Building in a Little Structure

Amanda Chablani came by yesterday — first time I’ve seen her in a year and a half, and we ended up talking for three hours. She brought delicious scones from Courageous Bakery & Cafe — with peaches from the garden, apples from the grocery store, coffee and tea, it was a perfect brunch on the porch. 🙂

I think we’re also going to get together for pizza and board games sometime soon, as part of my scheme to organize play dates for Kevin so we can have more mutual friends. I’m finding as I look ahead to possible shelter-in-place again this winter (maybe I’m pessimistic, I don’t know), it’s assuaging my anxiety a little to make some actual plans to socialize with a few people, building in a little structure, just in case.

A Post-Birthday Slump

I’ve been struggling a little, the last two days. My 50th birthday was lovely, but then there was a bit of a post-birthday slump. Alleviated by birthday lunches with friends, but still.

I’m a little depressed about Delta, I think, and the likelihood of needing to go back to masking indoors, rethinking planned fall travel, fretting about our kids going back into the classroom (even vaccinated, which Anand can’t even start until September 24th, when he turns 12), holding off on various crafting / writing group activities we’d otherwise be starting up this fall. We’ll still do things, I think, but maybe only outdoors. Sigh. (I’m thinking about holding a porch knitting session next week, ping me if you’d like details, locals. Probably Tues eve. or on the weekend.)

I really hated shelter-in-place; I did it, dutifully, but it made me miserable, and I’m dreading the chance of it coming back this winter if case numbers start to surge.

So I’ve had a little bit of a hard time motivating to do…well, much of anything. I’ve managed to do the exercise I’d committed to — having paid appointments scheduled helps. But there’s a ton of garden and house stuff that I should do, and instead, I spent a good half of yesterday either playing video games or crankily watching not very good TV. Which is just no good…I stay in a bad mood, if I do that kind of thing. I know better, but I just couldn’t seem to get myself to switch tracks to something productive. ANYTHING productive.

Eventually, Anand came and found me and asked if I wanted to watch some Steven Universe together (he’s on a rewatch, I’m watching for the first time, partway through the first season), and he snuggled me and that was comforting. After a few episodes of that, he got restless and went off; then I vented to Kevin for a while, and he snuggled me and watched a TV show with me (we’re watching Person of Interest right now, still on the first season). Then I went to sleep, hoping today would be better.

It’s a little better, so far. I got up early, at 5-ish — a little short on sleep, but that’s okay, because I’m really trying to get on an earlier schedule, which is better for me overall. I’ve bought and installed a new app, Cold Turkey, which keeps me off laptop social media until 9 a.m. — in theory, that should let me focus on writing, and it worked yesterday, but today, I just had a bad case of ‘don’t wanna’.

But I did clean the porch for 30 minutes, straightening out the potting bench area, which was in dire need, so that’s something? While cleaning, I listened to some Milk Street podcasts, which in theory is at least somewhat helpful towards my current goal of writing more food essays, and maybe even for recipe development.

They were talking about using crumbled nori to enhance flavor for vegan dishes, and it made me think that it might be worth trying it in some traditional Sri Lankan dishes like cauliflower poriyal, which typically is made with little salty dried shrimp to enhance the flavor. If it works well, that’ll be good for our family, because Kevin doesn’t do seafood, and it’ll be good for the Vegan cookbook too.

And I went out into the garden and clipped a few weed trees and staked a few lilies, making a pretty noticeable improvement in one area in about 10 minutes. So that was satisfying. Going to try to keep pushing myself to actually accomplish things today — I may have to ask Kevin to hide the iPad I play video games on at some point, because my will is weak right now.

We had the basement ceiling painted earlier this week, and I think it’s probably dry enough now (and free of paint fumes) that I can start the immense task of organizing it. Gah. Kind of overwhelming. Needs to be done. Don’t wanna. In normal times, I’d drag some friends over to keep me company while I do it, but pandemic, trying to avoid too much inside time with people outside the household, etc. I can get Kevin and the kids to work with me, but I can only get about an hour of work out of them at a time before they start to melt.

If I really can’t get myself to work on anything, at least I have a great book to read, Lori Rader-Day‘s forthcoming Agatha Christie-themed _Death at Greenway_, that I have an advance copy of. Thank all the little gods.

It’s sort of funny that a murder mystery can be such a comfort, but here we are.

We’re actually thinking about having an outdoor tea party here in October to launch and celebrate Lori’s book; locals, if you’d like to be on the invite list, do let me know. If it happens, it’ll probably be the weekend of Oct 16th / 17th. I will make all the tea sandwiches and scones with clotted cream and jam and lots of shortbread and probably some passionfruit marshmallows and milk toffee too, and I’ll pull out my mother-in-law’s two sets of fancy china teacups and the silver tea set (and probably the TARDIS teapot and the other teapots too), and it will be splendid.

(Clearly, I need *something* to look forward to.)

We Owe Them

When COVID hit, a lot of us started referring to healthcare workers as heroes. I think some of that has gotten lost a little, in the year-and-a-half we’ve all collectively endured. We’re all tired, I know, but we can’t forget this. We owe them.

I have a lot of healthcare folks in my immediate family and close friends, and one aspect that I’d like to highlight is that healthcare isn’t the military — they didn’t actually sign up to be sent into a situation where they’d be putting themselves at daily risk of their actual lives. They didn’t sign up to put their families’ lives at risk either.

Every single healthcare worker — and every essential worker on the front lines — who *didn’t quit* when they absolutely could have, is a hero. They became heroes when they decided to stay, and when they reaffirmed that choice, day after weary and frightening day. And those who found it was breaking them, who had to step away after a time — they’re heroes too. Sometimes the battle breaks you; we should honor them as well.

I’m quite sure we’re going to see (are already seeing) a massive surge of healthcare and other essential workers (food service in particular, which I believe is the sector that’s had the most COVID deaths) leaving their professions in the next year, because it was just too much for them. Your doctor is quitting their job, or moving to a much smaller practice with fewer hours? That’s why. They got us through the crisis, and now they’re falling down.

And I know that in a lot of places, hospitals that were financially hard hit (some to the verge of closing) are now loading people up with more work, longer shifts, even cutting pay, which is surely adding terrible insult to heart-and-soul injury. These people deserve hero pay for those days worked, and access to serious trauma counseling for as long as they need afterwards. So many of them aren’t going to get that.

Here’s my ask — if you’re in a position to help build public support for essential workers and trauma recovery treatment, please do. Maybe that means speaking up at a community listening session. Maybe that means figuring out which elected officials are going to support that funding, and write them letters letting them know it’s a priority for you.

Maybe it just means being appreciative when you finally go to the doctor for that long-overdue check-up, and letting them know that you see them, you see what they did. Bring them some homemade cookies. Say thank you.

They took care of us; now they need us to take care of them.

*****

In addition, if you can — and I’ll note that I was in tears for a good segment of this, so I understand if it’s too much or too close right now — I’d like to ask you to watch this documentary, “The Surge at Mount Sinai.” It’s a little over an hour.

It features my sister, Dr. Mirna Mohanraj (Mir Mo Ga), a pulmonary/critical care doctor who was working in New York throughout the worst of this. She speaks so brilliantly and eloquently throughout this, she takes such tremendous care of her people, both staff and patients, I’m pretty much bursting with pride; my little sister has grown up to be one of the people I most admire in the world.

(Our youngest sister, Dr. Sharmila Mohanraj, isn’t in the documentary, but she is also amazing, an infectious disease doc in D.C. Props to her too! And while I’m doing shout-outs, props to our immigrant parents, Dr. Navaratnasingam Mohanraj and Jacintha Mohanraj, who apparently raised three daughters with overdeveloped senses of community service.)

You’ll also briefly meet Mirna’s husband, Gian Gandhi — and they don’t mention this in the documentary, but I have to shout out that Gian’s a healthcare economist at the U.N. and through the whole time Mirna was going in for direct patient care, he was working frantic long hours putting together funding to get millions upon millions of vaccines to developing nations around the world, which not incidentally, will help to stave off more variants like Delta developing. Gian’s kind of Superman, folks; he did more to save the entire planet than anyone else I know.

You’ll also meet my niece, Savreen, who was an adorable preschooler through all of this. She’s going to put a big smile on your face, because she is the cutest, and I am not biased about that at all.

It’s not a downer of a documentary, amazingly — the filmmakers chose to focus on stories of hope and survival, along with stories from ICU nurses, patient transporters, and all the vast healthcare team that came together in this battle. I recommend it to you all.

If you don’t have Discovery+, you can sign up for a free trial to watch this: https://www.discoveryplus.com/…/the-surge-at-mount…

Bringing Back the Reading Series

Medical types, esp. if I have any epidemiologists in the house, would appreciate your thoughts on this. For the SLF, there are two activities we’d hoped to resume in-person in the fall:

a) the reading series, which typically brings 50-75 people (locals) together in a small bookstore. Chicago, IL.

b) the long weekend writing workshop, which typically brings 12-15 people (not necessarily locals) together in a large Victorian for 4 days. (For this one, we could require vaccinated people only, though I’m a little iffy on whether that’s potentially ableist, keeping those who can’t vaccinate due to health issues from participating.) Oak Park, IL for this one.

We don’t *need* to do either of these; we could wait to restart them until spring, for example. I’m just not clear on whether that would be more responsible to do at this point, or whether it’s essentially okay to start up again. Chicago is around 48% and Oak Park is around 55% vaccinated currently. (A good chunk of those not vaccinated yet are children under 12, who wouldn’t be attending either of these events.)

Thoughts welcome.

$12 For Peace of Mind

Quick note that I was feeling anxious about hosting a birthday party on Saturday after being in Nashville for several days (low vaccination rates, basically nobody masking, airplanes and airports) and the Bay Area for several days (high vaccination rates, some masking, airplanes and airports), so I swung by CVS and picked up a rapid COVID test — negative, whew.

I’m vaccinated, didn’t really think I had COVID, but I was coughing a bit the night I got home, and I didn’t want to risk passing COVID to my staff or party people (they’re all vaccinated, but still, Delta, etc.). I cancelled in-person staff meetings this week until I’d been tested, and was prepared to cancel the party if need be.

Totally worth the $12 for peace of mind!

The test itself (I did the BINAX one) was super-simple — it’s just testing for antigens, and it takes 15 minutes, and an easy nose swab (not deep). Follow the instructions carefully, and you’ll be fine. It comes as a set of two tests, so we have one on hand for future need.

Some Sort of Pandemic Milestone

Well, this feels like some sort of pandemic milestone. For my upcoming 50th birthday, I decided to bring back our traditional weekend potluck and board games. In pre-pandemic times, we did this at least monthly most of the time; sometimes more often than that.

It felt very weird, going through the party invite list — lots of old friends, some people I barely remembered (whom I’d probably met once at gaming or a writing event or some such). It feels a little unreal now, that we went a year-and-a-half without seeing these people at all. That for week after week after week, it was just the four of us in this house.

I know there are lots of people who live in pretty isolated circumstances, out in the rural countryside, for example, but I, I am a social butterfly. People people people.

(If you’re not on the local party / board game list, and you think you should be, let me know? Invites went out a few minutes ago, so update your e-mail addresses with me, check your spam folder, etc.)

***

On a related note, I realized recently that Kev and I have somehow failed to make any couple friends in the last decade. It’s weird. He has some friends of his own (mostly math people, or old friends) and we used to have friends in common that we could do things like go out to dinner with…but after college, I don’t know, we got really bad at making new friends like that?

We’re planning to be in Oak Park for at least seven more years, and now that the kids aren’t tiny and we can easily go out for dinner on occasion, I am really feeling like I want people to do that with.

But I don’t want to torture introvert Kevin with strangers and making awkward conversation. On the other hand, that is often the main path to actual friendship, enduring some stranger-ness and awkward conversation. Kev says he’s up for trying it, so I guess I’ll try to organize a couple dinners out. It feels very weird, like we’re trying to date couple-friends.

I don’t know how to do this, but I guess we’ll just muddle through an attempt or two at least. We may end up fleeing back to our current state — where he socializes with me, the kids, and separately with a few work friends, and I have a hugely active social life that he generally doesn’t participate in. But nothing ventured, right? It’s worth a shot.

***

I also (finally) reached out to the parent of a friend of Anand’s, hoping that they might be up for bubbling. Anand is really starting to get incredibly bored and is clearly desperate for socializing — he spends a ton of time talking to this kid online, and if they can get together in person, I think he’ll be much happier. We’ll see what they say.

I’m also trying to figure out how I can get him to meet a few of his geeky compatriots before he starts middle school in the fall. Maybe I can run an outdoor masked RPG session? It’s stupid hot right now, but it should cool down eventually…

Vaccines for younger kids, we need ’em as fast as possible…

(Photo from the plane coming back from California. I’m not sure what the arrow is for — something safety-based, I’d guess. But it felt appropriate at the time, looking back over where we’ve been, apprehensive, yet hopeful, about what’s to come. Again, so many sympathies for all of you, across the world, who are still deep in the grip of the pandemic. Vaccines for everyone, as fast as possible. Faster.)

Granted

Four figures reunite on a balcony, unmasked. Sunlight
outlines blurry shapes, arms linked against the ocean,
city and hills beyond. The bridge rises in two points
and graceful curves, all of it golden, gladsome.

The week has been emotional, intense beyond
expectation. Voices tighten, tears gather amidst

shared laughter — contradictions understood by all.

How do we gather again, reset ourselves
from worldwide disaster (knowing only some
have the privilege of emerging now from sorrow,

knowing some have endured far greater blows)?

Sharply aware of all the losses, the ones we
swallowed down, in order to survive. How impossible,
being flung into survival mode – a tsunami’s

devastation, descending on a sunny day.

We’ve decided to host a party, and every face is joy,
even the strangers. My arms reach to embrace a friend
who celebrates her seventieth birthday soon; by then, I
will have flown away. But today I have the privilege
of whispering, “Happy Birthday” early, face buried
in silvered hair. The embrace lingers, neither of us ready
to let go. That pattern repeats throughout the week,
accompanied by urgent speech, words cascading over

each other, compressed into too small a space.

There is never enough time. Three hours for one
beloved, seven for another, even four days is
nowhere near enough; I promise to return
in March, vow constancy. I hope they believe it
in their bones, knowledge born of empty arms,
aching muscles and hungry skin,

grieving minds and sundered hearts.

Please, let me remember this at least,
as I emerge, stumbling from the shadow;

let me never take these people for granted again.

*****

June 30, 2021

Content Note: COVID Grief

The little graduation party we had for the kids on Saturday went reasonably well — I made way too much food, of course, but that’s to be expected. We had about 10 adults and 8 kids; everyone was vaccinated except for Anand and his friend Olivia, both too young.

We waffled about whether to ask the two of them to wear masks, but in the end, decided there was no real need; they were mostly outdoors, and when indoors, it was a big house with people who were vaccinated and generally also very careful. Oak Park’s COVID numbers in general are very low, and vaccination rates are good and getting better by the day. Judgement call, but it would’ve felt cruel to make them wear masks when nobody else was.

It was great feeding people, and it was great hearing the kids playing in the pool (not all of them went in, but most did at some point). It was REALLY great sitting around the living room and talking for a few hours. Lots of jokes, lots of laughter.

I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much. My life during the pandemic was mostly…fine? I was even often happy, hanging out with the family or on my own. But laughing out loud ’til my stomach hurt? Not so much.

We also did some pandemic processing — how was the last year for you? I learned that one friend had had a major heart attack earlier this year — he’s fine now, thankfully, but it unnerved me that this had happened, and I hadn’t known. Since I’m on social media so much, I think I sort of have an illusion that I’m in touch with people, and that’s always an illusion; you just get a slice of life, and many of my friends aren’t even here.

But the pandemic made that all much worse, because without all the in-person density of conversation and knowing, the thin slice of social media connection often just didn’t hold up, dissolving into nothing. Weird and strange and lonely.

I’d messed up the invite — I’d meant it for 3, but somehow put 6, so most people didn’t show up until 6. (One person I’d talked to in person came at 3, so it was a rather odd party for a few hours.) Around 9, people started heading out, and that felt weird too — in the old days, board game nights sometimes went to 11 or midnight or even later, especially once the little kids had gotten bigger and people didn’t have to race home for early bedtimes.

I wonder if maybe people were a little tired of all the intensity of conversation? We’re not used to this. We’ll have to re-accustom. Or maybe they were just tired. And it was Father’s Day the next day, and I imagine many of them had more socializing plans for that.

Afterwards, I cleaned up a little, then ended up sitting on the sofa in the living room. The kids had gone to bed, and I realized I was kind of upset. I texted Kevin to come down and talk to me, and we started in a bit of a fight, because even though he often doesn’t really attend my parties (our deal is that generally I get to throw as many parties as I want, and he doesn’t have to come to them), he usually stops by for a bit and says hi to people. And he’d told me that he was going to come by when he finished some work, and then he didn’t, and it just felt weird and distressing that he’d stayed upstairs the whole time….

When he came down, it turned out that he’d had a really bad work day, with some math he’d been working on unravelling, and he’d been trying to patch it back together, but it had put him in a terrible mood, so he hadn’t felt like socializing, and he’d forgotten that he’d promised me he’d swing by for a bit. So we sorted that out, with a little bit of frustration and some tears, but I do understand how that goes. If I’d had similar problems with a novel, I might’ve wanted to go hide and bang my head against a wall too. So I wasn’t actually mad at him for long. Good thing I expressed my upset; it let us sort it through pretty quickly and get back to our accustomed good place.

But I was sad. Really sad. And the sad wasn’t about anything that had happened that day, I think. It was a deep well of loneliness and sadness and I ended up sobbing for a good long while, my face buried in Kevin’s increasingly soggy t-shirt. It was all the pandemic loneliness and stress and grief, this ball of misery that I hadn’t even realized I’d been carrying around.

Seeing friends again, having a party, had been so good, but I’d spent more than a year locking away, compartmentalizing my loneliness and extrovert-need for people. I think the party cracked the levee walls, and the waters came rushing in.

It’ll get better. I’m going to see Jed in a few hours, and will isolate with him for five days, and then I’m going to Alex’s where we’ll actually have another party, and I’ll see lots of old friends, and might even make some new ones. People people people. I need them, it turns out.

I know some people reading this are still sheltering in place, are still locked down. I’m so sorry. I wish I could hug you all. I hope it’s better for everyone, soon.

Verklempt at the Very Idea

It’s so nice being able to meet in person again. Yesterday, our new Serendib intern, Ethan Yeung, came by to work for a few hours, and later in the day, Darius Vinesar stopped by to try to help me figure out which of my various and sundry random mics would actually work best for recording the podcast.

(Apologies for those early episodes where my mic is clearly tinny and sub-par. We’re fixing it!)

We’re not hugging yet, but just being in person is lovely. LOVELY. I might actually be able to do in-person Serendib / SLF meetings later this summer, and I might get to feed my people. I am verklempt at the very idea.

Excited for Summer

I can’t say Anand is all that excited about graduating from elementary school, but trust me, he is very excited to be on summer vacation now.

Mostly, we’re just glad he didn’t drop out. We definitely considered homeschooling pretty seriously at various points, especially once most of his class went back in person and he was one of a few who stayed remote, but somehow, his teachers managed to get him through…