Last week I hit two milestones on Duolingo: I reached a 365-day streak, and I completed the Irish skill tree (finished all of the lessons for the language, for those who are not familiar with the app). I started doing a few Duolingo lessons a day at the start of lockdown when I first arrived back in the US from Southeast Asia and now, a year and change later and still in lockdown (although now in Ireland), I’ve managed to keep the streak going and also complete every lesson on the skill tree.
Despite being one of the official languages of Ireland, a history of oppression in which the use of Irish was forbidden by the English and Irish words and particularly place names were haphazardly Anglicised (in college I read Brian Friel’s Translations for a course and have been fascinated by this ever since) means that bilingual speakers are a minority. It is estimated that only 40-80k people in Ireland are fully fluent in the language, and in the 2016 census only 6.3% of respondents said they speak Irish weekly (with only 1.7% reporting speaking it daily).
While there are a few jobs that require a level of proficiency in Irish, for the most part you could go your whole life without ever needing a word, especially as an immigrant.
This week Krispy Kreme announced a promotion: show your Covid-19 vaccination card and get a free donut every day for the rest of the year. A playful way to urge folks to get their shots and a fun way to reward people for doing so.
And apparently a sign of the end times, if you listen to any number of busybody doctors and busybody wannabe doctors on twitter and elsewhere, who were quick to tell people that they might be saved from covid but would undoubtably die of heart disease from eating donuts every day. The promotion, these folks seemed to take great pleasure in assuring everyone, is more evidence of America’s unhealthy obesity culture.
Paired with a number of articles that have just come out analysing the number of pounds we’ve all packed on over the course of the pandemic, it was a great week for people not minding their own fucking business.
I think we’ve all hit it in the last few weeks. The reason is obvious, and so is the timing. We’re coming up on a year of Covid and lockdown, we’re facing some of the worst weather that keeps us even from our fresh air and vitamin D, and we’re reaching the realisation that even this summer might not be enough time to give us the fragments of normalcy we hope to grasp for.
And yet it still feels like there’s more to it. I’ve heard it from so many people, friends in all countries, all situations. Those who have lost their jobs and those who are working away from home. Those who have already received their vaccines (jealous!) and those who have no idea if they’ll even be on the list this year (hello). Even friends in New Zealand, where post-Covid life looks almost the same as pre-Covid life with a few more QR code check-ins, have noticed it.
Some people have hit the wall sooner than others. Some are doing what they can to stave it off—I sleep well, drink lots of water, walk almost every day, and yet the wall is still in front of me, my toes still bashing against it when I move to take a step.
This piece by poet Donna Ashworth really resonated with me the other day:
I’ve been having trouble sending or responding to messages, whether in direct conversation or through releasing them into the world via this blog. My anxiety tells me people won’t understand, but I know we’re all in the same boat. And when the flood of words comes, we’ll accept them with open arms.
We must remember that we are not alone. Although of course I don’t want any friends or strangers to find themselves up against the same wall as me, it helps to know that it isn’t a personal wall; it’s not a barricade just wide enough to keep only me from moving ahead. A wall that is wide enough to hold us all back is a wall that has plenty of space for cracks and fissures if we know were to look for them. It helps to know that we can still knock it down together.
I started this blog in 2012, just before another milestone birthday (my 21st). I’d shadowed an Ithaca College and Park Scholar alum at work on a trip to New York City and one of his colleagues had recommended I start a blog as a good source of writing samples to show potential journalism employers. I immediately jumped at the idea.
I’d already had years of blogging experience on various platforms (xanga, blogspot, livejournal, and tumblr) by that point, but I wanted to have a little spot on the internet to call my own. This was back when a lucky few were able to turn blogging into a full-time living before it all moved to Instagram (I’m not knocking influencers; I just don’t have the fashion sense or budget), but I was never interested in that.
I just wanted a place to write without the constraints of an academic essay or the AP Stylebook (as much as I dearly love both). I had lofty goals: at least one blog post a week (something I still have yet to achieve in any year so far; perhaps 2021 will finally be the year). The journalism didn’t stick, but the blog did.
2020 has been, I don’t need to tell anyone, a weird year. There have been days when moving from the bed to the couch has seemed a herculean feat, days when the effort of pouring a bowl of soup from a can has been similar to the work put in to make a five-course gourmet meal. There have also been days when things have gone swimmingly—exercise, cleaning, work, play, all sorts of productivity in a single 24-hour period, with minimal doomscrolling in between. It was in anticipatory hope of a strong of days like that which made me decide to sign up for NaNoWriMo once more.
The plan was this: Finish our Southeast Asia adventure on March 25, spend two weeks visiting friends in Seattle and Vancouver, arrive in Philadelphia on April 6, and fly to Ireland on May 8. Obviously, that didn’t happen. But we cut our trip short, headed straight to my parents’ in Philly, and spent three months hanging out, going for walks in the park, and catching up on Netflix, Steve’s 90-day visa-free allowance in the States was up so he headed back to Ireland.
￼I was meant to stay an extra month, see my sister, and then join him, but rumours began to fly that the EU would implement a ban on travellers from high-risk countries. Although I would qualify for an exemption that should have allowed me entry, I didn’t want to chance it and end up stuck for the foreseeable future, so on the 24th of June I booked my flight from JFK to Dublin for just a few days later, and on the 28th I was off. This is what it was like to fly internationally during the pandemic.