Keep turning over stones
Over the past few months I’ve spent several weeks in St. Augustine, Florida, for stints of house-sitting (big thank you to my friend Rae and her mom, Stacey, for making these stays possible). It was a treat to be so close to the ocean, and to be alone for the first time in months. I also just appreciated being in, and learning about, a new place.
St. Augustine has a deep history—it’s the oldest city in the US (why did I always think it was somewhere New Englandy?!), and is a civil rights landmark as a site of brutal segregation protests that led to the passing of the Civil Rights Act. Ecologically, it’s dense too. Most days after work I walked on one of the many beaches. During low tide, the sand is awash with coquina, scatterings of broken shells that sometimes amass into space-like, sculptural forms. The state park is a home for so much wildlife. I often said hello to the tortoise nested in the dune on the side of the boardwalk, and to the snowy egret that ate dinner at the same time each evening just past a cordoned off section of sand aptly named Bird Island. I went to Ravine State Park and Washington Oaks, where oak trees and Spanish moss and flowers abound. I was canoe-d out to a tributary on the super pink moon, in waters that apparently have never been higher. I got some binoculars, and over the weeks, I spotted funny little orange-beaked terns, Great Blue Herons, snowy egrets, feeding anhingas, soaring ospreys, and hovering pelicans. I saw dolphins, crabs, and deer. I nodded to marooned jellyfish and belly-up armadillos. I kept looking for a roseate spoonbill and a manatee, but they continue to elude me.
As much as I love being alone, and being in nature, if you know me you know that I love to talk to people. I met some special folks during my stays, too—it’s a wild feeling to talk to strangers without feeling like I may potentially contract a deadly disease, and I’m not taking it for granted. The most memorable people I met were Winston and Kathy. They joined the communal table where I was sitting at a taco shop, and of course I put down my magazine to chat with them. They’re Unitarian Universalist boomers who met later in life; Kathy is a medical actor and Winston works at the local medical school, too. Winston looked like Wallace Shawn with a white ponytail unfurling around his face; he wore an Apple watch and a khaki fishing shirt. Kathy had the tawny patina of a weathered palm tree and straight, swinging hair.
We talked about the past year, and the pandemic, and I explained about breaking my clavicle and coming to Atlanta to recover. Kathy shared that she too had been in a bad accident. Hers was by car, and happened in her forties, and left her with a broken back and sternum. It had taken her years to recover, she said. They were in town camping at the state park, so we moved on to discussing outdoor recreation. I quipped that I thought my backpacking days were over, since I haven’t been able to wear anything with shoulder straps. “Don’t be so sure,” said Kathy. She shared some advice about healing that’s stuck with me. “Keep turning over stones,” she said. “Each doctor only knows what they know, but there are others out there.” She added, “I can do everything I want to do now.”
I’m thinking of Kathy’s advice this week, which is the one-year anniversary of my bike accident. I’d like to be done with healing, but I don’t think it’s done with me yet. As a baseline, doing what I want to do is my own goal—not what people are imagining or want for me. A year later (and I know people mean well!) I’m tired of being asked if I’m “all better” or “healed.” I feel like I’m failing every time I have to answer “No,” even though what’s happening is not my fault. I would like for people to stop feeding me the narrative of “you’ll get back to normal” or that I’ll somehow have a Phoenix-like rise from the ashes, emerging stronger than before.
The reality is that while I’m doing so much better, the resulting damage affects me every day. Maybe if you have a chronic illness, or have grieved a loved one, you can relate to this kind of tension I’m feeling. Or even if you’re feeling the weight of emerging from the pandemic. I have to remind myself that there’s no way to put a time stamp on this kind of process, even if other people and institutions would like there to be.
Recovering from this injury continues to be so many things: hard, humbling, boring. On this anniversary I’m glad to be alive. I implore you to wear a helmet for all helmet-needing sports, and to wear your seatbelt, etc. Please guard your precious life. I extend gratitude to all the people who have helped me and continue to help me (and there have been many). Famously, I wrote over 50 thank-you notes right before entering a several-month period where I couldn’t write, then packed them into storage, so I’ll be sending out those notes one day, a year or so later. (What is time, amirite?) For now, I guess this is a thank-you note. Thank you. And, if you’re reading this and going through a medical issue, or a big life change, or reporting a big story, or—I’m offering Kathy’s advice to keep turning over stones until you’re where you want to be. Each person only knows so much.
I sat on this letter for a few days, and in this content cycle, that’s a few days too long. So I’ve been catching up on pieces from the week before: reading about racism in the workplace, on diversity consulting from The Cut, and on the cost of being an ‘interchangeable Asian’ from the NYT. Also belatedly, I read Ligaya Mishan on H-Mart and Priya Krishna on MRE’s (Krishna’s video review is delightful). Embarrassingly I teared up reading Ed Yong’s Pulizter acceptance Tweets (speech?). He’s the GOAT, or at least the GOAP (the P is for Pandemic), and profit-sharing is the future is now. I am also kvelling because my friend Delia sold her book!!! Chris Meloni’s PR person is working overtime and honestly, we are enjoying the benefits. The organization I mentor with, Girls Write Now, is accepting mentor and mentee applicants for next year—if you’re a woman or non-binary writer who wants to apply or learn more, I’m happy to chat! My family has been watching Life in Pieces and I have to say that I laugh out loud at almost every episode. Also, new Tuca and Bertie :) For work, I made kitchen sink cookies and pizza dough while testing a mixer, and both recipes are solid. It was lovely to see my friend Shana delivering her first CSA in the neighborhood—if you’re in Atlanta, sign up for emails if you want to get in on her beautiful produce. Each year, Wirecutter sends employees a Maui Gold pineapple from Hawaii, and my mom made Eric Kim’s pineapple-marinated chicken breasts with it (I am a big fan of Kim’s writing and recipes and can’t wait for his upcoming cookbook, Korean American). We stuck the core in a pitcher of water with mint for a delightful spa-water variation. It’s hot enough here that my elbows are sweating, and I welcome (and by welcome I mean will absolutely pound) any fruity-cold-refreshing foods and beverages. Cheers.
Here’s a juicy bop to leave you with:
PS—I’ve been thinking about a rebrand to focus this letter more on other stuff like food, style, art, and culture besides blogging (as nice as it is to share and connect, if emo :/ sorry!), and making it a little easier to read. Potential new names welcome. Stay tuned!
Until next time.