If I could offer you only one tip for the future, to move would be it. Move when you want to: dance to "Dancing On My Own" in your kitchen, take a walk every afternoon, stretch your legs after sitting for hours. Move, even when you don’t want to. During a work trip in February, you skip the sunset by the beach to start working on a document due the week after. There will be more sunsets, more beaches, and more work trips for the rest of the year anyway. Except there weren't any. You don't even remember what document couldn’t wait. You've seen statement tees and bumper stickers about "living each moment as if it were your last," but you don't really know what it means until that last plane ride, that last evening in a crowded bar sipping overpriced cocktails, and that last haircut and brow threading in your neighborhood salon. In mid-March, you delete trips, meetings, and dinners for the next three weeks, feeling positive about the possibilities: a regular workout routine, perhaps? A more organized closet?
By mid-May, you delete trips, meetings, and dinners for the next three quarters, feeling fear about a different set of possibilities: not seeing your family and friends who live on the other side of the world; spending the rest of the summer indoors; the death of your loved ones, or your loved ones' loved ones.
You move back home. “Homesick” now means sick of your home, which has become your office, gym, café, and cinema. You are homesick for the home that was just your home. You fill your space with more plants (about 42.75% die by the -ber months) and cook almost all of your meals (you lose 20 lbs. by the -ber months).
You say you miss traveling to foreign places, but you are in one. This collective experience comes with no map. You say you miss meeting new people, but you are meeting many: the versions of yourself, your family, your friends, and your colleagues wading through a crisis. There's the intellectual who floods group chats with conspiracy theories, the former corporate employee who now has a booming banana bread business, and the introvert who finds comfort in the absence of gatherings. You develop your first co-dependent relationship. Not with a partner or project, but with four furry paws.
This pandemic creates a Matryoshka doll of emotions. You are grateful to have work, but also tired of work and making this "new normal" bullshit work. You are SO. FUCKING. TIRED. Then you feel guilty for feeling tired. You feel trapped at home, but grateful that you have a home and can work from home. You are constantly consumed by grief: grief for your country, for corruption, for incompetence, for inequality, for injustice. For the arts, the unemployed, the healthcare workers, and the daily wage earners. For the loss of plans and possibilities. For the loss of serendipity and spontaneity. You are grieving because you miss the mundane: the ability to help a stranger who dropped her groceries, the chance to compliment a girlfriend’s lipstick choice, the right to bring your reusables to Starbucks. Remember: there is no Olympic sport for pain and suffering. Everyone is entitled to their own Matryoshka doll. Everyone. Your emotions need space, not solutions. Give them space. All of them. Allow gratitude and grief to sit together. There’s no one way to move through this, no correct way. Stock up on patience, compassion, and kindness for others and, most importantly, for yourself. One Friday morning, the moderator of a regional meeting you’re in asks all participants to turn their cameras on. You can't because you just put a mask on, and not the kind that protects you from viruses, but the kind that “draws out impurities and reduces surface oil production.” You type something about low bandwidth and third world internet in the chat box with a sad face emoji.
The first time you order ramen from a nearby restaurant, you tear up at the layers of flavors partying against your palette. Everything tastes better than your own cooking.
You finally reach (and even exceed) your goal weight. Your new pair of jeans confirm that you've dropped four sizes. Your occasional workout posts earn you 🔥 and 👏🏽. When you look at the mirror though, you still hate the same parts: your thighs, hips, and every other undulation of your body. Your #fitnessgoal becomes more internal than external — a little less about the pull-ups and a little more about pulling through your insecurities. Movements work, but movements take work. You are forced to change your what and your how, compelling you to reevaluate your why: why you do what you do, why this (still) matters, and why you must overcome. Your life's work is not a marathon or a sprint, but a relay. Run your race, train others, move aside, and let them cross the finish line.
Rest. The internet becomes crowded and judgy (yes, judgier than usual), prompting you to ask what those lists and quotes in sans serif accomplish. This also prompts you to deactivate your social media accounts almost monthly and stop checking the news almost permanently. Political views have never been more polarizing. Listen to listen, not to win. In two years, there will be another administration, while you’ll still be in the same circles as your friends and the same family reunions as your relatives. Tread lightly.
Love in the time of corona takes different shapes. It is in keeping secrets so you don’t fuel anxiety, in sending s’mores cookies, and in receiving sushi bake. It is in making coffee together in the mornings, recreating date nights in the balcony, and trusting that your love is certain when the rest of the world is quaking with uncertainty. It is in the acceptance of endings, big and small, and in choosing to move forward from those endings. Moving forward is not the same as moving on, but for now, it is enough. A crisis is catalyst, a litmus test for the essential and non-essential. Public officials have their own lists and you have yours. You find yourself crying at almost every episode of Baby-Sitters Club because the issues that the girls had at 13 are the same ones you have in your 30s. You're also crying because your friendships have never been more essential. Your chosen family is pretty damn essential.
You start making plans again, proceeding with cautious optimism. You prepare a back-up plan and back-up for the back-up, setting safety nets for possible disappointment. Planning now seems like a radical act of hope, but it is the way you make your move. Unsure of your speed and/or direction, you move: move in, move out, move aside, move through, and move forward. There are still movements to join, movements to create. Watch the fucking sunset. The document can wait. And trust me on the movement.
The title comes from Baz Luhrmann's "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)", which was the original inspiration for writing this in 2009.