It is your birthday, and I don’t know where to start. There are so many things I’d like to say on your special day that I literally could not fit into this article. So let me start by saying the most obvious thing: You are very special to me.
Since the moment you walked into my life, we got along just perfectly. You were like the perfect piece to my puzzle. Not that anything was missing, but you became a part of me and you made me better than I was without you. I know you’re probably laughing right now thinking this is super corny. Sure, me too.
One thing that amazes me is your unconditional form of giving. Anytime I need something, you never hesitate to offer and even more. If I happen to have a bad day, you listen to my problems and you reassure me that it will pass. And when I need your shoulder to cry on, you never hesitate to snap me back into reality and tell me to stay strong. You give me so much strength and you have taught me to make this my lifestyle.
You light up my day. You are thoughtful, compassionate, and your vibes are happiness. You are simply the best and more.
Not only are you the best ear, the best supporter, but you are also my perfect fit for the most important reason: You understand and don’t judge me. Or those times we have just sat somewhere without even talking to each other. It’s the best because we also know our deepest fears, our greatest hopes.
I am so glad you walked into my life. You have made me a stronger woman, a better me. I don’t know how I got so lucky that we crossed paths. I guess it was just destiny that decided the perfect moment. If I had never met you, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I am so thankful for your life. Especially on a day like today. I celebrate your life and wish you so many more years to walk this crazy world and hopefully sprinkle a little bit of happiness into my life. Thank you for being you. You are my person. Happy birthday to you! You’ve changed my life and you inspire me every day.
What are you up to this weekend? We made pizza at home and took a stroll through the park. And, I left my phone at home.
Screen Time: Screen addiction is a very real thing in the Corona pandemic. Everybody is always available, which is good and bad. It is a nice feeling not to wake up with new notifications about the virus for once. Sometimes I enjoy the time-out from digital feeds that make me feel anxious and to stop cycling through my core set of applications i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email, WordPress. These days, breaking this routine felt strange to me. The urge to constantly know what is going on in people’s lives while focusing on my son’s and mine is a lot of work when nothing else is going on. Taking a break to check in on everybody at all times seems like the right thing to do.
On Reading: I am a big reader and found these days, printed books to be more vibrant than ever. I almost read myself through my mountain of “to-be-read-next-books” and will then order new ones online while supporting local, small bookstores in my neighborhood. My son loves to play by himself so I am able to spend a few hours, even during the day, reading while the world is still broken.
On People-Watching: When I sat in the park yesterday and my son chased his basketball, I watched people. And quickly found that looking worried them. Who is coughing? Is she sneezing? Is he too close to me? To her? To them? People are uncomfortable and scared. So, my son and I played social-distant-soccer and basketball away from everyone for almost one hour and had a great time. We have been watched but smiled at.
Walking Around: We have been for a short walk this morning. It was the first time we were outside in the early morning in days and ambling along the barren streets in Vienna was as surreal. Every corner and every street seems to be re-painted as an empty mirage depicting the erstwhile routine of my life before Corona. Vienna is nothing without its people and the formerly minute, now seeming extraordinary details of our habitual activities. I should have never taken them for granted. Actually, I think this is too harsh. Appreciating what you don’t know you don’t have before you no longer have it is basically the definition of empathy, but it takes time to get there. Often, the time is freckled with adversity. This adversity is subjective, but I want to reiterate, if only for myself, that we are all going through something. Not literally, but the grass of my neighbor might look greener, or the act of acknowledging that theirs has turned to weeds might paralyze me with guilt. But I am someone’s neighbor too, and they are observing my grass. I wish I had grass, though. It’s a cycle, no question, and it can get impede a primal desire to connect, but I am beginning to think it can also be interrupted by the conceptual act of sharing your grass in whatever small way you know it. I talk to my neighbor across the street a lot. He is not naked on his bicycle anymore. Corona changes things.
Mentally Surviving this S***: Or maybe it is better to ask how to make time feel more alive? Or to demarcate it. How do you create the gratifying clear breaks of time that the natural rhythms of daily life, even if that only entails going outside for a short stroll, seem to you? How do you acknowledge whatever festivities were planned when there is no longer a real difference between a weeknight and a weekend night because, at least for me, the material specifics of where I go, what I eat and where I eat, have weirdly blended into themselves. So, my friend and I made Spaghetti Bolognese while dancing Salsa to Carlos Santa during and after cooking. Because, why not? And kinda romantic. I think it was Thursday though who the hell knows anymore when I experienced the familiar desire to race through time in order to get somewhere I want to be again. Remember anticipation? It is funny that as a generation, we have been trying to combat this craving to speed time up, not slow it down. Even though some moments could last forever. Now it is what keeps me buoyed.
All of this is to say that creating a ritual around a thing you love to do then savoring every second of it and sharing it with someone you love, either in physical space, cyberly or by pinpointing yourself as the chosen loved one seems like a worthwhile pursuit right now. For me, it creates a fleeting feeling that makes me think, or lets me pretend, that life is normal. I choose to experience this as a reminder that life will be normal again. It has to be. And if nothing else, today was a good day because we are one day closer than we were yesterday.
Always remember it could be worse: This current situation feels different to everyone. Some feel helpless and anxious. Some are bored. Some are self-quarantined alone, and lonely. Some are realizing that After will be very different from Before. Some just got off their 12th double shift in a row at the hospital and can’t hug their family. Some cannot afford soap. Some are learning how to bake bread. Some are living paycheck to paycheck and the next one will not arrive. Some lost their jobs. Some cannot sleep. Some cannot go to the grocery store because they are at risk. Some cannot afford their rent next month. Some cannot meet with a therapist or lawyer. Some people will lose their business. Some just really need a hug. Some will get divorced this year. Some will have a baby this year or early next year. Some don’t know what they are going to do next. Some are horny. Some won’t see their families for months.
And some are logging off to stay grounded.
This is an interesting article on when the coronavirus social distancing will be over if you would like to read.
As a writer, self-isolation is nothing new or special to me. Being alone with my thoughts for hours or days is what I love. But, two weeks into quarantine, here are some thoughts that popped up.
What I think about: Am I going to miss my first and favorite season in Vienna/Austria, spring, altogether? Everything is canceled. Which events will be rescheduled and which ones will never happen again or at all? Everyone is going to feel like they need a vacation after this (especially if one they had planned was canceled), but we’re also going to have an economic recession so no one’s going on vacation anytime soon. Is everyone going to be an extrovert for a year? Is everyone going to forget how to behave around other people? If we take before/after photos, how much older will we look by the end (fingers crossed) of this? I am mostly talking about all the parents with children. It’s been more than a week, so how come I can still only do 30, okay 20 pushups? Yoga-Crow-Pose is manageable at this point. Is my dentist still in the office? What if someone had a dental emergency? It must be so weird to be in a profession where you put your hands in people’s mouths right now? What are my deeper, philosophy thoughts at the moment? Are music festivals a thing of the past? Are commencements a thing of the past? What is my password to WordPress? And Amazon? How much can we learn from history to help us? Where is even the best place to start? Is this person not responding to me because they’re trying not to look at their phone or because they’re sick? Will we wish we never posted anything on social media during this time? How much will this experience factor into our process of decision-making in the future? Will we always weigh this when we consider how far we move away from our families, where we decide to live? What’s the shelf life on a pair of pajama pants that you wear every day? Can you hand-wash a towel? A bedsheet? How much should I read to have a realistic sense of what’s going on? How little should I read to prevent myself from completely freaking out? If and when (I wrote this down and then lost my train of thought but I actually think this is an entirely valid question on its own)? If this pandemic “ends,” is it going to resurface again in a few months? Is the first week the worst or is the eighth week the worst? Are we just going to get used to this? When I can pick up the painting I purchased at Galerie KRAS in Vienna?
What I miss: Going to movie theaters and the assumed drink-and recap after the movie. Going to museums and art shows with my friends and our kids. Any dinner conversation at restaurants that keep going way after the check is paid. These days, also signing the check, for some reason. Going to work and hanging out with my friends #LunchhangoutsattheCR. Planning trips. Especially those that include swimming, ocean, and beach. Ordering a Käsekreiner (Austrian sausage with cheese in it), bread and beer at my favorite Würstlstand, being called “Piefke” and hanging out with real Austrians. Also, spending quality time with my friend and artist Geraldine who helped me when things were pretty shitty in my life last year.
What I don’t miss: Feeling guilty for deciding not to go out, ever. TSA agents that yell at to TAKE OUT YOUR LAPTOP and TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES. Buying things from companies I don’t respect when I am being lazy. The U1/U4 train during the morning or afternoon rush. Although, even this has its charms at this point.
What I won’t miss: Cooking every. single. meal or that my thoughts circulate around food, prepping and storing like a planetary ring system. Cooking three times a week= reasonable. Anything more = Excessive. Missing my friends so much while simultaneously feeling burned out on texting/FaceTiming/Skyping with them. Avoiding natural physical contact. Bang-trim purgatory. The phrase “panic buying of toilet paper”. Actually, eliminate the words: toilet paper, social distancing, hand sanitizer, and face masks. Asking my brother Thomas Weiss, CEO of MR Studios on a daily basis to create a virtual face mask for me. I guess he is better working on it at this point. The infinite loop of people feeling pressure to be productive and people telling people not to feel pressure to be productive. Being indecisive about anything happening more than a day in the future. Worrying about whether I am adequately worried.
What I won’t forget: Who was supportive without reservations, to me, my son and to others. Who listened. Who asked how I feel. Who loved me. That I have never seen a sky this blue. Also, that air the smells different and somewhat less polluted. To be grateful for the kind of stability that sometimes bores me. That without the interruptive necessity of having to go to the grocery store, each day is free to stretch out infinitely, bleeding into the next, no obstacles or guardrails. That all my pre-programmed reflexed pertaining to moderation seem to have short-circuited as a result: I cannot stop doing things to excess but try to limit it to reading, writing, cleaning/decluttering. Frantically ticking off every outstanding item on my house chore to-do list. That the publishing date of my 3rd book will be earlier than expected. I won’t forget how I distract myself from my apartment or my own thoughts. But I am glad they still pop up as they do in this time of uncertainty. My brain has something do to, my hands have something to do and my feet still have somewhere to go. Even if it is just to the grocery store.
I don’t know why you’re waking up in the middle of the night. I don’t know if you’re unintentionally insensitive and therefore more likely to accidentally offend someone. I don’t know if, by clinical definition, you are in fact paranoid, but I do know that you’re afraid. You might be wondering why I brought you here but I invite you to absorb what I have to say. Ask deeper questions. Once you get to an answer the paralysis starts to melt away. You will know when your body releases and relaxes. The room you’re in gets brighter, your body feels lighter and, if you’re lucky, you remember what it’s like to be alive. Focused on what will go right, not just what could go wrong. The hardest thing you’ll have to do from here is to nurture this. In the middle and the end, it’s all we’ve got.
Do some people get life wrong? Some look miserable even though a situation is perfect. They are miserable and angry about nothing in particular. Remember, time is precious. You should “corona-know” this by now. We are our harshest critics. But it does not have to be this way. So much of the power we give away to doubt, fear and shame stems from our vanity. We crave for individuality in this sea of humanity and have this instinctual urge to glorify our struggles. We try to convince ourselves that once we have overcome this immediate obstacle in front of us our life will get infinitely better. Guess what? It won’t.
Life and certain tough situations make us more resilient so we can squarely face a harder problem than the one before it. This endless struggle wears us down and we keep feeding the lie of the finish line, a place where there is no adversity. Our constant pursuit, and failure, to arrive here allows this echo chamber of our soul to become polluted with discontent. And this disillusionment marks the beginning of a lifelong “war” some wage with themselves. A war with no end and no purpose other than to reduce our self-worth. Things could be a lot easier.
Goethe said, “Happiness is in overcoming unhappiness. The worst nightmare is a long, long row of sunny days.” But we cannot accept this worldview because it exposes us to the unknown . A journey with no destination. Imagine shining a light at the seat of your soul after a lifetime of darkness only to discover an all-consuming sterile emptiness. There is no broken compass. There is no blind guide. There are no demons. There is only the self and the consequences of the choices you made. “But what if….,” you may ask.
What if the ones we love leave us and take our home and peace, and give us darkness? If we live fighting a war inside of us every day. We are miserable. If we are miserable in a relationship but we stay because of X, Y, and Z which are no real reasons we are afraid of what the future holds. What if the ones who do stay drink from our well of sorrows hoping to fix us but instead drown in our brokenness? Because all we really want is to be free of this one person. And we live blaming ourselves for not being enough for them, too. We can never be enough but just be enough for yourself. What if it just some fake kindness and then they stab us in the back? And we live trying to save us from ourselves and them. What if we cry and there is nobody to hear our suffering? And we live hoping we will be proven wrong but the silence is deafening. What if how we get better is how we are with ourselves when we are alone? And we live becoming a version of us someone special in our life would have been proud of. Like our grandma. Or mother. And then after all of this living, we die believing we mattered for a brief moment in time to someone long enough to be remembered. But did we live? Did we enjoy life to the fullest? Did we love someone unconditionally? Do we even know what love really is and means?
Or think about this: Can someone else’s tragedy open your eyes? A friend of mine got diagnosed with breast cancer and said the other day that, after months of chemotherapy and surgery, doctors have not found new cancer cells in her body. She wants to hug the entire world. Her story moved me. Going through something insane like cancer at this time must be tough and doesn’t this make your own little problems such as being stuck inside for a couple of days/weeks seem like no big deal?
Yesterday I looked out the window and saw a man leading a woman (husband and wife I think) through the deserted street I live in. They were both blind with these vision-impaired badges around their arms. And as my heart began to feel pity for them I saw something remarkable. Both of them had the most splendid smiles on their faces. As he took her hand and carefully navigated their way around he probably said something that made her beam. A joke perhaps to lighten things up. Unfortunately, I was not able to hear it but it must have been beautiful. And I am glad I stood at my window long enough to see this moment unfold. This is love. Simple. Unadorned. Wholesome. Untiring. And guess what? When there is love in your heart, there is nothing to see nor miss. There are no misinterpretations. Only beauty and comfort to enjoy every single day in each other’s company. Love is what I need and get these days.
Lately, I realize that the best moments on my journey were not important milestones, but rather the slow meandering Saturdays spent walking around the city, exploring and observing. It is easy to feel like I have to figure it all out, but then I overlook the sweet, small moments that are much more valuable in hindsight. This is a challenging time for everyone. One of the loveliest gifts I can give myself is being alone, though. I have discovered who I am by spending time in solitude and learning how to brace tough situations as well as enjoy incredible beauty. Loving my own company is a wonderful tool to use, especially during challenging times when I need space to reflect.
I have had many periods of loneliness, unsure of what I was doing and struggling to make sense of a new city and social atmosphere. I have found that I had to take these moments really slowly. It is easy to say look at the bright side but for some, it is incredibly difficult to do. Remaining optimistic and positive is hard work, and really needs a lot of practice. In this moment of global anxiety and uncertainty, the phrase we are all in this together can feel a little empty. It is hart to tap into a sense of togetherness when isolation is so tangible. It is even harder when you can easily spend an entire day scrolling through an endless stream of difficult news that doesn’t predict when the tune might change or if it is true what we hear on the news. And yet, hope persists. And these little acts of kindness such as buying groceries for my elderly neighbor who does not want to leave the house. These small efforts make a big difference. They are proof that as physically distant as we are, we are closer than ever. Peas floating in the same human soup.
Sometimes, my friend and I compare our daily highs and lows. Things about internal happiness and external desires and dreams. Lately, my highs were to go to the store to buy groceries, to write, practice yoga at home, read a lot, and do laundry. #gettingbackinshapewhilequaranteened. My lows were stepping into my son’s push pin-battlefield for his dinosaurs after my yoga workout. My friend’s high was hanging out together in the woods chasing the feeling of normality. Because nature is calming. His low was many ongoing pressures in his life that trailed him like a demonically possessed shadow. But, everything will turn out okay in the end. Just don’t step on those push-pins.
Otherwise, a lot of memories marched by, starting with the present moment punctuated by the twinge of self-consciousness that has veiled every thought, every move, every decision I have made since quarantine started. What am I doing? What is this sensation? This feeling that if I don’t communicate, I will erupt. Is it frivolous? Indulgent? Is it even helpful? What is “it”? I cannot keep asking this question for long enough to be able to acknowledge that I have taken for granted the answers to these questions all this time. I have had enough confidence in my recognition of the tiny incisions that sizzle within the flesh of what makes the human experience so raw. We are all so very vulnerable.
When my son asks me what is going on, I don’t put on a mask. I don’t pretend it is two weeks ago. He is old enough to understand. But I want to keep things as normal for him as possible. By doing this, he is not losing confidence in me and what I always tell and promise(d) him: this is home. Here, you are safe. Home will always be safe. I define safe as stable and under control with a lot of love. And a cup of black tea with Inländer Rum and honey for special occasions.
Let me tell you, for some reason, even with all this madness going on, I feel stable. I don’t freak out. There are still so many opportunities, so many things to do. I feel grounded and sure of who I am even though I don’t know what will happen in the future. The key is that hopes and expectations are not jumbled together like white and colored separates swirling around in the same washing machine. Just watch that the colors don’t bleed into the whites. But maybe they do bleed you might say. And then I lose my favorite shirt. So what? Maybe through the pursuit of losing this old one, you will find something new. Maybe you will like the new shirt better. So much better that you cannot even remember the one that got ruined way back when.
Even there is so much uncertainty these days, I know I have to slow down. That I cannot and won’t lose my mind. I don’t want to jump higher off the ground but instead sit closer to it. Be more in nature. Connect. And don’t get frustrated. Try to adjust. Because we are all adjusting. We have a lot of time these days. I can give stability to my myself and my son without putting on a mask and to do my best to protect him.
I won’t let the silver lining of white laundry get mixed up with color. And I won’t let social distancing make me distant from myself. Connection is salient these days. Even 2 meters apart. It is going to get easier. We are incredibly resilient as human beings. Eventually, people will return to their happiness status quo. We will adjust and get into a rhythm and flow. Even if things won’t be the same as before. Ois hot a end.
Hello,144? I know about the Corona-Virus situation and all that, but I pinched a f****** nerve in my lower back and cannot move. It hurts so much!!! Sorry, I curse more in isolation. I think it is Monday, but I don’t really know. Currently, it’s 10 pm. Can you send an ambulance? Oh, you cannot because it is not really an emergency and you won’t give me an injection. I understand that my case is not really important but still, what can I do? Okay, sounds good but I cannot walk to the pharmacy. I also cannot send my 6-year-old son. I will call a friend, then. Oh, yes I have a son. I am not busy right now since I am laying on the floor unable to move. Are you busy right now? Do you have time to talk a bit until my friend arrives? Nice. How do you feel? Super tired, eh? I figured. Must be busy in the emergency room these days. Damn, you work double-shifts? This is hard, but I am really glad you guys are here for us. Yep, I do understand what you say. [Extreme Vienna Accent]
I understand you have to hang up if someone else calls. Two children? Oh wow, I have enough work with one. Since you have two children, you know how crazy this time is for all of us. What I did before I pinched the nerve? Do you mean all day? I have taken a shower, fired off at least 40 frantic WhatsApp messages to 5 people, one of which was to a co-worker. I have consumed a cup of coffee and finished reading book number 6 since being in isolation. People ask me what I am going to do today and I sent them a floor plan of my 85 square meter apartment. That’s what I am doing. I may move from the kitchen to the living room and back. I walked up the staircase 10 times with my son. Then I made lunch. I really deserved this plate of pasta with salmon sauce after my first highlight of the day: one hour of Intermediate 2 Yoga with this app earlier this morning. My son and I are on our mats next to each other in Downward Facing Dog laughing at each other. Awe, you think this is cute?
Later, we walked to the local organic supermarket Denns which was like the shot of espresso with hope-dust mixed in that I knew I wanted but didn’t realize how badly I needed. This was the second highlight of my day. Have you been able to inhale fresh air today? You would rather be at home with your children? Okay, your husband is with your children at least. My ex-husband didn’t even call or text to ask how his son is doing. Or how I am doing. Work? I do miss work. Did I just say this? I really do. Work, and my routine. This is what I miss the most.
Well, today was not different from yesterday and not different from the day before. I think that is what it’s like when you are in survival mode. I mention it because last night when I was FaceTiming with my mom, she said something like, “To be perfectly honest, I feel more in my element than usual. I am a survivor. We keep it cool here at Homebase.” I wish I could be there right now instead of being here. Here, with a pinched nerve and not able to move or even leave the country. But when she said that, it clicked for me. Her survival mood mentality for a very long time is actually the sensation of living in the heightened state of survival mode where not time exists beyond the time that’s right in front of you. You think so, too? There is no planning beyond the one hour, 12 hours, if you are lucky, 24 hours ahead because there’s not enough information to think further out. Nobody expected anything like this to happen. Or to this extent at least. All you have and all you know is what confronts you at the moment. Like with my pinched nerve. Damn, it hurts. Well, he says he is on his way. He should be here soon. Do you have to hang up? Okay, awesome. Hahah, funny, you like to listen to my story? I should write it all down? Hey, you know what? I might, actually. So, trying to prepare for any period beyond that frame is futile. Too much is changing and it is happening so quickly. You know what I mean? I realize that I am most comfortable in this heightened state of paradoxically routine panic and chaos, too. It can make me feel like a prisoner of my own life when there is no reason to panic. But hey, on Friday, 13th of March, when they announced they will close the United Nations in Vienna, I panicked a bit. All I wanted to do was pick up my son and run home as quickly as possible. You, too? Yeah, must be the mother-thing. My friend does not maintain this quality. He thinks years ahead of me. That’s one of the primary things that I like and what attracts me about him, this sense of psychological freedom I could feel emanating from him.
It was a long day and my reactions to it fluctuate. Maybe I shouldn’t have done the intermediate Yoga class but I have been practicing Yoga for years. I guess some days are clouded by paralyzing energy that is dark and depleting. It puts a question mark at the end of every thought I have and adds a veil of desperation to my every pursuit. Oh, you know what I am trying to say? I am still so charmed that you listen to me throughout this insane time. You do think we will get through this! I hope it won’t take too long. I have been awake for an hour each night for the past week thinking about what will happen. See, if it would be just me, the situation would be different. But it is my son and I. I am responsible for him. And this pinched nerve throws the little bit of sanity we established out of balance.
Yes, we do have food and water. Thank you for asking. My friend is almost here. He just sent me a message that he was able to get the pain medication you recommended. So, let’s hope for the best. My brain is a prison, and anxiety is the warden these days. At this point, this pinched nerve is so painful that I am besieged by an undeniable urge to peel off my skin like the layers of an onion and I find relief in its cool embrace, and I know it took me a long time to finally call and I wasn’t even 100% sure if a pinched nerve qualified as an emergency.
The doorbell rings. He is here. Thank you so much for listening. And thank you for risking your life while saving ours. Keep it up. Have a safe night. And in some odd way, we should even thank the CoronaVirus. For shaking us and showing us that we are dependent on something much bigger than we think. Like the abundance of products, freedom, and health. And realizing we are taking it for granted. To see how lost we were in the “busy-ness” not having time for the most basic things. And for allowing us to put aside all the problems we thought were so important.
Emergency Dispatcher: [let’s call her Frau Fischer]: “Wow, what a nice chat, Daniela. Make sure to keep yourself and your son safe in this crazy time. Also, write about this conversation. I hope you feel better soon!”
At this point, five days in of being stuck at home but who is counting, I can curse in headlines, right? The rules are out the window, there are no best practices, the protocol is to wing it like a pigeon on wheels. I have spent the majority of today oscillating between my son’s room and my living room where I have set up my desk to write and work. My son has been acting out, which is not surprising because we have been home for five consecutive days taking distancing and the quarantine pretty seriously in as cooperative a manner as is possible. I am learning from him on a daily basis. He is both, introverted at times and extroverted, meaning his energy is derived mostly from interaction with others (single child) and through the lens of his current social circle (me: his mom). This energy is building, and building some more, but it cannot be dispensed, so he is acting out. As such, he has endured two silent treatments in the past 24 hours. In some ways retreating to this makes me feel like I am surrendering, waving the white flag, giving up. We are keeping our routine of getting up, having breakfast, taking showers. Having a designated place to be alone and to set (emotional) boundaries. But I am reaching my single-parenting limits. I knew that having a child was going to test my resilience. That ideally, it would have been wonderful to commit to breathing through discomfort, but that in practice, it would be far more challenging. I did not know, however, that my child would, at a tender 6-year-old, be so acutely aware of the fact that he was testing my resilience. People, I am newly convinced that manipulation is a genetic mutation.
The rest of the day was mostly spent grinding teeth, making zucchini spaghetti and lathering the aforementioned in a creamy sauce between skyping with my parents, being on the phone with a Canadian bank for 50! minutes, texting with friends, slack conversation, cleaning my son’s room again (it looks like a meteor hit it), my hair getting pulled out by my son (he was giving me head massage to relax), cleaning the entire apartment, doing laundry, cleaning the windows and answering a curiously high volume of emails from this blog. Per the food preparation, by the way, how do you, while trying to get anything done at home, take care of your child also make three nutritional meals and clean pots/pans/dishes without watching the entire day pass you by feeling like you have run a marathon only to find you basically have not moved?
And to this point, if we are truly headed towards “we won’t be permitted to leave our homes under any circumstances that are not essential), how do we move? Do you move at all? For example yesterday, it was borderline. I needed to get some groceries, too so we decided to talk a little stroll around our lovely neighborhood. Just to see how things are. Or how things were. We walked to the closest playground which was closed of course. My son lost it at this point. He needed to run around. Like NEEDED it if you know what I mean. I bribed him with ice cream from the store so we moved on. He ran around a rather huge water fountain at a public place that looked deserted. Then a police car stopped next to us and asked where we are heading. The officers told me to please just go shopping and straight back home. I felt like a prisoner.
In regular “before Corona” life, leaving work typically connotes the end of the day, and even if you are freelance, there is some semblance of structure that separates working from home, from living from home but when there is no leaving, how do you demarcate? A bath? A glass of wine? A scheduled FaceTime plan with a friend or family? Reading? (G-sus I am reading so much these days) All of the above? What about starting your day? Do you just charge in, or are you keeping to a morning routine that facilitates the preservation of normal as you know it? And all this is what YOU try to do for yourself. Now add a child to this mess. Or children. Me, I could stay in bed all day with books and coffee. My son, not so much.
I know the situation is escalating. That the circumstances are dire, that the projected number of Austrian deaths, both direct and indirect results of the virus are staggering and painful. And every time I sit down to write something, I freeze for a minute and ask myself what I could possibly have to say that’s worth being heard. When things make it past publish, that’s because I have put the doubt on mute, assuming that if I so badly desire not ignorance, but some sort of distraction, then perhaps you do, too? I know you know this, but these times are unprecedented, and it feels like an obligation of this platform to commit both the service of keeping you company, but also of absorbing and applying your feedback. What drives my desire to get the hell up and write every morning is exactly the same as it was years ago: I find the story in what it means to be alive right now. This means I have to sit and think and feel my way through incredibly uncomfortable fire hoops of analysis sometimes to come to terms with the harrowing recognition that I have only successfully accomplished the task if I am sure I feel like I just ran a marathon even though in the realm of physical space, but as mentioned before, I haven’t moved an inch. Or maybe I have moved an inch playing hide and seek with my son, I don’t really know, but here I am. Here we are. Trying to find the story in what it all means to be alive right now. And you know what it means to be within this squiggly creases of my brain inside my head behind the wrinkles on my forehead (they are actually indentations of experience) on the pillow of my bed, holding a cup of coffee, in the middle of Vienna/Austria, stocked with cans of Käferbohnen (some type of Austrian bean that is amazing), liters of almond milk, yes: toilet paper, and week’s worth of produce in my freezer and fridge to put to work to feed my son? It means……. It means…..
It means that I have been sitting here, stuck at this inflection point for exactly 57 minutes trying to detangle the wires of what is probably very simple. I have no fucking idea what will happen next. I don’t know how my child will achieve the stimulation and energy dispensing he requires every day for the next… for the next…. I don’t even know how long this will last! And honestly, I don’t even think I should scratch this surface yet. I have no fucking clue what the future of my personal life looks like in this spiral of felt unproductivity.
The thing about living in a city like Vienna is that our respective experiences of it are collections of the places we frequent. And without our places, the constellation of our experiences don’t point back to anything tangible. They are just memories, and we have nowhere to go. But home. It is just that in a city like Vienna, when home isn’t a house with a backyard, those places are it for a lot of us. Typing this made me sob. Those places are it for a lot of us. Those places and the people who run them. And the people who run the people. They become family. What happens to them? What are we going to do now? Honestly, we are in the same boat, you and me. Directlessly coasting around the same forlorn island trying to answer the ultimate question: how am I going to make it through this madness a little more palatable? Don’t tell me to meditate and breathe deeply Instagram. You don’t do this anymore after being in the same room with a six-year-old for 24 hours straight.
But hey, I will make the best out of this and keep trying to find the story in what it means to be alive. Being alive is pretty awesome. Then I will tell the story and think voraciously about how to make the next day a better one by exploring the spooky, old basement of my apartment building with flashlights.
As the coronavirus has developed over the course of the past months, weeks, and days, my plans have changed and so has my life. And it appears this will be the norm for a while. However, I will share and continue writing. This helps me to cope with this insanity. Meet me in unexpected and interesting ways. Let’s talk. Leave comments below.
“I love you very much and look forward to marrying you… but if we have a fight you can always sleep here” – Saw this tiny plaque on a park bench at the playground when the playground was still accessible
Forever, as a concept, has always terrified me. I think it is the finality of the word that there’s no end, no second act. It is especially intimidating in the realm of relationships, which are often only deemed “successful” if they never end. I kind of move in with the presumption that I will never move out. I got married (twice!) with the intention of never being on my own again. I get into bed with someone one night and wake up believing I am through sleeping alone. For a control freak like me, that permanence is overwhelming. When I mentioned this anxiety to a good friend of mine who has been together with her husband for over 45 years, she brushed it off like a piece of lint. Don’t focus on what could have been. Think of all that could be. She said that after seeing each other through countless moves, career changes, childbirths, illnesses, and losses, their love isn’t made up of one continuous commitment, but many smaller, fragmented adventures. That is the lesson that stuck with me the most. That forever is a perpetually growing field of possibilities, one that continues to bloom no matter how many times you mow it over. And when you reframe it like that, all you are left with is an adventure. Remember, when the path reveals itself, follow it.
Marriage according to Nietzsche: He suggests, it be just “one long stupidity”, in which tow desperate people mask their neediness with all the trappings of a conventional life.”
There are these weird TV shows like Love is Blind, The Bachelor, or The Bachelorette when these mythical couples found the love of their life and know that they want to be holding hands until they die. I feel that these shows are just dumb. Why would anybody watch this? Is it just me? Is it okay to not be sure something or someone is for forever? Does happily ever after even exist? I am equal parts romantic and cynical about this notion of one relationship lasting forever, a lifetime. Here is one unsatisfying answer: I am not sure that we can ever be sure about anything.
My friend told me: “Married for 45 years. And happily ever after. We never get into arguments. Instead, we go to the park and read. Or go to the gym.” What do I know about happily ever after? After two! divorces. A woman who has collected more earthly evidence that relationships are sometimes very difficult because I have my own well of experience to draw from.
I think happily ever after is a myth. I don’t think one can seek validation through another person. This won’t pave the path to fulfillment. And anyway, I think I am setting myself up for disappointment if I adopt the mindset that one person will be everything to me. If I had to decide between this one mystery person who fills every void and checks every box, and all of my friends and family who fill my life with joy at present, I am inclined to choose the latter. I believe there is no such things as the one true love, the one soulmate, but rather the right person at the right time. And if you meet this person, go for it. I see how this idea looms large and ominous in my mind: What prepares someone to commit to another person for 45-some-odd years? And guess what? Nothing is fixed. Nothing is assuredly permanent. Everything is always changing, even in a relationship, we want to padlock. What could be less fixed than another person? Hitching your wagon to someone else’s does not mean the wagons stop moving.
I recently read a quote by John Updike on the topic of temporariness. Updike writes “that a marriage ends is less than ideal; but all things end under heaven, and if temporality is held to be invalidating, then nothing real succeeds.” I don’t subscribe to the idea that a relationship that does not last forever is a failure. How do I learn to enjoy something while recognizing its transience, without requiring a certain firmness of it? Is it possible? Doesn’t it feel like some people are much better at it than others? Do you need to come to terms with your own transience before you can do that? Every relationship is transient, after all. Some just last longer than others. So, does happily ever after exist? I don’t know how many friends’ weddings I attended who exchanged vows that I started to cry but who are all divorced now. Lately in these crazy Corona-Times, everywhere I walk, I still see couples. Maybe because it is almost spring. One seated on a bench reading, another laughing and sitting on the grass face-to-face with their legs crossed and their knees touching. Spring feelings after all.
Every moment in life is a teachable one, every disappointment and every curveball is an opportunity to move and grow and change. When I realized this, I became free. An understanding of divine intervention will always be just slightly out of grasp, but it is a journey that leads to fulfillment. This is not how my story ends. It is simply where it takes a turn I did not expect. In the glow of late afternoon in early spring and Corona madness, it is hard not to indulge a glimmer of hope, a feeling of anticipation for the sprawl of the future, and the kind of resolution it may or may not hold. Time will tell. I just enjoy it, don’t expect anything and see where it all goes. Then he will be next to me. And my heart is wide open but well protected.
“My mother was right. When you have nothing left, all you can do is to get into silk underwear and start reading Proust” – Jane Birkin
What is your “Quarantine-Read”? My neighbors don’t seem to read. Yesterday, they had a huge fight. Their window was open. So was mine. Being stuck inside is getting to everyone eventually I guess. The woman: “I CANNOT believe I got married to you! I must have been completely drugged up! YOU SUCK! I want a DIVORCE!” The man: “I would leave right now, but I cannot. I AM STUCK HERE WITH YOU, F*** you, Corona!” (Ha! Not the wifey’s name!)
When I think about romance, I think of two kinds of relationships: the “opposite attracts” and the “kindred spirits” relationships. The former is the classic, the one we are taught to aspire to as kids. This couple is made up of two opposites, centered around the passion and attraction that mystery causes. We are curious about and drawn to other beings because of their dissimilarities to ourselves. It makes sense to be fascinated by our counterparts, and we can learn a lot by hanging out with our opposite. Not to mention the biological sense behind falling in love with someone physically different from us to have happy, healthy, genetically mixed babies with. I like to be with my “kindred spirit”. I am sure this type of relationship has been around for as long as the “opposite attract” version, but it seems to be going through a renaissance. In a society where feminism is becoming mainstream, and where equality is slowly starting to be valued over tradition, a new type of #relationshipgoals is natural.
For those of us who care very little about tradition and gender, and a lot more about self-realization and freedom of societal demands, a romance is less about who opens the door for whom and who picks up the check on the date. Instead, it is more about being heard and seen and encouraged and wanted. For you. Not for the typical properties of your gender. To be honest, I never want to be treated as The Woman of the relationship. I want to be treated as Daniela – an equal. And when I look at my partner, I don’t see the man/the woman. I see my partner. I see a person I am passionately in love with. I couldn’t care less about his masculinity/femininity. I still wonder what that could possibly have to do with anything? At all?
When I look at my partner I want to see my teammate and my coach. My manager and best friend, my personal trainer and my inspiration. I want to see someone who’s got my back (no pun intended, stupid pinched nerve) and makes me feel courageous. I want to see a capable, beautiful, fascinating human being whom I cannot get enough of, but sometimes get completely fed up with. This type of relationship might not be for everyone, but it works for me. A partner and I are still two people, but we would share one life. Crazy, no? We would sometimes get on each other’s nerves, argue, and make up after. But we always communicate. I want someone who, whatever my next semi-brilliant idea will be, won’t ask why? He will ask why not.
Here some ideas for the making of a happy relationship. Just in case you need it. Again, being stuck at home calls for a lot of thinking. Don’t kill your significant other just yet.
Don’t fear change. In this crazy time, this is very important. Things change. Situations change. It is vital that the person I am with is not holding me back or is scared of me changing and trying new things. It can be terrifying to see people you love move in a new direction, but it is all about trust.
Learn how to fight properly. We all get annoyed and stressed out. Even if we don’t want to, it happens. There is no perfect couple, but there are happy couples. Those are the ones who respect each other enough to never get out of line and become truly mean. No name-calling, issue threats or ultimatums or go after each other’s sore spots on purpose. Even when arguing, I want to know that my partner is not out to hurt me. Also, happy couples are good at apologizing and forgiving. If there is real love for one another, it is easy to move on.
Having the same rhythm. This could mean anything from being on the same page with our views and philosophies or what my dreams and hopes are. How much hang-out time versus alone time we need or how we both get inspired by the same movies, books etc. The more I am feeling the same beat, the easier things will be. Not that you cannot have a happy relationship with someone you are completely different from (loves tomatoes/detests tomatoes). I believe you can. Whatever works for you. I am sharing what works for me.
Miscellaneous things that come to my mind: Ask questions. All of them, even the tough ones. Then listen attentively. Take your partner for a long walk. Reconnect. Look at things together. Sometimes that is all it takes. Surprises: little gifts, spontaneous date nights. Start something together: gym, train for something, courses. Whatever adventure you embark on, make it yours and dream big. Obviously, respect the basics: honesty, loyalty, trust, and adoration. Show them you love them. Telling isn’t enough. Kitchen sessions, meaning: Spend quality time in the kitchen, give them a glass of wine and a kiss. And chocolate. Then talk about stuff. For hours. Put on some music, cook together. Repeat once every two weeks. Tell them you love them. Showing it isn’t enough.
Every time I pass people on the street, if I still pass people that is, they are talking about the same thing: the COVID-19 pandemic. It seems to be top of mind for everyone. People living across from me singing and playing instruments on the balcony in solidarity during the lockdown. It is a delight to listen to. It is also amazing to observe how people find a moment of joy in this moment of anxiety or insanity.
Right now, for my son and I, life feels ominous but semi-normal here in Vienna, Austria. My workplace shut down, Kindergarten and schools are closed as of today. Everything else is closed, too. Except for pharmacies and supermarkets. We avoid big public groups, including movie theaters, museums, book fairs, and all those good things. Now, playgrounds are closed. To make this craziness complete, I pinched a nerve in my lower back and can barely move. Very, very painful. But I guess it is better to stay inside anyway. We bought a couple extra boxes of pasta, beans, cereal, rice, and such things. We are greeting people with elbow taps or waves, instead of hugs and cheek kisses. I’m assuming that, in days or weeks, things will continue to tighten up. “Cancel everything,” says an Atlantic headline. “The bottom line: It is going to get worse,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
It’s a very strange and scary feeling to helplessly wait to see what will happen. Will subways shut down? Will we mostly be staying home and just go to the store to buy more food? Besides tons of reading, writing and watching movies, we are using all this time to clean, rearrange, and declutter our apartment. Going through my things made me realize how unimportant most of the stuff is. How little we actually need. But, am I my stuff? What is stuff? How many bars of soaps and hand sanitizer should one own in this COVID-19 madness? As much as I usually appreciate a precise word, there is something satisfyingly vague about it. You can hate or love stuff. My stuff revolves around me like false confidence. Just like stuff, who I am changes depending on the context. My material possessions function more like additional information than a definition. I got rid of a lot of stuff today. That was before the pinched nerve.
But what about the human habit of defining ourselves by what we buy, which is a pressing issue in these Corona-days. Since the internet is our primary means of connection, we are sort of forced to perform ourselves online so that others can understand us quickly and in the ways, we would like. In this sense, we have become hyper-focused on what our stuff says about us. And who we can be if it changed. Who would I be if I had different stuff? When I accumulate more stuff or pare it down, do I change?
For me, those shifts temporarily transform how I feel, but I am not sure I myself am any different. If I throw out all my furniture, even though it is still great, and replace it with new stuff, I am still the same person. I am just me, with maybe better taste, a new cool leather couch, or less junk. But neither of those really inform who I am at my core. Guess what? I am very uncomfortable at the moment and in a lot of pain and a new leather couch would suck.
We are nuanced and mercurial creatures with desires and fears so deep and huge we can’t always express them. That is when stuff can help. Now go and buy that face-mask if it makes you happy. It can tell a story about our inner worlds that’s tangible, fragile and simple. Or show how scared we really are about this damn virus. It can help us draw conclusions about each other without sitting down for an hour and spilling our guts. Ideally, our stuff is informed by our values, too. It can reassure us of who we are, or bring us together because he/she likes that thing, too. That is not nothing, my friends. It is the power of non-verbal expression. When we are seen and known on a deeper level by the people around us and by ourselves or feel that way about others, I think stuff has a way of disappearing into the background, of becoming something we poke around in on our way to and from something, but never the destination itself.
In the end, the math isn’t simple, but it’s clear enough to me. Stuff is additive, occasionally helpful and comforting, but it isn’t everything. Not in these crazy times and not ever. Look at how a virus can transform the world into great chaos. Who cares about that $900 purse you bought last week. It is a medium with limits. It’s a response to who you are, not who you are. And when we equate those two things or invert them, I think we risk losing sight of the fact that stuff is often the least interesting thing about us. Think about it. Think about what is really important. It is important to be prepared. It is important not to freak out and to rather stay calm. And, for me, to be able to move again and take care of this little person who follows me for the last six years. These days, it is better to stay inside, wash hands one more time so we can hopefully move on and get back to “normal”.