One recent Sunday afternoon I went for a ‘distanced’ hike with a good friend I hadn’t seen since shelter-in-place began. She and I have always been hiking buddies; most of our conversations take place on a trail somewhere, preferably one high up, with a view. This time we were solving for empty space, a wide trail where we could walk apart from one another, and a slower pace because she’s pregnant and I’m just getting back into hiking. The weather was pleasantly hot, and there weren’t too many people on the trail.
As my friend caught me up on what’s been going on in her life – work stuff, family stuff, preparations for her soon-to-arrive baby – I slowly began to realize how much I’ve changed in these past few months. Alone in my own head, spending time mostly with my husband and, over videoconference, work colleagues and a few friends, I’ve shifted focus. The things I wanted to talk about were different than they would have been in February.
“How are you doing?” has become a real question. The answer changes like the weather. I’m more aware of weather, is one answer; I’m spending more time outside, and when inside, more time with a view of the sky. I think about work differently, what it is and how it functions, my own and other people’s, the kind I want to do and how I want to do it. I’m learning about soil. I’ve seen spinach flower and now I know what that looks like, and it’s fascinating. I’ve learned that an artichoke is a perennial, can grow over seven feet tall, and looks a lot like the plant version of a dinosaur. I’m thinking about seasons, both literally and metaphorically, and the (larger) role I’d like them to play in my life. There are people I miss, and people I don’t miss, and I’m surprised by who’s in which group. I have a different relationship to my physical self.
I’m reading more, and more thoroughly. I’m cooking more. I watch lizards and bees and squirrels and the way the hummingbirds chase one another off a particularly good batch of blossoms. I’m learning the streets and landscape immediately around my home. I know half a dozen loop walks I can do to fit almost any amount of available time or energy. I have a new appreciation for my neighbors. I have a new dis-appreciation for the news, less because it’s sensationalistic and more because it’s repetitive. I am thinking about race, and gender, and systemic violence – but I’m trying to do so more slowly, more thoughtfully, than I might have done a year ago. “You were there in those days,” asked a junior colleague who I mentor, “what was that like?” She was asking about tech-bro culture and gender prejudice and how those related to my own experience in tech, during Google’s earlier years. As I answered, I realized the bitterness had gone from my response. In many ways I still don’t know how to assess those days, but somewhere in these past months, I’ve made my peace with that.
Some of these changes are trivial, some significant – but they’re all meaningful at least to me. I don’t know how visible they are to others. Aside from a darker tan and more-sun-bleached hair, I don’t think I look very different. I am likely to tell you more than you want to know about the sex of zucchini flowers, or the way a corn stalk bends zigzag as the ears plump up, but beyond that – I don’t know.
What I do wonder is this: if I am changing so much, and if I hadn’t noticed while it was happening – is everyone else changing too? I don’t mean we’d all change in the same way, of course – but are we all changing? Do we always change so much, so fast, or is the chaos and uncertainty of these days accelerating the process?
What will I – what will we all – be like in a few more months?