Saturn return

Flourish Vol. 44

Welcome to the post-vaccine/evermore era, friends. What an absolute time to be alive.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that yesterday marked the first day I’ve taken off in over two months. I’ve fallen into the unfortunate habit of hoarding my vacation days during the pandemic because, simply put, taking paid time off feels like a silly thing to do with nowhere to go and nothing of particular importance to get done. But as such, I’m now fast approaching my annual PTO cap, and my to-do list is burgeoning with personal projects and Christmas presents to tend to. So I decided to gift myself a three-day weekend, if for no reason other than to shake up the drudgery of my daily routine a bit.

Fortunately, my time spent playing hooky ended up being one of the most productive and relaxing days I’ve had in recent memory, making it feel a whole lot less frivolous. While I’ve been loudly beating the drum advocating for a healthy work-life balance in recent years, and particularly during the pandemic, I realize I’ve slacked on practicing what I preach. I’ve fallen prey to letting guilt prevent me from taking time off, and downplayed the reality of burnout, because — after all — I work from home now.

But the burnout is real; physically, mentally, emotionally, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can best safeguard my wellbeing, about slow work, about boundaries, about what’s working and what’s not. When my bedroom is my office, when each day bleeds into the next with little distinction, it’s hard to know where one thing ends and another begins, and I’m craving hard lines in my life. So, my next project on the docket will be clearing out our spare room to create a proper office, which should simultaneously help me feel more focused at work, and recharged outside of it because I can properly step away when I’m off the clock. (Naturally, the way our environment effects our habits was one of the chapters we covered in continuing to discuss Atomic Habits this week. Synchronicity!)

As fate would have it, my random Monday off involved the first Americans receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, and the Electoral College officially affirming Joe Biden’s victory, once and fucking finally for all. I listened to NPR on my drive home from Christmas shopping and laughed out loud at this serendipity that had felt like hoping beyond hope just months ago, at optimism that felt so foreign, a little grateful to be experiencing this moment in history as a civilian rather than a jaded journalist.

Monday also happened to bring a new moon solar eclipse (bear with me here), which I’m crediting in part with why my life feels like a live wire suddenly, all crackling energy and forward momentum creating a domino effect after so many months of stagnation. I had a really lovely tarot reading with a fellow BuzzFeed-er, Kristina, Monday night, during which she zeroed in on the stagnation and lack of creativity I’ve been feeling, and my overarching frustration about the fact that I’ve put in the work, so where the hell is my reward?? (Like, has she been listening in on my therapy sessions??)

After reminding me that us ‘93 babies have just begun our Saturn Return, aka the time for our late twenties to hammer home tough lessons, tough love and what just isn’t working, Kristina emphasized the need to have a little patience with the universe. Oh, and also to fuck fear, and any and all concern about what other people may think about my life choices. “Who cares what other people think if you want to go, I don’t know, move to Alaska and work with sled dogs,” Kristina told me as an example.

Except, dear reader, that this is an actual thought I’ve actually had, because Alaska is never very far from my mind after my solo trip there (which did involve meeting some very good sled dogs) a couple of years ago. Coincidence? Fate? Who knows! I take all astrology with a grain of salt, but it brings me joy and calm and hope, and Kristina was right on the money, so you should definitely send her a DM (@allinthecardstarot) if you’re interested in a reading of your own. For other astrological resources, I’m also a big fan of Sasha (@enterthevertex) and her no BS approach to the universe:

“Expect MAJOR shifts this week. A chapter has ended and a new one begins. Allow whatever gets illuminated to you this week to come in. Eclipses bring things to light.”

A post shared by The Vertex Astrology (@enterthevertex)

Continuing on in this spellbound, cottagecore vein, I was only just coming to terms with the fact that 2020 turned me into a full on Swiftie, and that folklore was easily my favorite album of the year, when Taylor blindsided me with evermore, which is now somehow also my favorite album of the year? “Cowboy Like Me” quickly stood out as my favorite song from the record upon initial listen, and still is, because it’s fucking gorgeous, but I’m also very partial to “Champagne Problems”, “Gold Rush”, “Coney Island”, “Ivy”, “Marjorie” and “Evermore”. It’s a warm, melancholy album that has already worked its way into my thoughts and dreams, sweet and smooth as honey, and I’m so grateful for it. As my colleague (and fellow The National stan) Katherine Miller wrote, it’ll be tough to someday explain exactly what Taylor’s surprise albums really meant to us during the pandemic.

Just as I wasn’t surprised to see Taylor among my top artists in Spotify Wrapped this year, I wasn’t too shocked to not see Phoebe Bridgers, as hauntingly gorgeous as Punisher is. When it was released in early summer, my favorite song after a few listens through remained “Kyoto”, an early single and the only upbeat track on the record. And then, admittedly, Punisher gathered dust in my Spotify library for most of the year. As one friend put it, “I love Phoebe but I would have spiraled listening to her this year.” Yep. I’ve only just felt mentally prepared to return to the album as of late, partly spurred on by the delightfully Irish music video for “Savior Complex”, which I’ve been learning on guitar, too. It’s also the soundtrack of my most successful TikTok to date (yes, alright, I’ve returned to TikTok because what the hell else are we all doing??)

I feel a lot of self-imposed pressure to be on the cusp of new music, and to formulate an opinion about it in a timely manner, but I also believe that music finds its way to you when you need it, and winter has been my season for Punisher. “Savior Complex”, “Chinese Satellite,” “I Know The End” and “Graceland, Too” have been running through my head on alternating loops lately, all the pithy couplets and razor-sharp verses becoming as familiar as old friends.

Punisher is just the most perfect, haunting, daydream-nightmare hybrid of a record and I couldn’t be happier for Phoebe and her Grammy noms (though I truly cannot dwell for too long on the rather alarming fact that she is younger than me.)

Also, during her interview with Sam Sanders on It’s Been A Minute this week, Phoebe compared Sam’s experience of having moved home to Texas during the pandemic to the sort of weird, limbo lifestyle she leads while touring, and I love this metaphor and will be utilizing it to approach my own current “what the actual fuck am I doing” phase of life.

Other recommendations:

Last week, our newsroom got to have a private session with psychotherapist Esther Perel to discuss our experience, both collective and individual, of working from home for the past nine months. It was a breath of fresh air to acknowledge our own humanness, and that of our colleagues, after spending the better part of this year interacting with each other as Slack avatars and faces at the other end of a video call. Whether we live alone, or with partners, or parents or roommates or kids, all of us were seemingly struggling with one aspect of the pandemic or another; complete isolation or a lack of personal space, burnout from working too much, or a lack of interest in work entirely. I suppose the grass really is always greener, even in a pandemic.

Here’s some of Esther’s wisdom that particularly resonated with me:

"Mortality rearranges our priorities,” (in response to a lack of ambition about work these days), because hello, this has been my overarching theme — and I’m sure many other peoples’ as well —this year.

And "Our imagination helps us with the confines of reality,” because allowing our thoughts and creativity somewhere safe to dwell is more important now than ever before.

If you’re not familiar with her, Esther hosts the podcast How We Work, and also the fascinating series Where Should We Begin, featuring real counseling sessions between actual couples who are struggling with their relationships, and they’re both well worth a listen.

Lately whenever life is a lot, I like to rev up Reddit and inevitably end up down some existential rabbit hole, reminding myself just how small and trivial our problems truly are and how vast and infinite everything else is. Some oldies but goodies: Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot monologue (sorry to go full Philosophy Bro on ya here), and Deepsea Challenge, which follows James Cameron’s journey to became just the third person ever to visit the Challenger Deep, aka the deepest place on Earth. I find dark and/or open water to be absolutely fucking terrifying, but I still watched the entire documentary utterly transfixed, and I highly recommend you do the same. And hey, here’s a nice little quote from Cameron about why he’d risk his life to do such a batshit crazy thing: “If you live in fear and you never follow your dreams, you’ve compromised in a much greater way.”

If you’ve felt a distancing from Instagram this year, you’re not alone:

“After a decade of being the filter for reality, redefining our relationships with our friends, our bodies, our aspirations, and our favorite people, Instagram was suddenly one of the main portals to the rest of the outside world, and it simply wasn’t adequate for expressing the range of emotional experiences we were going through.”

-Stella Bugbee, “Our Shared Unsharing

But hey, we can stop caring about Instagram a bit while still wanting Instagram-ready skin, right? (Right?) Anyway, this Biossance exfoliating face mask will make your skin feel like a newborn’s, which I know sounds weird, but just trust me that it’s worth every penny. // The pandemic arrived. His text back did not. // “It’s really settling in now, the losses large and small.” A rumination on our country’s “ambiguous loss,” which has in recent years, perhaps rather dramatically, been the working title of my memoir/book of personal essays. //

Alriiiiiight. Apparently I had a lot to say today/have had a lot to think about lately, so if you made it this far, a sincere thanks for sticking with me. Keep calm and listen to evermore, friends — there’s finally some light flickering at the end of this tunnel.