Outside my window is a partial view of 50 acres of land. On it sits an understated ranch home that looks the same as it had almost 40 years ago. I’m sure there are glimpses of that view somewhere on here. Our neighbor occasionally bring us tomatoes from the harvest. His late wife used to give us muscadine grapes from the bushes around the side of their home. When she passed a few years ago, the church they were members of was packed full of lives they’d influenced. We sat upstairs in the overflow room and watched the service from a television. I didn’t know them well, but the respect and love in the room moved me; thinking about all that time on this earth moved me. I felt embarrassed for crying since I could tell no one there knew who I was. I keep the funeral pamphlet off to the side in the china cabinet. I see her face from time to time and think of the nearly 60 years they spent together. Their matrimony to this place and to each other feels like a life well lived. Land like that just like marriages like that are rare. Up until recently, people would ask him, with trepidation, if he would ever sell the land, to which his reply was that he’d keep everything the same for his wife, that he wouldn’t make changes while his wife was still with him.

The entire street has enjoyed the charm of his blue Christmas lights that light up the whole street like a runway around Thanksgiving each year. We’ve loved seeing his red car curve up the winding driveway. The view is unreal from any angle you see it. That era is coming to an end now, that land soon to be developed and changed forever. I see it now exactly as it was the day we moved here, yet I know it’s going to change soon and wonder how everything else will change with it. Many new houses will be built on that stretch. Where one family saw our side of the street all these years, now new families will look out. Their view will be our side of the street, and they won’t have known a time any different.  Our view—especially for some time—will have, simultaneously, the memory of what has been and what came after. The chapters that close can be reopened inside by strangers, by ourselves; we can unlock them deep inside and stretch them for our own future. This is what we’ve been doing this year, knowing how things were in the before but living now in the after.

When we stayed in the mountains for a couple nights recently, I noted physical changes in the kids and how their humor has evolved. Layla stood with her dad in the kitchen skewering vegetables. Under the living room light, Zade looked like the beginnings of a teenager, his cheeks trim and arms long. I started to do the math about how many years of uninterrupted time with them I’ll have left God willing before a list of the inevitable scenarios roll onward: where they don’t just want to be with their friends, when their interest in love hasn’t distracted them from their family, when they don’t have their own family to consider. I felt panic and saw it all change in front of me.  I didn’t rush to hold them close though; I know better because to live is the blessing to see life change all the time, and it involves a lot of letting go.

Something that I assumed I’d stop writing about for some time is about home and time, but here we are again, nearly a year after my last post here in this place, nearly a novel later, and I find myself—true and true—coming back to this group of feeling. When I wrote this essay “Migratory Patterns of Serious Girls” earlier this year, I thought for sure I’m out of things to say for now. That piece carved me out and over time then let me be still. Like my friend and I say, one day, maybe, I will write about something else. One day when I’ve worked it out, maybe that motif won’t keep coming up. I wanted to return to this site with a changed voice. But here I am again staring out the window as usual.

The difference, maybe, is that I have felt some changes. For starters, I have success I’m not regretful of: I’ve not let go of things that matter to me. So much of that was threatened last year. I often talk about things I’m wistful for or things I imagine, but I don’t necessarily focus on things I’m glad I have continued. I wrote. I showed up for people. I’ve been a family member and a mother. I’ve dug deep for my students. In my last post, I didn’t know what word I could name to set out my intentions for the year. I was absolutely undecided. I’ve thought often about what the word could be, but came up short. Today, though, I felt the word stir from a phrase: the memory of strive.

I remember what strive looked like and felt like before the pandemic. I had ten thousand goals and raced to them, woke up at 4 am to get to them, planned out the calendar to get to them. It may appear the same now, but it isn’t. It’s not so much the goal I’m after. Goals belong to 2019 for now. It’s not that I stopped having them, but it’s that they aren’t enough to get me going. What is enough for me right now is to just live and do, carry on and feel. Many times this year, I’ve just used muscle memory. I’m accustomed to motivate myself past what I think I’m capable of, but not this year, not in truth anyway. Sometimes I felt that I was poking at my feelings through a clear plastic glass. Do you feel this? I’d ask. I could remember the chase, a memory of what it all was like. I called on it often because memories can haunt us, but they can also carry us.

I started the actions and just did them without the same old feelings of drive. I planned a trip; I finished a novel just enough to move on to the next step; I read with my kids; I masked up and got back to the gym. This time it was to save myself from leaving strive behind. The neighbor’s land out in front of me now will be a memory that will carry; the time with my family will carry; the time I spend on myself will carry. The memory of strive is carrying. Even if the motivation is somewhat, it’s carrying me. Sometimes, in the mornings, I think maybe somewhat is better than strive. So that became my word for this year. I’m no longer undecided. Instead, I tried. I’m somewhat there.


I began last year with a green Leuchtturm1917 dotted journal and a neat row of writing markers to go with it. They traveled around a lot like a new couple happy to be seen in the living room, on my bedside console, at the corner of my desk. And I wrote in it craftily while sitting on the couch or right before falling asleep until I stopped the habit, some time in March, then May, and then in October, and then for a second in December. I think complete insecurity in the time period made searching for internal answers feel less prudent when I needed concrete answers from the real world. Also, many of us were forthright with our fears and concerns; we relied so much on text chains and mutual commiseration that I didn’t feel the urge to work them out so much in my personal notebook.

What I had not remembered until looking at the first pages recently is that my word for 2020 was almostcontrol.” Ha- that sounds ridiculous now. What about this year showed any control? I am glad I was unsettled enough with the term back at the shiny start of the year and recognized its underlying terror and replaced it swiftly with the word “focus.”

I’m a little pleased that pre-pandemic me crossed it out and explained to myself that the word indicates failure. Alas, I didn’t fill up my journal, and so I’ve reacted this week. I panicked that 2020 would be gone, and though we’ve said we want it to be over as it was the longest year of our time, I didn’t want to forget what my life looked like during the year that paused the world. So I started a quest last week to fill it up, not so much with my own words, but with articles and literature of the time.

That effort got me scrolling through my phone to see what each month this year looked like. I looked at Kal and said things like, “Did you know it was February when we went to that diner with Zade’s friend?” I loosely picked a few pictures from each month and spent a few hours over a couple days making an album. The best part of the project is I knew I couldn’t go too wrong with it: that I was trying to preserve the year was ironic enough, and I wasn’t trying to make it neat. In fact, the picture that made the cover was of a stack of firewood. We have many stacks of those around the house since a storm took down our favorite oak tree this year. It’s like the old saying of lemons and lemonade but this time with a tree and logs.

I wrote a list of word associations at the front of the album; I only stopped because there was a word limit, and I wanted to be done with the project.

My neighbor told me yesterday that she wrote her gratitude list for the year. She said despite it all, it was a good year for her; she enjoyed her family more and appreciates letting go of the extra stresses. She wrote her intentions for next year and has her list of goals, and I could see she felt lighter having done so.

I, however, probably won’t write a list of goals for 2021. I think 2019 momentum and security made me feel as though if I focused even more on my goals, I would accomplish more and therefore feel better. I was in a position then to feel that more control and more focus would be best. That feeling helped launch my focus for the year, and I’m grateful to it. But for the last few months, I’m most shaken at my core Capricorn belief that productivity is the essential preservation of my feelings, that doing it all is vital and important to them. I am still disquieted by what I’ve let go and what I’ll do with the knowledge that slower and softer may be here to stay in this new and disoriented year. I’ve already thrown a blanket and pillow on this year’s uncomfortable couch and now don’t know what I’ll do about it.

I will try to consider a word, phrase, or quote that may help project my intentions for 2021. I’ll think on it while I purge the pantry and clean out the fridge today. I will do so knowing that neither of the two actions will have a grand, lasting effect on my feelings. They are the maintenance before the joy, often the eve of whatever else happens. Rather than pre-wrangling next year in any way, I think I’m going to be true to my instinct and sit still with the idea and my new purple notebook a little longer. I’m undecided. In any case, I know more and more that everything has always been there, happening. We just come to it when we do.

not sure but getting there

Stephen King says writers should wait at least 6 weeks before revisiting a finished manuscript, that we should walk away from it and return to it for revision after getting distance. In his craft memoir, he says, “How long you let a book rest—sort of like bread dough between kneadings—is entirely up to you, but I think it should be a minimum of six weeks. During this time, your manuscript will be safely shut away in a desk drawer, aging and (one hopes) mellowing. Your thoughts will turn to it frequently, and you’ll likely be tempted a dozen times or more to take it out, if only to re-read some passage that seems particular fine in your memory, something you’d like to go back to so you can re-experience what a really excellent writer you are.”

Maybe this year is that long 6-week break for us to review our manuscript, or in this case, the stuff we’ll return to one day.  

Neither my story nor my manuscript is finished, but after talking to my writers group last night, I got a sense that the 2020 pause is more productive than we’re giving ourselves credit. It is taking a confounding pandemic to take the fat off the bone of our daily lives, leaving us to determine if this dish is better with it or without it. And beyond that analogy that references the old daily stuff—the hamster wheel and no-rest weekends–I’d like to consider if the confusion that has messed with our equilibrium is so bad for creativity. I know it’s been relatively bad for productivity, but that’s because we got tired of separating the wheat from the chaff.

Though boredom can be the playhouse of creativity, this equilibrium shift has made some much less productive than usual, or at least it feels this way. Up until recently, I think, I don’t remember a time I was bored. Boredom sounds like a waste of imagination and energy. It is something I confess that I associate with luxury and laziness. Being alone in a quiet space with nothing to do is not what I mean; I mean the lackluster association with what you’re seeing. But as I look back a smidgen, I think boredom became a defense mechanism from August until recently; it was as though my body was fed up with 2020 and sent out a blast of ennui. When this weird-bored bug hit, my body didn’t even know what to call it. I did my work and did my chores and shined myself and managed my family world, so it wasn’t that I wasn’t moving about trying to sludge through; it was that I found little personal satisfaction in it. I knew the painful situation involving my mother-in-law’s illness and ultimately her passing away had something to do with how monotone I felt; even my sweet tooth went away for some time, which is not important except that it’s something to appreciate alone, and those feelings felt inaccessible.

None of the usual suspects got me going, and I couldn’t fake it because I had stopped going to 5 am classes at the gym; those always got me feeling a high of accomplishment as though I squeezed the last drop I could of the day to shape myself. Consumerism wasn’t as appealing, and my emotions were all caught up family litmus tests, Instagram posts, and CNN. Like the rest of the U.S., I stared at the election map of the US waiting for it to get colored in, wanting to take a blue crayon to it and write 270 already!

 The last few months—at work and at home—took the weird-new realities of 2020 and replaced them with boring-new realities of 2020. While there have been some absolutely lovely interactions—recent ones involving backyard Halloween and a neighborhood toast to Stacey Abrams —those that playfully punctuate the long simple sentence, with its prepositional phrases droning on and on, this fall season started strangely. But we’re getting past some of that now, and people are trying to take their joy back.

This is the year where Christmas trees came out early. I noticed a few days before Halloween, the Thanksgiving stuff got shuffled to the back near the Clearance aisle and Christmas took over, though no one really complained. There was hardly any rumbling on social media about holiday consumerism. We welcome it. People have posted about their holiday décor with unapologetic hashtags as they are determined to create cheer, even people like me who had a beautiful Saturday after the election results bloomed blue.  So much depleted us this year that frankly there is a no-holds-barred banner on twinkle lights, plaid, and change.

I asked a question of the writing group last night: “Do you get so far along in your writing that you fear you’re forgetting what you’ve already written?” I worry that not remembering some organic details will make my re-reading of the manuscript painful in case I see holes that will let air out of the story. It’s not as though I’m writing freely and never looking back; I’m making careful choices each step of the way. The way each day of life begets one decision after another, writing a story does the same.

So, too, is my feeling about life:  Are we driving so hard to the next plot point of our lives that it took the pandemic smackdown and this heavy year to… get bored? Will our 6-week holdout bring us back to a more creative soil? King urges us to “resist temptation” before we look back at what we made. In the spirit of this analogy, I think we’ve cheated in this case because we’ve had so much happen this year that reflection became part of every decision. Yet, I’m also intrigued by the “strange, often exhilarating experience” when you finally do sit down to that “correct evening.” I have this imaginary future moment that I’ve described to my best friend where we are old and sitting on a beach shore. We’re talking about the things we wish we’d done and stuff we worried about that seems so silly now. I keep recalling this image so much so that I feel the breeze and feel sure that it’s us talking.  And you know what is most compelling to me about that imaginary moment?  It’s the recognition that so much of what keeps me up now is likely not so much at all, and that the time of ennui won’t even equate in the future. It will be one long draw of breath. The image doesn’t take the bite out of reality now, no, but it does make me want to laugh with our old selves and see which part of our story never really helped the plot after all.


Last week I wrote a note in my phone. The weather in Georgia shifted for a few days, and it felt like the scent of Fall. It was so surprising that for a moment I forgot that it was the cause of my mood shift, the part inside me who slumbers, sometimes kicking the blanket past her legs, waiting for a gentle shoulder rub and a, “good morning, honey, it’s time.” It was Labor Day weekend, and I sat with family visitors on my brother-in-law’s back patio. One knee to chin, one cup of coffee in hand, I inhaled the weather changes as though I walked into a bakery dusted with powdered sugar. My note to self for this post was, “do you feel that, too?” Artists of the world, I thought, are you looking up at the sky and nodding?

Monday afternoon, though, became like most of the other days now, a search for motivation to work hard, organize hard, get everyone ready to go hard; I did what I had to do. I graded and planned for 6 hours while the beautiful fall-ish light deepened into night. All I wanted to do was seize the quiet feeling that swirls gently like the ghost of a darwish who also wants to just talk, taste, explore, and be. But I felt I had to strap up for the week ahead and carry the effort of caring about kids’ school experience.

This week my kids’ school county said they are going face to face soon and had us elect whether we wanted to remain virtual or go back f2f. A few days later, my school county said kids are going to be welcomed back f2f the week after next. All I could think was that I’m unable to envision the future and unable to make a decision: do I send them back to school, or do they continue to come to work with me most days? I had just settled into an uncomfortable routine, and once again, another change. Do I trust how I feel, or trust what I know?

Everything feels like it’s on sand and not in a good way. Lately, I’ve seen a few friends more, had a few more kids over, even walked into a TJ Maxx and shopped. I’ve gripped onto what a few months ago would be considered extreme: not eating inside a restaurant or being anywhere public without a mask. To be honest, though, I have to push myself into the effort of being afraid despite the fatigue of all the pandemic consequences. Just tired. Still masked and cautious, but tired. Still super-judgy–and maybe even a little jealous at how they ripped the caution tape– about how careless some have been, but just tired anyway. How strange that the chick who wiped down every last grocery item and didn’t leave the house for months is now playing that balancing act of, “is this decision worth it? Is this decision right?” Checks and balances for every move. I’m even finding myself wanting to seize moments because next year will make this one look…fresh. Don’t analyze my choices these days, because maybe they don’t add up as expected.

So when I clicked “remote learning” for them for the duration of the semester, I knew it was the wrong choice. But when I hovered over the f2f option, I felt that was the wrong choice. I’m carrying a suitcase of every tantrum Zade has had and every oddly emotional moment Layla has had, and I’m carrying another one in the other arm for the inevitable consequences from the new grind of living. Though I didn’t make these conditions, they are my children; their effects are my effects. These days I feel like an old lady sifting through moments searching for the right, and then something sharply bright happens and I think all may be okay, Sam, all will be fine, only for the next decision to come. We have been back at school for 3 weeks, and it feels like a semester has passed. We’ve all learned how independent we can be just as sharply as how dependent we are on human interaction and experience. Teachers continue to be outstanding, their inner hearts beaming as loud as possible, and students’ families are trying so hard.

It’s fair to mention that my decision fatigue is not just anchored in school and socializing. I’ve been trying to be a wife to a Libra. In the spring, Kal was with his mom in Jordan. He woke up to a thousand messages from family and friends urging him to come back. Trump said he was closing down international travel, and at the height of the pandemic fear and this erratic president, Kal got on the next flight home. Since then, my mother-in-law’s condition seems more and more dire, and we’ve faced feeling doubly trapped in limited choices about her health and about whether he can even get to her: does he go back to see her in case things turn for the worst, or does he not? Can he live with himself if he doesn’t track the limitations ahead and be there for when she needs him? Can he ignore his best quality—loyalty?  The angst and burden of making the right choice, one that you know may be one thing but feel may be another; this is the analogy that applies to my world lately.  

I’ve also been preoccupied thinking about how much has stalled for artists. In my rabbit-hole reading about how the pandemic has affected the arts, I came across an article in The Atlantic from a few months back. So many considerations, so many people whose moment was right now that I hope will still have their time. The article closed on a few sentiments including, “There are flashes of positivity; most theatre-makers describe themselves as optimists. ‘“ Someone right now is writing a really great play they wouldn’t have got round to.”’ Layla and her friend are writing separate books with names like Anna and familiar plots that transcend into their imagination and onto their little laptops. They share links and edit each others’ works, often facetiming and shrieking about the next climactic scene. Maybe they wouldn’t have time for things like this if things were normal. Art endures, right? Zade and I invent stories at bedtime together where he giggles when I sneak in his name; last night he drove off in a McLaren down a beautiful open road alongside a fictional friend he named Leo. Childhood endures, right?

Lastly, I watched a talk with Alden Jones and Cheryl Strayed this week on where both talked about Jones’ memoir. I quickly wrote this down after Strayed said her go-to line about memoir: “The engine behind Wild isn’t look at me this is interesting, I did an amazing thing, or I suffered an amazing loss. It’s that I have something to say about those things.” She says, “I didn’t write Wild because I took a hike. I wrote Wild because I’m a writer.” And being writer has an effect on how you perceive life just like being a physician has an effect on how you view life or how any line of thought that usually governs your answers affects your cause and your effect.

I think all the people in this rip current, this family of storymakers who observe angles of any moment, consistently examines the knowing and the feeling, are the people I wanted to spend that Labor Day Monday with. I think that slumbering person wanting to wake up was tired of decisions though aware of her luck in being able to be part of them. She didn’t want to complain and still doesn’t want to. She just wanted to be thoughtful in a room of her own while her kids felt whole and her husband felt whole and the future felt dependable and there was still some glorious early-Fall light left of the day.



There’s this funny story my athlete friends get a kick out of. When we lived in Chicago, we had a basketball hoop in the driveway. Any time I’d lace up to shoot hoops, I’d get a sense that I was being watched. Not in a creepy call-for-help way, but in a way that was more of a possibility than a fear. I used to imagine that cars passing by our street may have someone in there who’d see my moves and instantly say, hey there, what you’re doing looks great. You’ve obviously got talent that even you haven’t noticed. The funny part isn’t that this young person wanted to be recognized for something she hadn’t identified; the general sentiment of wondering if someone sees something different in you than you see in yourself, that it’s infinitely cooler than you’d imagined, has got to be in the hearts of most suburban emotional adolescents. Otherwise, why would we yearn as we do?

My daughter sometimes watches me when I sing in the car, especially when she sees me really get into it, when I move my head with the slopes of the song. We had just left the last stop before getting home from work, which for the time being is as much their digital classroom as it is mine. The trunk lined with Trader Joe’s paper bags, the kids snacking on chocolate chip dunkers while arguing over music. I decided to play one of my writing playlists to tune out the early evening moment parents know, when the rising action of kids’ noise is colliding with the apex of your patience for the day, and you know deep down that you must get home—hopefully safely—to a quiet room for even just 15 minutes. Close to home, I caught Layla looking at me like she saw something in me the way I felt something in the song, looking at me with a recognition that for whatever its ingredients made me feel like I was that kid in gym shoes, only this time, a girl sitting in the passenger seat of my Honda said with one look, hey there, I think you’re cool. I like who you are.

Why is it that with every breathtaking feeling kids give us, we feel warmth and loss simultaneously? Is it that we know kids are impermanent? That their eyes on us could one day shift to inspection as they, too, stand in basketball shoes on the cracked driveway of their childhood home, as they feel the whoosh of yearning to be seen as more than what they recognize in themselves? The inevitability of this is what brings me here tonight, the last weeknight of the first week of the new school year.

This month feels like a book with words on one page followed by a set of intermittent blank pages, familiar and odd, over and over. Notes about this strange time have been written already by beautiful writers I follow. Instead, I just want to put a bookmark on something else this Thursday night when my girl gave me something casually and innocently, something I guess I have always wanted, as though she is the eyes that I searched for long before it was possible. She wasn’t born yet, and yet the feeling matches up as true in reverse as it is forward, so much so that the memory of my standing in the driveway looks different now.

It’s almost time to go inside. I have the ball at my hip, and I look up to the other side where there’s nothing to look at except for blue sky over a line of houses. Patience cradles my chest because even though I won’t know that it will be my child who offers me the purist sense of belonging, I’ll grow to understand it.



Lately, I make vegan thumbprint cookies a lot. Finely milled or blanched almond flour and raspberry or apricot preserves are on my grocery list each week nowadays. Baking for me indicates patience, more time, and up until recently, Pillsbury boxes have been my go-to, helping me save both. During some phases of the last few months, I had more of that slow-patient time once I figured out how to harbor it. Layla passed my lazy mise en place on the island one day and said, “You really like those cookies.”

I wonder if any of my family will remember these as a print of the last few months, where times changed, where Mom added a little more baking to her skill set, where Mom explained distancing and its phases, and where Mom talked with us about race. Either batch of conversation ended like the moment you take cookies out of the oven and wonder if they came out okay, looking under them and waiting on them to cool to figure out what else to do better next time.

You couldn’t tell it now, but I organized my pantry and spice cabinets. This seemed like what I was supposed to do once time opened up some; seems like people everywhere turned their attention on stuff inside their house. Once donation sites opened up collections again, I emptied my car trunk filled with trash bags, toys denting little slits in them. After hunkering down for months, I’ve had “porch time” dates with friends where we sit on rockers about 6 ft away from each other and chat. I’ve learned how to inflate pools in minutes with a blow dryer and an empty water bottle. I invested in some outdoor games. I’ve watched a confetto of shows so incongruous that the selection serves as evidence of these unorthodox hours and days since March 12th, a date for us in Georgia, when stuff started to stop being old-normal. Recently, I’ve cautiously shelved—for now—the person who looks just like me who bought 5 boxes of hair dye and extra Tylenol in March. I purchased raised garden beds once they came back in stock.  I’ve grown tomato plants from tomatoes with the moral support of my green-thumbed followers. For months I’ve washed produce extensively and sanitized groceries, but I’ve been a little lax on that the last few trips. Getting up at 4:30 am to go to the gym feels like a symbol of an old life. Even what I was doing in April feels like an old, old life.

By May, clinging on to daily routines through their changed contexts was tiring, but I was still trying. Digital days, treadmill-walking in the garage, long-text message threads with friends about what’s going on in the news, those continued. Working digital life for the family had completed its strange toll, becoming more and more routine until finally, the school year was over. And by the end of it, there was a softness, one of those exhausted breaths that winds down a day of worrying and settles like bare feet on cool grass.

This June has gone by without tapping my shoulder, without that trip to Ireland and Scotland I’d planned with excited students; without typical June weather, without a lot of good things; stuff is weird. Sorry to use such a basic word. Weird, though, things feel. Neighbors’ kids run through the sprinklers. There are cars driving on roads, lots of them, Amazon trucks delivering items, and cereal on the store shelf, but there is a revolution happening, and there is a pandemic panning.

Normal things are still occurring in a changing world; momentum is building; people are strengthening their skill sets in this strange bracketed time; some are just surviving and trying to do right; some are suffering and clinging; some are thriving and feeling guilty; some are cancelled; some are cultured; some are stepping out of their comfort zones and trying; some took a vacation by easing up on the news, and then went back hardcore when they returned; some are mourning; some are resting; some are judging.

Some are lonely, away from parts of life that fill in quiet gaps between work and sleep; and some are having Zoom weddings and celebrations. Some are maskless and promiscuous; some are cautious and controlled. Saharan dust and COVID-19 and George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Black Lives Matter and PRIDE, the absolutely natural, instinctive fight for normal human existence and dignity; these names, monumental and powerful associations from this time that cannot leave any of us the same as before because then, come-on-now, then, you would have missed something essential. Not the allusion to Tiger King or the eye roll about toilet paper, but you would have missed this time in our present when call to action goes beyond our plans for the summer, this summer of staying alive and well, this summer of learning how to listen and learn, about how to get smarter about things you thought you knew. This season, not defined by weather but by cultural tone and political dissatisfaction, has positioned us powerfully in a state of awareness inside our lives and outside into others’.

Awareness and thumbprint cookies, masks and cereal, Instagram stories and platform exchanges, lakeside photos and reading the news at 1 am, embarrassed or horrified or both. Online shopping mixed with online GoFundMe donations; masks and protests, masks and protests. All the daily juxtapositions may leave us feeling differently about the same things each night. We paused back in March, then unpaused slowly like when your streaming show comes in and out after a storm, and now we’re kind of in this whatever-this-is until school starts again in a whichever-way-it-starts way for those of us in the southeast.

And then what? The weirdest thing is that as a teacher gearing up to face the academic, social, and health realities rolling among us, I really don’t know, but I feel anything coming up is going to be hard work. But I’m going to keep on trying new things, listening to new people to me, and trying to improve in a lasting way so that all of this time we’ve had to think about our lives–about our time, our human race, our perspective, our health, our thinking, our way of life– isn’t just burned; it isn’t a batch of time one would rather forget rather than improve. Instead, we work at it and endure the cracks of discomfort and find time to be patient about it until it has no other choice. At least this is what I know is true for me on my educator timeline, with my elementary-aged children, as July is down the street and old-normal and changed-normal are assigned to gear up and set some kind of table.

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My house is mostly quiet today.

Subconsciously, I must have whispered to myself, “Today, you need not over-parent.” Before virus news became in-home U.S. news and before it became Georgia news, the act of parenting turned on before drop off and after pick up. I don’t miss the stress of getting out the door with the right bags and the right shoes and the right lunch boxes, though I recognize I will soon pine for versions of that normalcy. What I mean by parenting here is that off-brand parenting that generally includes encouraging good behavior, mitigating sibling bickering, and—the biggest one—controlling screen and device use. Today, I didn’t want to decide yes or no. I didn’t want to be border patrol.  The sky is gray and cool, giving me the option to let go a little. Maybe I’m resetting, not to inflate obese screen time, but, instead, for all of us to stop affecting each other, thereby, we can focus a little on this favorite grandparent saying, “Bezar rahat bashan;” let them be comfortable.

I have a plaque on my fireplace that says the following: Love grows best in little houses with fewer walls to separate. Where you eat and sleep so close together, you can’t help but communicate. Oh, if we had more room between us think of all we’d miss. Love grows in little houses just like this.

I saw this in small neighborhood shop a few months ago and teared up. By the time I instinctively reached up to bring it down closer, I knew it was coming home with me. I love how this reframes. Think of what we’d miss if we weren’t up close to each other as we are now. It seems fitting to apply this reframing here as uncertainty passes through us in strange ways behind closed doors. Strange because we’ve had the luxury to observe this pandemic from afar; then we saw it get closer with swirling green, yellow, and red on screens like that of a weatherman forecasting a winding storm. Strange, too, with highly juxtaposed social media and news posts, horrifying and terrifying with numbers and personal anecdotes, to then absolutely hilarious ones that are coming from all around the globe—a testament to our humanity; when we can’t take anymore, we have to laugh. The big world is in this thing together.  We’re not dealing with it perfectly, and there is plenty that is not funny. But in my own home, we’ve been socially responsible, and we’ve been in it together.

Mostly, week one of home schooling has brought me closer to how my kids learn. Though I created schedules for all of us on Sunday night, by Wednesday, I knew they needed to be adjusted or we’d all burst under pressure. Something as simple as allowing Layla to start the school day later helped Thursday be a better day. She likes to stretch her morning with an episode and some lounge time; Zade, though, likes to start right after breakfast. They tend to do their creative and outdoor time together, and they are so far not doing a horrible job at being kind and fair to each other. I guess the most surprising is that they want to stay up late and talk to each other even if it is about gaming equations and trades I know nothing about. The days are super long; I’m pretty wiped by 3 pm, but I’m also a little proud of us.

Mostly, I know this is luxurious because the ghost of the storm hasn’t knocked on my house directly. I have read stories and felt deep pangs of empathy for those who have suffered and those who suffer in the effort to help. So far I’ve been able to receive second-hand information and prepare as a result. Of course I will fortify; of course I’ll do my social best to stay inside patiently as I have for the last 12 days. Of course I’ll follow role models around me who are doing the same in their own way and hope that everyone else does the same.  Of course I will extend so much admiration to people working through the knots with all they have. This is not a snowstorm. We won’t just watch the screen, buy some extra milk, see the snow fall, get candles ready, watch it pile up, then watch it melt, and go back to school. Unfortunately, all of that will be figurative this time around.

Mostly, what I do have some control over is the world of my home. Today. I’m letting them graze the pantry at their own will, play devices at their own will, talk to each other at their own will, go outside for exercise (or not) at their own will, and come to me at their own will. I’m going to say yes because today, mommy doesn’t feel like giving the right answer; I just want to give a good one. One certainty is that tomorrow is Monday, and, really, anything after that isn’t in my hands.


things I appreciate about social distancing time

(a version of an idea I’m borrowing from Porochista Khakpour at her substack page that you should check out and maybe make your own list on your phone’s notepad or add more here):

-some moments of being in sync with my kids

-home gym stuff (mat, weights, bands, bosu)

underarmour “the only way is through” amp up videos

peloton app (Oliver Lee and Robin Arzon have been my go-to)

-free Calm stuff

-seeing how creative people are getting with their talents to help educate and make changes; a great friend of mine became a youtube and facebook star even though she’s so friggin’ humble and would hate for me to say it that way.

-sending random gifts to people via amazon

-sitting on my porch

-using facetime even when I look ridiculous (even though I did not like it, it was fine)

-writing some/ reading some

-watching 3 episodes of Outlander

-sleeping later/sleeping in

-kids facetiming their friends and watching their faces light up

-not making the family master calendar because there isn’t much to add

-receiving an unexpected act of love from close friends

-sitting on the couch; I rarely allow myself that luxury

-group chats

-and more…

things I’ve struggled with so far

-watching enough news; not watching enough news

-worrying about the future

-worrying about my parents who work

-worrying if i’m overscaring/underscaring my kids

-having any kind of hype for Persian New Year since it feels empty to celebrate

-do I have allergies, or am I getting sick

-am I washing my hands enough; is this even going to work since everything is a surface

-parents, please stay home (I’ve struggled finding patience for people who can make better choices but don’t; I know we all react differently, so I’m trying to be fair about it).

-cooking all meals and not ordering food (a personal choice, and so we miss pizza and convenience)

-calling more people; I still have some real malaise about actual phone-talk time

-feeling FOMO about how this time “at home” should look like

-screen time for the kids

-wanting to do everything but not feeling like it

-feeling like an effective teacher; upholding standards was harder this week

-worrying about whether we have enough at home; worrying that I’m silly or selfish for overthinking it

-staying off my phone; it’s currently powered off so I can reset my attention. been doing this more

-being moody sometimes; I love home time, but I know people bring out a part of my personality I like

-feeling guilty for feeling anything good when a lot of bad is out there; and vice versa

-and more…

A Quick Hello in Case Layla is Looking

Layla and I were hanging out on my bed last night. I was scrolling through my phone showing her videos of our friends who have taken two years off to travel and sail the world. “So, where is St. Lucia?” she asked.

Swiping up through images of the Caribbean and chatting sleepily about sailing, she got me sidetracked.

“You haven’t written much on your blog lately.”

I got up on my elbow and said, “How do you know that?”

She said, “Every few days, I google your name to see if you’ve written anything else.”

Incredible, this daughter of mine searching the Internet to see if I’ve written anything new. To her, that I write is something she knows as if it were always there in her life like my long hair or my dark-rimmed glasses. How I have created this identity with her, and how this is vastly different from my own experience with my writing fascinates me. What is natural to her, that mommy is writing this post or that mommy’s office door is closed, isn’t natural to me.

“That is so sweet, honey. I didn’t know you did that. I haven’t been writing there on purpose because I’m trying to write that novel.”

She nods. “The one about Ellie?”

“Yes, baby.”

The best creative writing course I took in college was the only creative writing class I took in college. The classroom had two big windows that looked over the main street at Georgia State.  A baby-writer-me wrote an essay on Persian tea cups, on the process of tea making as a metaphor for the culture, one that in retrospect was pretty satirical. I was exhilarated at creative non-fiction. Surely, we had an array of assignments, but I just remember that essay and that zing I felt when words came out of form, out of turn. I think the best word for this is delight; I was delighted by my submission and its reception in the class.

I remember the day I decided, no, I think concentrating on literary studies is better since I am good at writing about writing. I don’t regret that decision anymore, but for a long while, I assumed that this choice divided me from the realm of creative writing in the real world. So many of my life steps since then negate this truth, yet impostor syndrome overshadowed the little glimmer of something else. I recognize, now, though that if you stick at something for long enough, you may end up proving to yourself that you’re not half as ill-equipped as your inner asshole (a Pastiloff copyright) told you that you were (dang, do I have to censor that now?). What I’ve learned recently about fiction and life is a line half-borrowed from someone else: fiction makes sense; real life does not. Fictional stories about lives make sense partly because the writer spends a decade considering them and learning to tie pieces together practically; but real life, though true, is too linear to do all that fiction can do. We make sense of real life, but we create fiction.

In 2014, my best friend encouraged my story idea by asking me leading questions and writing swiftly in a notebook I had in the kitchen. I have those notes in my desk drawer still. A few years later, I took a class with UCLA and turned that into a solitary short story that is far beyond that place now. I needed a class to stay committed. In this incarnation, and in a more advanced ULCA course with a phenomenal writing instructor, I am currently writing the first draft of a novel. If anything comes from this experience, it is respect for anyone with the endurance to finish, truly finish this art.  While taking this course, I’ve learned that I can’t know the full story until I write it; that all first drafts are shitty; I have to listen to my instincts (and try to stay away from fatal writing flaws so that my first draft is not as shitty); that I am super serious a few days before deadline, refusing to take off my work clothes or wash makeup off my face until my post-work writing is done for that night; and that I feel a little melancholy a couple days after each submission, like maybe I explored so far that I have to find a way back.

I notice that the kids don’t knock on my door as much when I am working. I hear them in the kitchen. “Don’t ask her for that now. She’s going to get mad.  She’s writing now!” I have to fight the urge to go see what’s going on because I’m recognizing that somewhere inside, I’m taking this seriously, and maybe, too, I’m setting a precedent. Maybe my real life and my fiction can get along and make sense so that I can see what I’m made of when I go forward in time to when I don’t ignore the hard-won delight.

My word for this new year was control, to take control over things I let slip away. I know control can only lead to loss of, yet I’ll try anyway. Even now I’m trying to control myself from checking email as I work alongside my creative writing students, a promise I made them that every Friday, we’ll freewrite together. That we won’t focus so hard on the outcome, just let the ideas flow. Our keyboards are tapping away while others write or doodle in square notebooks. But the solidarity of it makes us do it. Yes, we write alone, but we don’t work towards something alone.

Layla’s question yesterday became, for me, a memorable act of solidarity, an innocent reflection of a truth she sees, one of which I will continuously strive to fit.



I waited until André Aciman’s Find Me came out; then several days later, I placed it in my travel backpack for my trip last week. What better place to read this long-awaited sequel, I planned, than thousands of feet in the air on the way to Italy, a setting intrinsic to both books. Italy, a place that allows you to see time especially at night when the cobblestone streets and the iron window grilles are slick from rain. I wanted to see what ever came of Elio and Oliver, how Elio’s father’s voice would begin the tale, and what “an acute grammarian of desire” would weave for readers holding their breath. And then, instinctually, the book became mine, as the journey became mine; the artists’ vision became mine; and then my home, like the book in its simplest state sitting under a lamp on my bedroom console, became mine.

I suppose the trip was always about my return. My thirteenth year of teaching felt lonely.  Last year I observed myself looking like the teacher I’ve always been, making connections and working on new things, and yet I felt odd, like I was in a shadow a few steps behind my former self on some strange auto-pilot, a place where life’s dopamine is deflected. Enough was enough, so meetings and momentum later, a seed was planted. I planted a seed. I signed up to take students abroad in June 2020. To learn how to do that well and to experience the company who will be taking us, I would go to Rome with other educators I don’t know from places I don’t know to a place I don’t know, all because we were doing something similar.

That’s how I found myself on a plane to Italy in the middle of the work week some time around Zade’s soccer practice.


Leaving home by choice is absolutely strange. Whenever I do, I ask myself, why are you leaving a place you spend most of your time committed to? Any time I do, I focus on ensuring everyone is content, that a balance is there for when I’m not there. Then, came my new focus: any experience or thought that develops when I’m not the decision-maker in my life or the mother in my family but rather the visitor, the observer.  That luxurious role of observer.

I look at my journal notes now and wonder, is travel about the place, or about you in that place? Was this trip about new trips, about Rome, or about you in Rome? But aren’t stories just words until they move us, music just there until it resonates with us?

Feeling the Sistine Chapel relies on an absorption of all your senses, which is attached to the most subjective lens of all. When our tour guide, whose voice and passion felt like more of a cultural ambassador’s than one of a man with a mic, told us stories about the Pope’s demand that Michelangelo paint the ceiling of The Sistine Chapel or when I heard the stories of St. Peter’s Basilica, I got emotional not really for the history but for the kernel: that even the most enlightened, powerful humans in history knew that art was the only way to speak grandeur into the everyday soul.


One of my students recently debated that travel is in some forms selfish, which reminds me of one of our training sessions. We were asked to follow signs about why we encourage students to travel. Instead of picking groups like, “learn new things about a culture,” I stood firmly in, “finding out more about themselves.” Self-discovery is inherently subjective or selfish, and yet likely one of the most powerful seeds of change in one’s identity. That type of discovery is not about being disrespectful or taking relentless selfies in beautiful places, a sad truth of tourism; rather, travel can be about how you sought to let a place leave its self on you.


My return flight got closer and closer home, and as frost grew on the windows, so did this peace about my life and where it sits now. I suppose I fear quietly that experiences I have away from my family could sweep me away, indulgent in the ways that strength shapes me anew. I flew away only to want so deeply to return to it, to find the living room just as I’d left it, to hug the children whose faces I saw in kids walking by me, and to find the husband who– in his own living room–steadily awaits as I find, and find.

My friend adventured away from her town to hear Aciman speak a few hours away while I was away.  She shared some notes with me while I, now back home but a little jet lagged, sat in the car while I waited on Layla to finish her violin lesson. Of many, one note caught her attention about Aciman’s comment regarding home: that home isn’t found in a place, it’s in a person, people. How increasingly resonant was this idea of home since I was thinking about home so much.

I listened to her while sitting in my worn leather seat facing the old music studio. Eager to talk about his work, I read to her about nuances regarding music that he explores:  “Perhaps, says the genius [Bach], music doesn’t change us that much, nor does great art change us. Instead, it reminds us of who, despite all our claims or denials, we’ve aways known we were are are destined to remain…Music is the unlived life.”

Inspired by how these characters live their lives, I re-read parts of Find Me on the way back just as I re-read this trip, both of which I’ve barely captured here. I turned over ideas and adjusted my legs; took a nap and counted my lucky stars. I’ve since relished in the nuances of both the short trip and the powerful book. Early this morning when I sat down to write on my home desk, stacked with old flyers and faded October dates, I had to be okay with falling short, incapable of capturing the total experience. I’ll have to settle with the one that is most surprising: I sense the chance that I’m catching this present better than when I was living it. This trip, at its core, was really always about coming home.


a thank you

I had a run-in with someone I was not expecting to see.

For years after the severing incident, which was my final straw at the ridiculous game of our relationship, the awful night looped in my body like a shock, aftershock, and onward with that same awful rotation. My stomach clenched every time I thought about her and how she treated me as though I was the battleground, though the war was never about me; it is the disease she has let rot inside her that affects how she treats people when their backs are out of view. An irreversible condition that is often camouflaged as sincerity.

It took a few years to finalize what I would say if I was forced to see her again, to really express the gravitas, what words I could project after that night when her skewed perception, this time, aimed its shot at me. I don’t think its possible to forget the first time when your body tell you its the last time it will accept that passenger.

Her performance yesterday was likely the best. A feigned maternal air of forgiveness made it appear to an outsider, maybe, that she was extending an olive branch–limp, stolen, and now moldy and ineffective. Her counterfeit way, her startling ease of expression, though the last words I had heard from her mouth were rude, loud. She lingered around, continued attempts at conversation, started a game of make believe where we’d pick up where we’d left off.  If I were to guess, I believe she thought it went well and will likely report back about her success at poised, sisterly sentences, even boldly asking about how my father is doing or how work has been or, my absolute favorite, to take a picture of her since it’s been years.

One can argue that I was counterfeit as well, relying on the decorum of the event to help me salute the way I received her. A friend may have wanted an explosive declaration, those redemptive moments that are most visually vibrant. Wouldn’t it be nice to be the one screaming this time, acting out of character despite the crowd?

But what good is all of that energy when you’ve been given a different, most unexpected, most fortifying gift?

What time gave me was the gift of indifference. As the sun rose this morning and I scanned my body again for its reflections, I recognized that word as my blessing: indifference. No quickening heartbeat, no fearful pull for flight, no desire to recall what I had wanted to say, no feeling of anger, no feeling of hurt, no feeling of sympathy, no feeling of friendship, no feeling of a shared past, no disappointment, no youthful forgiveness, no desire to speak anymore, no feeling of anything.  All that woman earned from me yesterday was a shrug.

I think of this me standing in the bright sun and heat of the afternoon feeling absolutely nothing, invoking bland conversational skills, even less thoughtful than when asking where the customer service counter is so I can return that heavy bag that has been taking up space in the back of my car for ages, and I’m convinced that the body can be trusted.

What an incredible gift of mind and body, an unexpected peace I could have never predicted, that if it weren’t for the calm it spread all over my sensors, would be somewhat startling.