I have a routine now. While it’s easy to imagine living in another country as romantic and exotic, each day filled with adventure and memories that will last a lifetime, the fact is, when you have work to do, the adventure necessarily gets set to the side, especially when your work involves a lot of mental energy. You start seeking rhythms and routines that feel familiar and help you get into that work mindset without burning out.
For example, Vietnamese coffee is world-renowned for being extra strong, extra sweet, and served in all sorts of creative ways – with egg, with condensed milk, with coconut milk. There’s even a cafe near campus that sells coffee with black garlic! This is garlic that has been aged at low heat and high humidity for several weeks. Supposedly, it loses the strong flavor of garlic and becomes a bit sweet. Not being huge fan of sipping on garlic cloves, I haven’t tried it yet! I’ve tried several other types of coffee, however, and enjoyed drinking it. But at home I settle for some version of English Breakfast tea. You can only find it in the bigger supermarkets here, since it’s not that popular. But that’s what I drink each morning here.
I bobbed up and down on the paddle board, alone, far enough from the beach that I could see mountains, engulfed in layers of grey cloud. I was far enough out that it would be an exhausting swim to shore. I rocked to the rhythm of the swells and soaked in the Hawaiian sun. And then I felt it: that little notion of settling into something slow and sweet, of being held and nurtured. It’s a little whisper in the waves, a voice coming through my bones, smiling and also telling me to move closer to shore.
I felt sick to my stomach when I first heard the SCOTUS decision that overturns Roe v. Wade. I cried. I raged. I cussed up a storm. And then, in the aftermath of that outburst, I felt the weight of the realization that my right to be fully autonomous over my body, over my life, is gone. This verdict means that, because I am a woman, decisions about my health can be made by a politician. That the opinion of a political party will weigh more than that of my doctor or me.
The weight feels like the shadow of someone’s shoe over my head. As a privileged, White woman, who has had all the advantages of education and opportunity, this is a new feeling for me. It is a new feeling precisely because of my cis-gender White privilege. I recognize that losing the right to make decisions about my own health and body gives me a glimpse of the injustices that others have always felt. The shadow of that weighty shoe hangs over so many.
But it’s not any easier knowing that others feel this. Anyone who is not a straight White man has had their basic human rights further undermined by this decision.
I am no stranger to grief. It comes knocking every now and then. Old grief and new grief. If you live long enough, you experience it knocking at your door everyone and then. It’s inevitable.
When grief comes to visit, it’s like walking at the bottom of the ocean. It makes me feel so removed from my everyday life, but at the same time, it’s familiar and comforting. I know that the depth of my grief, the murky, dark pathway we all walk before the sun shines again is one of the measures of love. It can take time to rise back up through those murky waters to the surface again. And down here, at the bottom of the ocean, it’s possible to feel all griefs, all loves, that have come before.
What do you do when all the noise from a world in strife threatens to overwhelm your own voice?
I have long had the habit on New Year’s Eve of writing out a list of all the things I want to do in this life – all the things that motivate me, that pull me forward, that drive me to live deeply. Some of the things on that list are lofty, such as write a book about climate change, and some are simple, such as learn to make risotto or ride my bike in a metric-century. Sometimes I go back to previous year’s lists just to see what things have carried over from one year to the next – just to see: what are the common threads that drive me forward from year to year? What are the big things I can’t let go of?
The last time I flew anywhere was back in November 2019 for a 3-day trip to Washington, D.C.
On my second evening there, after a long day in a working meeting, I arranged to meet a friend at the National Art Gallery on the Capitol Mall. My hotel was roughly within walking distance, but I decided to shave off some time by taking the Metro to the Mall, then walking to the gallery from there.
So, it’s been a rough week. A rough year. Sitting down to write feels like wading through molasses. There is always so much to sift through, that I don’t know whether to voice outrage, frustration, hopes or insights. Do I respond to protests and incomprehensible tweets by world leaders? Or do I let our current global challenges slide to the side and reminisce about the days when we could move around freely? Do I write about my greatest fears for our world or my tentative hope?
Truthfully, I spend a lot of my creative energy these days just trying to do my job – trying to create engaging, meaningful college courses that I teach through a screen – all about weather and climate. This takes place a 5-second walk from where I sleep, and eat, and shower, and think, and live my life. But because of what I teach, what I do each day feels much more meaningful now than ever, even those moments when we delve into the gory mathematical details of directional derivatives and radiative transfer.
But I’m reaching out today because I have a big milestone birthday coming up: the HALF CENTURY MARK. This is a big one right? It’s a big one, but there will be no party, no fancy dinner out, no room full of black balloons and people dancing to greatest hits from the ’80’s. (Don’t buy balloons, anyway. They’re bad for the environment. Not to mention that anything from the 80’s is probably bad for the environment – maybe even the music.)
But there is something that would make this birthday hugely meaningful and special, and I could use your help.
“You want to have everything clean before serving tea,” says my great-aunt Anna as she brushes crumbs from her kitchen tablecloth and sets out the tea stand. She moves slowly, using her cane as she shuffles to the refrigerator to pull out the cream. She’s 98 years old – maybe the only person I know who’s more than twice my age. She’s the only person on this planet allowed to pinch my cheeks. I ask if I can help her with anything, but she shakes her head and keeps pulling dishes out of her cupboard.
It’s been more than 100 days since coronavirus came to town. One hundred and six days, exactly, since Friday, March 13th, when I last stood before a classroom full of students. I remember the buzz in the air – the fear, the disbelief, the concern, the uncertainty. We thought we were going to be having classes online for only a couple of weeks. I remember washing my hands until my skin was dry and chapped that day, because, back then, we thought that contact was the primary mode of transmission.
I would have been a lot more freaked out if I knew it could float through the air on someone’s exhale – someone who didn’t appear infected.
I think that there is always a brief moment, when the world begins to lurch in a new direction, when we all try to deny what we’re feeling – when we try to deny that everything is off kilter. A few weeks ago, I gathered with a group of women from Homeward Bound via Zoom for a community yoga class. At some point, in a balance pose, I remembered the disequilibrium I felt crossing the Drake Passage in a storm. The initial rise in ocean swell came on slowly. So slowly, it was hard to tell anything was changing, except for the stirrings in my stomach.
Crossing the Drake Passage aboard the MV Ushuaia in a storm in January 2019. Photo from a video filmed by Lesley Sefcik. I think, for many of us, life right now feels somewhat like being on a ship in a storm.