One of the abiding lessons from my newsroom days as a reporter was to follow trends. I’ve been surprised that sometimes these trends emerge still in conversations, even during times like these. In recent days, new friends that I’ve made as part of my extended work family have invited me to be in conversation with their students. My friend Jen who is a poet and English professor, read my memoir during the early part of our self-isolation and quarantine. She emailed to say that it was helpful to read in these times, and that she was curious about what I learned when I spent all that time inside years ago.
I tucked it away — I feel reluctant and hesitant about going back to that time, emotionally, even though it was so many years ago, now. I feel more tender and vulnerable now, even though I am stronger than I was then in many ways.
But then yesterday, I was in my friend Vani’s class talking about the memoir, to emerging Bronx writers and students. And one of them wrote in the Zoom chat, “FWIW, I think there is a seed of writing there where you talk about self-isolating now that all of us are inside all the time.”
So, while I like the rule of threes and I probably abide by it too much, it felt important to share what I think I know about self-isolation from that period from roughly 2011 through 2013 when I stayed mostly in my Austin home with my dog, Cleo. I published it on Medium since I have a broader following there, and this is a friend link for those you who are not Members so you don’t have to worry about any kind of paywall or anything.
The very first thing I learned was that there was something that could always keep me connected to myself if I let it: Writing. I blogged almost everyday. I gave myself the goal of self-publishing my first book, an eBook, based on that blog. It was, surprisingly, not a novel I had always dreamed of writing, but an extension of my journalistic work, which felt less daunting and more fun: The world had said that single Black women were the reason for the fall of the Black family, but I knew differently, so I wrote it out.
I had always known how to be apart from others. I told myself I knew how to do it best because on a very basic level, poverty is the experience of never going out; always finding a way to believe in survival, even if everything you need is outside and requires things you do not have.
But I was wounded and broken. Outside felt like the last thing I needed. I just wanted to be left alone.
I slept at all hours or not at all. I ate as much as I wanted, which turned out to be not that much. I was living off of my savings in a house that I could only barely afford. I had a master’s degree I wasn’t sure I could use, but I still had to pay for. I just needed to rest but I rarely got comfortable enough to do so.
It was time of deep learning, mostly accidental.