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Paddle hard

Updated: Nov 6, 2021

If you're feeling a little shaky as we ride the wave of chaos engulfing the country, you're smack in the zeitgeist. It's a great time to watch this video of surfer Maya Gabeira riding one of the biggest waves ever surfed a couple of weeks ago. The feelings it inspires as you watch may be familiar to our current situation. I have an intense fear of big waves. My stress dreams usually involve me on a surfboard-- though clearly, I do not surf-- in the ocean, trying to deal with a mountain-sized wave coming my way. These dreams started the night before I moved to California when I was 18 and have come periodically for the last 30+ years. It's a very specific stress dream that is different from my other recurrent dream, the one about showing up to class and realizing you are not prepared for the test. Every striver knows that one. The wave dream is about being out of control, fear of the unknown, and trying to survive. The school dream is all about fear of failure and judgement.

The recent loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a blow, and an expected one. She has been in my thoughts since the summer when it was announced she was getting cancer treatment again. I thought of the weight she is clearly carrying, trying to hang in there for a few more months. It's absurd really, the system we have of appointing Supreme Court justices, and the ongoing shenanigans around appointments makes that very clear. We don't have to do it this way. In any case, I felt the sadness of her loss, and also the relief that comes when someone who is clearly suffering dies, even when you really, really, want them to continue living. When I feel the tears of being overwhelmed come on, which is frequent, I call RBG's spirit to me. What would she ask of me? What lesson would she like to imbue me with? What words would she lay on me?

Because I know her solely her as a national persona, I can only roll the tumbler of her public statements and presence to come up with an answer, which is maybe only a little better than a Magic 8 ball. But I'm also a firm believer that whatever one seeks, what is being sought wants to be found. I keep coming back to this quote of hers:

"So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great, good fortune."

Also, I might add, the exact opposite can be true. What this asks of me, I think, is to always be in the present to the best of my ability. Wait and see what happens while consistently working toward the goal. Have little expectation for an immediate reward, or any reward at all. Meet every outcome with good humor, even when it doesn't go my way. Never give up my humor, or if I do, for just a little while. Keep going at it, because the work will never be done, there is no arrival gate. Only the next bit to do.

By the way, I'm terrible at all of this. I have high expectations, as every person who knows me will tell you, I want it all now, right now, and I will tell stories about the future all day, every day. Also, I'm a sore loser and an even worse winner. I'm not proud of any of this, it's just kinda how I am. Pretty much the best I am able to do is to notice my behavior, and then stop for approximately 45 seconds. Riding the wave will keep you in the moment, so I am doing my best to breathe through the nose, notice where my body is, and paddle super fucking hard.


When I first started Notes on the Pandemic approximately 500 years ago, I mentioned the book Breathe by James Nestor. I finally had a chance to read it last week, and now I am all about breathing through the nose (see above). Ya'll, this book is so fascinating. You will learn a lot about why our faces look the way they do, and maybe why you snore, or had to wear braces. There is also some deeper stuff about how we move through the world, why we breathe the way we do, and how we can change it. Highly recommend.

I also just read Zadie Smith's latest book, Intimations: Six Essays. I will read anything she writes, so I just picked the book up because it was available and because I heard it was about the pandemic. What I liked about her book was her unfailing effort to capture the details of a specific moment that is both mundane and fleeting, therefore precious and fascinating. I felt it all, understood everything, and wish I had written it myself, which is what the best writers make you feel. Read it.


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At the risk of being repetitive, wow-- what a week. Before I get to anything else, let me wish you a happy new year, whatever that means, whatever that looks like for you. Part of the calamity of 2020


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