October 1*

The smoke haze is back.

In so many ways, October feels like a new beginning. The light changes. The air changes. Kids are back at school, and even here in California, it’s pretty definitely no longer summer.

I grew up with an even stronger school-schedule vibe than most people: both my parents worked as teachers. When school began in the fall, it didn’t begin just for me, but for all of us. Now an adult by any measure, that sense of beginning as the days shorten and the mornings chill stays with me.

Beginning too means looking back, reflecting. Where is the world? Where am I? How am I doing? 2020 has been so strange. After all the early months’ chaos, in the past few weeks I think some of the changes have settled in. I’m in a different place, I think, than I have previously been.

1. The seven months since this began – March to now – is the longest period of time I’ve spent without jetlag in over ten years (or maybe fifteen).

2. These seven months also include the most total hours I’ve spent at home at least since high school summer vacations.

3. Ten years after everybody else, I’ve gotten into Spotify. Lately I’m retro in my music tastes: country, electronic dance music, and Prozzak’s album Forever 1999 (which doesn’t sound like 1999, but does sound like today through the lens of someone who came of age in 1999. It’s silly and funny and heart-melting and I love it.)

4. I’ve let go of long lists of plans and dreams and ambitions and next steps and someday-I’d-like-tos. Too many were starting to feel like shoulds, like weights or clutter rather than freedoms.

5. Instead, I’ve got three things I’d like to do over the next six months, one more I’d like to do over the next two years, and one more for the next five years. This feels simpler. It fits on a sticky note.

6. I’m reading a lot, and I have conversations going with two separate friends about books.

7. One of my oldest friends, who I became friends with mostly through letters(!) during summer vacations back in high school, sent me a long chatty birthday card; today I sent her a card back. Texts with other friends feel like a modern version of the one-day letters I imagine Victorians sent to each other. “What kind of flower is this?” “Have you read that?” “Is the smoke okay where you are?” “I can’t believe your daughter is four years old already!” “You have chickens now?!” “Here’s what it looks like where I am.” “I don’t know when I’ll see you, but I miss you.”

8. At work, I’m in the middle of shifting from a management role to an individual contributor path. This, too, feels simpler, and I think more in line with the self I most think of as me.

After two weeks of clearer air, the smoke is back today, blowing in (the news tells me) from the Glass fire, miles north. The hills across the bay and the hills across the highway are both invisible. The air smells again of campfire. The temperature is over ninety degrees, but there is little value to shade, because the sun itself is shaded by the smoke.

If you’re reading this, I hope you’re finding value in your own new beginning – or if fall doesn’t feel like a beginning-time to you, to your own keeping on.

Stay safe, and breathe deep when you can.

—-

* I wrote this yesterday, posting today.

Before, during, next

The last time I wore makeup was March 9. It was a Monday. I woke up, showered, got dressed, put on makeup, drove to work.

Two days before work-from-home, the parking lot was already starting to empty. Pre-Covid, during the day there were usually more cars here than parking spots.

I took a photo of the nearly-empty parking lot.

I ate lunch with a colleague, and we agreed that about the last thing either of us would want to do was work from home.

The next day, I did work from home, not because of Covid but because I had a mid-day appointment in the opposite direction from the office and I didn’t feel like driving back and forth.

Then Google announced recommended work from home for nearly everyone in the Bay Area, and that was that.

When I left my office that Monday, I wasn’t thinking about never? not going back for months and months. I left a jar of homemade kefir fermenting in a desk drawer. I left cards from friends and photos from early work trips. I left sentimental notes from colleagues written during team building exercises but no less sincere (I hope) for all that. I left a tiny carved stone elephant. I left stamps. I left a sweater (I think). I left things that would have been useful: pads of sticky notes, an external keyboard, multiple types of USB cables, a mouse.

The change was so abrupt that no one had a chance to plan for it. I was distracted, too, because first my husband and then I got sick (Covid? I don’t know.) I think I caught up with how many people were feeling about a month later. Normal one day, surreal alternate-reality the next – and now it’s been nearly six months. Is it any wonder we’re still reeling?

Now I’m looking ahead and wondering what’s next. On the one hand, planning for a time in the far distant future – Thursday, say – seems incredibly challenging.

On the other hand, these days are the days I get.

I don’t want to accidentally miss them because I wasn’t paying attention.

Default

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.