In green land

A lake in Wisconsin

We ride through Minnesota and into Wisconsin in the back seat of a rented Jeep. Two of us are comfy and content with our windows down, glad to have made it this far. One of us is unhappy about her car seat, but we’ll all survive. It’s a wonderful place to be, the back seat of this Jeep with nothing to do but ride. The front two seats are occupied by friends we haven’t seen since their own wedding, four years ago. That sentence sounds insane to me, makes me feel like a terrible friend, until I realize the circumstances. There are many people we are meeting again in the summer of twenty three that we haven’t seen since nineteen.

Minnesota gives way to Wisconsin over a river that looks like the kind of place I’d like to explore. This whole slice of country feels comfortable to me, the boy from upstate New York. Green, wet, and full of small towns. Eventually we reach the single stoplight variety, the two lane roads through cornfields that continue straight until they top whatever hill lies on the horizon. It’s a strange two hours, the first time in this area for all five of us, but happy ones. Well, save for the car seated member, who doth protest. It is two hours filled with the kind of intense debrief of friends who haven’t met in four years. Moves, neighborhoods, jobs, and family updates fly thick. And news of friends. For we are all in this car on our way to a wedding, to an island in a lake that will host many we have never met and many we haven’t seen since at least twenty nineteen.

And so for two days we play lawn games and swim off a dock. We chat, dance, drink, and relax. I spend almost the entire weekend barefoot on grass, and 5’s as well. It’s a beautiful place we’d never expected to be, in the middle of the type of summer we no longer live in. That we haven’t for a long time, given Hong Kong’s sweltering nights and San Francisco’s chill evenings before those. It’s the type of summer we both grew up in, that feels both endless and all too brief.

In the car on the way back, with the same friends, we finally talk about the future. Our lives, after four years, feel entwined enough: we have heard the stories, caught up on life changes, and made new memories together. With the foundation stabilized through time, conversation, and activity, we are ready to share our plans, our hopes, and the challenges that come with each. On the two hour drive the topics range from families, aging, housing, children, and the kind of goals that come after a decade or more of employment. These are the topics we have worked to be more open about, during the covid years. To hide less, to share more, and to acknowledge that so often what we’re missing are examples of the kind of lives we hope for. The conversation is excellent, the type of thinking still hard to reach when we have but twenty hours with our good friends.

Weekends like these are so much of the reason we travel. Feeling this way again, full after time in contact with many humans we enjoy, has been too rare. As I dove from the floating barge into the lake, full of energy and truly awake, I was both grateful and filled with a single hope: May the next time not be so far off.

Patience for me

Light across the rooftops of Tai Hang one day

In the early afternoon, as one lady projects (a family verb meaning does things around the house that aren’t daily chores”) and the other naps, I sit quietly and watch Tai Hang. The light is great, late summer humidity giving the approaching golden hour a helping hand. The squawking birds wheel and yell, perch on rooftops and cavort in bunches above the low buildings. The balconies and roofs of this small neighborhood are empty, the day’s sun still too close. This morning, a breezy 28 C, was the first sign of fall’s approach, the kind of morning that perks everyone up, that gives the dogs and children an extra bit of energy. Fall is not yet here though, in early September, not in Hong Kong, where the heat will linger until November. Just it’s finger tips, brushing over the city before the full light of day. And so in the afternoon we swim in the public pool, indoors, and nap, one and then the other, until the heat fades.

Hong Kong has wonderful public pools, part of the athletic infrastructure that shapes both the space and the population, who are active, are athletic, are fit and adventurous. In so many ways the foundations laid here are good, and should be built on. In so many ways we are trying to build, to be part of this city. On Saturday I chat with neighbors, with shop owners, with the fruit stand family, and am happy. It’s been four years and Hong Kong feels like home.

The question, then, is how to be patient with myself, with our trajectory. Patience is an oft-mentioned requirement of parenting, a commonly mentioned challenge, to have enough. Yet in all those tellings it is patience for the child, for the burdens of care, for the pain and limitations of childbirth, of rehabilitation and recovery, and of physical growth. These, to me, are the external requirements, the clear and valuable lessons of being part of a family, of trying to build a structure that can raise a human. Patience for each other, while still too limited, is a common goal, and a well-understood shortcoming when it falters.

Less discussed, and perhaps less easy to build, is patience with one’s self.

In our family this too is a constant thread, due to injuries and rehab, due to the challenges of climbing and frisbee where our goals are so frequently beyond our bodies’ abilities. We council the other to give their body the time it needs to heal. We try hard to remind each other to have patience with our own sore knees, with the wrist never quite perfect after that motorcycle accident, with the back that refuses to bend smoothly, and with shoulders that are never again as flexible as we’d hoped. We try to be the buffer between what the other person wants to achieve and what they are able to, to cushion them from their own disappointments.

It is not always easy.

Harder still is to give ourselves that gift. Harder still is to be truly patient with our own slow pace of improvement, with our own slow progress towards strength, towards competent leadership, towards deep friendship and emotional intelligence. Harder still is to be patient with the years of our life that seem to drift by without the kind of growth we’d hoped for, without the experiences we once thought we’d have.

In many ways these are the challenges not of children but of the pandemic, not of our family but of our expectations. Yet the same call for patience comes to me in seeing one family member asleep across the room and feeling the immediate need to accomplish things in this bit of time. The true need is for patience with my back, sore from rocking her to sleep, and with my mind, tired from the work week. The challenge is not in being calm until she nods off but in being calm once she has done so, in being productive, whatever that means, without feeling like these moments are fleeting. At forty three I am half way through the average lifespan of someone of my gender and country of origin. There are not infinite days to come, but there are enough to let the body and mind appreciate this sunset, and watch these birds for a while. There is no need to move quickly, and nothing I am missing, other than perhaps a good photo as my phone is in the other room.

Ah well, the sun will set again tomorrow. Time instead to watch the sky.

Outward bound, again

Masked up, looking out the window at my airplane at HKG

In many ways the pandemic started for me in a hospital room in Hong Kong at seven am. The painkillers from shoulder surgery had worn off, and I was unable to sleep. My then boss called, letting me know our startup was furloughing everyone as our prospective lead VC had pulled out of the round. This string of words, which matter only in a specific universe, is how I became unemployed that morning while waiting for the nurse to bring the next round of meds. It was March 20th, 2020, and I knew recovery would be slow.

In many ways the pandemic ended for me purchasing flights late at night last Saturday. My new colleague did the purchasing, over Zoom, coordinating our trip to Dublin and then a week on-site with the team in San Francisco. The job is new, my start date is the date of boarding the flight to Dublin, and the future, much like it was in March of twenty twenty, is uncertain. I did not expect the end to be so clearly personally demarcated. The change, the shift that makes me feel so profoundly different, is that once again people are excited to pay me to fly places and learn things. That, it seems, is what I expect from the world, and having it restored has restored my sense of the possible. This change, in some ways, has restored the horizon that was so difficult to see.

We’ve learned a lot the last few years, us humans. We’ve suffered, too. I’m not high on the list of people in difficult situations. Knowing that has made it hard to write lately, when life felt hard, as I know life here in Hong Kong is quite good, even when restrictions were the tightest. It’s no Shanghai, and the sound of ambulances has never been as omnipresent as New Yorkers once described. We suffer mentally from the closed borders and we suffer physically from the closed gyms, but many people can still work, many people can still see their family. While the bar is low, Hong Kong has cleared that low bar.

Now the question is can we clear a higher bar, that of once again being one of the world’s best cities. Can this once again be a home base for people who are paid to fly places and learn things?

I hope so.

On this Tuesday, outbound to a country I’ve never been to tomorrow, everything suddenly feels possible, and the future bright.

A way to see

In the light chill of Hong Kong’s winter I again learn how to see. After yoga on a Friday I get breakfast at a diner. The restaurant’s front is open to the street, letting the weather sweep in. I wear a hat while eating, but no jacket. The warm food feels good. It’s that kind of cold.

My legs are tired, and I am glad to sit still. These moments, freshly clean after early morning exercise, with no place particular to be, are some of the best. The world has opened up before me the last few weeks, and I feel great. I am able again to appreciate the beauty of Hong Kong, the convenience of dense urban living and the lucky life we have built. I once again take note of things, finding new joy in awnings, in second floor shops, in light on laundry drying on rooftops. I take joy in the varied styles of Hong Kongers, from super urbane to bankers, from those out for a run to the utilitarian workplace garments of off-duty kitchen crew. I appreciate the space this city offers for everyone, even when we’re scant meters apart.

On a Tuesday evening I’m asked a question that stumps me still, a week later.

What do you do in your time off?”

We are sitting on a stretch of corner outside a bar that will close too soon for my liking. I hope this bit of corner maintains it’s importance as the neighborhood hangout. These scant square feet of board and brick are the place to meet on a Friday, to chat on a Tuesday, or to sit around with the dogs on a Sunday. Tiny community centers like this are rare and valuable. Our corner is known all over the city as a neat neighborhood spot”.

What do I do in my time off?

Certainly not write or not publish enough, as this site will attest. Not work, though I put in a half dozen hours a week on paid projects and the same amount on hunting what’s next. Not work out, though I do most days, for an hour or so. Not see friends, though likewise I do at least a few times a week, a morning climbing, an afternoon in the park, or an evening chat. Not read, though I do that almost every waking hour, intake news or novels or blogs or newsletters or magazines. Not chores, though I do laundry and the dishes every day, clean the bathrooms once a week, clean the cat’s accouterment daily, and vacuum twice a week. Not hang out with my partner, as she’s at work nine hours plus a day.

What do I do in my time off?

Mostly try to keep my eyes open. It’s easy to nap.

Make time

Light in London one afternoon in October 2006

Stephen King’s commencement speech to my Vassar class was a good one. His message, that you can’t take it with you,” never left me. Every year since I try to do more with, and waste less of, what I’ve got. The efforts aren’t always successful. I’ve spent a lot of time playing games and goofing off, and a lot of time on skills I don’t always need. Mostly, here half way through my forty second year, I’ve spent a lot of time.

My grandfather, on the phone a few weeks back, just eighty seven, said I never expected to be this old.” The line echoed in my head all week. Who does? And yet underneath the statement is the simple math, that he is more than twice as old as I am now. We have time, or we could have time, if we’re lucky and healthy and work hard at making more of both.

You said you needed time, and you had time,” Ani sings on a song Tara’s been learning to play. We do, I think, though never as much as we’d like, not with the people we most want it with. I think of the methods, of the sums. Half hour phone calls, hour long video chats, and text strings that cover years, that drop for days and re-emerge with new questions, new thoughts for that friend from years ago. Mostly I think about the good days, about the long weekend in Amsterdam with a friend I’d met in Tokyo. It was after the World Cup in 2006, and we spent the weekend relaxing and wandering the canals. I think about how there are no pictures of that weekend, how without both of us to remember, I’d have forgotten it entirely by now.

From October of that same year there are photos, somewhere, of our time in London together, of our brief wanderings as I jammed more travel into a busy year. In those photos we are young, and happy, and as unfinished as anyone in their late twenties can look. We are still en route to so much, still before so much.

Life, it seems, is like that. There’s never a sense of how far we have to go, only of how far we’ve been. Sitting on the floor of our office in Hong Kong on a Sunday, writing while Tara chops ume for pickles, I think of how lucky we were to have folk visit before travel stopped. How despite all the urging we did, we probably didn’t do enough. Because there might not be time, after. The world is here, now. Or it was, and, vaccines done, we hope it will be again. I’m getting ready, on these quiet weekends of chores and writing, for whatever’s next. Getting ready to move again, to act again, and to be part of other people’s lives again. It’s been a while.

We said we needed time, like Ani sings. Have we had time?

Until tomorrow

First, when given freedom, we meet friends, we meet new people, we gather groups and hike new paths to new rocks. We work to keep each other safe, to help each other up, new fingers on old routes. These gatherings are peaceful, everyone united in joy to be outside by the sea with raw fingers and sore toes. We share pads and water, snacks and tips for surviving, for getting to the top. In many ways climbing, during these last few months of lockdown, has replaced frisbee as our source of friends, though of course many faces are the same, like us moving between activities depending on season, weather, and level of quarantine. Together we try new things and learn to take joy in small steps, in getting something the second time out, or third. We learn the best way to each spot and the best place to put pads on the ground. We learn how to spot, and hope not to fall enough to need much. And then we hike back, when our fingers are raw, when the sun starts to set, when we run out of energy for pulling.

And then, showered, gear away, fed, I start to prepare for the week to come. I do laundry, and make notes for our Monday morning management meeting. I pick up the bedroom and pay bills, I clean up my desk and my desktop. And finally, ready but not yet ready to sleep, I read fiction and write. The cat, happy to have the bouldering pad back, stretches out on it to claim ownership, and naps. We are happy to be here together, resting in the slow hours of the week’s end. We enjoy each other’s company, the house quiet save for some tunes, save for the washer’s thrum and the tick tack of my typing.

It’s a good life, here, with space to breathe and time to before sleep to turn over some of the things I’d forgotten. Answering personal emails after a week’s delay, or checking on things I’d meant to research, is a good way to close down, to wrap up, and to feel human again. We need these hours, I think, as a buffer, as a way to be who we were, before jobs, before friends houses or beers on Friday, before de-stressing, before stressing, before a task list. We need these hours on Sunday evenings to remember where we were headed, and who we were hoping to be.