What a year this week has been

Three weeks ago I was flying back from my Intentional Community retreat. I had spent the last 48 hours on the beach, setting big goals for the year ahead and thinking ambitious thoughts about what I would accomplish. Right at the top of the list, this was to be my year of health— of diet, of fitness, and of mind.

On my flight home, I started this blog or whatever to write about my Intentional Community and our retreats. What is this group, what exactly do we do on our retreats, and why they are so inspiring to me? I have written three of these posts, and I plan to write more. Later.

But my, how things have changed in three weeks.

How quaint it seems now, getting together in a house with friends. Oh, the simpler times when we didn’t need to think about epidemiology!

How naive, to plan our lives a year ahead — we even talk about decades sometimes, hah! — when now, each day we take fresh stock of our health, our jobs, and our legal right to go outside.

And how — just how, exactly — are we supposed to think about personal goals at a time like this? How can we focus on New Years resolutions with the loud clomping of the Four Horsemen galloping down our empty streets?

So, I’m going to pause for a moment writing on the Intentional Community. The timing doesn't seem right. We have a lot to figure out together, and I don’t know if our playbook looks the same anymore. Or maybe it's exactly the same and that's the whole point. We will certainly have a lot to talk about on our next monthly call.

In the meantime, this is still my year of health, I suppose. Even from the friendly confines of these four apartment walls, and even within the cadence of my new routine, my goals are still my goals and I’m going to try to make this work. I’ve even found a few small ways that this new status quo makes it easier to live the sort of life I want to live and be the person I want to be.

I have figured out nothing, to be clear. But I’ll tell you what I’m doing for now.

Eating healthier.

Because the kitchen is, like, right there. Now that I am home all day, the fridge and pantry have become sources of joy and entertainment, not to mention my allies in the fight against carbs. Here are some of the rituals I’ve come to enjoy:

  • Pouring my morning cold brew from the fridge. With my Starbucks routine truncated, I now keep a 96 oz box of Wandering Bear on the top shelf. I have two backups in the cabinet. It’s the best cold brew I’ve found outside a coffee shop, and they ship it to my door, bless them.

  • Eating when I’m hungry. For the first time in my life, I’m eating in smaller portions, when I'm hungry, like you are supposed to. The fridge is never more than 20 feet away, so there’s no need for “just in case” eating like I usually do.

  • Cooking slow and low. If I’m going to be home all day anyway, why not have the oven at 250 degrees and the scent of brisket or ribs wafting across my desk.

  • Scrambling every damn thing. Brisket scrambled eggs. Pesto scrambled eggs. Chinese shrimp and veggie stir fry scrambled eggs. I’ve never been so excited for breakfast.

  • Not stocking up. My grocery store shelves are pretty full, especially along the perishable perimeter where the healthy food lives. I do not expect to go hungry. Besides, I’m moving across the country in April and trying to deplete my stockpile. Let the hoarders hoard.

Spring cleaning.

It’s spring, I learned recently from looking outside. With our cross-country move coming up in two weeks (I hope), my wife and I have been purging the apartment room by room. We are seeing the backs of our cabinets for the first time in years, and it feels delightful. Among my happier moments:

  • Marie Kondo-ing the bejeezus out of my closet. If clothes had a “best by” date printed on their side like a carton of eggs, my closet would have reeked of sulphur. It is a burden lifted to have these old clothes out of my closet and my life.

  • Putting things I use in the places where I actually use them. Why have I been keeping my wallet and keys in my bedroom for three years when I always need them by the front door? Why is my favorite cup on the highest shelf? 'Nuff of that.

  • Clearing out enough floorspace to set up a proper second home office in the living room, looking out the rear window, so I can wave to the other work-from-homers.

Connecting virtually.

I remember the first time I saw the AT&T Videophone 2500 advertised on Nickelodeon. It was 1992. I was enraptured. I tried it once, in a store, because I was eight and did not have $1599.99. (About $35 million in today’s dollars.) Needless to say, it was not the telephony miracle that the commercials made it seem.

But here we are in 2020, and the future has finally arrived. It works, you guys, and just in time! The faces just pop up— sometimes dozens of them— and despite some background noise and pixellation it pretty much just happens. This week we English speakers welcomed Zoom into our lexicon as the newest corporate verb, up there on the mantle next to Xerox and Hoover. I know this happened because my mom used it in a sentence.

This week I felt space and time flatten into a single layer of pixels. Without the option to see people in person, I am suddenly equidistant from my friends on the Upper West Side, my parents in LA, and my in-laws in the outskirts of Bloemfontein, South Africa.

Here are some of my happier moments this week:

  • Catching up with the Northwestern University Jewish Theater Ensemble circa 2006. (Yes, it’s a real thing.)

  • Watching my two-year-old niece cook a delicious fake meal in her tiny wooden kitchen.

  • Finally adding all of my favorite people to my cell phone's favorite contacts, then playing cell phone roulette. Everyone wins.

Relaxing my grip.

This is not a time for planning my life in year increments, never mind decades. This is a time for taking it day by day, for processing data as it comes in, and for optimizing on the margin. It’s a time for paddling a little to keep getting where I am going, but also to be okay riding the current if it gets too strong, even if it means I end up down a slightly different route.

This is, ideally, not a time for moving across the country. Say, from New York to Austin. In two weeks.

And yet, here is what I’m doing…

  • Preparing for anything, logistically and emotionally. I want to fly there, but I am prepared to drive. I will rent an RV if I have to. I want the movers to show up like they say they will, and I want my building to let them in the front door. But I have a loose plan for when they don't. April is a quantum cloud of probabilities. That’s fine.

  • Meditating. Now more than ever I need all the equanimity I can muster. Ten minutes a day reminds me to shut off the inner monologue that keeps trying to explain exponential growth and what the world could look like in two weeks.

  • Remembering to be grateful. Have you checked Maslow’s hierarchy lately? The layers are shifting. I’m grateful for the ones I still have beneath my feet: my health, my loved ones, my work. And, increasingly, my ability to do something useful with my work.

On Friday, I asked my team how they were holding up. One of them answered, “What a year this week has been.”

Today is Monday. The start of a new year. I have my resolutions set.

My rear window office. Hey, neighbors.