Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Topic of the Day: Are There Any Changes in Your Life You’re Surprised By?

Marc Rosenthal for the NYTimes.

Yesterday, I posted in my Instagram stories that I’d read only seven books to completion in 2020 and they were all read before April. Since then, I’ve only read parts of books – half a book here, a few chapters there. Even books I know are good, I find too hard to get through — I can’t focus, I don’t really enjoy the reading. I used to love reading books! A few people sent DMs saying they, too, weren’t able to read books since the pandemic began, including a friend of mine who is a NYTimes bestselling novelist currently editing her newest novel. I feel better knowing it’s not just me, but it’s still a bummer.

Earlier in the day, I read this essay about the challenge one extrovert was feeling in socializing now, saying his skills were rusty. While I was turned off that a couple examples he used were recent dinner parties – um, why are people hosting/ going to dinner parties right now? – I understood the premise of his dilemma and even related to it a little bit. The comment section was full of people saying that they, too, felt rusty in their social skills after many months of near-isolation. This got me thinking: What else are people feeling challenged by that once brought them joy? Besides reading books, here are a few other things I’m struggling to feel motivated to do, let alone enjoy:

baking; patio gardening; even mixing cocktails.

Someone in my Instagram DMs sent me links to a couple articles about how grief affects the ability to focus and enjoy long-form reading. I’m not actively grieving anyone, but I guess there’s an argument to be made that I’m grieving my old life, as I suspect others may be feeling this, too. So much has changed in the past ten months and I think there’s a real possibility a few of the changes will be permanent. I also think I’m probably a little depressed, which seems like a normal response to the kind of collective trauma we’ve all been bearing witness to and experiencing ourselves on a spectrum.

So, I’m curious: Are there any things you’ve found yourself struggling to enjoy or even do that used to be favorite activities? Are there any new activities that have taken their place? (I’ve started coloring in adult coloring books as a way to unwind and going for long walks/ jogs in the park at dawn.) Are there any pandemic-related changes in your life you think might be permanent? Anything you’re actually glad to see go?

29 comments… add one
  • Miss MJ December 22, 2020, 10:08 am

    I’m a life-long self-professed bookworm – I’ve been late because I had read just one more chapter of a good book and have suffered too many “book hangovers” from reading well into the night than I care to admit, and I don’t think I finished more than two or three books between April and October. Ditto gardening. I love gardening, and yet, I let my courtyard descend into an overgrown mess with the plants barely alive for the spring, summer and fall. Even shopping and fashion, which I used to enjoy, just sort of fell off because what was the point, really.

    It all got replaced with doom scrolling, being obsessed with the election and not having the energy to even care abut anything other than just doing what I absolutely had to do to get through the day.

    It’s gotten better since the election, though. I’ve forced myself to disengage from the “stealing the election” bullshit and stop letting Trump take up so much space in my head. Combined with the vaccine news, I truly do see the light at the end of the tunnel (and don’t think it’s another train), so I’ve been able to be more like, well me.

    I’m still at home all the time, but I’ve started getting dressed for real every day (make up and hair and everything) and sort of exercising (really, why bother until after the holidays) and my husband got me a kindle e-reader that does nothing but books, forcing me to concentrate on my book instead of getting distracted by flipping over to Twitter or the news.

    It’s weird to think about those “lost” months, though. On the one hand, 2020 has lasted a decade and on the other, I don’t really know what happened to March to October. It’s been a really hard year, and I know I’ve had it relatively easy. But I hope we can all get back to something approximating who we were, at least outwardly.

    Internally, well, a I, for one, know that my belief in the foundations of our government and the stability of our democracy have been badly shaken and I have lost significant faith in the ability of a large swath of the American public to be anything other than nihilistic and selfish assholes. It’s a sobering realization and one I have been very privileged to not have seen so clearly before now. At the end of the day, though, I have to say I’m glad that I can see things more clearly and know that in matters of life and death, there are those among us who just do not care. And I, for one, will not forgive the people who just stood by and let all of this (*gestures at everything*) happen.

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      Dear Wendy December 22, 2020, 10:56 am

      Yes, that’s pretty much exactly how I’m feeling about everything, too. Even the Trump business, which I’ve almost entirely disengaged from is the same. I skip anything in the news mentioning him and have psychologically moved on from this shitshow of a a presidential administration, with the exception that it helped illuminate a lot that I was privileged not to see previously, and I think I am forever radicalized/changed as a result.

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    • LisforLeslie December 23, 2020, 8:58 am

      I’m a voracious reader but I have not read a single book this year. I read every day, but I read websites and columns and nothing that requires me to think because I find it increasingly difficult to keep a narrative in my brain.

      I should probably just read Mary Roach books as they have no narrative but I won’t retain the information which would be the purpose of reading the book.

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    Bittergaymark December 22, 2020, 11:15 am

    I actually went on quite the reading tear this summer. I must have read thirty Agatha Christie novels. But damn — it took a long time to get through the very first one. My mind keep wandering off. And that had nothing to do with the quality of the book. It was all me. But suddenly, it’s like I rewired my brain and really started whipping through them.

    What I can’t do any more to save my life is write. It all just feels like a huge, huge waste of time. And so I just spin my wheels all day. It’s maddening.

    Frankly, I wish I could become more fully realized as a radical. There are obvious solutions to all of this countries political problems. Really, really obvious and clear cut solutions… But nobody on the left is brave enough — of selfless enough — to simply do them.

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    • anonymousse December 23, 2020, 1:12 pm

      I’ve been reading like crazy, too. It’s my only escape.

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    TheLadyE December 22, 2020, 11:26 am

    Oh my goodness, I relate SO much to this.

    For a brief shining moment in time, the weather was nice and I was able to do outdoor open mics/comedy shows. It was glorious. Not the same by a long shot, not at ALL, but still so much better than now.

    Now, it’s too cold, cases (which had relatively plateaued here) are spiking, and heavens I’m depressed.

    I’ve spent the last several weekends just sleeping, ordering takeout when I wake up in the afternoon, binging Netflix, not working out, barely getting my dogs out for walks. It’s bad, bad, bad.

    I’ve leaned heavily into therapy and my therapist and I have come up with a plan to get through the next 3-4 months which will certainly be hard, I’m sure. I have to channel my energy somewhere. Mostly that will be in getting my physical health back in shape and in writing comedy. He wants me to write so much that I have too much material and can’t wait to get back onstage. I have only written a little since the start of the pandemic, but the hope of spring and a vaccine (I’ll be second in line to get it here, first is healthcare workers and people in nursing homes, but with a severe lung issue I’m definitely next), I am starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

    Paradoxically, that’s a little scary. I have gained weight and I’m SO uncomfortable in my body. I just feel heavy, with no energy. I’m honestly ashamed of it. I haven’t been writing; I haven’t been doing much of anything other than working and sleeping and ordering DoorDash. I have a pile of clothes in my guest room that I need to sort through, plus my entire closet.

    All that has to stop. When the sun comes back out in late March/April, I want to be 25lbs lighter (30 would be even better!), have a clean closet, and have an hour (my therapist’s goal for me) of new stand up material. Enough is enough.

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      Copa December 22, 2020, 12:45 pm

      Don’t feel ashamed of weight gain! It’s been a stressful year and it’s okay. If you want to make changes to feel better in your own skin, start with tweaks until they become habit. Small changes and consistent habits add up.

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        TheLadyE December 23, 2020, 1:33 am

        Thanks 🙂 It’s largely because of being sedentary and eating too many sweets, honestly. Comfort eating + not moving. I used to go to the gym 2-3x a week plus just daily movement with going into the office. Now, none of that is happening. I really, really, REALLY miss the gym which is something I never thought I’d say. I will never skip another class again when we can go back.

        I’m hoping if I make some veggie/fiber heavy soups in January-February, start a routine of actually working out at home (I bought some “at home” sneakers that I won’t wear outside), and scale back on the sweets and stuff like random pizza, I can trim off the 15lbs I put on in quarantine and hopefully 10 more than that, too. At least.

  • Rangerchic December 22, 2020, 11:37 am

    I found a book series that I enjoy but really isn’t long (about 300 pages per book or so) and doesn’t take a lot of bandwidth and there are about 22-23 or so in the series. I’m on book IDK 20 or so. That has helped keep me reading which is one of my favorite things.

    I keep trying to read other books…even tried starting a bookclub in which we read Where the Crawdads Sing but it was a struggle to get through (not the books fault…it’s a good book!). So that’ll have to wait.

    I found baking again…and have been watching a lot of baking shows. I really enjoy baking though it isn’t good for my waistline 🙂

    I’ve been struggling to work though…I like my job ok but it’s really boring so i’m happy to be working from home so when I don’t have work I can bake or clean or take the dogs for a walk or a million other things.

    My youngest daughter graduates(college) in 2022 and we are going to start planning another trip to Hawaii for celebration. I really need something like a vacation to look forward to and though it’s to far out to actually book anything I can do the research which usually lifts me up.

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    • Miss MJ December 22, 2020, 12:02 pm

      Oh, yes, we are in the beginning stages of planning a road trip for summer/fall 2021. Something, anything, really to look forward to also helps, even if it’s just an amorphous “some day soon” thing.

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  • Kate December 22, 2020, 11:46 am

    I can still read and I really need novels as a way of escape. I basically still do everything I did before except now I do it all at home. It’s whatever. I definitely spend more time actually working, less time going back and forth, walking to conference rooms, shooting the shit. I do miss that. But basically I’m a creature of habit and this has all been okay. I do look at news sites on my phone all day and am fired up, but I don’t think it’s hurting my mental health too bad. I’m not going to construct a bubble for myself or go back to being unaware of wtf is going on.

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    Bittergaymark December 22, 2020, 11:58 am

    LADYE, I’ve been doing improv shows online via zoom. You may wanna look into if anybody in your comedy scene is doing that. The team I am on does shows a couple of times a month. It was a bit weird at first. But has gotten less so over time. Some of the shows have had stand up comics, too. Or is it Zoom Up?

    The lack of LIVE applause is a bummer, though. But people type “hah ha ha” into that chat. Yeah. It is weird… but fun.

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      TheLadyE December 23, 2020, 1:48 am

      BGM, yeah, I’ve done a couple Zoom shows and it’s just…not the same. I honestly hate it. The weather is mild enough in NC that there are only a few months when we can’t do outdoor shows. It’ll warm up by late March, definitely by April. It sucks but the payoff is just so, so much better with live shows – for me as a comic, at least.

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    Copa December 22, 2020, 12:11 pm

    I also experienced the same thing with reading. In the spring and at the beginning of the summer, I didn’t have the focus to get through any books. It’s gotten better, though, and I’ve gotten through a handful since summer. I’d typically read more, but I’ll take it.

    I’ve been enjoying cocktail making, which is fun and a new hobby for for me, but my drinking has gone up because of it. Oh well! I was already into cooking and have been trying my hand at new recipes, which isn’t new but I have more time to do this more frequently. I’ve started baking somewhat often for the first time in my life — I can channel all my Type A energy into that. Never got into the whole sourdough craze, but I’ve tried my hand at things I never would’ve before (scones! pound cake! blood orange olive oil upside down cake!). I’m loving the cookbook Dessert Person.

    In the spring, I think I lost a little weight. I gained that weight back and a tiny bit more, I think, over the summer and fall. (I don’t weigh myself, just going by how my pants fit.) Outside of dog walks, I REALLY had no motivation to move in the summer. It was too hot for me and I think that was the height of my depression. In the past few years I’ve come to despise diet culture and COVID diet talk makes my blood boil. Pretty sure this year has been stressful enough without people being made to feel ashamed if their body changed. BUT, as the days have gotten so short, I’ve been setting movement goals for myself because I know it’s good for my mental health. This month, I’ve challenged myself to run 50 miles. I have ~10 days left and 18 miles to go.

    I am very sad travel is off the table. I used to start planning my next trip as soon as I got home from the last, but that hasn’t felt like an option. I think fall 2021 is the earliest I can potentially see us traveling.

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      Copa December 22, 2020, 12:29 pm

      Oh, I’ve also started trying to sell things on Poshmark. Just joined a couple weeks ago and made my first sale over the weekend. That turned out to be weirdly exciting.

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      • Kate December 22, 2020, 12:35 pm

        Haha, so I got on Poshmark in 2014 and sold all kinds of shit. For some reason, people went CRAZY over jewelry. I sold a bunch of old things boyfriends had given me since high school. And my mom had me sell some of her old stuff. I sold clothes, shoes, and bags too. It was a real pain in the ass dealing with the women on there, and there are scammers galore, but I made a bunch of money and became like a top 10% seller. I haven’t used it in years but I have like 60k followers because of that status – they direct new users to follow you, and your shit gets more exposure.

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        Copa December 22, 2020, 12:41 pm

        I have a ton of old dresses I want to put on there, just haven’t had the time yet. I was surprised something sold so fast because I only have a handful of items in my “closet,” I’ve been waiting for my break from work to go through my closet. My first sale was a pair of Hunter boots. I had another person make (then rescind) an offer on an old pair of Uggs. I’m sure I purses I never reach for that I can list, too.

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        TheLadyE December 23, 2020, 1:51 am

        Copa & Kate, do you think Poshmark is better than, say, FB Marketplace? A huge project of mine in Jan-Feb is going to have to be going through my closet. I have an entire walk in closet full of clothes and then a spare room full too (need to do a huge purge). Generally I take them to a consignment store but I get very, very little money from that – the plus side is it’s easy and I don’t have to mess with selling things individually. Any thoughts?

        (For reference, I have basically very little “designer” brands. Mostly Target, Old Navy, Kohl’s, and similar that I’ll be selling.)

      • Kate December 23, 2020, 7:27 am

        Not sure, I don’t have FB.

        I would say if you have stuff that’s pretty recent and cute, take it to Buffalo Exchange or somewhere first and see if they will take some of it. It can be cheap fast fashion but if it’s still in style and good condition, they may take it.

        Other things you may just want to take to goodwill in the next week for the tax deduction.

        You can sell Old Navy and F21 dresses on Poshmark but you’re only going to get a few dollars per dress, and the site takes a 20% commission (or used to, idk how much now), and you have to go through the trouble of shipping it. With a full time job and two dogs I don’t know if it’s worth your while.

        You’ll have the easiest and most lucrative time selling popular name brands, bags, shoes, and jewelry.

      • Kate December 23, 2020, 7:32 am

        Another thing, with dresses and clothes, I had the best luck if it was ironed / steamed, I could find a pic online of a model wearing it (like from the store’s website), I did a nice flatlay with accessories, AND tried it on and took a mirror pic. You can just hang it on a door and take pics but it’s not as effective. It’s a lot of work, ngl

      • Kate December 23, 2020, 7:38 am

        Sorry, one more thing.

        If you list it on Poshmark, you then have to keep it around in case someone buys it. So you can’t clear it out of your closet. That’s why I’d recommend doing a real purge first where you throw out things with stains or holes, consign cute things, and donate others.

      • ktfran December 23, 2020, 8:45 am

        Re: Donating, instead of Goodwill or Salvation Army, consider finding your local women’s shelter. That goes for housewares too.

        When I purge my closet, I donate to a local women’s shelter I heard about from a coworker. They’re hard to find because they obviously don’t advertise or are easy searchable, but they exist. And they need your help!

  • Vathena December 22, 2020, 12:38 pm

    I relate so much to all of this. Finding motivation to do things is SO HARD. The only thing I’m motivated to do on most days is leave the house for a walk or run. My husband got me an Apple watch for my birthday this summer, and it does help get me moving. It’s so hard for me to do anything at home that requires uninterrupted concentration because of my “spirited” 7yo. She has virtual school 4 days a week, so she is occupied for chunks of the day, but I am constantly on edge for her interruptions, whining, and fits. She’s always been an intense kid and goes from 0 to 60 over the most insignificant things. It feels very much like PPA, actually, always waiting for the next outburst – I’m stretched pretty thin just getting through the day already, so it’s hard to have the capacity to deal with her big feelings over small shit. So I often don’t bother even starting something that requires concentration because I’ll just be half listening for the screech of “Moooom-EEEEE!!!” It was a lot more manageable for me when she was in school with a normal activity level and socialization, and some separation from her during the day! I do come in to my workplace 1.5 days/week and it’s been critical for my mental health. If I didn’t have to bust my ass to get work done when I’m here, I would spend the whole time reading, haha! I am hoping in the new year to get back to a point where I genuinely enjoy spending time with my kid because I can see the sweetness in her, and not just the whiny, demanding, negative, complaining, backtalking, sassy a-hole.

    I have been more motivated to clean, at least! Our house is small and it makes my soul itch when things are in disarray. Sweeping the floors is also a good way to stay moving, and it doesn’t require intense concentration.

    I have also disengaged mentally from the *rump show and it feels pretty good. I am just going to hang on until January. Of course we need to continue to stay engaged, because 70+ million people think this is all okay – it will be a lifelong uphill battle for decency and competence. I plan to get out knocking doors again in 2022 (I realized I really hate phone banking!)

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      Dear Wendy December 23, 2020, 6:47 am

      I feel all this.

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  • anonymousse December 22, 2020, 9:38 pm

    This year, I have learned that treating myself well makes me feel better mentally. I’ve been eating better, consistently stretching and working out, getting outside once a day, taking a daily super hot bath, etc. I am also pretty much sober. I occasionally have a drink, but only a drink. I just feel better when I don’t drink.
    We have it pretty good all considering, but I’ve been struggling with depression, insomnia, anxiety, bullshit family drama. It’s incredible that at 37, I have finally figured out that taking care of my body makes me feel less depressed.

    When I reflect on the last year, I feel bad that I didn’t take advantage of all this time to make art and write more, but honestly just surviving with two kids under 7 at my heels all day feels like a win? I can say I’ve done pretty good at negotiating these small people through a worldwide crisis.

    I also weirdly got into podcasts, particularly You’re Wrong About. I’ve only listened to a few before (S-Town and Serial.) After listening to many of their episodes, Sarah and Michael feel like my friends now, which says a lot about my loneliness.

    Anyway, here’s to better days ahead, I hope and pray.

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      Dear Wendy December 23, 2020, 6:46 am

      Getting through this with two young kids under 7 at your heels all day is a fucking FEAT. I have two under 9 and I feel that way.

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  • Hazel December 24, 2020, 4:16 pm

    I am used to constantly reading to stop my mind spiralling, and I usually buy 5 books for £1 from my local charity shop to serve my needs, which sees me through the average week, this has been unavailable since March, so I have sorted all my books, got six boxes for donating, and re-read all my favourites.There was a horrible bit mid summer where I had nothing and tried to read historical books there was a very good reason I had not read yet, I am currently tapping everyone I know for books and this is working so far. I had no idea how addicted to alternative realities I was.

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  • Hazel December 24, 2020, 5:16 pm

    Solzhenitsyn and Zola bear re reading but Sir Walter Scott can go do one . Also highly recommend nobody ever reads Salvador Dali’s novel unless it is the last thing on earth.

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  • allathian December 29, 2020, 5:37 am

    Great topic!

    I’m an introvert, and while I occasionally feel the need to meet people and appreciate the opportunity to do so, I’m actually happy that I don’t need to feel guilty about my preference for spending most weekends at home, with only my family for company. I love my friends dearly, but I don’t need to see them more than once every few months and I get stressed if my social schedule is too full (basically in my case 4 weekends in a row with a social engagement, even pre-pandemic I very rarely had any social engagements during the week). I last saw some of my friends in person in September, when the infection rate was very low and there were almost no restrictions in my area, although things changed for the worse pretty soon after that. The situation being what it is, there are no invitations. I also don’t like video calls much, but I’ll try and schedule ordinary phone calls with my friends that can go on for hours, and I really enjoy it when my friends take the initiative in making these calls happen. I do too, but I’m happy it’s not all one-sided…

    I haven’t had any issues working remotely. I used to do it occasionally in before times and our house is big enough for my husband and me to have different rooms to work in (and our son, when he’s in remote school). I’m actually relieved that I can avoid my 90-minute commute every day, even if it’s a perfectly ordinary commute here. I have no desire to go back to the office and sit with a mask on my face all day. The only thing I miss from work are spontaneous conversations with coworkers I don’t work very closely with, although I admit that I love my team’s Friday afternoon coffee breaks where we talk about non-work stuff. I wear masks to protect others when I must go out to run errands, but I’d rather avoid doing it altogether, because masks give me a headache. I’m also in an area where I can go out for walks without a mask, although they’re strongly recommended in public transit and public indoor spaces (the law here doesn’t permit mandating masks, but the government is working on changing that).

    I don’t miss going to restaurants or the movies, and this feels weird because I used to love doing both. I’ve always been an introvert, but now I feel like I’m becoming a hermit. I do miss spending time with my extended family, we were lucky enough to have a balmy fall, so I enjoyed seeing my parents and in-laws outdoors, but even that hasn’t really been an option for two months. We had a fun Christmas even if it was just my immediate family and we usually host my parents, sister, and in-laws.

    I still enjoy reading, or rather re-reading. I don’t have the patience to read new-to-me books, but I get a lot of pleasure from reading old favorites again.

    I guess I’m just grateful that things are going pretty well for me, in spite of everything. We’re healthy, I don’t know anyone personally who’s been diagnosed with COVID, our job security is unaffected by the pandemic and our jobs are such that they can be done from home just as well as at the office. I’m also happy that my son is 11, a motivated student and is doing well in school, whether it’s in-person or remote. Kudos to every parent with kids who require more parental attention than mine does.

    I guess I feel privileged.

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