Skip to main content

$Monday: The Life-Preserving Magic of Hunkering Down

Here I am trying to show off the new silver streak in my hair that matches all my cozy gray loungewear. There's no banishing the gray this year--the hair, the clouds gathering outside, the moods of quarantine, the mental fog--so we might as well embrace it with as much warmth and compassion as we can. In a dreadful and lonely time, my anxiety tells me I need to get out and do more, to do people favors, to keep someone company, to reach out, to find a change of scene, to earn more money in case of financial disaster, but my rational mind knows that the most helpful thing I can do for my family and community during a pandemic is to hunker down. 

Settle in, simmer down, think small and simple and safe. Make smart, long-term investments of time, attention, energy, and resources for the next year. This is not the season to hustle and produce more, it’s time to wait patiently and conserve. The best most of us can do right now is damage control. A pandemic is no time for big risks or gambling with life or money.

More cars on the road means more accidents. More people out and about means more disease transmission. More interaction means more danger, in part due to the rise of fascist populism that has a sizable chunk of the U.S. population whipped up into a nonsensical zombie-esque frenzy of hateful rage, weaponized fear and mistrust, and science denial.

As those folks continue to demonstrate, ignoring the truth doesn't do any good. So we need to learn to live with the reality we have, as best we can. For me, that includes accepting that many other people are hopelessly unmoored from reality at this time, and that many of the ways I feel compelled to “help” right now pose a greater threat than capacity to actually improve anything.

I am done arguing with anyone who no longer believes in hygiene or democracy. I have compassion for those who are lost right now, and I also have the good sense to keep my distance from anyone who, intentionally or not, has become hazardous to my physical and mental health--and to my family's.

At times like these, a locked door or a blocked account can be compassionate tools of nonviolence. They can help us to make space for our own healing and for the gentle nurturing of healthy relationships and habits instead. Locking down is the most unselfish choice in the world in this moment.

So how to make the most of hunkering down? 

I don't believe that this is necessarily the best time for ambitious self-improvement. It's cool if that's working for you, but I'm certainly not feeling motivated to learn a new language or write another novel at this time. But having a hobby is great, anything that helps you pass the time pleasantly. It doesn't have to be anything impressive; it could be cooking or baking or Lego building or online gaming or drawing or dancing or singing or playing an instrument or knitting or even splitting gigantic stacks of firewood--anything that speeds up your perception of time, relaxes you, and doesn't hurt you or anyone else.

Get enough rest and alone time, which might be more than usual, depending on what your particular mind and body need.

Look around for the simple pleasures available to you and for reasons to feel hope, joy, and kinship with others. For example, I drove across town for the first time in months recently, and I noticed that I couldn't spot a single fascist-leader political sign along the way. Instead, I found that my neighborhood and closest city were festooned with yard signs bearing messages of kindness and humor, such as Black Lives Matter; Choose Kindness; No Matter Where You're From, We're Glad You're Our Neighbor; In This House... (rainbow of various messages of solidarity); Pray; You Are Worthy of Love; and Wu-Tang Is Forever. (That last one gave me a laugh!)

Build warmth and intimacy with your quarantine partners. If it's only yourself, go hard on the self-care. If it's the roommates you're already sick of, dig deep for things you like about them. If it's your family or your romantic partner, take advantage of this season of heightened intimacy and togetherness. Find fun things you can do together while allowing each member of the household the amount of privacy and alone time they want.

Keep in touch with loved ones outside the home by text, phone call, and video chat, but don't push yourself to overdo it. Those virtual interactions have their place, but they aren't the same as the real thing. Give your favorite people outside of your home the moral support to do their own best hunkering down so that you can have many more years of satisfying in-person time together in the future.

And in your physical space, at home, maybe shift things around. Decorate for the holidays and seasons just to please yourself and anyone you live with. Take this chance to skip stressful holiday obligations and expenses that you can opt out of this year. Along with its difficulties, this year has also created some opportunities to break old habits we already wanted to change.

Buy groceries in bulk, as long as they won't go to waste. Your household is probably going through more of certain things than before the pandemic. Go ahead and recommission social-entertainment spaces as storage areas, accepting that we won't have guests in our homes for a long time.

Pull out all your comfiest winter clothes, regardless of holes or stains or unraveling threads. Feeling good is more important than looking good this year.

Give your skin and hair a long break from cosmetic products and hot tools. 

Indulge your pets in all the snuggles and extra play-times they desire.

Make a fun plan for power outages so that if your electronic umbilical cord gets pulled, it will be an adventure rather than a crisis. Stock up on beeswax candles, firewood, battery-operated LED lights, board games, paper books, cushy blankets, outdoor gear, sleds, and survival gear such as equipment that will allow you to make coffee without electricity.

Think of the pandemic as a retreat from normal life, and lean into its opportunities for learning and living differently as much as your circumstances allow. As one of my college roommates, a mother and schoolteacher whose husband is a front-line medical care provider, pointed out on a recent video chat, this is a time that will transform everyone living through it, much like the Great Depression did for our grandparents. If we approach it the right way, we and our children can draw strengths and skills from this time of hardship that could serve us for the rest of our lives.

What gifts of wisdom and character formation will we carry forward from this winter?

None if we don't survive Covid, so hunker down, friends, and mute and ignore all the people in your life who are ignoring science. FOMO and anxiety might tell you that you're alone in this, but you aren't. You are quietly surrounded by love and care and beauty and strength. Though apart, we're all in this together. When it's over and we finally emerge, you'll see.

Preserve yourself, preserve your community. Happy hunkering down!


Popular posts from this blog

35 Great Things About Turning 35

The prime of life starts at 35! It's the best-kept secret from younger people, but your 35th birthday is a major cause for celebration. For mine, I have made my own listicle of 35 reasons why experts agree that 35 is the best age to be: You get to say, "I'm 35." The number 35 carries so much more gravitas than 30, but you're only a few years older. At 34, I've started fudging my age--by adding a year. People automatically take me seriously, and if they don't, at least they tell me I look young for my age. (Eye roll, hair toss, "whatever.")    35-year-olds DGAF. Inner chill reaches new heights at 35. Despite its #2 status on this list, it's the #1 response I hear about what's best about hitting 35. My gorgeous friend Nerlie was beautiful and resilient and wise beyond her years in high school, but now, at age 35, she gets to fully enjoy being herself on her own terms. She writes,  "I've survived so much that I don't

TBT: The Magic of Essential Oils

Oh essential oils, beloved friend of loopy-goopy women of my own demographic marketing cohort, along with magic crystals, mystic doulas, organic pesticides, multi-level-marketed leggings, anything labeled as "herbal supplements," and alternatives to vaccination. The essential oil craze is something that has a basis in scientifically verifiable reality but has been endowed with magical, holy, pseudo-scientific properties for marketing purposes. I bought into it wholeheartedly before I learned that not all that crunches is harmless. All too often, legitimate fears based in reality (of toxic chemicals, unnecessary medical interventions, pharmaceutical side effects, etc.) are stoked to induce women like me to jump from the frying pan and into the fire of an "alternative" that may be at least as harmful as what it is supposedly protecting me and my family from. I still use certain essential oils for cleaning and other purposes, and I think everything I've stated in t

Pocket of Joy: Renovating to Love, Not to List

My mom and I have watched Love It or List It for years, and it's no surprise to us that most families choose to stay in their own, customized home rather than move into a new, blank box. The qualities that make a house a home are not the same qualities that make a marketable real estate property. Houses sell better when they are whitewashed into sterile, blank boxes where a new homeowner can come in and add their own personalized color and texture. If you're rich like the people on LIOLI , you can custom build a personalized home from scratch or personalize a market-fresh house in a short time, but even so, it's easier to stay in an already-customized house than to start over.  For regular people who aren't rich, turning a house into a home takes even more creativity, hard work, and time. But working class people certainly can create beloved homes. I've seen dream homes created from the tiniest of tiny houses in the humblest of neighborhoods, in trailer parks, in a

$Monday: Bog Witch Style on a Budget

Autumn in a pandemic is the perfect time to tap into your inner bog witch with wild hair, cozy clothes, forest rituals, creepy cats, fire, books of spells, and Dark Cottagecore home decor mood boards on Pinterest . You don't have to live in a literal swamp. The word "bog" comes from a Gaelic term for "soft," and it sounds nearly identical to Slavic words for gods or divinity with Proto-Slavic roots that refer to earthly fortune. Bog witches burrow into the true goodness of life nestled beneath all the hustle and polish and show of making a living. They focus on soft wealth and spiritual power. The vibe is slow, earthy, comfy, moody, sneakily seductive, maybe sticky, wise rather than smart, preferring old things to new, charming rather than impressive. It's about harmonizing with the natural environment, blending, melting, enveloping, and sinking into earthy, downward energy. Bog witchery vibes with hygge, friluftsliv , and the indigenous earth wisdom of whe

A Lightbulb Moment

All the lights are on! This weekend, my dad finished installing our kitchen cabinets as well as three pendant lights that hang above them. Hallelujah, let there be light! Now we can finally see what we're doing, giving us a boost of productivity by providing both visual access and a more pleasant work environment--which will soon become a warm, welcoming place to cook and eat and converse! This bright, warm light is a great metaphor for something else I've realized over the course my month-long home renovation staycation--which, though hard and busy, has been a clean break from my nonprofit work, my novel-writing creative work, and most of my social life too. I had an "aha" moment about illuminating the kitchen that my family has designed and built ourselves with a set of clear, warm lights that my husband and I chose together, as well as the fact that we are no longer living in other people's stuff. We're approaching 40 now, and we've finally been able t

No Cook Summer Snacks

We've been living without a kitchen for over a month now while we renovate, and while I miss baking and cooking, it's also a little bit nice to not have to cook. My family doesn't have a daily takeout budget (or else we'd be paying someone else to renovate our kitchen, obviously), so we've relied on my parents to share their kitchen and home-cooked meals with us in addition to setting up a makeshift pantry in our living room filled with foods that don't need to be cooked. During a hot summer, even when we have a fully functioning kitchen, it's nice to have some things on hand that don't need to be cooked with a stove or oven--or even a grill outside on scorching days. Whether or not you have a lovely kitchen that works, anyone can stay a little cooler and enjoy a little more time to relax this summer by stocking up on no-cook snacks such as... in-season fruits and veggies that can be enjoyed raw hummus, salsa, liquid nacho cheese (no judgment), or any ot

Pocket of Joy: Heirloom Tomatoes

Among the joys of homegrown veggies and fruits, heirloom tomatoes rise the highest above their grocery store cousins. Nothing cultivated to survive mass production and shipping to supermarkets can compare to the flavor of a homegrown heirloom tomato. Heirlooms come in a startling variety of shapes, sizes, and colors with great variation in flavor and texture as well. The bright, shiny, red, smooth, uniform-looking tomatoes that show up in grocery stores have been hybridized to enhance production and durability at the expense of flavor. There isn't anything wrong with eating grocery store tomatoes in terms of health, but once you taste the sweet, brilliant complexity of an heirloom tomato, you understand right away how different and special they are. If you can't or don't wish to grow heirloom tomatoes yourself, and if you don't have green-thumbed and generous family or friends willing to invite you over for grilled bruschetta this summer (oh, the tragedy!), you can usua

Pocket of Joy: Old Books

Old books! You can judge them by their shabby chic covers, because they function as objets d'art and objects of desire on a shelf no matter what stories they tell inside. Books with leather bindings, books embossed and edged in gold, books with plates and illustrations and fancy lettering inside, books that give off the subtle scent of an aged library, books with fraying ribbon markers and tactile spines. Old books are charming, comforting, and, when they aren't first edition antiques, they are usually cheap. The stories told inside of old books can also be wonderful and so thick and rich that you can revisit them again and again, each time discovering something new or forgotten, as fans of Jane Austen and George Eliot know well. Those were stories built to last the ages. An old book can be a roundly multi-sensory experience. I once picked up an old maiden volume by Anthony Trollope that had never been read--and I know, because I had to rustle up an antique book knife to cut ap

Pocket of Joy: Hot Gourd Summer

The corn has grown past "knee high by the Fourth of July," and so have the sunflowers. The delicious bean plants keep trying to climb up their tall sisters' stalks, though the cute, fuzzy creatures of the neighborhood keep trimming them down. And in one very green corner of the garden, the zombie trash gourds have returned! Last year, they volunteered to take over my compost and apple wood stick piles, and this year, they popped out of the front yard garden (after I spread compost there) to say: it's time for another hot gourd summer! The Fourth of July fireworks are all used up and done; it is now legal to look forward to Halloween. Pumpkin spice girls and bog witches, rejoice with me! And pray to every curly shoot and warty bump that by the time these decorative gooseneck gourds ripen, my witchy kitchen will be finished and ready to display them on rustic cherry open shelves against shady green walls. Until then, it's a joy to let the gourd plants' broad gre

Check Out My...

Pantry! We slapped in some fun and easy, removable wallpaper and dug around in the garage until we found this functional beauty, a commercial-grade speed rack abandoned by a former roommate long ago.  The wallpaper is also pretty old, leftover from a project in my parents' former house. Weirdly, I just saw it featured in a bookcase in an episode of Love It or List It . As seen on TV! While we renovate, we've been going through lots of old stuff in the garage, attic, and shed to donate, throw away, or, occasionally, use in the new kitchen. I've unearthed some VERY interesting and exciting treasures from deep inside the garden shed, which I hope to show off soon.  Things are getting very bog witchy around here indeed!