Trying to Hold it Together

Welcome to my random musings about the world, on a weekly-to-occasional basis.

Where we are: Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Trying to hold it together

When we left the US last June, we decided that our year in Latin America would be a grand experiment in Not Planning. We wanted to be the spontaneous kind of digital nomads—the ones who can take advantage of bargains, or drop into a city, decide we love it, and stay until we get tired of it.

That lasted about ten minutes.

We figured out very quickly that we’re happier when we have a plan. Scuba divers have a mantra: plan your dive, dive your plan. That’s how I like for my days to unfold—according to plan. I suppose it’s not an accident that when our eldest child was about two years old, he started waking up every morning and immediately asking, “What’s the agenda?” Sorry, sweetie—our fault entirely. 

It’s not that I can’t be flexible. I’m fine with the small bumps: a different brand of dental floss, putting the toilet paper into the bin instead of the toilet, drivers that don’t show up. Once, we even got to an airport and found out that our airline didn’t exist. We rolled with it. See? Flexible. It’s the big stuff that I need to have in place—we’re here for this amount of time, then we’re going to go there for that amount of time. I particularly like having my year anchored by our annual May visit to the US. It’s how I keep my life organized and my mind grounded.

And now here we are, living at the intersection of anxiety, full-time travel, a mild compulsion to plan, and a global pandemic. All of our plans are up in the air. We have no choice but to take it one day at a time, because that’s the deal right now, and not just for us. 

I assume I’m not the only one having trouble sleeping?

Obviously, we can’t just pretend it’s not happening, but it’s difficult to know how to maintain normalcy. No, I don’t have kids out of school, and working from ‘home’ is nothing new for us, but other than that, I have the exact same worries and concerns as everyone else. I’m just having them in a slightly different little square on the map.

One of the things we’ve learned in the last five years is that the world really is a global community, all 7.8 billion of us. People keep saying viruses don’t respect boundaries. I know it sounds like I’m just wringing my hands and repeating sound bites, but that particular nugget really is true.

We’re in the Yucatan right now, about to head to Mexico City and hunker down in an apartment, and I’m hoping that will help me get my head on straight, because honestly? I’m kind of a mess.

I’m having trouble focusing on writing in the face of all the headlines and messaging. Throw in the economy, & it’s way too easy to let the stress get out of control. I basically have a chronic, low-level headache. Every hot flash makes me worry that if anyone’s looking, they’ll think I’m feverish. Then I think, oh shit—am I feverish?

I’m writing this on Wednesday afternoon, the 18th. Mexico isn’t panicking yet, at least not that we can see. I’m not watching local news, because my Spanish isn’t that good, but I check the embassy website every day, as well as that of the Mexican Health Ministry, because I don’t want to be irresponsible. But even that little bit of information is almost more than I can handle at this point.

My anxiety has been spiraling for several weeks now, and I’ve had to seriously scale back my mental exposure to this thing. I’m trying to find some kind of balance between awareness & obsession, common sense and fear. I’m limiting my Facebook time; instead, I’m trying to communicate directly, via messaging or voice, with the people in my life that I know could use a check-in, as well as the ones who make me feel less alone.

I’ve also set very (okay, sort of very) strict limits on my news consumption—in the morning, it distracts me, and in the evening, it keeps me awake. So there’s a window of about two hours, at lunchtime, when I can maybe scan the headlines, check the statistics, and look at the Johns Hopkins case map. All of my usual podcasts are doing episodes about the virus, so they’re on hold—I’m listening to audiobooks instead. (Fun aside: I have, over the years, listened to a LOT of audiobooks about pandemics. Those are also off the agenda right now—no thank you.) The current one is about a couple of 19th century explorers/diplomats who wandered around in the Yucatan documenting Mayan ruins. They did get sick a lot, but not by coughing on each other, so it’s tolerable.

Perky music is good, and old episodes of Schitt’s Creek. And of course books, for me:  I’m sticking with unchallenging books that also happen to be optimistic and upbeat (currently The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper; last week was The Bookish Life of Nina Hill and The Girl He Used to Know).

Apparently, not every one is quite as freaked out as I am. The town we’re in is full of American vacationers. There are probably a few Canadians, and I know I’ve heard a tiny bit of German, but really, most of the guests are from the US. It’s definitely much quieter today than it was when we arrived on Sunday, but it’s hard to know if that’s just the normal ebb and flow of a hotel. Our last hotel (in Puebla) was also very quiet midweek, and then a huge wedding party arrived, and the weekend was all hugging and kissing and carrying on in the elevator.

Part of me wishes I could feel some of that nonchalance, or at least maybe less anxiety.

Six or eight years ago, the first time Lee went to Cairo, he noticed one afternoon that people were gathering in the street outside the apartment he was staying in. He stood at the window, with our friend who was traveling with him, and watched the crowd grow larger and larger. The two of them grew increasingly concerned that something awful was happening—a protest, or an insurrection, or whatever other awful things American minds can conjure up in a place like Egypt.

It turned out they were just gathering for Friday prayers.

Each of us sees the world in our own way. My feelings are mine to own and to cope with. Your feelings are yours. So whatever you see when you look out the window, be it a post-apocalyptic wasteland, or just a faster commute, know that we’re all in this together. Wherever we are, and whatever stories we’re telling ourselves.

From my writer’s notebook:

I’ve got nothing this week. Not in the mood to contemplate dastardly deeds. Instead, I’ll just be over here looking at pretty pictures of spring flowers and tropical fish. You should probably do the same.

Take care,


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