This is a time of some pretty intense emotions, as I’m sure most of you will agree with. For myself, I find myself grappling with grief and guilt and helplessness more than anything else.
My life had started a slow but dramatic shift once I went back to school to finish the degree I started about twenty years ago; I hadn’t realized how many parts of myself I’d lost touch with until I dove back into a B.A. program at the University of Washington. Because I registered for classes late, my options for the first quarter were limited—and I considered that a great fortune. That was the reason I wound up in a medieval art history class at 8:30 a.m., three days a week. Art history has a very special place in my heart and seems to have always been an igniting force every time I got it in my head to go back to college. The first art history class I took at the age of nineteen is what sent me running to the town of Gernika, in Northern Spain, ten years ago. It was why I jumped at the chance to go to Firenze, Italy—Florence—a few years ago, where I stood in awe of Brunelleschi’s Duomo as much for the magic of it’s architecture as for seeing something up close that I had learned about in school and that seemed an outrageous idea to think I’d ever see it in person. It was the same when I went to the Uffizi Gallery and… yeah, yeah, the Birth of Venus was cool, but what really blew my mind was standing in front of the works of Giotto, like as St Francis Receiving the Stigmata. I’m not saying that to be pretentious—while I’m not a religious person, my art history teacher (an Italian) so passionately explained the artists and the stories behind each piece that was taught in the class, I couldn’t help but be enthralled to stand in front of each one and realize I actually knew it. My mind was also blown when I realized I’d inadvertently landed in Florence during the week of the Calcio Storico (aka Florence Fight Club). Chasing the parade around and watching the festivities was, hands-down, one of the greatest travel experiences of my life. (I have to fix all the missing photos, but you can read a brief rundown of my time here.) I was absolutely giddy when I asked my waiter about it during lunch one time, and he grinned as he said, “Yes, I’m familiar with it.” He then pulled up the leg of his pants to show me his team tattoo… he’d actually taken part in it several times and was more than happy to rattle of his list of injuries to the eager, starry-eyed American who was besotted with quirky, medieval history and brute traditions.)
Ah, I swore I’d keep this short and not go on tangents, but there you go. My point was that I’m grieving the loss—or the “on hold-ness”—of some parts of myself that I treasure. I know, these days everyone seems to say they love to travel. But travel means something to me that’s hard to explain. At least, not quickly. Maybe I’ll try in another post. But it was something I had dreamed of since I was as young as ten years old and that really helped me escape the small town (and small town mentality) I grew up in. Travel, for me, is an integral part of my identity and that often feels as vital as breathing. I know that what’s happening right now won’t last forever, but some days it’s hard to see that far ahead.
Right before the virus hit, we’d chosen to take a quick trip to Philadelphia and hold off on the bigger trip. (I can never get enough of the Philly art museum.) We were planning a bigger trip to St. Petersburg, later in the year, and I’d been tossing around the idea of going a few weeks before my husband to spend some time in a Russian immersion course. I was also supposed to have gone to Prague in mid- to late-Spring; I’ve been working on a collection of essays about my time living there, and I’d decided the time was right to return and dive deep into memory while potentially finally finding some closure. And then! There was that trip to Bora Bora we’ve been saving points for so we could take our son on a family trip.
(Homeschool… oh, I’ll be writing an entire post devoted to that, also, to try to help some of you out. We are homeschooling by choice, and this begins our third year doing so. It’s old hat by now, and I need to keep telling you: homeschooling—legitimate, legal homeschooling—is far easier than this weird remote/alternative schooling you’re suffering through now. Trust me. Our schedule is our own. Our curriculum is our own. It’s the easiest of all the stuff going on right now.)
It will all still be there later, I know… but six months into this shit, my mind sometimes goes to dark places where I think, “Will the world still even exist next year?”
And that’s where my guilt comes in. I feel guilty for mourning such a privileged thing, for wondering, “Will I get to go to Prague next year? Will my son get to watch the fish through the glass floor in an underwater bungalow?” when so many people are wondering if they’ll even have a home. Or how many more Black people will be murdered by police in the next year. Or how much worse things will get after the US elections because, let’s face it… the prospect of what that sorry-excuse-for-a-human-being-we-call-“president” and his supporters will do if he loses the election is almost as scary as if he wins. (I have a sinking feeling that he’ll win again, as I think many people do. The notion that there people who still support this orange-glazed demon from who-knows-where is… I just don’t know. What is wrong with you people?)
And then I feel helpless because there’s only so much I can do to help anyone right now. I’m helping people pay rent. I’m donating like mad. I’m editing books like Confessions From Your Token Black Colleague to help get these messages out there, to support in any way I can. Not to be make this book an afterthought, because it’s a big deal—I’m planning an entire post devoted to it. BUT, I’ll tell you that Adam Grant (of organizational psychology fame) put it on his recommended Fall reading list, and I geeked out hard because one, Tali (the author) deserves it and two, I’m very familiar with Adam Grant’s work.
I’ll pause here to do a quick callout to anyone who, like us, is in a pretty good position during this Coronavirus madness. If you’re still working, if your finances haven’t taken much of a hit, I implore you to spread that shit around. Donate. Eat out as often as you can (or order takeout). We’re doing more home renovations that we were going to hold off on so that we can continue putting money into the local economy (buying supplies) and keeping people (contractors) working. Support Black candidates. Offer financial support to people close to you who need it. A while back, I joined the Reparations: Requests & Offerings Facebook group, so that I can respond to requests for help through donations or services. Join this group, if you have something to offer. (It doesn’t have to be money!)
And then there’s the dogs… I’m trying so hard not to play favorites, but between you and me… the tiny little beast has stolen a very, very large chunk of my heart. It may be the timing—he came along just when I needed a distraction—but he’s also an extraordinarily affectionate little dude. (haha! I keep saying “tiny” and “little”… but he’s now a forty-eight pound four-month-old puppy. He already weighs more than half of what our older one does, and she’s six years old. So. He’s got some very big ears and paws to grow into.) Our older dog, who I love to death, is just not that into affection. She’s aloof. Let me put it this way—she wags her tail when I talk to her, but if I go in for a hug, the tail stops and she just looks into the distance waiting for it to end. (That look on her face in this picture below? That’s how she always looks when the “little” guy wants to crawl up and be next to her. The girl likes her space.
But this other guy… he spends the day under the table, sleeping with his head on my foot while I work. He follows me around. He wiggles his way in between Husband and I so that he can sleep with his nose on the back of my neck (because I’ve suddenly changed my tune again about dogs on the bed, to the point where we’re actually getting a new, bigger bed to accommodate the dog/s. We have two big German Shepherds. Let that sink in for a sec… ). He’s exuberant and enthused and shockingly well-mannered and never not happy, and it is exactly what I needed to get through these days. And while our older girl may not be into his dog cuddles, she sure does love their early morning wrestling sessions and afternoon zooms around the yard.