Onwards through the fireswamp

Yep. Travel plans are pretty much in limbo for the foreseeable future. So any pipe dreams for diving in April or hiking in May are certainly dashed. Don’t even know if my niece’s graduation over Memorial Day Weekend is a possibility at this point, even a month and a half away. They’ve closed schools here until May. We’re on semi-lockdown and there is still a shortage of toilet paper and dry goods in the grocery stores. It’s madness. It’s weirdness. It’s an unsettled quiet like I’ve never known in my lifetime, even after 9/11. And my stepmother put it well the other night: those events, 9/11, the Marathon bombing, Paris, Brussels…they all were time-boxed. There was a thing, it happened, then it was over and we moved to the healing phase. This thing, it has tentacles and 6300 legs, and we don’t know who it will touch next, or where (or if it has already come… or gone).

So if you’re like me, you may be feeling antsy and anxious and cooped up and sad and worried and exasperated and exhausted and near-claustrophobic, over-worked, under-slept, and really very laden. I’m often the go-to person, but in all honesty I am out of ideas at this point. I’m simultaneously managing my own isolation, my dog’s demise (he has recently been diagnosed with lymphoma) and a work cadence/velocity/schedule that I never signed up for. I’m feeling more than a little broken. So I was thinking that since most of the things that keep me sane and keep me, me are in the realm of wandering and pondering and investigating and, yeah, travelling… instead of a travel blog post, I’d craft an inertia post.

Except I really don’t know how to write about inertia, unless it’s about ways to avoid it! This point in time feels like a game of hopscotch through a fireswamp where the rules are more or less arbitrary and are subject to change without notice. But here goes: my guide for surviving this Corona-lockdown-madness without actually succumbing to it or being eaten by monsters along the way.

In no particular order:

Move. My goal: 10-15,000 steps a day; 10+km on nice days. Walking the dog. Walking on the treadmill. Walking around the flat at 11:30 in a zombie state to clock those last 550 steps before bed. They all count. And when the dog only wants to walk to the end of the block and won’t poop when you want him to, the steps still need to be stepped. As an old Rollerblade friend used to say, “if you stop, you die.”

Stop. As important as activity is, being still and letting go of all the news, chatter, stuff you just cannot control is maybe even more-so. Stretch. Read. Hug the dog. Sit in a quiet corner under a blanket with a space heater pointed at yourself, listening to the Liquid Mind channel on Amazon Music; close your eyes and feel the warmth and the music and know that there is an “other side” to this worldwide hell we’ve collectively entered. We’ll come out into the vernal sunlight as new hatchlings with a clean slate to fill. Stop. Breathe. Cultivate hope.

Engage. This is perhaps surprising coming from a card-carrying introvert. Here’s the thing that is most shocking to me: we introverts have built a lifestyle around choosing when and with whom to interact. We make these choices carefully and deliberately, avoiding gatherings and social interaction unless absolutely necessary or with intentionally-selected others. Social Distancing is really one of our artforms. But here’s what I’m learning about myself in these strange days… because I am careful about how I spend my social time, it tends to be infrequent but of high-quality. So now that I’m not even allowed that, I feel boxed-in; even more imprisoned within my own existence than I’ve ever felt. I’m not craving parties and social events, I’m craving connection. More specifically, I’m feeling isolated from those who make me feel like a better version of myself. And more-so because I’m not allowed to see them. (N.B.: Introverts do not like rules imposed over their own social rules.)

So, yeah, engage. But now, electronically.

It doesn’t feel quite right and it’s not in any way solving my need to be free and adventuresome with those I care about, but I’m doing yoga online with my teacher of 12+ years. At work, even though my team is distributed across the globe, we’re super-connected. We’ve been doing more meetings with our webcams set to “on” these days, and it’s nice to see the faces of those I interact with so often (just have to do something about the quantity of meetings…). I’m still not talking on the phone because I hate it, but the WhatsApp calls with those closest to me are a bright light in my day.

I said this to a friend the other day: I feel like those that remain in our lives after this thing is done with us are the only ones that really matter.

Hope. Life is upside down right now for most of us, trying to bodge together some semblance of normal today and to figure out where to go next with this invisible thing that shatters the boundaries within which we feel safe. Work, friends, family, school… Fences have been erected between the different parts of our lives, forcing us to get creative, think differently, look at our social structures with a fresh lens, reassess priorities, act more humanely. These weeks, although stressful and overwhelming, I’ve observed more simple kindnesses, put more faces to names on those videoconferences, heard more please and thank yous, and seen collaboration like I’ve never seen before.

There’s a glimmer of hope. That we’ll emerge from our coccoons on tentative new wings, more careful and more kind and more aware of the fragility of the present.

Observe. Quiet times afford us the opportunity to watch and to really listen. I’d love to be in one of these madhouse places that have for the moment gone silent: Delhi, Istanbul, Bangkok even… A place where if you stop the modern madness it will take you back in time. Where the migratory birds can be heard and the blue skies dawn like a new era. The scent of spices and flowers and home cooking emerge from behind the smog. The green shoots of spring, visible in a quiet and locked-down new reality.

But I’m here, trying to mesh the sadness of my home with the frenzy of my work with the uncertainty of all That out there… I’m checking in: with myself to make sure I’m okay as I get up each quiet day; with my dog to make sure he’s breathing, and then that he’s enjoying these last weeks he’s got here; with those close to me (and those also slightly broken), because connecting with them these days helps me feel like there’s still an opportunity to make a difference even in a cattywampus world.


The croci have come, as have the daffs and the forsythia… the songbirds are making their way back, and the undertones of spring wafts in the air. There’s hope. There’s springtime haiku. Travel will happen. Projects will end. Hugs will be allowed once again.

The crazy thing in all this is the silver, or maybe green, lining. Fewer cars, less unnecessary air travel, more walking, ironically-less excess. There’s a glimmer of hope that maybe we’re injecting more peace or less ugliness into the world by coming together on such a universal level that the batshit crazy powers that be won’t be able to stop it.

Video interlude: All We Are/Matt Nathanson (Some Mad Hope)

Day by day we have to get through these things that feel like monstrous hurdles where regular life used to be. Onwards through the fireswamp, I say, because the alternative is unthinkable.