Pandemic journal: Month 7 (September)

Weeks 25-27: August 31-September 27, 2020. 

Week 25. Theme: your needs are important 


I was despondent over Chadwick Boseman’s death, though I knew so little about him. I suppose it is general grief for everything. 

Yesterday I tried to do one thing on my to-do list — just one! — but I had to tidy just to access supplies, and then Owl got involved, and by the time I was able to sit down to my one task I was fried from the multitasking and I suppose the effort of keeping a leash on my own frustration. So my one task didn’t even happen… but I ended up staying up till 1 finishing something for preschool. 

None of this was wasted work, but it means other things got pushed to today. 

Mama Merit Badge doodle by Lisa Hsia: Did not run away today, abandoning family to fend for themselves even though she wanted to


I’ve had more Etsy orders from strangers since SiP started than I would normally get in years.

Lately I’ve felt resentful/envious of E because he gets to shut himself into a room all day away from Owl. Yesterday I reached exhaustion-cry state by 1130 AM, and I couldn’t even relax into my usual chair because it was too close to the potty and Owl had just pooped so the room smelled like shit. When E came out for lunch I was on the floor by the fridge, mindlessly playing iPad games and wishing I had the capacity to do anything else. E moved the armchair into the bedroom and I closed myself in, and later he brought me a lovely omelet and rice. It’s too much of a strain: 6 months of always multitasking amidst noise, the lack of social time, the grind of cooking and cleaning and preschool work. 

I’ve asked E for a half-day once a week, in the middle of the day before I get too tired, so I can have just one reliable stretch of uninterrupted time. We’re going to try it tomorrow. It’s hard for me to ask for what I need, when those around me also have intense needs; I tend to feel that it’s right that E gets what he needs and Owl gets what they need… then I do my best with what’s left. That’s not ok, and when I’m feeling that way, more often than not I forget to even acknowledge that I have needs at all. 

Minna Dubin shared an article recently about mom rage during the pandemic: that the rage arises even when “nothing happened”, that “we are already flooded emotionally”, that anger hides vulnerability and anxiety and fear. The most striking insight was that outbursts happen when we’re performing at a high level; we don’t recognize the pressure we’re already under, just making everything work in the current conditions. Deadly pandemic, government bungling, isolation, overt white supremacy. Wildfires. Mess and clutter. Anxiety over Owl’s education. Grief and guilt for not seeing my family. The desperate obligation to support local businesses and people. The almost total absence of privacy: all my things and spaces violated all day long. As I write this Owl is touching my laptop and desk and running away squealing, and grinning at me when I tell them it’s unacceptable. Voilà, the rage. 

However: I had a really pleasant walk with LL in the afternoon. For over 2 hours we wandered and climbed trees and found lizards and talked to a lost dog. On my way home I was casually happy in a way that doesn’t feel familiar anymore.

Short-haired Asian American person sitting on a curved tree trunk in Joaquin Miller Park

Week 26. Theme: action is the antidote to despair

Monday. Labor Day.

It’s been miserably hot — around 100 or so — and the AQI is so high, we haven’t been able to open windows. Ofc I’ve been grumpy and lethargic. E moved my desk into the bedroom with the AC unit, set up a glass of water and another of kombucha, and knolled it all with a napkin and my headphones and iPad and the little sign I’d made for myself on retreat a couple of years ago: a small quiet room of my own

Drinks, napkin, and tablet on a desk

Over the weekend I felt that nothing I wanted was possible. E said I might as well nap in the room with the AC. I couldn’t think what else to do so I agreed (thinking: is this depression? to not want to do anything, except maybe cry, and go to bed in the middle of the day?). And then I thought, if I hate everything maybe I could at least make an “I hate this” list, and see if I can get to the grimly satisfying number of 100. I got about halfway through and then was so sleepy I really did nap — though it was the kind of nap where I wake up feeling that I haven’t slept. 

But the list of laments was good, because in writing out so many specific things (no matter how small) I could see that many of them were actually fixable. 

Yesterday I cleaned the counters and then in a mood of “fuck everything and burn it all down” I started decluttering digitally as well, deleting almost all my saved links on FB (some dating back a few years!), and then putting the rest into a collection to delete in one month’s time if unread. I did the same thing with non-personal emails. Then culled everything from the pantry that had expired or was just old. All of that felt extremely good, rebellious even, though rebelling against what, I don’t know.  


I’m super tired, which has become so much the norm lately that I’ve almost stopped registering it. 

The air smells fine and the AQI was yellow but after stepping out onto the deck only momentarily, my eyes itch. Smoke? Imagination? AS just told me that her brother and sister-in-law were on a backpacking trip and had to hike 19 miles (some in the dark) to get out of range of one of the fires. With ash falling all around them. 

Today for the first time since SiP started I needed to turn on the light to write, and at first I thought it was the changing seasons but the sky is orangeish-grey — it’s fire haze. Preschool is reopening and I was feeling miserable that we aren’t sending Owl back yet. But with the AQI so changeable and the sky looking like Armageddon it doesn’t feel like the wrong decision. It’s past 8 AM and it still looks like night. 

Orange sky over backyards and city buildings


AV just came and dropped off a bag of apples from their tree, which I’m so excited about, but after standing outside talking to her for just a short while I’m headachy and my face is itchy and hurts a little. Yesterday felt so oppressive… even though the air was clean, every instinct recoiled against the thought of going out under that orange-red sky. But today the AQI is unhealthy everywhere in the Bay Area. 


The AQI is hideous today — high 180s, and I’m supposed to go out later for an errand… it’s ghastly to think of this going on and on. 

During my vidchat with SD they asked if I wanted to draw self-portraits together. I started with a pencil drawing but it looked so bland. I added wax-resist pastels and got out some paints, and ended up with a portrait of this fire and pandemic moment: vertical black lines like burned trees or prison bars, a fiery sky, earbuds, pale color on my sweatshirt but no color anywhere on my face or hair, only a watery sky-ish blue in my eyes and glasses. To me it’s a rare success of me really putting raw feelings into a self-portrait (one person even messaged me to ask if I was okay). 

Pencil, wax-resist pastel, watercolor self-portrait by Lisa Hsia


Another grey, hazy, smoky day.

Earlier in the week A was under evacuation warning; I told her that in normal times I would have been frantic with worry, knowing my youngest sister was in danger, but now I’m too emotionally maxed out to afford panic. She said, same; she and K got everything ready and then just went to bed and slept fine! 

Handwritten list of disasters with a child's drawings of them

Week 27. Theme: tenderness / loosen loosen baby 


I think the AQI is bad even inside now; the purifier is running “red” and I’m feeling it in my nose and throat — very minor, especially compared to my friends with asthma. Yesterday the forecast was for improvement by afternoon but it didn’t happen. School was supposed to reopen last week and has yet to do so. 

Food for thought: “For those of us socialized as women, we were taught to never say ‘no’. We object through indecision — we choose indirectly. Our bodies speak before our minds.” 

Short-haired Asian American person in face mask, taupe sweatshirt and lace-up shoes, and light green wide-legged pants sits in a tree in Piedmont Park



I got new headphones — they’re for construction workers — and they do actually succeed in blocking Owl out. 

I’ve been simmering rosemary in water all morning and though I was skeptical, I think it did make me calmer and happier and able to breathe easier. 


The air is clean, and it’s damp outside. HB just told us the Berkeley Art Center is doing private visits, so I’ve made an appointment. 

I still don’t know if there’s any kind of timeline for the end of all this. But we have new metrics now, preschool is up and running, we have backup plans in case podding never happens, we are planning some outings, and all of that makes things feel less bleak. 


I’m so tired this morning — I dreamed about meal planning and difficulty in procuring groceries and doing a vast load of dishes where knives had been put in the dirty water, and there was butter smeared on the tap handle. 

There was something I meant to write about but I can’t think what it was — I can’t hold onto thoughts anymore. 


It looks like podding might happen after all, though in a very different form than we’d previously talked about. I’m aware of feeling hurt around this. I need to figure out how to bring it up.


Ruth Bader Ginsburg died yesterday and Mitch McConnell is already declaring the Republicans will push a new justice onto the court before the election. I woke with my neck very tight and hurting and tried to go back to sleep only to have a half-dream, half-lucid imagining of a difficult conversation with a friend. Y said she donated money to tight Senate races. I’ll do that too.

At least the air is still clean as of now. Yesterday (before we heard about RBG) we had an outing to Point Reyes followed by a couple of needed errands. It was a few hours of new scenery and relative peace and enjoyment, and a little bit of productivity, before despair and grief and hopelessness closed in on us again.

Oyster shell stuck into rocky sandy shoreline, near Point Reyes Station
Young child in red sun hat and red tee squats at the edge of Tomales Bay
Little Wing Farmstand, Point Reyes Station

T (therapist) congratulated me on articulating my needs and taking action to meet them, but I’m realizing just how many emotional needs I’m still not getting met, and feeling like I don’t deserve to. I just feel so lonely and sad and tired and unwanted about not having a pod when it feels like everybody else does. Feeling left out of preschool, but too anxious to go back. Feeling like I put so much effort into supporting others while not getting it back at the level I put out — and feeling like it’s inappropriate to ask/expect to be met at that level. Fuck. Idk what to do about any of this. 


We had our partial-pod get-together yesterday and I had a 45m phone convo with W beforehand, which was comforting and badly needed; if we hadn’t had that, I would have gone to their house feeling vulnerable and fragile and uncertain. But it ended up being sweet. 

Sending love to activists.