Turning On a Dime

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

First of all, let me say thank you to everyone who reached out after last week’s email, to check on us, or report on things where you are, or just to say you were thinking of us. I’ve never been more grateful for all of you, and for the internet that enables us to feel your love.

I’ve thought a lot about what to say today; I want to choose my words very carefully. So in the interests of full disclosure, and in order to reassure our worried loved ones, here’s the story. 

The last few days have been a bit of a whirlwind. I thought, after five years of digital nomading, that I had wrapped my brain around what it means to be untethered. It turns out the one eventuality I hadn’t really considered was a significant problem that encompasses the entire globe.

We’ve been willing to go to places that some people would consider questionable, thinking, well, if it gets scary, we’ll just leave. So right off the bat, let’s just get this out of the way: Yes, I realize that I am only able to say that because of the extraordinary privilege that makes my life possible. Yes, I realize that I did nothing to earn that privilege: I was born with this skin and this passport. In the entire history of humanity, few have been lucky enough to live the way Lee and I live.

Having said all that, never once have we felt nervous or unsafe or unwelcome, anywhere, in five years. And then, this virus showed up.

As far as I can tell, it has no interest in privilege, or skin color, or what my passport looks like. That has been sobering, to say the least. I’ve tried hard to be cognizant of my privilege as I move through the world, to appreciate it and not abuse it, but when we left our quiet, remote little hotel in the Guatemalan jungle, for the first time in five years I felt very, very vulnerable.

And as I’m sure a lot of you will agree, I didn’t like that feeling. Not one bit.

Like I said last week, we’re planners. We had a plan, so we were just folllowing it. It’s what we do. Oblivious, right? Yup.

I mean, we were totally taking it seriously—washing our hands till the skin was raw, using our elbows to push elevator buttons (turns out that’s my superpower; I’ve been waiting years to uncover it), staying as far away from all humans as possible.

But we kept reading the news, and things got worse, and then more worse, and then I was pretty much hyperventilating several times a day. Things are worse everywhere. We weren’t even sure how to process that. When you are lucky enough to have the kind of options we have, what do you choose?

And what happens if you make a mistake? What happens if you choose wrong? Doors started slamming shut around the world, and we looked at where we were, and alarm bells started ringing in my head. Actually, they sounded more like klaxons. Or those nuclear warning sirens.

I have a friend who is an epidemiologist, and over a several-week period, she kept emphasizing the importance of infrastructure. Mexican infrastructure is . . . a work in progress, let’s say.

So I got off a phone call at 8pm on Saturday, and Lee said, “We could go to Japan. There’s a flight in the morning.”

I agonized for about 2 minutes, then started packing. The taxi picked us up at 3:15 Sunday morning.

We used a LOT of Clorox wipes & hand sanitizer & wore our masks when we were around people. Luckily our layover in San Francisco was so short we never had time to sit down.

And now—we’re in Tokyo. We have no idea what’s going to happen here, but they’ve been dealing with it for 2 months, and haven’t (yet!) had any huge spikes. Plus the infrastructure & healthcare are ultra-modern.

Even so, it was such a hard decision. What do you do, when your every instinct is to go home, but you don’t actually have a home? It’s a fun game to play, in theory: Hey, if you were Bill Gates, and the apocalypse was coming, where would you hide out?

We’re not Bill Gates, but we don’t have a fixed address, so that gives us flexibility to actually make a deliberate decision about where best to ride this out. Theoretically, the world is our oyster. It’s just that, right now, choosing an oyster feels more like Russian roulette. Sorry for muddling those metaphors, but hopefully you know what I mean.

Like I said at the top, this pandemic has forced us to think—even more—about our notions of being untethered. About what home really means, about what it means to feel safe, about both the advantages and disadvantages of the lifestyle we have chosen.

We’re not the only people making decisions like this. We may be the only ones you know, or we may not, but believe me—around the globe, there people who live in one place and work in another, or travel for work, or work in one country while their families live in another. There are diplomats and students and business people and teachers and doctors and aid workers, and people who live like Lee and I do, all over the world, not sure where they ought to be right now. We have friends who live on boats who’ve been told to drop anchor and stay put. We have friends who’ve moved into vans and driven to the hinterlands. No one has the right answer, only the answer that is right for them.

What finally swung the decision, for us, was that one word: infrastructure.

So here we are. Things are still functional here; we’ll see how long that lasts. We booked 3 nights in a hotel (literally, from the car on the way to the airport), so we’d have a day or two to figure out where to go. We finally decided to stay in Tokyo, at least for now; if it doesn’t get locked down, perhaps we can enjoy it a little bit, since we’ve always wanted to, but if it does, well, instant noodles are instant noodles, whether you’re in Kyoto or Tokyo or the back side of beyond.

We have no idea what’s next, or what the world will look like 3 months from now, but if we’re going to get stuck in a lockdown, this seems like a pretty good place to do it.

I hope all of y’all are well, & not too stir-crazy. Please stay in touch. Now, more than ever, this magical little screen is our portal to community and family and friends—to normalcy.

Take care,


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