Clarity after the fog
My family and I caught COVID in June. It's September and I finally feel like myself again.
Some friends and readers have pointed out to me that it’s been a while since my last newsletter. “I know, I know,” I’ve said. “It’s been a busy summer.” That’s the quick answer. The long answer starts: My family and I traveled to Tokyo for the first time in 2.5 years between May and June, and it was lovely and emotional to embrace family members after being apart for so long. We did a lot, but we were also bound by the daily needs and routines of our two toddlers. When I look for photos as evidence of our trip to Tokyo, all I come up with are the boys on the couch, my dad’s Yorkshire terriers, a few excursions to aquariums (that could look like they’re anywhere in the world), and maybe a few snapshots of books I bought.
Everyone in Tokyo wore masks, and though it was impossible to social-distance in such a dense city, there were hand sanitizers every few feet, and I don’t suspect, even to this day, that we caught COVID-19 during our stay. (Our family, who we stayed with indoors, never got infected.) When my husband, kids, and I took two flights back to Nashville in late June, airlines had removed the mask mandate, and we were forced to stand or sit in close proximity to unmasked travelers who coughed like it was no big deal. (Maybe for them, it wasn’t.) A few days after we returned and settled back into our Nashville house (which had become infested with spiders and ants), the four of us, almost simultaneously, couldn’t get up from our horizontal positions on the couch or bed. At first I thought it was jetlag. But then we lost our appetites and the boys’ fevers spiked to dangerous levels. Using home tests we’d already stocked, we immediately tested positive for COVID. It was the first time any of us had gotten it, and though we had heard enough stories of others who had gotten it before, I was not prepared for the debilitating symptoms—in particular the brain fog.
It was hard to think about anything. Reading made my head hurt even more. The words seemed to float off the page. I took extra-strength pain killers and my brain still throbbed. We subsisted on electrolyte popsicles and bland crackers, reminiscent of my 8-month-long morning sickness with the second baby. Looking back, it’s difficult to recall how we spent those hours in the week and a half we were really sick.
Even after I “recovered,” my brain fog lingered. It’s hard to tell when it lifted, but it’s the beginning of September as I’m writing this, and I can safely say that this is the first time in a long time that I’ve felt like myself. Like someone who can read books and develop opinions about them. Someone who can sit and write on a word document for longer than 20 minutes and know how not to repeat the word “instance” three times in one paragraph. As someone who works as a writer, I’ve experienced my fair share of anxiety, doubt, worthlessness, exuberance, gratitude, the whole roller coaster of emotions that can come from the act of writing—but I’d never felt so incapable until experiencing this fog. I continued to doubt myself. Maybe I just needed another espresso shot. Another Tylenol. Maybe I needed more sleep. What if my brain will never go back to the way it was? Is this it?
Now that the fog has lifted, I look at my body in its default state with more compassion than ever. I recall something my mother used to say, especially towards the end of her life, on how amazing it should feel to have a healthy body. When you’re in the thick of so-called-normalcy, it may feel like anything but. We might still struggle in other ways. Stress. Loneliness. Insomnia. But my mother, with an oxygen tube up her nose, would look back on her healthy days and say what a miracle it was to simply be able to breathe independently. That the rest of us have no idea how lucky we are.
Everything I’m writing here—catching the virus, the brain fog, the lesson on appreciating the little things—is nothing new. I’m surprised at myself for letting such cliché thoughts go out through my newsletter. It’s possible I’m still shrouded in some of that residual fog. If anything, this is just me saying hello again, and a slightly longer answer to why it’s been a while. As you’ll see below, I have thankfully been able to get back to my writing routine, and have published some pieces here and there. I also have a whole list of events (both virtual and in-person in Nashville) happening between now and late October that I’m really excited about. I hope to catch up with each of you soon, maybe through one or more of these events.
(Coming up: for the next newsletter, I’m working on a short essay about the joy of being an amateur hobbyist. For me, it’s the viola, more recently the piano, and my burgeoning, unrealized fantasy of playing the electric bass. If you have stories you’d like to share about enjoying something as an amateur, feel free to drop me a line!)
Here’s what I’ve published since my last newsletter:
My first byline in NPR! “5 translated books from Japan to soothe battered souls this fall,” a roundup including titles by Banana Yoshimoto, Hiroko Oyamada, Rin Usami, and more.
“Outwardly Fine, Inwardly Lost: Katie Kitamura’s international novel hits close to home,” a book review of Kitamura’s fourth novel, Intimacies, for Chapter 16, a publication of Humanities Tennessee.
“Shop Like a Japanese Cook” for Edible Nashville Magazine’s Sept-Oct issue.
“My Brain is New York, My Heart is Tokyo,” a guest appearance on Hana Lee’s podcast, Project Between, featuring a different Third Culture Kid (TCK) in each episode. I had a blast, and I can’t wait to continue some of these conversations with Hana and other TCKs in the future.
Student Highlights! I always love it when former writing students write to me, even years later, and say that they’ve published a piece. This summer, I was ecstatic to learn about two former students (from Foundations of Nonfiction at The Porch) who published beautiful pieces that I still recall as shorter exercises from our class. Congrats, Mele and Amanda!
“A Grammar for Grief: Love, Loss, and the Limits of Language” by Mele Girma, Scalawag Magazine, July 19, 2022
“I Could Have Been Your Reflection” by Amanda Whitehurst, 1st place winner of the Exposition Review Flash Nonfiction Contest, June 2022
Upcoming classes & events:
Words & Music: A collaboration between The Porch and The Nashville Philharmonic Orchestra (see dates & times below)
The Porch is excited to partner with the Nashville Philharmonic Orchestra (NPO), a volunteer community orchestra that brings free performances to a wide variety of audiences throughout the year. In this special one-day workshop, we'll listen to excerpts from a piece of classical music that will be performed by the NPO in an upcoming concert. As your instructor, I will guide you as you come up with sensory and emotional responses to the music. At the end, you'll have the option to share these responses to be printed and displayed at the NPO concert venues. Designed for listeners and writers of all levels. No prior knowledge of classical music required.
For Youths (Teens specifically): Saturday, September 24, 12-1 p.m. CT at the Porch HQ
For Adults: Saturday, October 2, 1-3 p.m. CT at the Porch HQ
Book Launch for Malaka Gharib’s second graphic memoir, It Won’t Always Be Like This, at Parnassus Bookstore, Thursday, September 22, 6:30 p.m. CT. It’s a gorgeous book, both in the writing and illustrations. It’s about the complexity of family, home, identity, and the yearning to fit in when you feel like you’re “from” a lot of different places. I laughed, I cried, and I can’t wait to celebrate Malaka’s launch at one of my favorite bookstores in Nashville. I’ll be there to moderate the discussion and Q&A. The event is free, but please register here as seats will be limited!
Reading Between the Lines with the Japan-America Society of Tennessee
Virtual book club discussion of Banana Yoshimoto’s Dead-End Memories: Stories
Tuesday, September 27, 6-7 p.m. CT (Register here for the zoom link)
Nashville AAPI Writers Meet-Up
Sunday, October 23, 2022, 2:00 p.m. CT at Porch HQ
Join us for this inaugural meet-up for AAPI writers (led by yours truly). After introducing ourselves and snacking on delicious treats (generously provided by our local nonprofit API Middle Tennessee), we will do a short writing exercise and share our thoughts, reading lists, and anything else that might come up for us as AAPI writers. No prior publications or experience necessary. Come just to say hi or learn about upcoming Porch workshops.
Free, but registration required.
What I’m reading: I read about 20 books this summer for various assignments, and some of them were so enjoyable they didn’t feel like work. 5 of them made it on the NPR roundup (see above). An oldie-but-a-goodie that I recently re-read for fun was Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir Persepolis.
What I’m listening to: “Punk” by Girl Ultra & Little Jesus. It reminds me of a J-pop song that defined my adolescence, “Miss You” by M-Flo, in the music itself but also the way the lyrics mixes languages (“Dime tú qué voy a hacer con este feeling”). Anyway, I’ve been listening to this song on repeat and I’m almost ready to karaoke the entirety of it in my car. (If my high school Spanish teacher is reading this, I hope you know I haven’t totally given up!)
What I’m watching: “The Rehearsal” with Nathan Fielder on HBO (also on repeat - a perpetual habit when I start to like something). I also enjoyed “How To with John Wilson,” which Fielder produced. These shows play with our understanding of reality, the mundane, the sublime, yearning, and regret. It’s surreal, sentimental, and oddly heavy for such short-length episodes.
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Yuri. I am glad you and your family were finally able to travel to Japan and good to hear you are feeling better.
Love to you all,
Ryna and Naftali.
Thanks God you are all okey Yurnina. Miss you so much guys. You are a such a beautiful family that I had the opportunity and the pleasure to have met you all.
Always you all are in my prays and waiting for the day meet you again. At the same time I’m so happy you had a fun time in Tokyo spending great time with your family that I’m sure they are already missing you because I do, I miss share time with you lovely kids.
I’m also pretty good enjoying of my family, we had passed for a pretty bad situation also with my mom. Because she was detected with Alchalasia in second grade. It was a horrible sickness because she couldn’t eat or even drink any liquids for almost 3 months. She had lost a lot of weight and been without energy. God again had made us a miracle and she didn’t need any surgery because only with once endoscopy with dilatation was enough for she been able to eat again normally.
Love you so much guys, and I can’t wait to see you. Always I’m be so grateful to you for everything.
Josselyn Vallejo your Ecuadorian friend 🇪🇨💕
Sorry for my writing I made my best🙊🙈