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When Everything Looks Different, What Stays the Same?

By Annie Georgia Greenberg

Before the pandemic, I was a travel producer and writer. I had the opportunity and the privilege to create the first interactive travel show and worked with a team all around the world. We were rolling pasta in Rome, paragliding in Taipei, and hopping around with kangaroos in Sydney. To put it bluntly, in the months before COVID-19, I was anywhere but my apartment. I defined myself by my wanderlust, responsibilities, and the round-the-clock nature of working in a fast-paced and demanding industry across multiple time zones. I couldn’t have known that when I finally got back to my Brooklyn apartment, I’d spend more time there in a few short months than I had in the years since I moved in.
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The mindful saying, “Wherever you go, there you are,” is both apt and frustrating for multiple reasons. It forces you to turn inward, to reconcile yourself against the world and against, well, yourself. It’s its own meditation. And, I use it all the damn time. In fact, I found myself saying it, thinking it, repeating it, mumbling it, and offering it to friends who probably didn’t want to hear it all the more in 2020. I’m sure there was another level of irritation because, for the past year, where were any of us actually going?
What I find to be useful in this canned phrase, though, is the comfort that as long as you’re solid within yourself, you’ll be good in any environment. I see it as a dare to make peace with who I am and what I need so that I can live with the version of myself that only I know best—the one inside my head. Over the past twelve months, my life has done multiple 180-degree flips, and each time I’ve landed, it’s looked nothing like what it did at launch.
Brooklyn
Once home, I was confronted with something I had been lucky enough to avoid in my professional career: monotony. But, I told myself, this sameness was what I needed to recover from the whirlwind insanity and get settled, once and for all—to get quiet, even. I recognize fully what a privilege it was to have the space for sameness and self-reflection. As a creative who’s built her livelihood on finding other people’s stories out in the world, I was forced to tackle my own. To sit still with myself. To get right with the “me” I’d just shlepped from continent to continent for the past few years.
The first step I took was making a routine, leaning into a ritual. I tried it all. And what started as habit-building spiraled into replicating the frenzy of tasks I once knew in my past life. I baked, I meditated, I journaled, I ran, I drew, I puzzled, I picked up (and then put down) the ukulele, I attempted to apprendre French. The voice inside my head told me that I probably wasn’t doing this whole mindfulness thing quite right. Even though I wasn’t going anywhere, I still wasn’t grounded enough. So, I repressed the urge to accomplish. I settled down. I did—hold the applause—nothing. The days crumpled together like the discarded draft of a well-intentioned letter as I shuffled from bed to couch to bed, slipping in and out of various sweatsuit combinations and states of contentedness or dismay. Because no matter the routines and activities I adopted or dropped, there I still was. I arrived at the quiet and greeted myself, unwashed hair, unfilled notebook, and all.
Beds
We’re so often told that doing the same thing over and over strengthens necessary muscle, builds healthy habits, and ushers in “the best you.” And I cosign this sentiment wholeheartedly. But, at the same time, the “me” that I ended up finding? The one who follows wherever I go? Well, it turns out that she also needs a bit of chaos to survive. What I discovered to be true about myself throughout the pandemic was that I feel most alive when present in mind and body. Sometimes that means meditation, and sometimes that requires shocking myself into existence.
I left the job I’d been at for nearly a decade. I sublet my quiet Brooklyn apartment where I was nestled with my partner, and together we moved across the country. For the past few months, we’ve been living on a compound in East Los Angeles with five other people. Once again, my life looks totally different than it did just a few months ago. But, amid all the change, one paradoxical constant is my need to make my own waves and to chart those turbulent waters. If there’s one thing this past year taught all of us, it’s that there are some things we just can’t control.
Annie and the water
So, while I’m still working to hone my own personal rituals, I know that part of my larger routine will ironically always be breaking it, making bold moves when necessary, and then seeing what happens. I know, too, that whatever does happen next, that wherever it is I go from here—whether that’s Cartagena, or (more realistically) the well-worn seat of my couch—there I’ll be: the me that inches toward serenity and invites the unpredictable.
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