I first pitched this piece back in October, when I was planning on spending the Thanksgiving weekend in the Twin Cities, away from my family for the first time, in a hotel somewhere downtown. It was going to be about the merits of a vacation at home: all the reasons to carve yourself a little time to see your neighborhood through new eyes, to put on a bathrobe and order room service, to splurge and luxuriate a little. I was going to write about breaks, about solitude, about gratitude and generosity and boundaries and resolve. About taking a pause so that you can return to the hard things.
Instead, the first sleety day of November, I got sick. And then I got better. Someone I loved got sick. They didn’t. And for a little pocket of time that felt like an eternity, the hard things got really hard: too hard to manage, too hard to process, too hard to write. Too hard to do anything but breathe and grieve and learn to love my people in better and truer and deeper ways; learning to love myself the same.
And for a little pocket of time that felt like an eternity, the hard things got really hard: too hard to manage, too hard to explain, too hard to write. Too hard to do anything but breathe and grieve and learn to love my people in better and truer and deeper ways; learning to love myself the same.
There is a quote—often attributed to Ernest Hemingway and as often refuted—that goes something like this: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
I loved that quote the first time I heard it, in high school and finally beginning to believe in myself as a writer. Writing had always been my way of processing and at (a very dramatic) age fourteen, it felt like validation. A statement that could be as true of my diary entries as of The Sun Also Rises if I just wrote enough, felt enough, bled enough. A decade later, at (a still dramatic) age twenty-four, it feels more like a cautionary tale. I don’t know how to write without bleeding, without plumbing my life for stories, taking all my joys and sorrows to lay them bare on a page.
I’m typing this piece from the hotel I’d originally booked in November. It’s the first time I’ve started a draft in two months, the longest I’ve gone without writing in years. I am in a tiny jewel box of a room tucked at the end of a very long hallway in a building that was once a convent; then a school of music; then a suite of offices; now a boutique hotel in downtown St. Paul, with mirror-lined cloisters and velvet drapes and gilded ceilings. Many of the windows are restored stained glass; the headboard of my bed once belonged to an altar. Out of a slim window at the edge of the bed, I can see the bright dome of the Minnesota state capitol building, my favorite view in the Twin Cities. I’m wearing a face mask and a bathrobe so plush I sink a little when I sit on it; the new season of Sabrina is on the TV, I have takeout on the way, and I know there’ll be a latte at my door in the morning.
And yet, I’m itchy with the knowledge that I’m supposed to use this next twenty-four hours to relax when I have fifty to-do lists for Monday. I’m already anticipating the laundry I have to do tomorrow, the grocery shopping I need to do to fill my fridge, the emails I’ll have to send before the week starts. I’m frustrated that I’m restless when I am somewhere so lovely, frustrated that I’m not as relaxed as this bathrobe deserves. In fact, I feel a little bit like it’s judging me (I know). And though it feels like it should be—though it performs all the conventions of one—this weekend doesn’t really feel like a break.
. . . the moments that feel most like a break aren’t actually the things that put my life on pause, that allow me to step out of my responsibilities and then back into them. Instead, they’re the things that shore up my heart and hearth, things already woven into the fabric of my life, but given the time and gratitude they’re due.
Which is okay! This time, it wasn’t meant to be a break. I’m here for some time to catch up on work without the distractions of home and the fluorescent lights of work. Like a remote office, with amenities. Because what the past few months have shown me is that the moments that feel most like a break aren’t actually the things that put my life on pause, that allow me to step out of my responsibilities and then back into them. Instead, they’re the things that shore up my heart and hearth, things already woven into the fabric of my life, but given the time and gratitude they’re due. Things like:
BY Julie Zhou - January 31, 2020
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.