Of Pandemic Pause and Reflection

When I opened the email on Elemental’s call for Pandemic Reflections, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to summarize the emotional load of 2020. Pandemic has claimed a lot of familiar spaces, including my personal non-billable creative space. I went to my instagram for inspiration, considering the daily dump of emotions in the past year. A little pause, a little self reflection revealed that I started the pandemic with optimism that slowly faded with time — then I flirted with depressing thoughts and sadness, and somewhere along the line picked up the pieces. Probably relatable to many working mothers across the globe, to have the clarity of Lake Tahoe’s waters when it comes to employment and parenting, but to be fogged and clouded when it comes to self-care. Here are twelve of my posts, my pandemic reflections from each month…(sans all mandatory celebratory/ factual posts as well as reviews and responses to news)

March, 2020
All the filters in the world aren’t enough to hide the reality. Two parents working remote while parenting two children going bonkers at the idea of staying home during spring break. Flattening the curve, one day at a time. News and analysis is depressing, stock market is heart breaking, and for those of us who lived through 2008, it’s all too familiar. But the focus isn’t on employment situation or housing market this time. Everyone wants to come out of this alive and healthy, along with their loved ones. Wants and needs have simplified… the new normal of our lives is pretty basic. At this point, we are looking at three weeks of this life together, and there will be ups and downs, we will fight and make up, we will communicate and isolate but eventually we will all be thankful for this time together as a family. While all of us are in a “mood” over this quarantine, our pup couldn’t have been happier. All the people he loves in this world are around him…

April, 2020
“If you are going through hell, keep going” 
It’s a rather grim way to start the week, trapped in an alternate reality with virtual access to a portal of people and places we love. War room fatigue, where the initial adrenaline is wearing off, and we don’t know who-what we are at war with, but it’s also a pivot point. A pivot point to accept that the normal will be redefined — redesigned through architecture, interiors tailored to bring comfort and safety in the new abnormal. Schools are breaking down attendance days and times to encourage social distancing, supermarkets and departmental stores are introducing barriers to reduce interaction between people, coffee shops will no longer be creative third spaces as they transition to quick service, ambience driven restaurants will redesign for accessible but not intrusive service. Simple habits as shaking hands with strangers on introduction will have to be modified to suit the circumstances. Museums, and public art installations… maybe the way we experience art will change, thereby changing the art form and underlying expression.

May, 2020
Dear quarantine diary, this is good bye as we start planning workplace repopulation with abundance of caution. Time will tell if there will be a second wave lockdown, or we flattened the curve along with economic growth. Almost half of 2020 is done and gone, and most of it went into surviving… work and life, imbalanced to its best, doing what needs to be done, doing whatever it takes to get things done. I am sounding like I will be back to physical office tomorrow — I am not, I don’t know when I am returning to work. My employer let us work remotely until we feel comfortable to return to office. But, it will be a choice when we move to Stage 2 of reopening, not mandatory Governor’s lockdown. There will be more to worry about, and I am sure it will take the longest time to walk into Starbucks and sit down with a coffee and a book. I don’t think the next MCU release will be watched in theaters on the day of release. I don’t know when I will hug my friends again. Next vacation, next plane trip, even next gas station refill seems like activities that will be done on need basis. The busy-ness off quarantine life will not compare to the business of normal life, and it will not be missed though it messes the way we lead our lives. I am not looking forward to wearing a mask and hand sanitizing every hour, but life will be back to some kind of a normal one day… best thing I heard yesterday: I don’t think I will eat a birthday cake after someone blows the candles. Exactly! After watching the videos of micro-droplets traveling through cough, sneeze and speech, oh no! No, thank you! Here is to repopulating the world and smogging up the sky again!

June, 2020
Protests and politics, politics of protest. Past few weeks, the realities of being colored and minority in life and death, the privilege of perceived model behaviors, and the heroism of silence and inaction have been overwhelming. There is a call for action to create truly equitable building/ urban design on one side, and promoted content on the other side. There is an essay about the stain on the building on a website I didn’t visit before, but the ones I visit for architecture content probably won’t publish bold views as such. Point is, it’s been about being black or white in America, but the shades of gray on display are showing the true colors of the people that don’t stand for anything. Fake feminism, fake equity, and any applicable trending label — used and discarded without any attachment to the cause. There is a strong desire to be an astronaut and blast off, but then, feet on the ground, head on the clouds is my favorite place to be…a view of what’s ahead, an awareness of where I am.

July, 2020
Reopening the schools, because only 0.02% of the children might die.. Wear a mask, don’t wear a mask, distance, don’t distance, let them die, let them eat cake. Dr. Birx probably spends more time picking her scarf of the day than Betsey took to make this decision. Of course parents have a choice of choosing virtual education, private schools that offer the safety parents are comfortable with, or home school for a year if it comes to that. But really!? Never imagined sending kids to school would be a political statement and an “anti-life” choice! Suddenly discussing mental health implications of isolated lock-down life in teenagers feels like a privilege…Orange County School Board found a white paper to remove mask and social distancing requirement from schools — how do these people sleep at night! OK, that’s enough of a rant for Tuesday morning…Here is to hoping for a better world where back to school motherhood moments are limited to cliched and cringe inducing “when did my baby grow up” moments…

August, 2020
Four burner theory is incomplete without an optional fifth burner — travel. Six months is too long to stay cooped up without stepping in an airport. The hustle-bustle and happiness of arrivals lounge cannot be replaced by hiking and trail walking. Nature is beautiful, but so is architectural exploration of international airports across the world. Missing hearing my name in hundred different ways traveling from home to home, and the depression of transit lounge thoughts. My most depressing moments have happened in transit lounges, and if it’s come to missing them, you get an idea… It’s been a year and eight months that I have seen my parents in person, and I am getting a little restless. 2020 has been a lesson in prioritizing people you love and value over all the noise… I am thankful to be with my husband and kids during this time, but that doesn’t stop me from missing my parents, or kicking myself for not making that trip when the ticket felt too pricey… Distance is mattering, but not enough for either of us to travel 22 hours in such a risky environment.

September, 2020
Three things on my mind, and no concrete plans yet. Instead, I watched four and a half movies, ordered a four-door refrigerator and an instapot air-fryer attachment. Spent fifteen minutes to figure out the make and model of the refrigerator, but spent an hour watching videos comparing standalone air-fryer with attachment. Read a few pages from a few books I have started reading, started writing a blog but I didn’t finish, but made great food all weekend long. Walk at the lake was relaxing, though it’s a little weird walking in a mask and passing others with a mask. Not much human interaction there… we didn’t socialize with any dog owners, and no kids stopped to play with our dog… sort of sad state of affairs, compared to what this place meant pre-quarantine. More than a walk, it was stranger social hour… that’s all, reflections of the day. A year ago, would have given an arm and a leg for a weekend at home — not anymore 😅

October, 2020
Over the weekend, we scheduled electrical installation and repair work, forcing us to stay home. If quarantine has taught one thing, it’s to make the best of the situation and keep moving forward, no stalled moments. I finished reading “What goes up: the right and wrongs to the city”. From Albert Speer to Donald Trump to Zaha Hadid, from sustainability (or lack of!) of the oculus to tickytacky houses in the suburbs… thought provoking and inspiring… although I didn’t get some of the NY centric references that aren’t popular. The best part was sitting down with my girls with the list of 250 things an architect should know and discussing our takes on each… we were able to hit the first forty, starting from the feel of marble on the floors of Indian temples to researching Tacoma Narrows bridge — I never knew that the only casualty was a dog!!

November, 2020
Self care weekend after Silverado Fire included hiding under a blanket with Balakrishna Doshi’s “Paths Uncharted”. Borrowed baggage and existential crisis, life and experiences divided between continents, path uncharted and path ahead — Relatable on multiple experiences, this book will remain with me, passages will be reread, and highlighted, maybe blogged on to expand my thoughts on path to self discovery. As an immigrant with life perfectly divided between two worlds, there are things I grew up with and things that grew on. I am complete and incomplete at the same time, suddenly that feels like a virtue to have the ability to bring all my worldly experiences together, belonging everywhere.

December, 2020
2020. Time to pause and reflect. Nights of insomnia when I lost people in life, frustration over travel restrictions and not visiting parents this year, losing my third spaces that define me, coming close to the dark side of people I call friends post BLM, this year has been a year of rebirth for me. The gray zone that I lived in, looking past the ignorance of friends and family over COVID-19, race and politics has disappeared, leaving things black or white. Reading “How to be an anti racist” was a turning point, helping me face my own bias and prejudice before calling others out. As an immigrant woman of color with certain level of privilege, my struggles are not relatable to other native POCs. The quarantine gave the gift of time to address lingering thoughts on the mind until a clear resolution was reached internally — there was time to educate and empower myself before spouting forwarded story-post wisdom. Next step of course is to ensure that I am involved at the tables making decisions on education and empowerment of next generation… more to come on this one, hopefully I will find the right path forward on this mission soon.

But first let me call the good things out on 2020 — Started the year with new employment, finished my licensure requirements, another year as Director for EDI with AIA Orange County, joined ULI Orange County, developed my mentorship circle, read like there is no tomorrow (though didn’t write much)… Began everyday of the quarantine with a call to parents, spent entire summer home with family (first for us!) and learned how to cook-clean and bake efficiently (so much that we had to change our dishwasher, fridge, washer and dryer!)…Mom sent readings of her books and I may have finally caught up with her writing… I attended her virtual book release and talked at the event introducing her… I am sure I have forgotten some other big moments as usual, just documenting things on my mind at this moment… but let me just end it by saying I am thankful for the people in my life who maintained relationships virtually — Your presence means a lot to me!

Here is to another year!

January, 2021
“Wiggle your big toe” — Kill Bill
I am done wiggling my big toe. It’s only Wednesday morning and the sum of all the experiences this week are leading me to uncomfortable spaces and unsolvable problems. Time to hit pause and couch out the feelings!? Oh wait, I did that last night when the stress headache couldn’t be tolerated anymore — subscribed to a corny TV channel called Acorn to watch A Suitable Boy based on Vikram Seth’s novel. Ended up mentally tired and emotionally exhausted when the series didn’t live up to my expectations. The beauty of books is that you can unearth the layers you want to when you read, and interpret based on your life experiences .. but when you watch, you are at the actor and director’s mercy. You can expect the world and be met with a globe.

Expectations are tricky — it’s one thing to set them for self and a whole another thing to set for others. Anyhow, added more unsolvable problems to my list with my pause program than I started with. Today’s strategy, I will try running away from problems and people out of control. Can I really though, tied to a treadmill?

February, 2021
Between long walks and long reads, and zoom calls for all FaceTime requirements, I have finally discovered the power of blurring boundaries of physical distance while continually craving physical proximity to friends. Last summer, in peak pandemic when it was slowly apparent that the quarantine was stretching longer than our ability to bake blueberry pound cakes, I asked my mentor to help me. Two months into my new job, I barely had time to know my team or grow business. My mentor advised me to focus on connecting the dots. Almost twenty years of experience in the industry and memberships to AIA, ULI, NOMA and ICSC, there were networks to be cross cultivated to serve a bigger purpose. What followed that advise was a series of calls — sharing my interests and abilities with people I hadn’t met before, solely based on the recommendation of the last person I talked to. Some relationships clicked instantly, some felt forced, but by winter I was left with a palette of network to connect the dots. The WIP label is still intact, I can’t share more about everything that’s on the deck, but this Sunday morning, felt motivated to share the good side of the social networking and the power of building relationships even if virtually — and the power of being surrounded by like-minded, growth oriented network. Come March, there will be a flurry of news, some successes and some failures, several learning moments based entirely on the ability to pick up the phone to connect with friends of friends and taking it a step forward towards pursuit of things that matter to us.

Point being, for the all the WIP frustrations/ rants that I post, there is plenty of positivity — Here is to finding equal joy in the journey while focusing on the destination…

Pandemic or not, we gravitate towards our interests!

To be continued, because the pandemic still exists…

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