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.

Homes and Hearths

This year for Wyrd Words, we took the retreat to Europe, to the Isle of Skye, where American-based writers connected with European friends.

I am so grateful that Wyrd Words participants always bring imaginative, thoughtful, open-hearted energy to our workshops and retreats.

Plus there is power in the settings we are lucky to work in, places with their own pulse and personality.

The Isle of Skye was an incredible backdrop for our week of creative work, a profound and majestic wilderness.

Every sunrise, dusk, and star-filled sky was a gift. Stepping outside to breathe in the wide open sky, catching a glimpse of the ocean from one of the windows, going for a walk along the craggy shore with its whispers of ancient secrets. I fell in love.

It was a delight to write and play in this incredible setting with brilliant and beautiful people.

Then there was…the Aga.

If you have never heard of an Aga (I had not until recently) then you can read about it here.

Along with our friend (and culinary goddess) Vanessa, we took turns cooking meals in this hearth-like stove that heats the home and remains on at a steady temperature for a completely different way to think about preparing food. I had to change the way I thought about cooking, but once I did, I loved it.

Plus…the Aga heats the kitchen so well (which for me is a dream, since my Raynaud’s starts to flare up this time of year).

Wyrd Words came at an interesting time this year, right after the kids began school and just before the launch of our cookbook, FORKING GOOD (out on October 22nd!)  I had ambitious goals for everything I hoped to accomplish (as always), and I didn’t get it all done, but I did make every moment count: I wrote every day, slept in, cooked and ate meals with people I love, and had moments of exploration and reflection.

We survived driving across Scotland in a large van (on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car!)

Plus I got to explore Glasgow a little (I want to go back!) and I saw my dear friend Alison for a whirlwind 24 hours.

Some places grab hold of your heart. Scotland is another of those places for me.

We’ll be back.

 

 

With a Little Help

To try and get more work done on the most recent book (announcement this week!) with its rapidly approaching deadline, I decided that I needed to take a little time away for focused progress.

Katelan Foisy agreed to come with me on a roadtrip to stay at a mutual friend’s house and work on our respective projects (and hopefully brainstorm about a collaboration or two down the line.)

We ended up driving into a bit of a blizzard, stopping first for a quick bite at a cute cafe and to peek into a 100+ year old theatre:

We made it safely there, unpacked and settled into the snowy evening with our books and notebooks, a bottle of wine and some spicy veggies and pasta for dinner.

There is something so satisfying about fragrant, colorful foods cooking while the world outside the windows is white and cold.

Now we’re camped out on the comfy couch with blankets and laptops and mugs of warm beverages for work before bed. (Thanks to everyone pitching in back home to make this time and space possible. It continues to take a village, and I am so grateful.)

#sweetdreams #amwriting