Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Life on Another Planet: Lessons from a Year of Pandemic Living

Last night I dreamed that I was deported to another planet. The reason for my deportation was unclear, but I think it had something to do with protecting me from something bad that I’d done or a dangerous event that was forthcoming.

In my dream, I ended up in an all-white dorm room with several bunk beds. Everything was white — the walls, the ceiling, the bunk beds, the sheets. I was assigned to the bottom bunk and a woman named Lee who’d I’d met just briefly at my last job was tucked into the top slot.

Lee was the only familiar face in the room. The other “guests” were two teenage girls who scored the only two non-bunk beds and a very large multi-generational family who occupied the other three bunk beds. I wasn’t sure why the teenagers were there but somehow I knew that the family had been high up in a Mexican drug cartel and were on this planet for protection.

I was confused but not scared. In my dream, it was clear to me that this was my new reality. It was not a vacation or a time-limited prison sentence. It was where I would live for the rest of my life. A chronic worrier, it was strange to me that my dream self wasn’t panicking about having been transported to this strange new land. My dream self just accepted it and tried to work with what I knew.

I started to unpack my familiar burgundy carry-on. I hadn’t packed much — just a pair of pants and a few t-shirts. That was weird because I rarely wear t-shirts. I couldn’t find any underpants or bras and as I was digging around to see if maybe they were buried somewhere Lee yelled down, “You have eight million dollars cash in there. I know cuz I got it too.”

Sure enough, there was a ziplock baggie with eight million dollars. I knew that this currency was no good on the new planet and wondered briefly who’d stuffed it into our suitcases. I thought of all the things I could have used that money for a few short days before.

Two orderlies dressed in scrubs with light blue stars all over them brought in trays of food for the teenage girls. Leaning on one elbow and facing each other, the girls picked at their food with dead eyes and bitter smirks. Those girls scared me. I assumed they’d been here for a while and had given up hope. Maybe they knew something about this bizarre planet we were on. On the other hand, I thought to my dream self, maybe they’re just teenagers.

When I finished unpacking I realized that my glasses were broken, not just at the end piece where I could use a paperclip or safety pin to repair them, but further down the arm. I would need heavy-duty tape or a whole new arm to replace it. 

My alarm woke me up and I quickly jotted down the key points of the dream. What struck me the most was how unworried I was on this new planet. I just accepted all of the strange things. I’m usually the kind of person who would be FREAKING OUT, demanding to understand what is happening, to know all of the details. I would run from room to room looking out every window, in every drawer. Normally in stressful times, I’m like Shelly Duvall in The Shining —  smoking, eyes darting around, intermittently shrieking and playing possum.

But in this dream, I was just going with it. Everything was new and different and disorienting but it was okay. It was simply my new life. My dream self accepted that I would have eight million dollars that I could never use, that I would wear broken glasses and the same bra and underpants forever. My dream self accepted my new roommates and the fact that I’d never see my home or my family forever.

The person in this dream, I thought to myself, was not the version of me that I know. It was the reformed version, the kind of person who can let things go, accept change, and live in the unknown.

Reflecting back on the period of history we’re in — more than a year of living in a pandemic where everything is scary and disorienting and we know very little about what the hell is really happening — I realize that this past year has been a little bit like living on another planet.

I’ve learned a lot on this new planet. I’ve learned early on in the pandemic that if my inner Shelly Duvall ruled the roost I would be completely insane and permanently alienate all of the close friends and family members I love and care about. I’ve learned that happiness is possible even when I am living in the unknown. I’ve learned that I don’t actually need the number of clothes and shoes and accessories that crowd my closet and drawers. I’ve learned that the world can feel scary and weird and crazy and I’ll still be okay. I’ve learned that I can make do with broken glasses.

My dream was a prescient message to stay on this path. It was a sign that the lessons I’ve learned are good ones that will serve me on my journey no matter what planet I’m on. I’ll always be a worrier. I’ll still freak out from time to time. But I like to think that my dream revealed a little bit of the new me, the one who can still be happy when life is scary, unknown, and incredibly weird. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Proxy Mommy: It Really Does Take a Village

Last night my sixteen-year-old daughter Lucia went on a dinner date with one of my best friends Jamie, and I took Jamie’s fourteen-year-old daughter Maya out. It was Lucia’s idea. She’s been talking about it for months — how she wanted to go out to dinner with Jamie. So they made a plan and then because it seemed like such a good idea, I decided to take Maya.

It was a temporary mother-daughter swap. We’ve been family friends since our kids were infants. We’ve gone on family vacations together and celebrated holidays together. We’re all comfortable and relaxed around each other, as close to family as you can get.

Maya and I opted for dinner at a local taqueria. During our dinner of tacos and burritos, I asked Maya lots of questions and she shared what she’s doing in school, ways she’d like to spend more time with her own mom, and how she was feeling about her big move to high school next year.

After dinner, we walked to an ice cream shop and got scoops to go. We walked back to the car, much more comfortable than we had been at the beginning of dinner. It was so nice to spend this time together, like mother and daughter, but without the history, the expectations, the entrenched roles that so many mothers and daughters get locked into. When I dropped Maya off I hoped she’d enjoyed herself as much as I had.

Shortly before getting home myself, I got a few texts from Lucia, “Sorry, we’re tequila tasting right now and I’ll be home around 1 am” followed by, “Also, I love menthol cigarettes.”

Jamie is one of the funniest people I know and I could imagine her and Lucia sitting at a table in the different Mexican restaurant that they went to coming up with ways to freak me out.

When Lucia finally did get home a half-hour later she told me that she and Jamie had mostly talked about college. I’m sure that they did talk about college, but I imagined, based on the wide range of topics Maya and I covered, that they talked about a lot of other things too. But I understood Lucia’s clipped summary of her evening — it wasn’t my business what she and Jamie had talked about.

It’s an age-old truth — adolescents, especially girls, have to find a way to separate from their mothers. They have to devise tools to step out of the familiar, close-to-home image of their mothers. Unfortunately for the mothers, this is often painful and rejecting. But it’s not personal. It’s imperative to make this shift so that the daughter can make herself in her own image, not that of her mother.

I remember a few months ago Lucia came home from a shopping trip to the mall. “Mom, I saw the weirdest thing,” she recounted, “there was a mother and a daughter about my age. They looked exactly the same and they were holding hands.

When I probed Lucia a little bit more about why that was so weird, she explained that there must be something wrong there. The daughter must be keeping some dirty family secrets, some big problems that she wasn’t expressing because it’s just not normal to be that way with your mom.

My daughter is in a phase right now where she is compelled to be her own person. She is driven in every way to be unlike me. I see that as a good thing, a developmental process that will help her discover who she is becoming.

Last night Lucia got to try out being a different self with a mother, just not her own. How brilliant to devise that scheme. She’d envisioned a proxy mother in Jamie so that she could experiment with being someone else, still herself, but different. She could engage in a relationship with Jamie with the comfort of knowing that Jamie sees her with a different lens.

I remember when I was a teenager and young adult, I had an extended period of needing to be completely different from my own mother. I was surly, sullen, and downright unpleasant. My mother’s sister, my favorite aunt, was my proxy mother. I could be who I wanted to be instead of who I was expected to be. I could be cheerful and delightful and sweet, all things that I simply could not give my own mother at that time.

We throw around the term, “it takes a village” all the time, but to put it into play means actually giving up something to let someone else step in and help. For me, it means celebrating Lucia’s need for separation and letting her explore. I can’t say it didn’t smart a little bit when Lucia first started talking about wanting to go out to dinner with Jamie. Part of me still fantasized about holding hands with her at the mall. But that’s not who my daughter is and that’s not what she needs.

Lucia is all about becoming herself. She still needs guidance and support. She needs to be shepherded gently through this time, to try out different personalities with people she feels safe with. I’m here to do the heavy lifting, to be the punching bag at times, to hold down the fort, and enforce the rules. It’s all part of the job. But Lucia needs more than this. And she figured out how to get it by creating a Proxy Mommy in Jamie.

And I got to step out of my own familiar mother role by playing Maya’s Proxy Mommy. I had the luxury to just listen to her, to be curious and interested in a way Jamie can’t because she has to be the heavy in Maya’s life. I got to be Proxy Mommy and experience the joy of sharing time with a young woman who is growing up and finding her own way.

Being a mother is hard but it’s also the greatest joy of my life. It is like an endless day at the amusement park. There’s the merry-go-round, mellow and pleasant, the roller coaster, scary and vomit-inducing, and everything in between. It’s exhausting to walk all day in the hot sun but there’s always the water ride and a break under the umbrella with kettle corn when you need a break before going on the Tilt-A-Whirl.

When we planned it, the mother-daughter swap seemed like a small thing, just dinner out on a Monday night. But reflecting on it has helped me understand that it is so much more. Being Proxy Mommy to Maya let me see how incredibly complicated our daughters are. It reminded me to make space for that complexity every day and to expand the village to make sure our girls have room to experiment and grow. I can’t wait to do it again.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Bottomless Green Grapes and Pomegranate Seltzer

I quit my full-time job last week and today is my first Monday waking up with no work obligations. This last job, which I managed to stay with for almost a year, was my first traditional full-time job in over twenty-five years. Prior to this job, I’d always done my own gig — consulting, running a business, starting a non-profit. And while all of those jobs were challenging and often required me to work full-time and beyond, I never had a compulsory schedule where I had to work certain days and certain hours. So leaving this job where I was a 9–5er feels especially liberating. I feel so happy that I don’t have to log in and do the grind until I can log out.

But the list of other things I need to do has already snaked in through the space at the bottom of my office door. It’s not even 9 am and my inventory of tasks is piling up: mow the lawn, clean out the storage room in the basement, make a dentist appointment, pay the house bills, wipe the old computers so I can donate them, put away winter clothes, connect timer on the drip system, research summer programs for teens.

How do people actually keep a full-time job when there is so much to do? My mom tells a story of me at our family dinner table when I was about fourteen. “I’m never going to work full-time,” I said. Both of my parents and my step-parents worked full-time. I’m not sure where I got the idea that it was possible not to work full-time.

I’d bought into the other messages that were promoted in my youth — that boys were more capable, that adult women should always be dieting, and that most people with any gray hair also had chronic back pain. So why did I make the proclamation that I would not follow the full-time path at such an early age? 

After working full-time for the last year, I am affirmed that my adolescent proclamation was wise and true. Everyone is different. There are night owls and early birds. But the majority of us are expected to work the same shifts. Some people like to work twelve-hour days and get their workweek over with. Others would rather work short days and just do a moderate amount every day. 

Today, in addition to my list of jobs to do, I have challenged myself to envision my perfect job. 

In my perfect job, I would make my own schedule. 

In my perfect job, I’d have health insurance that actually covered my health care.

In my perfect job, I could l get all of the paperwork done before 7 am and be done with work by 3 pm when my creativity and energy start to fade. 

In my perfect job, if I wanted, I could work for seven-day stretches and take four days off for a family trip. 

In my perfect job, I could work at home.

In my perfect job, there would be a quiet room for nursing, napping, reading, or meditating.

In my perfect job, I would have wonderful colleagues who also crafted their perfect jobs. 

In my perfect job, I would have a boss who asked me and my colleagues lots of questions about what we thought about big company decisions.

In my perfect job, we’d have a room full of arts and crafts — watercolors, embroidery thread, clay, a sewing machine, collage materials — so that anyone could take a break to get inspired or just to do some parallel play in the middle of the workday.

In my perfect job, I would have a few projects that were really easy and intuitive for me and one big project that felt really hard, like a two thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle. 

In my perfect job, I could walk or bike to work and come home for lunch to walk my dog.

In my perfect job, the office would have lots of plants and a mini-fridge with bottomless green grapes and pomegranate seltzer.

In my perfect job, we’d have a weekly staff meeting where everyone felt excited to see each other, and someone new brought a different homemade bread or pastry to share each week.

In my perfect job, we’d all be trying to change the world in our own way. Everyone would get a chance to share their passions and invite others to join them at our monthly Heal the World afternoon retreat in the park by the lake.

In my perfect job if you just felt really tired someone would notice. They’d look at you and smile and say, “You look wiped. Why don’t you head home. Take some time, as much as you need, and come back when you’re ready.”

I’m looking for a new job and I’ve given myself a little time to find the perfect one. I just have a few important criteria. How hard can it be?

Friday, April 30, 2021

"I wish I was 60": Contemplating the Middle Ground

For the last year, I have been working as a contact tracer. This is not my life’s passion, it was just a stop gap job to transition from selling my business. I wanted a job and the pandemic was on in full force so it worked out. About ten months into contact tracing I felt totally burned out and knew that I needed to move on. Move on to what I wasn’t sure about, but I needed to get out of that job.

Yesterday I was in my dingy basement office finishing the last day of my job when my neighbor texted me asking me for an egg. Grateful for a break from the arduous last few hours, I happily agreed to run it over to her. My neighbor and I are both in our early fifties. She’s planning to leave her job in June and so we were talking about next steps.

“I want a job with meaning, but I don’t want a job with responsibility,” she said.

“Me too,” I agreed, “I want a job that is meaningful but I don’t want a job where I have to take care of anyone’s needs or wellbeing.”

“I don’t want a job that has any stress,” she added.

“Same,” I said, “I want to work on a team but I don’t want to supervise anyone.”

We laughed about how absurd our job requirements were. Do meaningful jobs with no responsibility and no stress even exist? As I latched my neighbor’s gate and walked towards my house, she yelled, “I wish I was 60!”

I sometimes wish I was sixty too. Being sixty is a milestone that, while not that far in my future, seems a million miles away. There is something about sixty that entitles you to finally relax. After forty years of striving, grinding, achieving, proving oneself, it seems like a legitimate move to chuck it all and put your feet up when you turn sixty.

I see my other neighbor who’s in her early sixties tending the garden at 11 am on a Tuesday and think nothing of it. She’s sixty, I think, she deserves to do whatever she wants.

Being in my fifties feels like a nebulous space between working hard and relaxing. By the time we hit fifty, we are tired. For many of us the kids, if there are any, are grown or nearly grown. And we’ve worked hard for a lot of years. We’re over it. Work isn’t actually the end all be all. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel and it’s hard to be in this middle ground.

I feel like I’m on a lifeboat in the middle of the sea. In the distance in one direction, I can see a yacht, a nice one with a pool and luxurious sleeping quarters. The people on the yacht look lazy. They are reading, napping, and playing cards. That looks nice, but a little boring.

Closer to shore I spy a group of people kayaking. They are decked out in athletic gear, sunglasses, and baseball hats. They have strong arms and good posture. They are working hard, kayaking on these ocean waves, but they are having a blast, paddling like little machines, engaged in friendly competition. They are supportive of each other but deep inside each of them wants to win, to be the best.

Sitting on my wobbly life raft I feel deflated. I don’t want to go on the yacht. I worry I’d feel trapped and uninspired. I worry that once I was there I’d slowly degrade mentally and physically and never return to a feeling of youth and vitality.

But that crew of kayakers makes me want to curl into a ball and hide so they don’t invite me to join them. They’re too fast, too energetic, too caught up in doing something productive and being accomplished. 

This lifeboat I’m on is actually like a giant pause — a chance to look back and look forward at the same time. I have the luxury of being slowed down enough that I can actually see in both directions. This lifeboat is a place. It’s the place where I reflect on where I’ve been and where I want to go. It’s where I use the wisdom from my kayaking years to design my path towards the yacht. I do want to be sixty someday, but not yet. I think I still need a little more time here.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Hamilton: You Get the Job Done but You Die in the End


                                     Hamilton: What are you waiting for?

                                    What do you stall for?

                                    Burr: I’ll keep all my plans close to my chest
                                    I’ll wait here and see which way the wind will blow

A few years ago my partner and one of my best friends nicknamed me Hamilton. They were out paddleboarding and somehow started joking and laughing about how I was always doing something; like I was running out of time. Hamilton was like a rabid dog of inspiration. He worked tirelessly to make changes and build our constitution and economy but his approach was not always welcome. He was too much and he pissed people off. In the end, Vice President Aaron Burr killed him in a duel. 

Like Hamilton, I can be too much too. I’m forever taking a new class or introducing a new activity or challenge for myself. I find it hard to be idle and I have lots of ideas. Everything inspires me. I think it would be amazing to work at Costco. The people there seem so happy. I fantasize about becoming a school teacher or a librarian. When I travel I think to myself, “Maybe I should live here.” 

There are certain strengths in my Hamilton personality. I get the job done. I don’t wait. But not waiting means I’m not very patient. When something doesn’t go my way — like not hearing back on an email about something work-related or not getting a timely response from a friend or family member to an idea or suggestion I make — I react impatiently. I cannot sit with the waiting.

For me, getting the job done means putting myself out of my misery by taking matters into my own hands. I want results and I want them now. Currently, I have a friendship that is limping along. This important person in my life is taking space from me and I don’t totally understand why. My other friends say that I just need to practice patience, to wait this period out and let this person have their own process. It may have nothing to do with you, they say, just let it go. 

But for me waiting is like water torture. Why would I wait when I could take action, when I could possibly fix it? Why would I wait when I could fold the laundry, make granola, do a quick watercolor, write a blog, or plant the lettuce starts? I’m that person who sends an annoying reminder email when I don’t hear back in my personally designated time frame (that no one else knows about or understands). I’m the one who assumes a co-worker is mad at me because they don’t reply to my text about getting a birthday card and chocolates for the boss. 

Waiting makes me crazy because I have to stop moving. When I stop moving there is stillness and with stillness comes space to feel things that I don't want to feel. Yesterday morning as I felt tempted to send another annoying text to my absent friend, I stopped myself and tried to get connected to what was really going on.

I wanted to change the course that this friendship was on. My impatience was raging and I just wanted to do something to fix the situation. But experience has taught me that this habitual reaction — to keep scratching at a closed door like a desperate golden retriever— only brings disappointment for me and irritation for the person on the other side of the door. 

My pace is not everyone else’s pace. The rhythm of my life — to do things like I am running out of time — is only one way. When an idea or opportunity arises, I think, “Seize this moment! ” But someone else might think, not incorrectly, “What’s the rush?”

Productivity is widely valued in this society we live in. Patience is not. Waiting is viewed as a hassle, a hurdle, something we don’t want to do. It’s true. Who wants to wait several hours for their plane to be de-iced? Or sit shivering in a paper gown waiting for the doctor to see you? 

But as I contemplate how my own impatience affects those around me I see the value of cultivating the practice of waiting. Waiting is like holding a bowl of water in an earthquake, watching it ripple and splash and then, as the ground settles, noticing it slowly start to settle. During the tremors, it is hard to hold the water in the bowl. It’s stressful and a little scary. But then once the water is still there is a calm beauty to the bowl.

I imagine putting the bowl of water on the counter and leaving it. I might notice the bowl of water as I move around the house doing chores but it’s not a big distraction, just something I’m aware of. Over time the water in the bowl evaporates and one day, as I pass the counter I wonder why that empty bowl is sitting there and I stick it in the dishwasher.

When I stepped away from my desperation yesterday and did not text my friend, it was hard at first. I felt an internal disruption, a discordance with my get the job done energy. This was different, to just wait. As the day went on I still felt the niggling desire to fix this problem, but instead, I just acknowledged it, and eventually, it passed. Today I notice that my desire to take action is running neck and neck with my newly developing muscles of waiting. 

Not everyone lives life like they’re running out of time. I do, and Alexander Hamilton did. But many people don’t and people like me need to make room for them; we need to stop acting crazy, scratching at the door all the time. It’s true, Alexander Hamilton did get a lot done but look what happened to him.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Jack of All Trades, Master of None


I recently applied for a job that I thought was perfect for me. It called my name from the end of a long road, waving its hands and gesturing me towards it. The position was a big change for me, going back to a career path that I’d left more than twenty years ago. But I wanted this job and judging from all of the signs along the road, it wanted me too.

The job was at a large public institution and there were lots of bells to ring and whistles blow along the way. When I got to the end of the road we finally met and greeted each other. We chatted, exchanged pleasantries. The smiles were natural and heartfelt. The conversation flowed. We liked each other. This could work. 

After waiting a few weeks where I dreamed of a life with my new job — the trips we’d go on, the masterpieces we’d create — the job went with someone else, someone with more relevant experience. Instead of shaking hands and walking further down the road with my new job, an enormous sinkhole appeared in front of me. 

As I stood there, at the edge of this massive hole in the earth, I felt completely lost. This new job was supposed to define me. I’d left one career, one I’d been successful at for twenty years, and this was going to be my next step. Now what?

To my right, there was an infinite field of wheat as far as the eye could see. To my left an eternal forest of old-growth Douglas Firs and Western Hemlock. And behind me the road I’d just traveled. Where would I go? 

I contemplated going towards the wheat, walking through the scratchy fields until I found a clearing and maybe a calling. And I imagined going into the forest, towards the darkness and mystery of that world where I might walk far enough to find the perfect plan. But neither of these directions harkened me forward the way that job had called me so clearly.

And when I looked behind me, towards the road I’d just traveled, I knew I didn’t want to go there. I’d left there for a reason and I was certain that I didn’t want to return to that place.

My mind swirled. Who was I now if I couldn’t travel the road where the sinkhole now blocked my path? The phrase, jack of all trades, master of none flashed across my brain in bright pink neon letters. This was a saying I’d heard for years, one that referred to people who didn’t really focus, undirected people, losers. That would be me now. I wouldn’t be the person who stepped from one path smoothly onto another. Without this new job, I would have to stand alone, just me. And who was that?

Looking again to the right and the left I knew I wasn’t ready to go either of these directions. My mind, still spinning with the catastrophic knowing that there was no new job to hold my hand, I realized that I had no choice but to just sit down on the road and wait. 

Being here, alone on the road, waiting for a direction to make sense, I feel naked and alone. Without a job, a cloak of definition, I am just me. Everything I’ve learned in my life — in school, from my family, my peers, the media — tells me that I should be something. I should have something to say when people ask me, “What do you do?”

Right now I don’t have that. It’s just me sitting on the road. Maybe I’ll take the path towards the wheatfields or maybe I’ll take the path into the forest. Maybe I’ll spend a little time wandering in both. It felt really good when that job was beckoning me towards it. I loved the feeling of belonging, of connecting to this new exciting venture. And now that feeling is gone.

Like everything, there is a lesson in the loss of this perfect job. In my time here, sitting alone, open to the elements on this road next to the sinkhole, I am aware of other options. To be a master again, to find a new role and be in it for ten, fifteen, twenty years is to step into another role that defines me. But to just be me, without that definition, I am opening up an invitation to become more myself.

Without the cloak of a role or a label, I have to build my capacity to simply be me: a baker, a gardener, a yogini, a writer, a tinkerer, a wife, a mother, a daughter, a neighbor, lover of road trips, long walks and Netflix binging. I truly am a jack of all trades, master of none right now. And truth be told, I kind of like it here. 

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Going Beyond Gossip: Say Goodbye to that Dirty Little Practice

Yesterday I took a walk with a friend and we ended up talking at length about how upset we both were with a mutual friend who’d been checked out, unavailable and unpredictable lately. During the course of our two-hour walk, I felt like my personal complaining digressed into gossip. I wanted to stop, and I tried several times, but I couldn’t. 

When I got home I felt irritated and uncomfortable. I was walking around with a metaphorical layer of dirt on my skin, grimy with guilt. I grew up with a lot of gossip. It was part of our family culture. My parents had a lot to say about pretty much everyone they met. I thought it was normal to assess and judge everyone. I learned that this was how people talked about each other. Naturally, I grew to believe that people talked about me like we talked about other people in our house.

Gossip is everywhere. People do it every day, unconsciously most of the time. I don’t think people who gossip are malevolent. I don’t think most of us even realize that we’re doing it. But why do we gossip? 

As I sat in my soiled skin thinking about why I’d digressed into that form of communication I realized that the regressive gossipy conversation my friend and I had yesterday was serving me by creating a bridge away from my own feelings. 

In finding this common topic and feeding it with tidbits of gossipy details, I was joining my friend on a bridge. We could stand there together and be in this neutral place, neither of us being truly with our feelings.

If I had been able to be with my own emotions of sadness and disappointment about our mutual friend, I wouldn’t have needed to build the bridge away from myself. But it was easier to walk away, meet my friend, and stand on the bridge, biding time away from the pain of my own feelings. 

Gossip is a way to not be alone in whatever emotion we are having about a person. Yesterday when both my friend and I regressed into caddy gossip about our mutual friend we were finding a way not to be alone. Each of us felt hurt in our own ways and it was painful to experience that emotion. So we joined each other on the gossip bridge and kept each other company, neither of us alone in the discomfort of what we were really feeling.

Gossip hurts the people we are talking about, but it hurts those who are gossiping more. Over time, if we manage our feelings using this method, the grime builds up and becomes more difficult to scrub off. When we look in the mirror it becomes harder to see ourselves clearly. We are so covered with the dirt of others that we don’t even remember our true selves.

Not gossiping is as much a practice as gossiping. And it’s a lot harder. Sitting in the discomfort of whatever we are feeling — sadness, discomfort, insecurity — takes a lot more emotional muscle than ranting about someone’s character defects or personal choices. But it’s possible. Most of us know when we’re gossiping. Maybe you feel it like I do — that dirty layer of silt on your skin. Maybe it’s that sinking feeling in your gut or a tingling in your cheeks. 

Notice when you are walking towards the bridge, colluding with someone else, about someone else, and try to turn back towards yourself, to listen to what you have to say, what you are feeling. The conversation might change. Instead of talking about someone else, you’ll have to talk about yourself, about how you feel. And that’s harder work, but it’s also kinder. And it’s a lot cleaner.

Life on Another Planet: Lessons from a Year of Pandemic Living

Last night I dreamed that I was deported to another planet. The reason for my deportation was unclear, but I think it had something to do wi...