Pandemic journal: Month 9 (November)

Weeks 34-37: November 2 -29, 2020

Week 34Theme: Be gentle and tender with yourself.


These days, even making a small decision (what to eat for lunch) can feel as difficult as actually doing anything. 

Tuesday. Election Day.

It’s Election Day and all feels simultaneously terrifying and mundane. 

Tomorrow is a preschool general meeting and I don’t know what kind of space I’ll need to hold. I’m remembering college the week of 9/11, what different tones my professors set. My Chinese history professor jarringly cheerful, the Shang Dynasty even more irrelevant than usual. One of my TAs saying with grim compassion that he wasn’t going to penalize anyone if we walked out; we stayed and talked through our shock, near-strangers bonded by the moment. 

Voter information booth in Oakland, CA


No national result yet. I took care of myself yesterday, got Owl their flu shot, delivered snacks to AGB. In the afternoon I powered through a lot of preschool work and read Oaklandside’s wonderful local election coverage. After results started coming in, E updated me about once an hour, and I listened to non-political podcasts and stitched through my mending pile. 

I didn’t make a plan for today, though. 

Asian American person with glasses and a face mask, wearing an "I Voted" sticker and a black power fist enamel pin


Still no result. It’s hard not to feel a little hopeful but after 2016, I tamp down on hope as a thing we can’t afford. 


I feel a quiet everywhere, everyone in limbo. Yesterday we watched Trump’s Southern lead narrowing, narrowing, narrowing, until the battleground states tipped toward Biden. 

I was gloomy last night: the looming uncertainty; fear of unrest or legal challenge; the despair that — as The Atlantic put it —  “a large portion of the electorate chose the sociopath” (the white electorate!); no Senate majority; the Supreme Court still; everything else in my life; and oh, a PANDEMIC. 

Meme showing a cartoon dog apparently unfazed by flames around it. Caption reads: "2020: How it started: How it's going:" The side-by-side images are identical except one has an "I Voted" sticker.


I spent yesterday doing what a friendquaintance called “gleefreshing” (as opposed to doomscrolling), listening to the honking and cheering on the avenue, and feeling something tight and afraid uncoil in me for the first time in 4 years. I teared up at Van Jones on CNN, raw and emotional; someone’s daughter watching Kamala on TV; a friend wishing John Lewis could see this; even a silly Avengers meme. Cynical friends admitted to crying. We know there are too many things this doesn’t fix (and too many weeks between now and January) — but, if nothing goes horribly haywire, for the next 4 years at least, we will not need to wake every day to new abhorrence and outrage in our name. The Atlantic said yesterday we voted for a “competent and humane” administration: after 4 years, we have leadership we can at least speak of without essential human revulsion. It’s a dreadfully low bar, but to pass it is so relieving, it’s elating. 

And oh god, Black and Native women have saved us yet again. Thank goddess for Stacey Abrams, hero, visionary. 

Week 35. 


When I got up there were breakfast ingredients ready, thanks to my forethought. I used to do this when Owl was at preschool, prepping for the morning before going to bed. I don’t know why I stopped — except I guess it was a new habit, and the pandemic’s been hard enough on the old ones.

Wednesday. Veterans Day.

I’ve been reflecting on the diverse experiences of intimacy during pandemic: some in spite of, and some because of, the ways our usual interactions have been disrupted. I started a sort of poem about it that begins: “In a week of very little human contact outside my household, a two-minute conversation on the stairs, a ‘thinking of you’ text, take on an almost magical state of importance — messages in a bottle to one marooned.” 

Colorful swirls of watercolor inside rectangles, a stylized bar graph showing friendships "when we met" versus "now".


I’ve realized some of the allure of iPad games is (temporary, illusory) freedom from the burden and responsibility of having to figure out what to do with myself; next steps are clearly delineated, outcomes controlled. I experimented with planning out real-life next actions that closely and it actually helped, pulling me toward real-life momentum rather than the mindless (but soothing) infinity of the games. 

They say we ought to be preparing for a possible coup (even Karl Rove told Trump to concede). I’m not as afraid as I would be if the election result had been closer — but I’m still afraid.

I’m taking Owl to go meet the parents near Hayward, because I accidentally sent groceries to their house instead of ours. 


Anyone could have predicted it would be an emotional reunion. As soon as I saw them, decades of adulthood fell away, everything better now that Mommy and Daddy are here. Daddo elbow-bumped me gleefully, and they’d brought me Asian pears and apples and feijoas from their tree. I didn’t want to lose composure, so I tried not to be too effusive, and the masks and distance and sunglasses helped (the parents seemed restrained too, maybe for the same reason?). Owl was very happy to see them, but stayed shyly by my side holding my hand the entire time, a welcome distraction (and support, let’s be honest!). 

I talked to my therapist (T) that night — great timing — and cried for most of the session. She gently and kindly named that this has been so hard for so long, of course I wanted to see my parents who love me and whom I love. When I said my child-self was glad to see them, she said, “Your adult self too! Stop fronting!” It’s really good I had this chance to see them before we go to stay with them in a couple of weeks. 

When I told SD I’d cried they said they’re afraid crying would put them into a deep hole they’d then have to claw their way out of. Which is how I felt too, though now that I’ve cried some, it feels more like the crying actually dissolved some of the earth — the abyss isn’t nearly as deep as I thought. 


A big publishing house has an open call for BIPOC children’s book creators. I’m passionate about kids’ books and this is such a good opportunity on so many levels, but I’m just so exhausted, I can’t even fathom wanting to be published right now, not when it means more work. 

Week 36.


I ought to acknowledge and accept that what feels like constant subpar performance is actually my best right now. Normal standards of function have never been meaningful  — were always tied to fucked-up capitalist notions of our worth depending on productivity — but they do more harm now than ever. 


Cases are exploding everywhere — I’d actually forgotten the terrifying exponential growth pattern. So I’m having early-pandemic levels of stress about our family gathering, trying to figure out how much is generalized panic and how much is justified. 

Tonight is my last board meeting of 2020 and I am EXCITED. It’s been weighing on me more than I admit — the work of holding the school, tracking goals and deadlines, continuing to set the tone and read the room. It’ll be nice to get a break from the outward-facing part of that for a couple months. 

Yesterday I wrote with KK — skipping dance class — and finished a blog post. The work of compiling a month’s worth of journal entries into 1 post (aiming for under 2K words) is training my editorial eye. Someday we’ll remember this time only vaguely (or Owl will ask what it was like!), and I’ll have these posts as documentation. 


I feel that I’m gaining weight, and am trying not to be down on myself about that. Right now I’m not loving my body (loving, a verb); I’m not giving it the sleep, veg, nature, movement, rest, that it’s asking for. The old pattern is to connect my dissatisfaction with my size, but my body doesn’t actually care about that, if my circulation and mobility feel good (which they don’t, right now). 

I’ve started doing daily doodles and I don’t know that the practice will lead anywhere but (a) what a thing to say after a mere 2! days of doing it, (b) I have to trust the process. I’m sure my first morning pages were pretty silly and yet a decade-plus later they’re an integral part of my life, creativity, and self-care.  

Watercolor doodle of a red fox stitching in black thread on an indigo-and-white blanket.


Day 250. Wow. 

I had a lovely, affirming, open-hearted Zoom with W&N yesterday as we are all getting ready to be with family. I said I hoped we would stay in regular contact, and N said, well everything’s virtual anyway, isn’t it? I said yes, but things feel different when you’re not in the same city. When someone is within bring-them-dinner range, I feel responsibility for them (care, rather than obligation). With geographical distance, some of that closeness of caring can fall away. Not with everyone; I’d get on planes for J and Y from anywhere in the world (and they for me). But W&N and I are still new enough that distance might separate. 

Week 37


Today we drive to my parents’… and we haven’t packed, nor cleaned. Ah well. I cannot bring myself to worry over it. 

I did a lot of visual art over the weekend. 

Watercolor-pencil drawing of a nude man on a chair

Thinking more about care-responsibility, from my entry yesterday — it’s not just the care but the intimate knowledge: if J were in crisis, everyone in her world would already know that I’m coming to take care of her (and vice versa). Not to say that I know how to care for her better (or even as well as) some of her newer friends, but I’ve known longer, and there is not totally a substitute for that. With certain other dear friends, even though I’d be willing, I wouldn’t have that deep and broad knowledge of what they’d need — although our closeness means I’d know who to call instead, and already have their emails/numbers/social media handles. 

Friend ecosystems, is what I’m talking about: a kind of strength and connectedness that’s different from being close one-on-one. This is why we’re so lonely right now even if we still talk to individual friends. When we limit gatherings, we slow the growth and dynamism of these ecosystems, and privilege individual or household-level relationships over the wider networks that give our lives so much richness and support. Immigrants and BIPOC and queer folks understand the value of community; larger society still doesn’t. 

Wednesday. My parents’ house.

Owl is really happy here. Being here is blessedly normal, and so restful on so many fronts. But on our first night here my brain raced. I remember a similar thing happening after the election: the removal of the biggest, most consuming stressor created space for other worries to expand.

A, to 2yo S yesterday: “Who is your favorite aunt?” 

S: “Fire ant.” 

A young dark-haired child runs through a house, blurred with motion

Thursday. Day of Mourning/“Thanksgiving” Day.

I write this from Tamyen Ohlone land. Our apartment is on Chochenyo Ohlone land, and I hadn’t considered until yesterday, when HB asked me, the tribal/cultural/linguistic distinctions. 

I’d like to talk to my family about this holiday and its history, but it feels complicated from an immigrant perspective, particularly my second-generation privilege versus the first-generation experience that enabled it. Meanwhile, as I write, the house is filled with the aromas of melted butter, cut onions and celery, and Chinese sausage and green onion: roast turkey, sticky rice stuffing. I’m only here at all because everyone in my family had the luxury of self-isolation for the 2+ weeks leading up to this one. 

I don’t want to (and can’t, anyway) impose a day of mourning on my family. But for me, knowing the history, engaging with the present, there’s a somber reflectiveness to all of this: not just the holiday, but this historical moment. 


I dreamed I was running a board meeting.

Asian American parents and young child pose in and next to a spreading, leafless tree in the hills of San Jose, California

Sending loving thoughts to Black mothers.