2020 & my pandemic brain

I began this year with the mantra “Return to magic.” I wrote:

We grow new calluses in new places all the time, because that is how we learn to survive against the friction. How we manage not to lie down and never rise.

We never forget it’s there— our toughness reminds us.

The word “tender” has been so much a part of my and our vernacular in the last years, I think because of our struggle to slough off those calluses.

To remain tender to one another is so painful and so necessary.

This year’s mantra is Return To Magic.

Which is, I realize, another way of saying: return to love.

And stay.

I wrote this with an intention to devote myself more to my pursuits of writing, climbing, and pottery. The pandemic rendered me largely incapable of all three.

My brain has been in a state somewhere between survival mode and just… shut down. What it is, really, is grief. I had a feeling that this would be a long, difficult time from mid-March, by the way the government and the public refused to take things seriously. That the individualism emphasized by USAmerican culture left little room for actions taken in the interest of the common good. Capitalism doesn’t allow us much space for taking care of one another. And somehow, so many millions of us are okay with that. Okay with so much death. It is breathtaking and painful.

With the days ever so slowly lengthening again, it seems a good time to reflect and share what’s happened in the midst of all this pain and tumult.

w o r k

Narinda teaching a student to build a top-rope anchor above a rock climb.
Amah Mutsun lands.

When my first trips were canceled in March, I knew that the field of outdoor education would be deeply impacted, and that outdoor educators of color in particular would face hardship. I worried that we would disappear. I worried for folks just beginning their journeys. I’ve had several conversations with young people around making a life as an outdoor educator. I also gave a presentation about my journey for LA-based Community Nature Connection. I’ve been honest that I don’t know what things are going to look like or what opportunities will be out there for a long time.

I am still asking myself how I can be of use in the movement for justice. Shifting needles slowly, while useful, eventually becomes too grueling a task. This is what necessitates uprising– the need for something to change significantly. In June, I wrote a writing prompt for non-Black folks. A small offering toward grappling with the need to deeply reckon with history and the material condition of Black lives. I am striving to engage in conversations with courage, hope, and determination.

c l a y

A shallow bowl with a milky glaze against a gray backdrop.

Many people got a lot of work done in their pottery studios during this time. For the first few months, I traveled the ten miles to my studio once a week, if at all, and was largely unable to work even once I got there. My pandemic brain could not push through despite knowing how fortunate I was to have a private space to work.

When finally I began to feel some motivation in late summer, fire season made the air so bad that I couldn’t work in my practically-outdoors space. And then, in November, a resurgence of thumb and wrist pain kept me from the studio. I meant to fire more work last month, but my body asked me to rest.

So, I turned my attention to finding homes for already-finished work. I’ve been staunchly committed to in-person sales; I love witnessing people’s interaction with my work, answering their questions, sharing about the process. That immediacy and intimacy are important to me. But with things as they are, I decided to sell online via private messages and even a video appointment. A reasonable compromise. I’m so grateful for the support.

c l i m b i n g

In April, I wrote:

I’m not training. I’m not even thinking about where I want to go “when all this is over.” Turns out I can’t love climbing when so much else dear to me is overtly threatened.

I know that love is still around, somewhere. Much like my climbing gear: tucked in a dark corner for safekeeping.

I pursued climbing intensely in the first 9 weeks of the year. 5 visits to Mt. St. Helena. A trip to Red Rock Canyon. A trip to Payahuunadu. Plans for a couple weeks crack climbing  in Utah. A goal to climb outside 50 days this year.

And now, having mourned those best laid plans, I find that itch, that hunger for climbing, utterly absent.

I suppose it’s taking everything in me to just hold it together right now. To hold the worry about community, friends, family. To hold hope for a future less cruel.

Since then, my nervous system has settled enough for me to go on day trips for sport climbing again. With all the concern about traveling and hospitals being overwhelmed, I haven’t gone on any extended trips. For the last three years, I’ve spent at least a week climbing in Joshua Tree National Park. I canceled those plans this year as the surge loomed. It can wait. I’m okay with waiting.

As the pandemic has worsened, people have pushed harder and harder to pretend at normalcy. I’ve felt no such urge. I can bear so little voluntary risk these days.

j o y

Narinda stands in shorts, a tanktop, and hiking boots on a rocky outcrop on the Nüümü Poyo. She has peeling kinesiotape on both knees.
Mono/Newe lands.

Almost inconceivably, I got to spent 19 consecutive days hiking in the mountains this year. For fun, not work.

Three friends and I made plans to walk the Nüümü Poyo months before the pandemic started. We waited and waited to see how things would be, whether we would be allowed to use our permit at all, whether it felt okay to go on this journey. As June approached and it became clear that people were still getting on trail, and Covid numbers were not surging, we decided to plan our journey in earnest, packing and sending our resupply bins while knowing that there was still a chance we would have to cancel.

That’s what this year has been. Making plans while prepared for everything to be canceled.

We all got tested before the trip and agreed that we would wear masks and physically distance from one another and other hikers throughout the journey.

I took an A5 Leuchtturm notebook with me. My writing and reading kit were not at all ultralight– more like ultraluxurious. I don’t have a lot of wiggle room for extra weight with my 98-pound frame, nor space in my pack, but it seemed important to carry that big notebook, and the 14-ounce Radical Dharma on trail with me. I wanted a sense of spaciousness after spending so many years writing as small as possible, and going as light as possible.

It was my first recreational backpacking trip of this length. Would I still have made time for it had my work trips not all been canceled? What does it take to create this kind of spaciousness for oneself? (Hint: resources.)

I dipped in so many beautiful bodies of water, most of them very, very cold. The landscape was breathtaking. The dry lightning storm that set so many fires across California happened in the first part of our trip, and we were completely unaware. We were fortunate to finish our journey during the very early days of the Creek Fire and the Castle Fire.

So much has happened.

w r i t i n g

This year, I gave an interview at Dynamite Starfish, published sewing in a CALAA‘s The Stilt House Zine Issue 2, and wrote an essay for Bay Nature which I’m honored to find was one of their Top Stories of 2020.

I’ve been cultivating this particular little corner of the internet since 2008. There are a few out there who remember when I wrote here daily. These last few years, I’ve mostly been writing on Instagram. I’m grateful for the connections I’ve been able to make and maintain there, but I also want to turn more attention back to this space.

I was tempted to not to make my annual chapbook this year– why push?– but with all that’s been canceled or stalled, it feels important to make the offering. This year’s collection will be called unearthings and I am gratefully accepting pre-orders via Square or Venmo (send $10 & include your mailing address– my feed is private).

So I suppose my “Return to magic” is happening in a sense. Before I was a climber, before I was a potter, I was a writer. And I still believe there is magic in writing.