Years ago I walked the Camino Santiago. In the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela at the end, the priest prayed that “now that we no longer have the flechas amarillas, the yellow arrows marking the path, to guide us, we are able to find our way.” 

This week feels like a time when I need that. This week: 

Google extends work from home as coronavirus cases surge

More federal agents dispatched to Portland as protests rise in other cities

In my more specific world, over the past few days I’ve talked to more people socially than I had in the previous few weeks; there are a bunch of incredibly cute baby lizards in the garden, and one larger but also cute rabbit, which so far (fingers crossed!) has not wreaked havoc on the vegetables I’m growing; I have half a flat of nectarines in the kitchen, thanks to the grocery delivery service that I really like; the tomatoes are not yet ripe but look promising. 

And at the same time: It’s hard to know where to go from here. It’s hard to make plans. It’s hard to not make plans. It’s hard to know whether to see friends in person but socially distanced, or not. It’s hard to figure out work (sometimes it’s also just hard to work; for half of yesterday, my video call connections were so flaky that I actually couldn’t do anything). It’s hard to feel so blah and at the same time realize that objectively, there is nothing wrong: I am healthy; the people I love are healthy; I have a job. The house remodel is ongoing, but it is ongoing, and I have a non-leaking roof over my head. I miss the people I miss, and I am very very worried about the wider world, but I in particular am … fine. 

Last week I attended a senior women’s get together, virtual of course, in the hopes of finding a sense of community. I ended up feeling wildly out of place. The things I am angry about were different than what others are angry about. I don’t have kids, and a lot of it was (reasonably enough) about the frustrations of unknown school schedules; I kept thinking that most of the topics would have been relevant to men too, and I wished the men I work with were there. I felt like an alien life form. On the other hand, the management discussion group that I accidentally signed up to lead did feel a bit more community-like, and I am reminding myself that I am optimistic about that. 

There’s a value to having a default plan. Years ago I had insomnia, and I learned that even after very little sleep, I could get a lot done if I already had a plan. So I planned: every day at the end of the work day, I laid out what needed to happen next. The Camino offered something similar: sure, there were interesting detours and side trips I could take, but in general, the path was this way. I could choose to deviate, but the road was known. 

So that’s what I’m thinking about, and what I’m trying to do. The world is uncertain and I don’t know what I’m doing or what’s important. But a while back I laid out projects and priorities. Dates and timelines exist. 

I’m reminding myself: there’s a comfort in having a plan. 

What if this is the new normal?

Something I’d like more of, regardless of the pandemic: the interestingly-named Hooker’s Evening Primrose. It blooms in the morning and is native to California.

Last week a friend told me she’d decided to go ahead with a necessary but non-urgent surgery. She’d been putting it off because of the pandemic – but now? Better not to wait. “Covid is going to be with us for around two years,” she said, as if it were common knowledge. 

I felt as if someone had punched me lightly in the stomach. Two years? 

These past few months I’ve been living moment to moment, day to day or at most week to week. I think that’s true for a lot of us in the US, and no surprise: our country doesn’t have a plan for schools or employment over the next six weeks, let alone two years. 

But when I talk to colleagues or friends outside the country, I realize their perspective is different. From London to Sydney to Paris to Tel Aviv to Tokyo, they seem to be past talking about next month. They are looking further out – and that’s what I was hearing from my non-American, not-US-based friend. 

Two years? We might be lucky if it’s only two years.  

Two years, however, is a manageable amount of time to think about. It’s half of a traditional four-year college, or enough time for a baby to learn to walk. It’s not so much time that it can’t be imagined. 

This leads to the question: 

If things are going to be pretty much like this for two years – and setting aside the unnerving possibilities of (even more) civil or political unrest, syndemics (a word I just learned, which does not bode well), global warming, and widespread recession and unemployment – a lot to set aside, I know, but bear with me – 

If life is going to be like this for two years, what do I want to be true at the end of that? How do I want to be? What do I want to have done? Where do I want to focus? 

And is it better to think in those terms, or go back to day-to-day? 

I’m about halfway through reading Discontent and Its Civilizations, by Mohsin Hamid, and already I want to go right out and read all the other books he mentions. Also, I want to figure out how to write like this. This is a hell of a book, in the best way!

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