Friday, January 1, 2021

The Word was “Learn”

I’ve been choosing a yearly theme word for about a decade now. Sometimes I forget about it by February. Sometimes it becomes the star of the year. 2020 worked my theme word hard. The word was LEARN.

I started out in January by taking a course at the Journalism School at UC Berkeley on film editing. The instructor - Maxim Jago (yes he looked and sounded exactly like his name) - taught us many things, though the real nuts and bolts of the matter didn’t come round til the last day of class... it was quite a learning experience. 

I started taking Spanish at the local adult school. Every Tuesday night I walked over and we sang songs and talked at kindergarten language with 28 other people hoping to grasp the language that more than half of CA already speaks. It was a fun addition to my Duolingo app studies and I thought I might actually be getting somewhere

In March I voted in the Presidential Primary hoping for an Elizabeth Warren win. But she lost, and I learned, once again, that America is not ready for a woman president no matter how smart or qualified she may be. Then COVID-19 arrived and I learned more than I ever wanted to know about viruses and how they pass from human to human and - more importantly - how to avoid letting that happen. Just like all of you, I learned about “social distancing”, “pods”, “remote learning”, and Zoom. Everything was cancelled. My kid came home from college. All public schools closed and I stopped going to Spanish class. I walked around the neighborhood crying while taking photos of flowers. I didn’t sleep or eat. I lost ten pounds.

In April I learned that the level of anxiety I was experiencing was abnormal and I needed help which was provided to me by my doctor in the form of Ativan. It worked. As did TIME - time to come to a “new normal.” Suddenly they told us that it would be good to wear masks so I learned how to sew one. It took a long time and several patterns and ultimately I decided it would be best to just purchase them. Our family’s ZOOM Passover Seder was not terribly successful. We hadn’t quite learned how to use the platform yet and it was not at all spiritual and actually slightly chaotic.

Summer came and there were protests - Black Lives Matter - too many police killing too many black people. I posted signs and cheered loudly from my home - too afraid to be part of such a large crowd during this pandemic. Say their names: Ahmad Arbery, Manuel Ellis, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd are only a few. I’m learning about the perversity of white privilege and how to be a good ally. I don’t think that learning here will ever be done.

The season felt long. My daughter took a job as a counselor in a day camp. I worried constantly.

Finally Fall, and the schools my kids attended decided to remain closed but we decided it would be best for my son to live near his university in San Diego with peers. So he went off and my daughter continued her studies from the computer on her desk at either mine or her dad’s house. That’s when the fires started and I learned why all post apocalyptic movies look so dusty. When smoke covers the sun the air becomes thick. Like soup. Scary and surreal. We were all shocked by it’s eeriness.

Around this time I found a caterpillar on a plant in the front yard. Turns out, my neighbors had planted tons of milkweed in hopes of attracting Monarchs and it worked. Another neighbor lent me a little butterfly tent and I set about raising caterpillars. When the first one turned into a chrysalis - seemingly in a blink of an eye - I was stunned and smitten. I learned all about monarch caterpillars and butterflies and what happens in between. I learned the difference between a chrysalis and a cocoon, and what signs to watch for at each stage of the transformation. Beautiful.

This was the month I started growing some cannabis plants (ultimately somewhat unsuccessfully - learning that time:money ratio made it cheaper to buy) and a friend gave me a garbage bag full of trim. What to do? I learned to make cannabis butter. There were so many different theories on what works best, how to and how long to decarb (decarb??), cook, and the best recipes to bake. I gave a lot away and was grateful for the opportunity to help friends with anxiety and sleeplessness.

Somehow, sometime in early October, I got it into my head that I needed to get back on a schedule (what month was it?) and I started waking early, enjoying my coffee in bed, and heading out the door with Sam the dog by 7:30 for a walk round the neighborhood while listening to “The Daily” podcast. Whoa - this was life changing. And not just for Sam. Unlike running (which had somehow lost its luster no matter how many times I tried to resurrect it) the no-pressure approach to exercise (no special shoes, or clothes) worked for me and I started logging more miles than last year (according to my trusty iPhone that measured my steps). It’s a constitution I intend to enjoy for many years to come. I’ve learned how important it is to my wellbeing.

TikTok finally sucked me in around October and I somehow ended up in a roller skating loop - people were cruising on old-style quad-wheeled skates. Like from when I was a kid. They were so smooth, looked so cool and made it seem so easy. Many days, on those morning walks, I’d pass by a completely empty North Berkeley BART station parking lot - seemed like a great place to roll around... SO I went on Amazon and bought the cheapest skates I could find ($65) along with all the safety equipment because - let’s face it, I’m old and will break easily - and put them on in my living room, falling immediately. 

That’s ok. I started skating at the parking lot. Back and forth. Back and forth. I fell. I got up. At the end of November I downloaded an online skate course and I’m a couple of weeks into that. And I found a better place to skate - at the community center down the block. The concrete is smoother. I’m learning a lot and by the end of 2021 I’m hoping to cruise like the gals on TikTok.

Here it is the last day of the year and I keep learning. I feel like “learn” could be my word again for 2021 but that’s boring - my word should be fresh and mindful. I was thinking “gratitude” because if there is one very important thing I learned from this year, it’s to be grateful for the things I have - the back yard space has been essential during lockdowns and I can’t imagine what we’d do if we were in an apartment; work - and the fact that the pandemic didn’t change it much - in fact, I’ve had a really good year; and of course, our health - I’m lucky my kids and parents are on the same page regarding the masks, lockdown, social distancing, and safety. So far nobody close to me has had a case requiring hospitalization <knock on wood>.

Alternately I’m thinking about a word that challenges me to move outside my comfort zone (will definitely need to do this for skating). Is the word RISK? Or is it DARE? Or is it something similar but totally different? Whichever word, it will result in growth - because the only way to get better is to do what you’re afraid will fail. Hmm.

Happy New Year.

Monday, June 1, 2020

A Sunny Day in 2004

I paid for my coffee and went outside to sit at a table.
Suddenly, confronted by the shop owner:
"HEY you paid with a fake bill! You can't use this!"
Wait. What?

He came over to the table and angrily put the bill down in front of me, pointing,
"See here. And here!"
Oh. Yes. I do see. I had no idea that I had such a bill in my possession - it must have come from another transaction. Can you take my card? Can I write a check?
Shaking his head, mumbling, "Can you believe this? A pretty good forgery!"
To me: "Don't worry about it."
Laughing to himself, walking inside: "I'll take this over to the bank later."


RIP George Floyd

Monday, May 11, 2020

My Son’s Face

My son is home from college. His freshman year cut short by this pandemic. He’s still taking classes, online, from is room. But that’s not what this is about.

I came upstairs the other day and he said ‘what do you think?” 
“About what?’
“About my face?!” Incredulous.
Blank stare....
“OMG I shaved!”
I’m sorry, did you have facial hair?

But when I look at him I don’t see the man in front of me. 
There are layers upon layers of memories through which he filters.
His infant disgust, his toddler frustration, his boyish delight .... all of those faces are still there.
Most people can’t see them but I can.

I wonder what he really looks like.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Chained to Freedom

The perfect analogy today made by a NYTimes reporter: America’s response to Covid19 is equal to our response to guns; somehow dozens of other countries are able to control the problem but the US is too chained to it’s freedoms to allow control to actually happen.

Chained to our freedom might seem an oxymoron but it’s true. Our freedom is more important to us than our safety and even our lives.

More than that our addiction to money and capitalism supersedes any call to health. “Some people will die if we open the economy? Let them die. It’s a risk we have to take - thousands of lives for millions of jobs.” Fair trade? Hell no.

They say the disease doesn’t discriminate but that’s bullshit too. Some people can hide from the “invisible enemy” on one of their yacht in the South Pacific while another person tries to figure out where he can lay his tent for the night without being told by cops to “move along.” And even when the virus takes us down it is the rich who will have the private care needed to come back from the beast. Nobody is going to tell the largest donor to the hospital that there isn’t a ventilator available. They’ll pull it from the older uninsured vagrant who “probably would have died anyway. Right?”

The virus is not an “equalizer” and this is not the “great pause.” Romanticizing these months perpetuates a myth that will fool generations. Can we call it what it is? A screeching halt made toxic by a lack of unifying leadership over a divide that this virus has pushed to the limit.

I’m not seeing any good way out of this. But I remain curious to see how it unfolds. To be clear: I did not say hopeful. I said curious and I mean that in a myriad of ways.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

The Dance

May 3 and we’re in this weird spot. The state government is loosening things ever so slightly ... giving an inch, so to say ... but people are taking a mile. So many people in the park today, nobody wearing masks.... you wouldn’t even know there was a pandemic if it wasn’t all over the news all the time. It makes me angry. Then I feel bad for feeling angry .... I mean, not everyone has a yard and people need to get out somehow. Fine. But everyone is pushing boundaries and I’m not sure how far I’m willing to go or what I’m willing to tolerate. Without clear rules it’s hard to know what is safe and what is not. I hate it.

I feel like the next natural step would be for each household to combine with another. Keeping mingling between two or three households and introducing more slowly ... maybe once a month. Until a vaccine or cure is plentiful.

Meanwhile I dislike taking the Sam (the dog) for a walk. I’m constantly crossing streets or changing direction to avoid oncoming pedestrians. It’s like a big zigzag dance. We need to make rules .... walk on the sidewalk in the direction of traffic... I think that would at least help. I read somewhere that that’s how they “do it” in Europe but I have no proof that it’s true.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Normal is as Normal Does

Another month has gone by... As we in California “flatten the curve”, shelter in place has become the norm. We’re hunkering down. I’m weeding and pruning and gardening like a crazy lady. It calms the nerves. The roses smell delicious even as the the thorns draw blood and howls.

The weather this week has been beautifully warm. In past years I’d go for a run or take the dog(S) for a hike but it’s no fun dodging pedestrians and hikers who don’t seem to give a rat’s ass that the virus dictates a 6 foot boundary around my person.

My anxiety level has dropped considerably in the last three weeks and I’m not sure this is good or bad. As my panic subsides so does my vigilance. I’m no longer wiping all the groceries down with Clorox before putting them away, and I’m not quite so weird about the mail. But I’m still sheltering in place. I don’t see that changing for months and months.

Nothing will ever be the same but all this is already starting to feel normal.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Notes from the Apocolypse

Welp ... I should have started this about 4 weeks ago to truly document what’s been happening but I didn’t and that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t start. Now. So. Here we go.

Read my tweets (@berzerkeley) if you want to get an idea of what I’ve been feeling up til now... I don’t say much on facebook that’s of any worth... but my Instagram feed might be interesting. I don’t know. It’s up to you.

The two weeks I had without anyone, without the kids, felt ok. I had some momentary freak outs and panic attacks (one early on led me to the doctor who, bless her heart, prescribe Ativan for me so I can occasionally find a level head (half mg) or sleep (whole mg).

The birthday was a little weird, but not unlike a lot of birthdays in the past. I remember one year - must have been 1988 because it was in NY and I spent the day at doing what we NOW call “self care” - the gym, nice lunch at a restaurant (solo), walk around the park (Central). I don’t mind spending my birthday alone as long as I’ve planned it. Which is did. I ordered cupcakes for delivery and dinner from my favorite local restaurant (then Beau - it’s what we’ll call the fellow in my life) Venmo’d me money because he had wanted to do all that and I beat him to it. I’m just so used to taking care of me ... I didn’t even think to wait. Ha.

I spent the birthday weeding the front yard and it looks great now. Super happy with it. .. Actually maybe another couple of hours to put in, but wow such a difference. (Again - that’d be my instagram feed for photo proof of that).

When it came time for the kids to come home to me (they had been with their dad for 2 weeks and we decided that 2 weeks between visits is the safest (?really who the fuck knows? It’s what we decided, might not be right for your split family but I think it will be ok ours. We’ll see. Again who the fuck knows) I flipped out and had a panic attack. I was afraid they’d bring germs here or they’d pick up mine here.... They calmed me down (and half Ativan) and as it turned out only Joe ended up coming. Apparently the kids decided they needed a break from each other. Ohkay. Would have liked to know but whatever. Choosing battles is easier now.

So when Joe arrived - who I’d not seen since January = I found myself afraid to touch him. I’d not touched anyone’s in 16 days or more... I was hesitant which felt so wrong.

I think this shelter in place is going to be a 9-12 month venture. Maybe longer. A lot of innovation will happen - good. Unionizing among grocers, delivery people, and other “essential” employees will happen with support of the public. The economy will never ever be the same as what it was and that’s ok. Maybe even good. I hope I live through it. More so I hope my kids and my parents live through it because death from this is lonely. Nobody can be by your side. You’re infectious. I can’t bear to think of any of them suffering this way. I wrecks me. This is when I seek the Ativan.

But for now I’ll take a walk. With Sam. Because Joe is jumping rope in the backyard and I’m getting bossy. And stressed. Yeah. Bye.