The break

Well, hello. It’s been many months since I last wrote to you. The first few weeks of that break were planned. The rest were not!

So here’s what happened, if you want to know. (If not, you can skip to a big content dump at the bottom.) On June 13, I fell off of my bike and broke my clavicle. It shattered into 5 pieces. A broken clavicle is a common fracture, one that often resolves on its own. I waited 6 weeks for mine to heal. It did not. On July 29, I had a surgery to fix it. 

The surgery went well. But a few days later, the feeling of numbness that I thought was a side effect of the nerve block anesthetic didn’t wear off. I couldn’t stretch my fingers or lift my hand from where it rested at my hip. I started to feel intense, pulsing pain throughout my arm that felt like someone was tightening a blood pressure cuff until my bicep might explode. I couldn’t lie down without hyperventilating. A trip to the hospital confirmed what was going on: I had nerve damage in my brachial plexus, the dense net of nerves that help control the movement of the shoulder, arm, and hand.

It was a strange realization. It’s just as strange trying to make sense of what happened, even three months later. Did the doctor—a supposedly good surgeon—fuck up this pretty standard procedure? Did the nerves stretch themselves, braced against the impact of a readjusted bone? Does it really matter? It was an accident.

Luckily for me, my prognosis is good. The nerves weren’t severed, which means my function will likely return to normal. I see a neurologist now. He says regrowth can take 3-6 months, maybe a year. I can’t even think that far in advance, but the timeline feels vague and long. The day-to-day definitely feels…slow.

But! But. I’m getting better. At PT a few weeks ago, I filled out a progress report  about what I can and can’t do. No, I can’t open a tight jar. No, I can’t lift a shopping bag full of groceries. Sir, I am working on lifting the two pound weights. But now I can hold a pen, use a fork, and type for more than an hour. I can even carefully saw into an onion and stir some vegetables around in a pan, and wash the dishes afterward. Cue the how it started/how it’s going meme.

And here I am now, writing to you. People ask me what I’ve been doing over the past few months. Good thing I have a newsletter where I talk about exactly that, right? Eh.

The true answer is that I’ve been doing a lot of nothing. For weeks, we’re talking lying-on-the-couch-for-hours nothing, sleeping-15-hours-a-day nothing. Looking at a sliver of translucent onion floating in a bowl of chickpeas, thinking, It must be nice to be a manta ray nothing. It’s been pretty weird. But to be honest, having the time to do nothing—the time it takes to get better, made possible by disability benefits and health insurance—feels like a miracle. So does having a care network that stepped in to do what I couldn’t. My mom took care of me for a month while I was loopy on nerve medication. So many people have given me rides or brought me food or sent gift cards for takeout; friends have cut my nails, washed my dishes, refilled my Brita pitcher, strapped me into my figure-8 clavicle brace. I am so, so grateful that doing nothing was an option. It isn’t for everyone.

Time has passed, and I’ve gained stamina. There have been many hours commuting to PT and OT and acupuncture. There’s been a lot of walking. Phone calls. A few lovely and precious outings. I’ve been singing karaoke (more on that later). Thinking about ableism and how I’ll never review a product the same way again. Reading up on some editorial resources. Phone banking. Getting back into the swing of mentoring. Mostly, it seems like I spend most of the time performing the basic tasks of life and resting afterwards, but maybe that’s just life.

Of course, in the in-betweens I have read, watched, listened, and eaten. My favorite books that I read this summer were Minor Feelings, The Undcoumented Americans, Another Brooklyn, Madness, Rack, and Honey, The Mothers, Consider the Oyster, and Luster

I haven’t been online as much as usual, but I’ve loved reading the work of my friends over the past few months, and all their pieces are timeless: Sarah on how weather forecasting is improving, Sabrina on the tiny shrimps that pop up in the pools of an Iranian desert; Kaitlyn on a selection of dystopian YA fiction; Zoe on how and why she cultivates her pandemic pantry (her Instagram story is the best food TV online, IMHO). Beyond that, I’ve been reading everything Ed Yong publishes in the Atlantic, especially his pieces on COVID-19 long haulers. Tomi Obaro’s essay about what comes next after media companies are called out for racism has stuck with me for months. A few New Yorker pieces have, too: Jody Rosen on bicycles as a means of protest, Rebecca Mead’s piece on gardening, Ben Taub’s look at a wild deep-sea quest, Jiayang Fan’s personal history. From the NYT Magazine, two highlights for me were Kwame Anthony Appiah’s The Ethicist column on virtue signaling, and Irinia Aleksander’s look into how the fashion industry is faring during the pandemic. And this past week, the magazine had two great pieces: one from Wesley Morris about his mustache and Blackness, and another on a group of tenants in Minneapolis who evicted their landlord.

During those long commutes to the doctor, I’ve been getting into podcasts. I loved listening to Naomi host a week of Axios Re:Cap episodes (check out the 8/12-14 episodes). I’ve become a Brené Brown fan—a few favorite episodes have been with Austin Channing Brown, a look into how we’re on Day Two of the pandemic, and discussion on burnout and completing the stress cycle with Emily and Amelia Nagoski. I look forward to each episode of Home Cooking so I can listen to Samin Nosrat and Hrishikesh Hirway laugh together. The in-depth reporting of Nice White Parents blew me away. I wish there were more episodes on the context of garments from Articles of Interest, truly. And I particularly enjoyed Amanda Petrusich’s conversation with Phoebe Bridgers on The New Yorker Radio Hour. 

I made it through so much great TV: I May Destroy You, Fleabag, Normal People, Pen15, Taste the Nation. On Instagram, I tuned into Ziwe’s brilliant Baited series. Somehow I had never seen Moonstruck—a delight. Remember how good My Big Fat Greek Wedding is? Yeah. I went on a Keanu kick which included The Matrix and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. I’m loving Les Blank’s documentaries, particularly the one on garlic. The 40-Year-Old Version made me cry.

Music-wise, I’ve been listening to Karen Dalton, Ted Hawkins, Sylvan Esso, Jonathan Richman, Lee Moses, Willie Griffin, Steely Dan, Connie Converse, Ahmad Jamal, Courtney Barnett, Toots & the Maytals, Ted Lucas, Mitski, and Ann Peebles. Mostly old stuff. It feels comforting.

The only things I’ve cooked in the past four months have been Rancho Gordo beans, grits, stir-fries, eggs, and this Smitten Kitchen goat cheese cornbread. But I’ve eaten well, and maybe the foods people have shared with me will inspire you. Martha made me pierogi and veggie burgers and curry. From Carolyn, there was German potato salad and a meal of beans, roasted delicata squash, chard, and the aforementioned cornbread. Michelle brought me miso soup and grilled me my first Impossible burger (pretty good!). From Lesley, there was the most perfect golden-crusted fish, roasted potatoes, gentle peas flecked with bits of prosciutto, frozen quarts of chicken soup and peas and ham. Hayley and Jake grilled me scallops from Pierless Fish and balsamic-marinated chicken and sausages and many different vegetables; for dessert, we ate ice cream topped with shards of Pop Tarts. Michael made me oven-roasted chicken thighs with roasted sweet potatoes, shallots, and mushrooms, tofu stir-fry, and tortilla española. My mom stocked the freezer with chana saag, salmon and turkey patties, chimichurri, steak, rice, frittata, kale, banana bread. There were exceptional loaves from many friends, and sourdough discard muffins that were the ideal cushion for a morning Oxy when I had no appetite. 

After years of avoiding takeout (why?!), I now look forward to it. From my neighborhood, I’ve ordered the sampler platter from Ras Plant Based Ethiopian; jerk chicken, pumpkin, callaloo, and mac and cheese from Gloria’s Carribean Cuisine; sopressata pizza with hot honey from Barboncino; pumpkin stew and lemongrass fish soup from Rangoon; the zucchini flower quesadilla from Taqueria Milear. I’ve had a few treats from elsewhere, too: oysters from Otway; chai from Pakistan Tea House; hibiscus flower tetelas from For All Things Good; a stracciatella, puntarelle, and anchovy sandwich from Bread and Salt that I’ll never forget.

Since following the Instagram account @poetryisnotaluxury, I get most of the poems I read from there. One day I’d like to walk this poetry path. Naomi sent me the poem Meditations on an Emergency by Cameron Awkward-Rich—it may make your stomach drop.

That was a lot. In the future, we’ll go shorter, and maybe more sporadic. For fun, here’s Dolly Parton doing her Wired auto-complete. And lastly, here’s a song to leave you with:

Until next time.