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.

Midwinter Masque

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” ― Anaïs Nin1491782_10201811969594893_1408112862_n (1)

Many of the things I write in this journal, I write to remember. Not just as a place to preserve moments and photographs for the future (although there is that), but the very act of writing it down is a way to relive the experience, transferring it onto the page.

Earlier this month I went to New York to visit my friend, Nancy Hightower. Part of that visit was a party we had been planning together over the last few months: A 12th Night Midwinter Masque at the fabulous East Village townhome she rents from fellow writer, David Edison.

On our invitation, here’s how we described the evening:

At All Hallow’s Eve, the doorway in between the worlds is opened, beginning a season of magic, of faerie revelry, of dreams and inspiration. With the winter solstice and the lengthening of days, that season of liminal spaces begins to close, marked by Twelfth Night, an end to the holiday season and a final faerie celebration. We invite you to dress in your favorite holiday finery, don a mask (or you can choose one at the door), and enter the liminal space for one final magical celebration.

An air of anticipation swept across the facebook pages of friends. As the date approached, people posted photos of their masks–some elaborate, some whimsical. In the dark, gray space after the holidays, people seemed to be looking for a little magic. I was.

An article by eco-journalist Russel McLendon circulated earlier this winter introduced many Americans to the Danish tradition of “hygge“:

Denmark endures dreary winters with the help of an arcane cultural concept known as “hygge.” It’s not an easy word for outsiders to pronounce — it sounds sort of like HYU-gah — and it’s even harder to translate. Hygge apparently has no direct analogue in English, and related words like “coziness,” “togetherness” and “well-being” only cover a fraction of its nebulous definition.

I love this concept. I love the opportunity to create an inviting space where people can celebrate togetherness and coziness. I like to think that our Masque was a hygge, something many of us need in the cold of winter. Nancy and I had frequent online chats to discuss decorations, ways to transform the apartment into a winter fairyland.

The Forest Room (photo by Nancy Hightower)

Friends made plans to come in from out of town: Philadelphia, Boston, Washington D.C., Dallas. David Edison decided to attend at the last minute, flying in from San Francisco. Everything was coming together.

Then snowstorms and freezing temperatures hit the Midwest and East Coast.

After a few hours of delay, I thankfully managed to fly out of O’Hare before the storm hit NYC. That night Nancy and I stayed up until the wee hours hanging snowflakes and stringing white lights, creativity punctuated with much needed laughter (and delirium).

Snowflakes & sparkles (photo by Nancy Hightower)

Other friends had to adjust their travel plans because of the weather, but everyone made it! Theodora Goss came in from Boston and Brooke Bolander made it from Texas.

Prepping in the kitchen with Brooke Bolander (photo by Theodora Goss)

The four us put the final touches on the party: preparing food, setting out drinks, lighting candles.

Nancy Hightower, Valya Lupescu, Brooke Bolander, Theodora Goss (photo by Marco Palmieri)

A few more friends arrived early to lend a hand, and the magic took over.

Ardi Alspach, Shveta Thakrar, Marco Palmieri and D. T. Friedman (photo by Nancy Hightower)

With the snow and the cold, we weren’t sure just how many people would venture out, let alone dress up and wear masks. We hoped that they would all find places to sit and gather, taking advantage of all three floors.

Stephen Segal enthralls his audience with a dramatic reading from Tyra Banks’ Modelland. 😉 (Photo by Marco Palmieri)

Trudging through the snow, on buses and trains, our guests arrived.

Kristen Mangione, Devin Poore, Rajan Khanna, Veronica Schanoes (photo by Marco Palmieri)

Nearly all were bemasked. Many arrived already in costume, while others came bundled up with clothes to change into.

Mikolaj Habryn, Brooke Bolander, and Liz Gorinsky (photo by Nancy Hightower)
Rajan Khanna, Theresa DeLucci, and Pritpaul Bains (photo by Nancy Hightower)

The doorbell kept ringing and groups kept appeared at the door. Like the TARDIS, David’s apartment seemed to swell inside to accommodate everyone.



Marco Palmieri, Cam Rob, and Myke Cole.

After most people arrived and settled in, Nancy and I could finally relax and enjoy the company assembled, and what a fabulous, motley group it was!

Shahriar Shadab and Katelan Foisy (photo by Nancy Hightower)
Ellen Datlow, David Edison, Christopher Michaud (photo by Nancy Hightower)

Hours flew by in a glittery haze of masks and laughter, eating and drinking, talking and sparkling.


As our guests left, we invited them to take a key and write upon the attached wooden tag what they would like to unlock in 2014–a small way of bringing home a little of the magic of the Masque, a talisman for the year ahead.


Then, in the early hours of the morning, those who remained sat on the softest of rugs and finished off muskat and marshmallows, chocolates and vodka.


The Masque was a wonderful gathering of writers, editors, artists, musicians, witches, and wanderers; and together I think we succeeded in transforming the apartment into an otherworldly realm.

For those of us who so often dwell in the fantastic landscapes of our own imaginations, it was nice to have a cozy space where we could gather together with our creative tribe to escape the winter.

In Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White writes, “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.” Such true words in that children’s book. At the Masque, I had the good fortune of being in the company of several people who are both of those things. For that I am so grateful, and I look forward to the next time we are together.

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