iNhAlE

[2-min read] I spent a lot of time holding my breath during the pandemic. After the study circulated of how we could contract COVID-19 from the respiratory droplets of a person jogging past, I started holding my breath when I passed a runner not wearing a mask. In Minneapolis, most residents didn’t embrace the idea of wearing masks in outdoor spaces; using one hand I could count the number of runners I saw wearing one. I’m not a runner, but I do ride a bike a lot and I didn’t wear a mask, either. I held my breath.

Luckily, the city did a great job of making space for all us outdoor enthusiasts, so only occasionally was I at risk of passing out due to low oxygen. The lakes in Minneapolis have separate paved paths for pedestrians and cyclists. The cycling paths are one-way. The city responded to the need for pandemic distancing by closing the roads around the lakes to vehicle traffic so that people had plenty space to ride their bikes one-way in the opposite direction. It was blissful. What a necessary indulgence during a chaotic time.

Later studies debated the chances of contracting the virus even with mask-wearing. I reasoned that since breathing in another person’s respiratory droplets was the most common transmission of COVID-19, that holding my breath behind my mask provided an additional measure of protection to me and/or the other person. For example, there were times when I crossed paths with a person who wore a mask, as did I, and though we had the best of distancing intentions we would cross less than six feet apart. So I held my breath in the enclosed common spaces of my condo building, like the mailroom and elevator; in narrow aisles of the grocery store; or when someone passed too closely walking out the IN door of a coffee shop.

Shallow breathing over time can manifest a sense of unease. It’s a relationship of mutual causality, so not breathing deeply can be a consequence of stress and anxiety. Common advice for feeling overwhelmed is to exhale long and even audibly when possible. And it’s effective, pandemic or no.

Inhaling deeply is an entirely different phenomenon. In moments when you are hesitant about moving forward, it takes bravery to consciously inhale. It’s a small act of accepting what comes next, trusting you’ll be okay in the moment that follows. Try it when you have a chance – did you sense the courage that arrives with it?

I’m vaccinated now (including the post-second-vax, two-week waiting period). At last, the time has arrived again for carefree breathing. But it doesn’t come naturally yet. It takes practice to remember to not hold my breath in certain situations. When I do remember, I inhale deeply this newer existence.

TrANsitionS

[2-min read] I’ve been editing my brains out lately and apparently, I neglect transitions. The professional editor to whom I paid a chunk of change to help with my memoir advises me again and again, “What about adding a sentence here to create a smoother transition?”

Hold on. I can’t skip from topic to topic and expect the reader to keep up? Have you never had a conversation with me? It’s my modus operandi to jump around. Give me a glass of wine and hold onto your hat; it’s a fast ride. And it’s so much more fun to write like I talk.

Enough about writing, though. (How’s that for a lame transition?) What about life? Don’t I get bonus points for how much transition I’ve endured in my life? I’ve transitioned from the high desert to the Midwest; from a single-family home to a condo; from driving everywhere to biking or walking. I transitioned from being a social butterfly to living in isolation. These are big deals. I’m worn out, people. And what about while I was growing up? Back then, I frequently transitioned from one apartment, school, or city to another as if I were a military kid. (I wasn’t.) Transition is my middle name. (It isn’t.) I want a prize.

It feels like the country is transitioning into the last phase or three of the pandemic – barring another setback. I’ve spent over a year transitioning into a homebody, but now I’m supposed to transition back into someone who is comfortable not crossing the street to pass people on the sidewalk; sitting in circumstances resembling a crowd; using public restrooms that don’t have windows; buying clothes from a store – perhaps even trying them on first; and seeing the dentist?

Fingers crossed I do better with those challenges than I’m managing with memoir transitions.

SPring eQuinOX

[2-min read] “Fight like a man! You’re being a little bitch! Fight like a man!” he yells, stepping forward. A few blocks over, that heavy metal crunch sound as two speeding SUVs meet. A single degree more and simmer becomes boil. The first day of spring.

“Fight like a man! You’re being a little bitch! Fight like a man!” he yells, stepping forward. I try to imagine something to say that would give him pause. Inspire him to reconsider. Encourage him to notice it’s a sunny warm breezy day, geese returning to the pond. A restorative space in which to exhale.

“Fight like a man! You’re being a little bitch! Fight like a man!” he yells, stepping forward. Not a model student of inclusion and diversity training, by commanding someone to fight “like a man,” he is boxing in the masculine gender, not allowing a spectrum of individuality but inciting a protection of ego, a shallow defense of heritage, perhaps. Labeling him the slur, he is accusing the other of being no better than female – as if male is better, on display that very moment. As if no woman fights fiercely. Deeming women merely pejoratives and not true keepers of family, society, planet. Piling on misogyny, he is modifying the feminine slur with “little.” Wishing to minimize a force. Has he never been loved by a woman?

I am at a loss for something effective to say. Instead, I imagine how he might be different on a summer day. “I’m angry!” he’ll announce, holding his ground. Not antiquated, constrictive, destructive language. It allows for vulnerability. Enables authentic self-expression. Instant relief. It also saves his face. And the day. That first day of spring.

GROundeD

[3-min read] Remind me not to move again during a pandemic. I’ve been entertaining myself by looking at my appointment book for this-time-last-year events. March 4, 2020, says “plants,” when a friend loaded all my green babies into her car because they wouldn’t have survived a cross-country drive followed by a two-month stint in a storage shed. It was tough to let them go. March 7 says “Popejoy,” where my husband and I sat with several hundred other people mesmerized by the dance performance of Pilobolus. We were nervous, but not stay-at-home nervous. We went to Target for supplies on March 8, but shelves were already devoid of TP. March 13 has “COVID Shutdown” but after calling to confirm, I kept my massage appointment. March 15 says “Lynn’s” because she was hosting our going-away party. We agreed to cancel it after hearing of 1,000+ Italians dying of COVID-19 in a single day. I decided to keep my haircut appointment on the 17th, and we closed on the sale of our house the next day.

White-out streaks across that month of March. Various appointments were all moved up and otherwise, we didn’t stay a few nights with friends before we didn’t fly to Phoenix for Spring Training baseball. I still marvel that as originally scheduled, we left New Mexico headed for Minneapolis on March 26. We didn’t get a box for the road from Whoo’s Donuts. We did accept a few rolls of toilet paper from the housekeeper employed by friends who briefly rented us their Santa Fe casita. He had a jump on compassion and empathy.

In contrast to March, with business scheduled nearly every day before we departed, April 2020 says “Beer!” on the 17th with an arrow indicating it was moved to the 18th. There is an asterisk by Earth Day on the 22nd. In May, we closed on the purchase of our condo and in August, we nervously booked a long weekend at a small lake resort up north because a neighbor told us we wouldn’t mentally survive our first Minnesota winter otherwise.

One of the greatest challenges of the move has been loneliness compounded by pandemic isolation. I haven’t been able to make new friends. At first everything else was novel, so it didn’t bother me. Now I recognize I am among the living and not in a ghost condo only when I hear neighbors walking above me, laughing next door, or leaving through the garage below me. In lieu of chatty co-workers, I have noisy baseboard heating. As I tap my keyboard wishing lines indicative of evolution of the soul would manifest, I am intermittently stunned by a lengthy and rolling, boisterous sound of… flatulence. Imagine it. (I have backed into a far corner covering the pinhole of my phone while on a call with an acquaintance, praying she won’t hear and attribute the offense to me.) A shoddy substitute for companionship, I think.

Optimistically, I bought a 2021 appointment calendar. I use it to mark when my credit card bill is due. (My new hobby is purchasing cool merch like Outdoor Afro hiking socks and a Refugee Designs hip pack to support inspiring movements and businesses.) I note the monthly Farmer’s Market and whatever I don’t want to miss on TV. On March 29, my one-year anniversary in Minneapolis, I’ve written “JURY DUTY.” I’ve been summoned.

I do not yearn for times when something was planned most days. But it’s strange to have lived here nearly a year and have only a vague sense of my new city. I accept I may never fully know Minneapolis as it was pre-pandemic. I do look forward to the day when I can start trying.

pOLar

[3-min read] “It’s not that bad,” a passerby shamed Today Show meteorologist Dylan Dreyer. Wearing multiple layers of winterwear, Dreyer was reporting from sunny Minneapolis. In her defense, a Polar Vortex had dipped the temperature to minus-something, minus 50 with the windchill factor. From my cozy couch in Albuquerque, I watched in wonder and thought, “Sunshine does make a difference.”

Fast forward a few years. I’m walking in sunny Minneapolis wearing all my winterwear. Despite mythical tales of frigid winters, I’ve chosen to move here. I love snow and since entering perimenopause (TMI? Suck it up), I can tolerate cold more comfortably. Another Polar Vortex has arrived, giving me my first taste of “the couple weeks in winter when you don’t go outside” that I’ve been warned of. In case you’re unsure, the Polar Vortex is the area of cold, low pressure air around the earth’s poles. In winter, when that area expands, bitter cold air dips down to places like Chicago and Minneapolis.

It’s minus 2 not including the windchill factor (minus 14, maybe?), so I’m bundled. Order matters: first sock liners, then thermal long underwear, heavy knee-high socks pulled over the therms, ski pants, a base layer shirt with built-in balaclava (google it if you need to), a lightweight mock turtleneck pullover, Sorel boots, spikes that strap to the soles of boots because it’s icy in patches, a Polartec balaclava, knee-length heavyweight jacket with faux-fur hood (not wearing it unless it’s windy), glove liners, and gloves. I’ve done this routine enough now to be efficient.

All summer, Minneapolis locals prepared my husband and me for the worst so we could be pleasantly surprised. “Better get out of town once before winter or you’ll go stir crazy,” one neighbor said. “It’s coming…” another neighbor teased on unseasonably cool fall days. Others were more encouraging when we explained that we loved to ski and snowshoe and played ice hockey in New Mexico. “Oh – you’ll be fine,” they assured us. But we couldn’t be certain.

On October 20, a record-breaking early snowstorm dumped about nine inches and truthfully, I panicked. It was beautiful and exciting, but I thought, “This is it. Five-plus months of freezing.” Thank goodness, that wasn’t it. The snow melted and we sat outdoors for drinks in November. Mid-December, we were sitting outside for lattes if we dressed warm and the sun was out. It wasn’t until December 23 that a blizzard brought enough snow and cold to keep the ground white and the lakes frozen solid for winter.

This 2020-21 season is the eighth-warmest winter on record for Minneapolis. I feel lucky it has been a merciful progression. January days when temperatures were unseasonably warm enough to melt snow that would refreeze into ice at night were disheartening. I don’t want climate change to rob me of opportunities to snowshoe, cross-country ski, ice skate, snow bike, and sled – all things I can do ON my neighborhood lake and some in the adjoining park only blocks away. Winter is playtime!

My definition of “cold” is a 180 from last winter in New Mexico. If there’s significant wind, all bets are off but otherwise, genuinely cold is anything below 7 degrees. Seriously. I’ve tested it three times and the difference between 7 and 2 or minus 1 or minus 4 is invigorating fresh air versus suffocation-by-layers, crystalized eyelashes, and a forehead that aches like an ice pack is pressing if exposed. Even in minus 4, at least my eyeballs don’t freeze.

Sunshine does make a difference. The Polar Vortex brought over a week of bright days after a long stretch of mostly clouds. I catch pastel sunsets at 5:30pm because daylight is already noticeably longer. But I know – spring is still a couple months away.

beTTer

[3-min read] I’m a little embarrassed about this. It’s not the sort of thing I would typically share. Up until the past couple years, I prided myself on my ability to function as if I had no problems. Nothing got to me – physically or emotionally. I could have a migraine, or someone could have unexpectedly betrayed me, or I could be spitting mad at myself for not handling a conversation like I wanted and you would never know. “I had no idea,” you would say when I told you. You wouldn’t believe the rage I’ve whistled my way through rather than exposing my feelings. Anyway, here it is: This evening I’m joining the Permission to Feel book club. Permission to Feel is the book. The only book. It’s a club about feeling. My imagined reaction of yours is a big reason Marc Brackett wrote the book. Ugh. Gross. You’ve turned into one of them.

Brackett knows I often view feelings as an inconvenience. Also, the last thing I want to seem is weak and definitely not vulnerable (bear with me, Brené Brown). It’s not like I haven’t felt anything lately. I’m feeling like I’ve felt way too much this past year, past four years, my life. In reality, I’ve spent more effort trying to shove aside anything but joy or positive enthusiasm, than I’ve allowed myself to feel something uncomfortable. It’s a family trait. I come by it honest. If I’m not feeling gratitude and optimism, I must be ungrateful and that, my friends, is shameful.

Can you imagine? Can you even imagine a life-long struggle with feeling guilt about not feeling only gratitude and optimism? About these past few years? About 2020? What a tragic waste of energy that guilt is. And it does take energy. It also leaves me susceptible to feeling what everyone else is feeling, which means not feeling what I’m feeling and letting the mood of the collective bring me down when I’m not. These days, what precious moments are those when I’m not feeling down.

I’m several chapters into the book and a great point it makes is that simply labeling our feelings legitimizes them. It gives us permission to feel them – hello, book title! The act of giving ourselves permission to feel our feelings can be a tremendous unburdening.

I think it’s already working. Sure, some global things feel like they’re slowly changing for the better. That and this feeling experiment are what I’m crediting for how I’ve recently, occasionally, spontaneously burst into song indoors and out. (Apologies to the neighbors. A singing voice is not my gift.) I’ve had a couple giggle fits. Allowing myself to feel authentically means feeling the bad and the good richly. So yeah, I’m doing this feely book club thing. Judge me if you must.

oNe iN thrEE

[4 min read] I decided to stay home for the Thanksgiving holiday. I posted on social media that it was out of respect for beyond-physically-and-mentally exhausted healthcare, first responder, frontline and mental health workers. Full disclosure: I had already decided not to travel because my husband and I both have a little asthma and our family is in Wisconsin, where COVID numbers were blowing up in October. No way could we resist bear-hugging our grand-niece, who’s been attending school. Then I heard a news report that the most recent spike in the pandemic wasn’t deterring folks from traveling and mingling over the holiday. I needed to do something to support the people who will suffer, arguably, as much as anyone who lives to regret mingling. Or knows someone who will die.

Periodically, I’ve checked articles about the Spanish Flu of 1918 to compare with COVID. It’s eerie – exceptionally eerie – how similar the circumstances are and how people’s actions then are mirrored now. Of the world population, one in three people contracted the Spanish Flu. Around 675,000 Americans died. As of November 30, the US is past a third of the way to that number of COVID deaths, and rapidly climbing.

In one article, Brittany Hutchinson, an Assistant Curator at the Chicago History Museum says that back in November, 1918, concerned citizens urged for “putting the smallness of the individual into perspective with the vastness of humanity.” One hundred years later, we haven’t changed. Concerned groups are still urging and less-concerned folks are less cautious.

It’s been forever since we saw our loved ones in-person. A good conversation with one finds me lying awake at night aware of a heart so full, it might burst – a feeling I might not have honored in the past. We’re lonely. I get the same adrenaline rush from a social interaction with a barista or Farmers Market vendor that racing down a mountain on skis or a bike would give me. We’re bored. We’re so over all the restrictions. While there is flickering light at the end of this long tunnel in the form of a vaccine, it’s elusive. It will still be a while before we get the sort of respite we needed, like, yesterday.

Missing out this year on a Thanksgiving with friends or family reminds me of the year after I had ACL reconstructive surgery. I missed out on a lot. I went on a short ski vacation with my husband and a couple of our nephews and their wives. I thought I would be okay, especially since one of the wives didn’t want to ski. It sucked so bad. Three mornings in a row, I did my PT routine alone in the fitness center staring out at the slopes, tears sliding down my cheeks. I was cranky the whole weekend. For over a season, I missed out on social group bike rides and post-ride libations. It was a lonely year. I learned to appreciate a slower pace and simpler thrills.

Eventually, I could dabble in a semblance of my previous active lifestyle. For the sake of a successful recovery, I didn’t push it. I wouldn’t risk re-injury for one day of fun, no matter how desperate I was. I had been through too much, worked so hard, been disciplined. I wanted to fully experience the reward of confidence in my strength when the time finally arrived to enjoy challenging activities again.

We’ve been through too much. We’ve sacrificed so much. But we aren’t hard-wired to opt for the long-term reward. If we haven’t had COVID or personally know someone who has died, we’re tempted to roll the dice for a little gratification sooner. It was the same in 1918. People celebrated the end of WWI and the winter holidays in group gatherings, often unmasked. The Spanish Flu ravaged the U.S. a third time in January.

What I appreciate most about COVID being a global pandemic is that it forces the consideration of individual action against the paradigm of “the vastness of humanity,” regardless of which country we live in. This human experience is universal.

Here is where the paths diverge: Around the summer of 1919, before a vaccine was developed, the Spanish Flu essentially had run its course.

If only we could be so lucky.

tHErAPEutIC

“Are you settling in?” It’s a common question from faraway family and friends. I hate to cause them concern, but I am not settling in. I don’t like admitting it because I brought this major change on myself and I want to be right about my assertion that I would love living in Minneapolis. I love Minneapolis! Right after it snows – it has already snowed hard – the sidewalks are shoveled to maintain neighborhood walkability! And if Lizzo says it’s “magnetic” and “really cool,” it’s really cool. But I am not settled.

I have a hangover sense of having no home. It stems from moving out of my Albuquerque house sooner than planned; staying in a Sante Fe casita (it was lovely) rather than with Albuquerque friends, as originally planned; temporarily living in a basement in Minneapolis; sleeping on an inflatable mattress after my husband and I first bought our condo. It’s a little melodramatic. The reality is, we’re getting the bathroom remodeled partly by choice and partly by necessity. Just as we were beginning to establish a sense of familiarity in the condo, it was time to pack up and move to a rental to spend the winter holiday season somewhere unfamiliar. We have moved out and into somewhere new four times in eight months.

There’s the physical sense of settled and there’s being emotionally settled. Too much is still unpredictable and complexly layered. I was working past the emotional crazy vicariously through the young kids next door, who occasionally scream at the top of their teeny lungs like they’re recording for the “Let It Out,” release your scream campaign of Iceland. I want to scream like that. Once a week, the woman in the condo above ours has a guest over and they laugh hard and shriek and have a raucous time. It sounds therapeutic. A mental health date. I’m envious of that, too.

I haven’t figured out how to cut loose to the extent of my neighbors, but a half-bottle of chardonnay and a good TV show can be a lovely distraction. Toss in the surprise of a house centipede racing across the living room floor at 1.3 feet per second – literally – and you get my husband and me joining in on the neighboring vocal expressions. It was unexpectedly cathartic. Tempted to freak and frazzle out, after a moment to regroup, I reminded us how we used to have frequent black widow visitors in our Albuquerque home. We got this.

I’m also practicing a tactic I used a few years ago, when life presented me with a difficult, unpredictable challenge. I imagined then that things didn’t go badly, because what if something I’m worried about turns out good? Last time around, it happened. Now I try to imagine an outcome better than I could script.

Ask me again in 2021. Fingers-crossed, I’ll be settled. In the meantime, I need to be patient with myself. And kind.

Let’s be kind to ourselves, okay?

CoVIDiNG

[5 min read] It’s a verb, right? To COVID? I’m COVIDing right now, sitting on my yoga mat in my living room, waiting to livestream a yoga class and hoping the person in the condo above me is finished playing piano in time for shavasana. I was COVIDing while I ate breakfast and watched the interview-via-Zoom on 3rd Hour of Today, entirely distracted from what the person was saying by all the book titles behind her. It thrills me to imagine how print book sales are skyrocketing because everyone who’s anyone giving an interview needs a good collection as their background. If I wasn’t so busy COVIDing, I would have wrapped up my own manuscript and book proposal by now, and funneled them off to an agent.

Surreal is the adjective I’ve used most often to describe 2020. Back in March, my husband and I moved from New Mexico to Minneapolis as the pandemic was starting to seem serious in the US, which meant I wasn’t able to hug goodbye friends before I left. No social closure. (COVIDing.) When we first arrived, “home” was a cozy 230-square-foot basement Airbnb. It had everything we needed, like a washing machine drainage sink for washing our dinner dishes and a choice of three chintzy chairs my husband could alternate between to feel less ass-numb as he sat through meeting after remote meeting with coworkers, COVIDing. We had moved to Albuquerque way back when hantavirus was a thing and in 2020, we landed in Minneapolis during a pandemic. Having planned the move for close to a year, it felt magical to succeed regardless.

Anxiety is the noun that punches me in the throat for what I would have deemed no good reason before 2020. Everyone has an interesting story and mine is that we sold everything and moved despite COVID. It might be the most stressful thing I’ve ever done partly because it’s still impossible to feel settled. After my husband and I first arrived in Minnesota, it took about a month to remember to brush my teeth before lunch. My time was consumed with figuring out how to get groceries and lots of red wine in an unfamiliar, locked-down city. I can be obsessive, so in addition to things inherently complicated to accomplish during a pandemic, like buying a car, I would obsess over whether my teeth were going to move if my retainer failed after all the Invisalign torture I’d been through, or what I would do when my special leave-in hair conditioner or zinc supplement ran out. (I know. Trivial sh*t.) It was that the big things could crack me, so my brain picked a couple minor concerns for sustainable torture.

I nearly had a panic attack the second time I had to let a plumber into the condo we purchased, after he told me he didn’t “believe in COVID.” At least he wore a mask, which was especially important because he had to return to swap out our toilet for one that wouldn’t leak sewage into the subfloor of the bathroom. That’s when I noticed how the slightest anxiety gave me a constricting sensation in my throat. Maybe it started with the smell of sewage. Maybe it kicked in just after we emerged from the basement to move into our condo, because George Floyd was murdered and sometimes, I tried to hold back the sobbing. But Every. Single. Thing. about the tragedy was wholly devastating. And the city was under curfew. And I could see helicopters hovering nearby and fires in the distance. Sometimes, I awoke mornings with tears sliding into my ears, heartbroken for my new city, this country, humanity.

It’s October now and apparently, humans even adapt to surreal. Things have become sort of routine. Before I walk out the door, I have a mask routine. When I get groceries, I use my no-cooties unpacking routine. On Friday evenings I have a routine of racking my brain for something to make it feel like a weekend and not just a couple days of COVIDing.

Priorities have inevitably shifted some. I’ve been working hard: to get to know myself differently; focusing more on gratitude and compassion; educating myself, reaching out, donating to progressive causes. Evolving. I tried hard every single day at first, but it was too much and I cracked. Now, I sense the importance of preparing for the long haul. This COVID thing has teeth and they’re all K-9s. I’m certain of ecological magnificence as restorative necessity. Physical and emotional survival. Does that make sense? We are re-learning to crave the spectacular outdoors. There’s a lesson in the reality that we can pool with a crowd indoors and beckon illness or move outdoors into nature and stay more well. One point seems clear: Outside has always been home. And we are most certainly all in it together.

Thank you for indulging me in a silly grammar exercise. Until next time, stay solid.