How to be here and there at the same time

In what I call “deep pandemic” times (in 2020, when vaccines were but a twinkle in a laboratory scientist’s eye) my husband Wes and I were in the habit of spending Fridays at the makeshift bar that was our butcher block table. It used to be that we’d host people most Fridays for cocktail hour following a hike. But during this peak Covid isolation it was just us, shiny bottles (we’d retrieved from curbside pickup in Anchorage) in different hues and at varying levels of fullness staged attractively in front of us with cocktail-making accoutrement and spent lime rinds scattered between. I usually lit candles.

I make it sound romantic, and it was, if you ignore how very sick we were of the interior of our home at that point and that after a while, even though we convinced ourselves we were making our own choices about how to spend time, there was little bandwidth for that choice. It wasn’t like we were choosing to stay in.

Still, it fostered creativity. I enjoyed the coziness of those nights. It felt a little like playing house as a kid. We were playing “go out to the bar”.

One ritual we got into a few times was doing a “song-off”, where one person would play a song on our speaker via Spotify, and the next would riff off the former song or continue building on a theme. 

Like many couples, Wes and I have developed a shared language around music. There are a few albums that characterize different phases of our lives and relationship. When we first got together, it was back in the days of that hot new band Mumford and Sons (lol). We have a strangely fixated nostalgia for an album that mashed up Lil Wayne with the 500 Days of Summer (remember that movie?!) soundtrack. And, when I was living in Nevada, we road tripped out to hot springs in the middle of the state with then-new Beirut and Death Cab albums. (I feel like our taste in music characterizes us as the once-cool-but-aging parents in a teen flick).

That road trip out to Nevada hot springs stands out as particularly inextricably linked to its chosen soundtrack. I remember that morning in December, probably 2011, when we decided to make the trek, the check engine light on Wes’s rig popped up unexpectedly (I wrote about the trip in its entirety on my then-blog). We were going through some hellacious custody issues at the time, mostly (likely) spurred by change fostered with my arrival on scene. That’s a super sanitized way of saying that Wes and I, in our still fairly new relationship, had shifted into pretty high gear together very fast and were dealing with solidifying our relationship and family dynamic even while diving headfirst into legal sparring. It was, ah, unpleasant, and most days nearly all encompassing.

The view out the windshield from central Nevada.

But, as we made the decision to head to the hot springs despite the check engine light, all I remember from that trip is the feeling of release and decompression as we headed deep into the wide-open desert. Mountains and passes yawned open as we crossed range after range that typifies Nevada in a way that is both secret-seeming and miraculous in its expansiveness. We listened to those albums that we’d downloaded specifically for the journey.

And all those years later, when we had our Friday night song-offs and one of us played a song from that particular time, we sat at our makeshift bar in deep-pandemic isolated winter in Alaska and agreed that we had no idea in that moment, at that time that it was such a particularly characterized, special and isolated gem of a time. We didn’t know that the short, weekend trek out to the hot springs, listening to those albums, would freeze in an emotional kind of amber the way it has. The point of reference for us is a sense of release, possibility, joy, and adventure, even during a time of adversity.

I keep reminding myself in these final weeks leading up to Mobile Studio pickup that even as I hustle, buckle down, move faster, and do more than I have at nearly any other time in my life, this IS my life as I’m experiencing it even as I am striving for something more. I am incredibly stressed, but also incredibly motivated and focused.

I don’t know yet what or if the soundtrack is. Maybe it’s more of a visual reference as I try to get myself out on slow, long walks in between the rushes of action, taking in the mountains and really trying to feel cold air on my skin. I am both excited for the next chapter while also enjoying these final days of this phase in my and our lives.

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