If you can imagine the most extreme that someone could behave around the pandemic, that’s me.
In the past year, I’ve had lots of friends (even those who took the pandemic precautions pretty seriously) stare at me wide-eyed when I backed up further away during outside walks; or when I said yes, I absolutely wanted them to wear a mask even though we were in an empty park; or when I told them all about my strict, curbside-only rule (I’ve gotten to know the Walmart parking lot pretty intimately in these past few months—but we’re not exclusive, since Hannefords and I also have something special going on).
I don’t sit in judgment of someone else’s behavior (well, usually) and I’m not at all saying that my way is right and someone else’s way is wrong (well, usually …).
But I am saying that for the past year, I was the one who defied everyone’s expectations of extreme. I declined invitations to outdoor fire-pit gatherings even though there would be plenty of space between guests. I exclusively did curbside pickup at grocery stores, pharmacies, and the occasional pizza place that offered vegan options. And I put my cat food, toilet paper, and coffee beans on subscription.
Even beyond just the usual day-to-day living, my wife and I (plus our three ridiculous dogs and queen-like cat) spent more money than I care to admit driving across the country in a rented RV so that we could move out of dense West Hollywood in favor of the Upstate New York countryside (queue the theme song to “Green Acres”). WeHo seemed increasingly unsafe and our apartment living (with communal washers and dryers) made us feel vulnerable. So last summer, we packed up everything and everyone and relocated to a quaint place with a creek in the backyard and very few neighbors who walk past us and our entourage of chihuahuas.
Cross-fade to modern-day. My hair (on both my legs and my head) is longer, my dogs are older and cuter (as if that’s even possible), and my neighbors are … well, straighter.
When I was lucky enough to get my second vaccine shot a couple of weeks ago—after a solid year of avoiding people and cutting my own hair (they probably would’ve avoided me anyway if they’d seen the mop on my head … also, let’s just say I do not have a future in barber work)—I started to wonder what would happen next.
I grinned just a little from beneath my mask when I got some texts from newly vaccinated friends and family who expressed interest in getting together. I even promptly made plans to head up to my mom’s in Vermont for Mother’s Day weekend (she’s also fully vaccinated). And—blissfully—I scheduled a haircut appointment and have been poring over photos of androgynous ‘dos that could suit me (inverted pixie with an undercut and long sides, or Joan Jett-esque rocker shag?).
This, now, as I write this, is the day I’ve been waiting for since we had our very last dinner party in WeHo one incomprehensibly long year ago when I tried to set up two friends of mine with one another (they haven’t spoken since, so apparently my future in matchmaking is also a mismatch).
And now, nearly two weeks after my second jab—finally living in that much-anticipated moment when the CDC says I can go out and carefully live my life again—I am finding myself panicking. The trickling-in of messages from people I care about are sliding into my DMs with more and more frequency—“We can see each other soon!”—and I am genuinely excited, on some level. These are, after all, my friends, my family, my people.
But I’m also completely freaked out.
Here are 7 reasons I might be freaking right now:
I am not totally sure what is and isn’t safe, public health-wise. Though I am relatively certain that if I stick with wearing masks and being socially distant, I will be fine, I still worry about people around me who haven’t been vaccinated yet. I am ultimately another body in the room, which—during a global pandemic, even though we’ve made such huge strides toward health—is problematic. Maybe not for me, but for someone else who had to show up at work even without a vaccine. The vaccines are around 95-percent effective; that means that for every 100 people to get vaccinated, 5 of them (if exposed to Covid) can come down with it anyway. And maybe they wouldn’t get very sick, but they could still pass it onto someone else who isn’t as lucky. I try to make a lot of my decisions from a place of responsibility to my neighbors, and a place of radical compassion. So I think it still makes sense to only do things sparingly, until we have reached a great herd immunity. This is, apparently, an unpopular opinion, which makes me doubly uncomfortable (even though it doesn’t waver my resolve).
I’ve historically been too over-scheduled and I am worried about falling back into that pattern. Those who have been in my life for a long time know how neurotic I get about this kind of thing. I have certainly been known to schedule even the simplest of outings months in advance, making me really difficult to pin down to see a movie or grab a bite. To be honest, my inner-most circle is very, very tiny and pretty much involves three people (one of whom is clear across the country since she refused to get in the RV when I was leaving LA … I’m talking to you, best friend).
I do better with rigid rules. This in-between thing is making me antsy. I’m sure this character trait is tied to both my best and worst parts, but very clear structure is something I’m very comfortable with … probably too much so, since one of the things I’m working on personally these days is trying to be less rigid. Still, the extreme nature of “lockdown” is something I can understand; the wishy-washy post-lockdown blur is dizzying, not relieving.
Though this hasn’t come up for me quite yet, I’m not sure how I will navigate through those more casual friendships that are just a half-step above acquaintanceship. I’m actually wondering if there is a role for those friendships at all anymore, aside from social media? It used to be that my more casual friendships were managed by a quick coffee or lunch in the city, but now, getting together will require a giant production since it will need to be planned very deliberately—which kind of immediately bumps said-friendship out of the category of “casual.” I just don’t know if I have it in me.
In the past year, I’ve become much more deliberate about where and how I’m spending money. This ties back to the rigidity problem, but when the world opens up again (whatever that means), I am aware that I need to work much more from a budget than I have in the past. If I make three dinner plans in one month, for example, that could put a significant dent in my budget—so I kind of need to recreate those rules. Because these days, I’m spending much more money on things like subscriptions to focus music (I’m all about brain.fm) and efficient email solutions (in case you’re wondering, Superhuman is looking very promising for me!) than I used to spend on my getting eyebrows done or having cocktails at the local gay bar (sigh, I do miss my WeHo gayborhood).
My “free time” is currently spoken for, thanks to an onslaught of virtual gatherings, and I don’t know where to find (or make) more time. These Zoom-infused gatherings include celebrating wine o’clock with colleagues and pals who I hang out with from afar thanks to the culture shift in the past year, as well as my board work for the Newark LGBTQ Center, which is frequently in the evenings. I’m actually really digging my set-up here (my office is comfy and I have fancy new speakers that make my aforementioned binaural beats sound otherworldly, like I’m in some extraterrestrial nightclub where everyone’s meditating and drinking wheatgrass but they all have edgy haircuts), and I’m not terribly keen on pivoting that anytime soon. Though everyone sees me as an extrovert, I have long felt I was a misunderstood introvert, and I’m sure a lot of my panic can be explained by how utterly depleting it feels to think about locking up my schedule with get-togethers, even though I used to live for them. (Who am I anymore?)
Every time I say “yes” to something, I’m saying “no” to something else. This is advice I was given at the beginning of Operation Make Jasmin Happier, which I started a few months ago after my life and schedule got the best of me. It was advice I took to heart, and though I was mostly relating it to my work life at the time, it’s true in the case of social obligations, too. And isn’t it funny that I said “obligations” right there? Because that’s what I’m battling with, at the end of the day. There is so much I want in life: calmness, wild success, deep love, meaningful connections, robust creativity, lasting social change. I have to be mindful to protect those precious goals—my true priorities—so that I don’t let the pendulum swing back too far after I start seeing people again. I have been realizing that I’m somewhat addicted to the hustle, the plans, the scheduling, the checking things off that ever-expanding to-do list. The only way I can find balance with re-introducing a social life is by being very intentional about why, what, why, when, how. And by slowing down a lot more than I think seems reasonable to many of my friends. I just can’t keep up with the pace as it was before, and I can’t introduce many more plans than I’m already doing without feeling as if I’ll abandon my projects and priorities.
All of this is exhausting to even think about, and I’m firmly aware that I sound like a curmudgeon.
That’s not at all my goal here. I just want to normalize this fear, apprehension, and anxiety, in case someone else is feeling it, too. And since I try to be an optimist despite my curmudgeonly inclinations, here are some “new rules” that I’ll start to follow as I wrap my head around whatever the heck is next.
Here are 7 possible things I will do instead of completely freaking out:
I will slow down. I cannot keep up with the demands the-former-me used to place on my schedule.
I will calm down. Mindfulness, breathing, meditating in my virtual reality goggles (even though I look ridiculous while I’m doing it), and learning to be more in the moment will be ongoing parts of my life.
I will let go. I will let go of things, people, behaviors, and attitudes that no longer serve me. I will let go of the feeling of obligation as much as possible and I’ll be kind and considerate in my communication around boundaries, whenever possible.
I will trust my instincts and not bend to peer or social pressure. So even if others think it’s totally normal and OK to go into a bar or what-have-you, if I’m uncomfortable doing so because of public health concerns (or just because I’m not feeling it), that is totally reasonable. It doesn’t mean I’m right and someone else is wrong; it just means that I’m different from them and I can respect my own boundaries. I will also lead with kindness, including to myself.
I will understand that the people in my life who love me will be able to bear with my shenanigans, whether that means a Zoom hang-out for now or a rain check until the summer. I’m not unavailable, you guys; I’m just trying really hard to use my fuel on the things that matter most right now.
I will understand that there is no “going back to normal,” which means that I get to create the life I want by blending together things I’ve learned to love in the past year while re-introducing things back that I have missed. I am not in a rush to do this.
I will stop taking myself too seriously. After I send this newsletter, that is …
Wherever you fall on this, I hope you can end this year-of-lockdown with curiosity (what did you learn that surprised you in the past twelve months?), gentleness (it’s OK if going back into the world doesn’t feel right just yet), and possibly some new rules with which to live your life (what are they?).
Here’s to new beginnings! Let’s virtually toast for now, but I promise I’ll see you again one day … just don’t hold your breath.
One Thing I’m Jazzed About
brain.fm. I mentioned it above, and there’s a reason I’m bringing it up again. After doing the free trial, I fell in love with the huge array of wordless music that this app offers, and I’m really digging how the low-fi beats get me in “the zone” so much more quickly than before. Depending upon the time of day, I listen to drone music, classical, ambiance, or binaural beats. Another thing that’s become so evident to me in the past few months is how desperately I require deep work sessions, so I’ve reconfigured many parts of my life to accommodate those.
A Random Thing I’d Like to Share
One of my oldest friends, Marisa Miller Wolfson (of Vegucated fame) is hosting an incredible, all-virtual vegan Easter egg hunt this weekend and I am in awe of her creativity. This is a remote event for the ages, and anyone with kids should sign up.