I left clothes drying on the clothes hanging rack in the middle of my bedroom as an act of defiance. I woke up early that morning to schlepp to the laundromat before packing, before leaving for my parents’ home in Texas, before a last look at the life I had been gripping. I needed my room to look like its owner would return. A twofold defiance that cried: “I will come back and I will come back to clean clothes!” A wannabe rebel knows her weaknesses better than her strengths, so this pathetic, pacifistic approach to defy the uncontrollable quickly transformed into an act of dedication—a subtle act of domesticity to revere the continuation of life. I needed the image of shirts I rarely wear drying in my bedroom while I rode to the airport with my roommate-bestie to crowd out the fog of unmade decisions and the fear that they were being made for me. I craved some soft reminder that elective chores are far more normal than novel diseases. I longed for life to be more normal than death.
Upon arrival in Texas, my little brother greeted me with open arms, and by that, I mean he tossed me keys to our friends’ RV, fully face-masked and no-nonsense. One trepidation I had in leaving New York was the fact that I would need to self-quarantine the recommended fourteen days after exiting the epicenter. That seemed like a long time to be totally alone, but after nearly seven weeks of social distancing, fourteen days looks inconsequential. Additionally, the decision was fortified by the alternative being the unforeseeable stretch of riding out the pandemic alone in a tight apartment, well beyond fourteen days – the route so many of my friends and colleagues are facing.
Meanwhile, I’m out of town, out of work, and out in the middle of nowhere Texas. Still riding the high of a five-dollar frozen margarita that came in a jumbo take-home cup (courtesy of Fuzzy’s Tacos), I set up camp. I don’t bother taking anything out of my suitcase, which I find hilarious, given my preternatural desire (or air-force-brat breeding) to make home out of whatever lies before me. This oddity in behavior defied my typical commitment for even the weekend trip; I always utilize the hotel room drawers. To add to the perplexity, there were shelves and cabinets I could have used to keep my clothes safe from the acorns. More on that later. In retrospect, I scrutinize that choice, wondering how that little decision may have meant something deeper. Another subtle defiance or dedication that spoke into being, this is temporary.
Most people rarely take two-week long vacations, though most people would probably enjoy more of them – a conundrum that initially vexed me. I questioned how I could reconcile this time and how I could create productivity. While I had space to roam, luminously green pastures to graze, and cows to befriend, I felt guilt for having no one to actively help and the weight of being freakishly dislocated. However, I recognized the opportunity in front of me, foremost the gift of space to allow my mind to roam wildly, graze freely and befriend newly. I set my sights on making the most and for me that baseline is always searching for a story.
People asked me how I filled my days and I regret to say I spent far too much time lost in thought (and worry). A Walter Mitty type, I seldom know what boredom feels like because I don’t need activity to stimulate me. I wish I did. Then, I might have a closet full of hand-knit sweaters, a business or a boyfriend – all theoretically nice ideas. This getting lost in thought often yields a fabulous idea, but gone unmeasured, it snowballs into a kind of mind-rot from being overwrought from thought. Just as much as action needs thought behind it, thought needs action, too, to pull analysis, fantasy, and fear into the ring of experience. Ideas, like dreams, need action to ground them.
As I walked the many acres of glowing green pastures in my hiking boots, ruminating over months of unrest with my health, day-job and my dream, I discovered Psalm 23 palpably. The uncertainty of my livelihood troubled me, the uncertainty of my usual dwelling displeased me, the uncertainty of the world’s ability to support my passion, let alone my own body, depressed me, and the collective uncertainty for my family, my friends, and the world questioned my faith. Even so, nature shepherded me. A force guiding me by literal still waters and providing rest, forced as it was, making me lie down in plush shoots as spring breezes rushed through fresh leaves, and turtles plopped underneath the water nearby, too shy for this stranger. The breezes mirrored the strokes of clouds that covered the wide dome above me—loose and long, boomeranging around the sun. As the virus began to peak, so did nature in springtime blooms. With every new day, the canopies of malleable limbs triumphantly unfurled over my head. Maybe restoration comes from above? Maybe we’re more like spring-scapes than we realize—bright blue with longing and green with an unknowing possibility.
A fixer, my longtime pressuring to fix myself needed refining, not chiding. While reaching inside our minds can reveal important realities, self-restoration involves outside activity through the acknowledgement of nature—what exists for all people. When we expose our limiting experiences to nature, the paradigm changes, giving those experiences less heft for today’s journey and more might in connecting us to the help of others and our work. Limited by disappointment in a frenetic city, I brought my fiction to the farm and the sky sang a different tune. How conditioned we are to believe that conditions must be right for the act of creation. As I sat and stared at the cows, I battled with two truths: isolation is not ideal but it is also not new. People have been pushed and prodded outside their homes for all of time by more unnatural causes than natural. While we use the words natural and unnatural subjectively, I suspect the inner irk that claims, this is not what was meant to be, is the overthrow of the natural to the unnatural. Let’s not play victim to these “unprecedented” times; things can be unnatural without being new. Things can be the natural outcome without being the natural end. Where is our hope?
Following the Acorns
Unfortunately, I inflicted a shadow of death for the larger field mouse population of Coyote Flats, Texas during my mostly idyllic glamping adventure. My first evening, I saw one sail across the floor of the RV, which made me chuckle with a sort of romantic pride. The full experience! In the days that followed, I discovered acorn hoards in corners, and in my shoes every morning. Coexisting with the one scurry-sighting and some acorn stashes seemed manageable. Until unnatural overthrew the natural… One risky whisker thought he could get lucky one night at around 3am, as they often do, and snuggled up to my shoulder. I was on the edge of a dream, uncertain the pitter-patter crawling up the wall was indeed reality. Once I felt furry weight on my shoulder, there was no more leaning into the moderately interesting dream I was having. My body snapped in half like a beach chair. To put it politely, I lost it. Sleep. Peace. My mind.
To spare the gory details, the traps worked. I became less hysterical with each extinction, though never apathetic (there’s still some human left in me!) I spent the last four nights of sleep curled around the kitchen table. Ironically, this was the one spot I heard the mouse shuffle least. Adding to the irony, just a few weeks earlier in New York, a city mouse scurried across my apartment room floor as I screamed pathetic wales, alter-ego-anti-mouse persona fully engaged, rendering me completely helpless. Even in the presence of two strong female leads (the roomies), I buckled. It took the limitation of being alone to realize I could exterminate the predator. Also noteworthy: on day nine, I used a cow patty as a frisbee. Is this the impact of growth or the growth of impact?
Some days lagged; others rolled on. I read, I prayed, I caught up with old friends. I made fires and danced underneath the stars. As I hand-washed my clothes, I remembered the ones I left. After two and a half years in New York, I grow more in awe of the city’s strength as I grow softer to its people. A strength that once left me scared has left me soggy like the clothes I left in my bedroom. Whether you’ve never even visited, the strength of New York travels through our histories, but it sagged in my airplane window on that March day. Flying over the GWB, I located the running path I trudged through the evening prior when I decided it would be better to run in the rain than cry in it. Keep moving, I thought. Keep moving, crying, running with and for the city you love.
As a gig worker and artist, my ability to sustain a life in New York is desperately compromised by the shutdown we are all facing and weathering. However, I encourage us to replace our ifs with hows. It’s not if we will get through, it’s how we will get through. How forces us to dig deeper in our response, both practically and spiritually. It engages activity while diminishing anxiety. Nature reminds us that growth still remains in seasons of containment; it reminds us where we’ve been and pushes us to stare down the motivation for our hope in anything at all. The Guide that led me by the water shepherding me in questions of natural vs. unnatural is the same One who restores souls and dreams, even in valleys, shadows and deaths, and even in quarantines.