COVID Thriving 20-April, 2020. It’s Monday. A new week, a fresh start.

Something happens in my brain while I sleep. That feeling of being so unsettled the night before becomes too heavy for the little bucket I’ve decided to pour it into. Over it tips, and I wake up, the sun streaming in the window, ready for a new week.

That new normal everyone keeps talking about: I am done with coping, which implies resigning oneself to a more or less permanent limbo.

I decide to thrive. No idea what that will look like. But the energy coursing through my veins feels completely different.

The World Waits

I’ve wanted to see the world for as long as I can remember. Once I started reading Jan Morris, I wanted to write about it as well. A travel writer who began life as James Morris, who covered the first summitting of Everest, she went on to visit a huge number of places, writing thoughtful, beautifully observed essays about whatever she found. Along the way, she transitioned from James to Jan beginning in the 60s and underwent reassignment surgery in 1972. Her memoir Conundrum, written in 1974, is as contemplative and moving as anything she wrote.

Reading Morris on Sydney, Australia, a place I’ve never been keen to visit, first made me want to go. Then I realized that I didn’t need to; she’d already taken me there.

And that, I realize, is the world I live in now, that I lived in for most of my life, that most folks live in. The UN recognizes 195 countries in the world. I would love to experience all of them. Pre-COVID, I figured I’d be lucky to get to 50 in person. Now, I’m happy I made it to 29.

Because I got a big backlog of writing and pictures and notes to complete before I even start to tackle the question of armchair-ing the rest of them. And as I work through the first few, I’ll figure out how to get people who have been to all those other places onboard with me.

We can do the world from home, until and if we get to a point where we can go back to doing it in person. Maybe, we can come up with a whole different kind of truly eco-tourism, one where we make true connections with people and places, learn, and help each other.

Big dream, but why not dream as big as you can?

Beginning at the Bottom of the World

I think of the farthest south I’ve been: Chile.

It seems like the logical place for me to start. From there, I can work my way north, through the places in South America that I’ve spent time: Argentina, Uruguay, Peru—there are still some things to cover that I didn’t finish while we holed up in Lima—Colombia, even a drop-in for a day in Brazil.

Time Management

I start to plan my schedule for the Brave New Life. It looks like this:

  1. Morning stuff: meditation, a walk, yoga, coffee with Steve, breakfast. 2 hours (what an incredible luxury)
  2. 1 hour per day prepping for my students; for the foreseeable future, I’ve got between 3 and 5 hours of scheduled class time.
  3. 1-2 hours working on the diary part of the blog.
  4. 2 hours of writing other blog stuff
  5. 2 hours researching.

And kitchen stuff, some of which I record for here. Working out is another hour.

I have got to start getting up earlier.

Back to the Old News Diet, which is now the New News Diet

In Lima, I purposely put myself on a news diet: I’d listen to the BBC Coronavirus podcasts (10 minutes total), then do an NYT Daily podcast while I walked my laps on the rooftop. Now, especially since the weather’s finally improving, I can go back to that, getting about a 30-minute walk each morning. Ideally, I’d like to take one at the end of the day, too. Looking at my schedule, you can see how much I sit. I do not want to be a victim of the COVID 15, the pounds folks are packing on like depressed freshmen eating too much comfort food as they adjust to unfamiliar life.

I haven’t done the podcast/walking thing regularly since we returned, and I’m glad to start. The BBC podcast reports on countries that get missed in the NYT US-centric shuffle; coincidentally, Chile gets a nod today as they issue immunity cards to folks who have the antibodies. Naturally, there are concerns about black market versions of the cards. But it’s such a short broadcast, the issue’s not dealt with at length, so I don’t get all spun up and worried about something entirely new.

Then there is a fine Daily episode with Donald McNeil, a journalist who’s covered this and other pandemics, and who’s pretty much called exactly what would happen ahead of time ever since things started to get real in the US in February. I was struck by McNeil’s words early on when I read them in Lima, back in early March when no one had really even considered strong quarantine measures here yet. He said that his own parents had survived the Depression and WWII, and how Americans not only had come together to emerge strong and united in the wake of disasters, they were proud of it. At the time, he said that that feeling was absent, and that we, as a nation, don’t like being told what to do.

And while the outlook is grim—the fastest a vaccine’s ever been developed was four years, which is how long it took for the mumps vaccine—he expresses optimism at the end. Now, he believes that we can emerge from this stronger, more united, helping each other and less consumed with consumption.

I’ve felt this too, deep in my heart. The problem is, checking the news and seeing not just protestors but a president who eggs them on has shifted my focus. I resolve, with fortitude, that I am back on my news diet.

Conversation with a Pilot

As I get ready to migrate to my office, my brother calls. A pilot for Alaska Airlines, he says of the three flights he’s done this month—down from about 15—the biggest had 25 people. The smallest had 3.

I tell him that, thanks to the heads-up he gave me that Delta was cancelling many of its international flights, I happened to be in the process of rebooking flights when we got the word that we had to get the hell out of Cusco. And while the time is especially strange in his industry, we are both pretty excited about the dramatic decrease in consumption of pretty much everything. “It’s kind of amazing how much I am realizing that I just don’t need stuff,” I said.

“Oh, man, I can’t believe how much our spending has gone down,” he says. “It’s awesome. And it doesn’t really feel that we’ve changed all that much. We just don’t shop as much, so we spend a ton less.”

I tell him about the glory of traffic-free days in Lima. He reports that the perpetual brown haze around his house near LA has simply vanished. And he’s now only a 50-minute commute from LAX. “A great day used to be an hour and twenty,” he says. “A bad day was 3 hours. Now? 85 all the way.”

This better world thing. Maybe if we can stop fighting about trying to keep something that really wasn’t working that great, we can all get there.

Meatless Monday Mushrooms

On separate shopping trips, and unbeknowst to the other, Steve and I have each bought massive packs of mushrooms. We like them, we just have to use them up. I found this vegan recipe for Creamy Cashew Mushroom Stroganoff, and it turned out nicely. I served it over quinoa rather than pasta; more protein, gluten-free, which means we can have a piece of carrot cake for dessert. But my picture didn’t turn out so great, so here’s the magazine’s version over pasta.

Photo by Darren Kemper for Clean Eating Magazine

Early to Bed, Way Too Early to Rise

The wind is blowing like crazy outside when I wake up in the pitch dark. Steve and I have watched a fine movie, Neruda, which will be covered in an upcoming post on Chile, and gone to bed early, the idea being we’ll get up early.

Well, 1 A.M. is a little earlier than I’d hoped for. But I can tell by the gymnastics my brain’s engaging in that I’m not going to nod off anytime soon. A day in Valparaiso, Chile, where Steve and I experienced extremely mixed and mostly not-so-great results, gets stuck in my head.

Post-crossword, so that Steve can do it when I inevitably sleep in once I go back to b,ed I allow myself one NYT opinion piece, “The Ideas That Won’t Survive the Coronavirus,” by Viet Thanh Nguyen. I generally avoid op-eds, blaming the combination of Maureen Dowd and Thomas Friedman for chasing me away. But this one, under a big umbrella called “The America We Need,” is clearly speaking to me and I’m sure a ton of other people in the current moment.

Near the end Nguyen writes, “I write not only because it brings me pleasure, but also out of fear — fear that if I do not tell a new story, I cannot truly live.”

I cannot say that I write out of fear. I have been through a number of crises in my life. And while fear delivers powerful warnings and is to be neither scoffed at nor ignored, it is not a color I can wear for very long if I want to get anything done. But that desire, even compulsion to tell a new story rings a bell deep in my heart.

That’s where I want to be, where I want to focus. I’ve coped, and coping’s not enough. Time to thrive, time to shine. Let’s do it.

The Marcus Aurelius Moment* of April 20

From my brother Jon, the true meaning of family values: honesty, generosity, vulnerability, and hugs so big they knock the wind out of you. And love. Pure, unselfish love.

*In the first part of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman ruler details what various people in his life have taught him. To read the full intro to why I care about Marcus Aurelius, click here.