy has started sharing those photos with accompanying essays on her Patreon. The most recent one about how we have been changed by the pandemic struck a chord with me, and I wanted to share it. She’s made it public, so you can follow the link to see all the photos. You can join her Patreon if you’d like to read/see more.

Nancy writes: “This Spring you might find yourself being simultaneously hopeful and exhausted. You might not know who you are anymore–alone, or with other people. I’ve had sporadic dinners with pod friends over the past year, but nothing close to real, sustainable community, no touch longer than quick hug. I wonder what I’ll look like by the time I can be in a group, maskless and yet changed, a time traveler finally trapped by time.”

We have all been changed by the events of the past year, for better and for worse—as a nation, as cities, as neighborhoods, families, and individuals. We won’t be able to see just how far those changes go for a a while, but I think they will go deep.

Pandemic self-portrait post-vaccination.

We are still in a pandemic. The numbers are rising even as more people are getting vaccinated. There is hope, but there is also a need to remain disciplined. I feel like when I look into the mirror, I’m more than a year older. I think about my grandparents and their parents before them, who lived through war and famine and so much death and sacrifice. They were changed by those events too. Some of them shared their stories, and I am grateful.

It’s going to be important to remember, to document this time, to share our stories, to listen to one another when we finally come together, to really see ourselves and our neighbors  as we emerge from this—inevitably changed.

We Are Still Here

I have not blogged in six months. I have not really posted anything on social media in all that time. I try to respond to messages and keep up with news, but I’ve fallen behind with most things.

Like many of you, I suspect, my orbit has been small in these strange times. Daily life has been revolving around the day job and the kids, managing risk from the virus while trying to serve as a support system.

Writing has taken a backseat to most things, and other relationships have not been given much attention at all—not for lack of caring, but for lack of energy and hours. And self-care? Self-care is not something I’m good at. I come from a line of self-sacrificing nurturers who don’t really do boundaries. Nothing like a pandemic to hold up a mirror.

Stephen has been a good partner through it all, and Mark has been a good co-parent. Ever since I had kids, I keep coming back to that adage, “It takes a village.” It really does. I am grateful for our little village. It has taken our team of three adults to parent our three teenagers in this pandemic. Each kid has unique academic, social, and emotional challenges exacerbated by remote learning and quarantine.

There are highlights: We have a lot of animated dinner conversations. They are often the high point of my day. We pay close attention to the spectacular sunsets outside our windows. Maya has applied to colleges for next year and has already been accepted to several. Liam is making beautiful music and came in second for Student Council president in his high school election. Lana creates rainbow sculptures that dot our house, and she is my steadfast kitchen helper. They don’t like remote learning. They miss their friends. They are worried about the future. Their emotions are all over the place. They are doing the best they can.

I have heard versions of this from other parents and caregivers, or from teachers  dealing with students. The kids living in this time are not really ok. The people who are trying to help them are not really ok.  None of us are really ok.

Yet as a society, we are not good at talking about mental health or the role of it during this pandemic. People are being asked to perform as close to “normal” as possible when so little about this is normal, especially for the children and teenagers.

So we do our best, and then we often feel woefully inadequate at the end of the day.

It’s a lot. For all of us.

The caregivers trying to fill other people’s “buckets” are drained. Those confined with (and grateful for) family and friends crave a little time and space for themselves. Those who are alone are starved for contact and touch (even the introverts).

There’s a song by Florence and the Machine that keeps running through my head. The refrain is: “We all have a hunger.”

Yep.

So many needs not being met. So many people hungry.

And tomorrow’s Thanksgiving. In a pandemic. In a country raw from disparity, unrest, and resistance.

Am I grateful? Every day. Does that mean that everything is ok? Nope. Our world is not ok. Is there hope? I think so. Are there moments of grace and joy and profound beauty in the middle of it all? Absolutely. Thank goodness. Is it easy to lose sight of that sometimes? Also yes. Is there a lot of work to be done to make things better for the future? Again, absolutely.

I wanted to write something today because people have sent messages recently asking me if I’m ok, concerned that they haven’t heard from me in a long time.

It’s mostly been that thing where you have five minutes free, and you want to call a friend or write a message, but you know that five minutes is just not enough time and there’s just so much to catch up on, but nothing at all so urgent or monumental.

How do you fit an honest response into five minutes, especially if brevity is not your strong point? (And if you know me, you know that brevity is NOT my strong point.) 😉

So instead of saying, “I’m fine,” or “I’m ok,” I tend to get quiet when there’s too much to say and not enough time. I’m sorry.

This time, I wrote this. Hopefully the next post will be sooner than six months.

I am looking forward to cooking dinner for tomorrow, but I am going to miss all our family who would usually gather together. I wish we could all be with the people we love. I look forward to the time when that’s possible.

Sending love and all the hugs.

Live from Chicago…This Saturday

When I was young, I didn’t know that science fiction conventions or fandom existed. A gathering place where people dressed up in costumes, met with “actual authors,” and talked about the stories they loved would have seemed as fantastic as some of the stories themselves. Reading was a solitary activity, and I didn’t know a lot of other kids (or later adults) who loved sci-fi or fantasy.

I attended my first convention in 2012, when the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) was held in Chicago (and called Chicon), and it opened up a new world to me. It was a joy to share that world with the kids in 2018 when we brought them to Worldcon in San Jose. 

If you’ve never been to a Worldcon, then you probably have never heard of “Stroll With the Stars.” Every morning at Worldcon for the last decade, fans have been invited to join guests to “Stroll With the Stars.” The activity was Stu Segal’s idea after he was challenged by artist Frank Wu to find a way to introduce fitness into fan activities. Stu came up with “Stroll with the Stars” to lure fans out for “some gentle exercise in the fresh air by strolling along with Hugo and Nebula winners and nominees, Grandmasters, artists and celebrities.” The strolls have been going strong ever since. 

This year’s Worldcon (which was supposed to be in New Zealand) is going virtual because of the pandemic, and it was suggested that during the lockdown, we have “virtual strolls.” To make sure the strolls are accessible to the fans in the Americas, UK, Australia, New Zealand, et al, they selected 4PM CT (10PM London, 9AM Auckland, 7AM Sydney, 2PM San Francisco), as the best time when most folks are awake.

Every day last week, an author, artist, or editor has done a Facebook Live Video on the “Stroll With the Stars: Home Edition Spring 2020” Facebook Group. Some have done a tour of their home or work space, others have taken us along on a walk in their neighborhood or garden. It’s been entertaining to hear how they are keeping safe and busy during these strange times. Guests have included: Ellen Datlow, Scott Edelman, Lawrence Schoen, Joe and Gay Haldeman, and others; and over the next month or two will include Ellen Kushner, Derek Kunsken, Steven Silver, Kate Baker, and many more. (Stu keeps updating the list on the Facebook group page.)

Nighttime calm after a long day.

Stephen and I will take our turn hosting a stroll this Saturday, May 2, 4pm CT. I’m not sure exactly what you’ll see, but we’ll be live on Facebook for 15 minutes or so, to give you a little peek into our quarantine lives. You can also chat with us in the chat window. Here’s the link to the group page, and we’ll post about it again on Facebook as we get closer. 

https://www.facebook.com/groups/258166815210814/

You can join the “Stroll With the Stars: Home Edition Spring 2020” Facebook group if you want, or can tune onto Stephen or my Facebook page next Saturday when we’re live. The video will also be saved and available for watching afterward (we’ve watched a few of them in the evening after work hours). In the meantime, you can access previous strolls from the Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/258166815210814/videos/

I’m not much of a television (or YouTube) watcher. There’s just not a lot of time left over after work, kids, house, checking in on friends and family, and writing. Most of what we watch, we watch with the kids. Much of it is stuff they choose to share with us, or things we find to share with them.

I was never one to enjoy the reality shows of the past few decades; however, I have found recent joy in some of the programming the kids have shared with us during this quarantine time. From the Bon Appétit chefs cooking in their home kitchens to John Oliver broadcasting in his basement to the cast of Hamilton coming together via Zoom, I have enjoyed these honest glimpses into people’s homes and lives.

I appreciate the candor and generosity of people sharing some of the things that challenge them and inspire them right now. It highlights a shared humanness that I don’t think we often get to see. I hope that we can share the same with you this weekend.