If I could offer you only one tip for the future, stretching would be it. Stretch in between online meetings. Stretch your neck, your shoulders, your back. Flex and point your toes. Stretching is a kind of recovery.
A new year seems like a clean slate. You make plans (!) while repeating that you're hoping for the best and expecting the worst (secretly leaning more towards hoping for the best). You roll your eyes at screenshots that are meant to serve as group photos. They're lame. You delay projects and events thinking that the situation will get better.
"Better" does not happen. Viruses, it turns out, have variants.
And so the program that was scheduled to run for a few weeks online and culminate in an in-person event has to stretch over Zoom for several months. The international conference you were looking forward to has evolved into a "hybrid." The wedding you already picked your outfit for will just be on the web. Life online requires alignment meetings and debriefing meetings (as if anyone needs more meetings?!), contingency plans, tech runs, and trust. You count the ways that this setup sucks: how it intensifies the digital divide, how hollow these timed and transactional encounters can be, and how everyone is at the mercy of unpredictable internet speeds. Anxiety is a constant companion. You drift between yearning for the past and fixating on the future.
You doubt yourself in ways you don’t recognize. You imagine how different this would all be in real life.
Except this is real life. Holding on to high hopes stands in the way of being present. By focusing on what you can't do, you almost miss out on what you can do. It's your job to stretch your team's potential. Stretch yours, too. You squint to see the gift of where you are, not where you could be.
Recalibrate what you’re allowed to hope for. You do not have to lower your standards, but you have to let go of a few expectations and befriend limitations. Make room for magic. Be less of a perfectionist and more of a stumbling student, because what was once clockwork now feels clumsy. Fieldwork is ridden with risk. Packing for a long-haul flight after nineteen months of not seeing NAIA triggers unfamiliar paranoia. Reunions are welcome, but a little wobbly.
Family teaches you that you can love and not like someone. You may share childhood memories, but not the same moral baselines. You may share blood lines, but not long for a close bond. At the same time, family also means familiarity, a weighted blanket woven from threads of comfort and chaos that only a shared history can bring. Tangled layers of inside jokes, resentment, laughter, and love live on, for better and for worse.
Family is understanding and accepting that intention matters more than action.
Distance, you learn, is subjective. You can feel disconnected to people at the same dining table, and feel deeply connected to people in another continent.
Closures come in complicated forms: drunken disclosures over Whatsapp, an email on a Wednesday morning, and the absence of a birthday greeting. Words reopen wounds, and you catch yourself weeping while chopping carrots or lying in bed listening to "happier" by Olivia Rodrigo and "To Be Loved" by Adele. There are also worlds that widen with everything that is not said. Regardless of method, the message (or lack thereof) is clear -- they are closed, and they are sure.
Still, the stories of your unlived lives peer over your shoulder, carrying the promise and prospect of the choices you made and didn't make. There is heartbreak, then there is healing.
Your friendships cradle you through the confusion. The word "friend" will never quite capture the roles your friends play in your life: cheerleader, career coach, stylist, editor, therapist. You know each other's addresses for surprise deliveries and handwritten notes. You know each other's seasons, respecting when to hold space or make space, and when to push hard or pull back. Group chats are the place you go to for sharing podcast recommendations, deciding on the best shade of blush, drafting an email to a donor, and asking advice on how to negotiate a raise.
Sending a series of sentimental messages is your love language.
There is nothing you can do about your stretch marks. Eat vegetables, commit to your workouts, and be kind to your body. It's the only one you've got.
Recovering from a day of drinking takes two to three business days. Folding laundry takes four to seven.
A vaccine becomes your passport to possibilities. A universe blooms for handshakes and hugs, for plane rides and parties, and for sunsets and Sunday brunch. It provides permission for cautious and calculated spontaneity.
Having free time doesn't mean you have to fill it up with "productive" activities. Stretches of time getting lost in a memoir and sobbing overThis Is Us is time well-spent.
When you choose to be with a partner, you don't just choose a person but a life and lifestyle. Choose wisely. Choose love that offers the freedom to be your truest, wholest self.
Partnerships with the government can be painful, but necessary. Stretch your patience.
When a toddler reaches for your hand inviting you to play, play.
The place beside your furry friend is where you will always belong.
One Sunday morning, you are having brunch at a café alone, people-watching and eavesdropping and pretending to read a memoir. You marvel at the extraordinariness of the ordinary and your eyes fill with tears. You sniffle and the stranger next to you asks if you're okay.
"I'm good," you reply. "Good" may be a stretch, but "good" in a pandemic really means "good as can be."
You make an effort to dress up again, put lipstick on again, and make loose plans again for this version of real life. You no longer roll your eyes at screenshots substituting for group photos. You still think they’re lame, but for now they’re what you have. What you have is still a fucking lot. Virtues, it turns out, also have variants.
And trust me on the stretching.
2020 version | 2019 version | 2018 version | 2017 version | 2016 version | 2014 version | 2013 version | 2012 version | 2011 version | 2010 version | 2009 version
The title comes from Baz Luhrmann's "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)", which was the original inspiration for writing this in 2009.