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.