Don't Get Too Comfortable

I totally did.

This is the last Instagram photo I posted before lockdown. I had taken the bus to the city to speak to Leslie Jamison’s Columbia MFA students, and I saw this in a souvenir shop window. I have no idea why I felt compelled to take and post it.

At this time last year, most of us had a sense that the novel coronavirus was about to mess with our lives, but no idea to what degree. Looking back, I was kind of blissfully ignorant.

Things were going relatively well for me on multiple fronts. The website where I was an editor hadn’t yet unraveled completely (although things were definitely moving in that unfortunate direction). I was looking forward to traveling to the AWP Conference in San Antonio, Texas from March 4th - 8th, and networking my butt off, given that every other week I was being told I might (or might not) lose my job. (On March 2nd I decided to take the precaution of canceling that trip.) For the first time since I’d opened it in 2017, more money was coming in to Kingston Writers’ Studio than was going out. (Mid-March 2020 I realized I needed to shutter the place.)

I mistook the positive state of my work life to mean everything was going to keep being great, forever and ever. Honestly, I’m too old to make that kind of rookie error. I’ve had enough things fall apart in my life—a marriage, dream jobs, my life in NYC—to know it’s dangerous to count on, well, anything remaining good indefinitely.

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I had a nice last two weekends before lockdown began, filled with activities I haven’t been able to enjoy since.

First, some Brooklyn-based writer friends came for their annual writing retreat, making use of Kingston Writers’ Studio and coming to my house for dinner. We co-worked together at the studio. Then six of us ate dinner together at my house—indoors! It was nice catching up and gossiping with them. I always looked forward to their visits. I hope that in the after I can find a way to relaunch the studio, and that those guys will come back.

The next day I took the Trailways bus to the city to speak to Leslie Jamison’s Columbia MFA students about writing long-form essays. I got lunch in a restaurant. I wandered and window-shopped. That trip marked my last bus ride to the city. I’ve always hated the bus and Port Authority, but what I wouldn’t give to feel safe taking that ride again.

When I got back from the city, I headed to a restaurant in High Falls to celebrate a friend’s birthday—another meal around a table with a bunch of people I am fond of. Indoor time with friends!

The following weekend I enjoyed Kingston’s monthly “art walk” from gallery to gallery through the city. By then we had the vague sense we had to be careful in some way regarding the virus, so instead of hugging, we touched elbows with people. But we weren’t social distancing six feet apart yet. We weren’t wearing masks.

Earlier that day I’d gone on a hike up Joppenburgh Mountain in Rosendale with a bunch of studio members and other writers. (Probably not surprisingly, most of my friends are writers.) We did the elbow-touching thing, and then like 10 or 12 of us crammed in together around a table at the Rosendale Cafe. (We knew better than to hug, but not better than to cram in around a table together and share food!)

Finally, that Sunday, Brian and I took a walk downtown and went for lunch at a Mexican restaurant on the Rondout. As we nibbled on nachos and tostones, Brian mused aloud, “Can you imagine if this is the last time we’re able to eat in a restaurant for a long time?” I laughed at the notion. Neither of us could fully grasp that as a possibility. There was so much confusing and conflicting information coming out about Covid-19, we didn’t know what to believe. It was, in fact the last time we ate indoors at a restaurant.

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Here we are a year later. What a fucking year. So much loss. So much to grieve. So much uncertainty going forward.

I can’t wait to get a vaccine, but I am low on the list. (I see a lot of people younger and healthier than me who are not essential workers posting about their shots! And while I’m envious, I am not about to cut the line.)

The existence of the vaccines gives me hope. Other things giving me hope: the advent of mutual aid organizations, in Kingston and elsewhere. Acts of kindness, of which I have often been a beneficiary—the friend who helped us make a fire pit, and who also helps us shovel when it snows. The friends who sent condolence cards and flowers after Jean’s passing. The woman I’ve never met who baked me a plate full of gluten-free hamentaschen after I posted on Facebook asking where I could find some locally.

I might even have some hope for my future, work-wise. I’m lining up some gigs for after I finish my book, and talking about some new possibilities. However things turn out, I’ll have to try not to get too comfortable—to remember that change is the only reliable constant.

Oh, some stuff I’ve got coming up:

  1. An new, updated edition of Goodbye to All That landing April 6th with seven new essays by: Leslie Jamison, Emily Raboteau, Lisa Ko, Ada Limon, Carolita Johnson, Danielle A. Jackson, and Rosie Schaap. Please consider preordering from Bookshop!

  2. My long-form essay writing intensive at Catapult May 22nd and 23rd.

  3. My anthology editing workshop at Catapult, four Wednesday evenings in May.

  4. I’ve got an essay in the March/April issue of Writer’s Digest about not feeling obligated to write about trauma.

  5. People seem to be enjoying my Skillshare class.