The Small Joy of Cake. 2020 Edition.
Updated: Mar 14, 2021
Note: This is not a blog about health or health coaching. It's my 2020 story that I am choosing to share here. ps. it's long.
Every day, for the last 6 days I’ve experienced a slice of joy. It’s been that long since I received a chocolate cake in the mail that far surpasses any associations you might be having right now when thinking about cake. It’s a Brooklyn Blackout Cake from Ovenly, one of my favorite bakeries from our old neighborhood in Greenpoint. It must weigh about 6lbs at least. It’s almost black in color and has a taste that I can’t quite pinpoint. But paired with a quality glass of milk; it’s a dream come true. It was sent overnight delivery for Christmas, and I’ve been chipping away at it as we head towards New Years. I’ve never eaten a large piece of cake for this many days consecutively. It’s a strange experiment. I have 4 more slices to go. I feel like Morgan Spurlock in Super Size Me, like...where is this all going? Will my pants still fit by New Year’s Day? But who am I kidding. It’s 2020. I haven’t worn real pants, you know, the outdoor fit-for-public-consumption kind, for months. If I’m still sitting here, eating cake, with Ovenly set to recurring delivery, in March 2021, it will be a full year of no real pants. This isn’t a complaint. It’s just fact. 2020 will not only be remembered by some as the lost year, it will also be known as the year America gave up on pants.
As I reflect on my current state and life choices from my full stretch, full comfort, indoor-only sweatpants, I am struck by the unique nature of this past year. For me it’s been a 365-day challenge that started before Covid and continues to offer surprises. Fully ensuring that I remain in a constant fight or flight mode with a seemingly never-ending interruption of crossroads where I must make hard choices. As someone who finds happiness in the equilibrium of regularity, 2020 has no safe spaces, places or faces. For the first time in my existence, I’ve struggled to find those small slices of Brooklyn Blackout Cake-type joy usually hidden throughout everyday life.
Prior to the cake’s arrival, the last time I really felt joy was a euphoric, deep-feeling-sense-of-peace type joy. It was early afternoon on Sunday, March 15, 2020. I was laying on a driveway, looking up at the sky. Eyes closed, warmed by the sun on an unusually warm spring day, just the sounds of the birds, the peeping frogs waking from winter and a feeling of deep deep peace. I’m not a driveway napper, so this position, body to driveway, is not my normal pose.
Just 5 days prior, Kyle and I spent the day deciding whether or not he should be getting on a plane and going to San Francisco for a workshop the following day. Covid had been looming in the shadows for months and had finally arrived. After much discussion, Kyle concluded that no, he would not be going, travel wasn’t safe or ethical at that moment. Little did we know that that was just the first of many decisions yet to come.
When I met Kyle, we just clicked. It was the kind of click, that even if I didn’t want it to click, it clicked. Undeniable clicking. I knew he was someone I could spend my life with. We are usually on the same page when it comes to minor and major life choices. Our three-legged race of contractual, eternal commitment hasn’t been without pause and discussion, but having the right co-pilot simplifies the challenges. We slow down when needed, we talk, legs still tied together, and we pick up the pace when necessary. People always ask me if we fight. The answer really is no, or not yet anyway.
Years ago, on a trip to Puerto Rico, while driving in the car (isn’t that where all vacation disagreements happen?), Kyle asked me to look at his phone and pick some music we could listen to. Reading things in the car makes me feel car sick (and for the record, I said this out loud), and so I did a quick scan of his endless list of songs and tapped one of the first songs I saw. I don’t remember what song it was. Although my choices were limited to Kyle’s music list, so clearly, he valued all of these songs at one time or another. But he was incensed that I didn’t give it some thought before choosing. It was not, as he called it, “a thoughtful music choice”. I thought this was funny. Kyle did not. He unplugged the phone and announced that if I wasn’t going to make a thoughtful choice, we wouldn’t listen to any music. The ride was silent after that. This did not color the pages of our future together, but it is the one fight that I can remember.
I woke up on Thursday, March 12th before my alarm. I was set to wake up at my usual 5:15am, so I could jump up, brush my teeth and drink some H20 before walking across the street with Kyle, to our studio, for 6am class. I’ve always been a wake and go type person. I don’t need time to shake off the sleepies. My alarm goes off and I go from zero-to-Alexa in one beep of the alarm. But that morning was different. I hadn’t slept well, and I don’t think Kyle had either. My mind was clouded with the feeling of Covid’s impending arrival in New York City. I was restless. Kyle was already awake, so I ignored my usual rule of staying in bed with my eyes closed until I hear the alarm, and staggered out into the living room. It was 4:45am. Kyle was sitting on the couch looking at his phone. His eyes met mine. He said, “Tom Hanks has Covid. I think we need to close the gym for a while, starting this weekend, and we should move. Let’s put everything in storage and move in with your parents”. It wasn’t even 5am. I hadn’t even made it to the bathroom to brush my teeth.
I don’t like chaos. Even as a child I would refuse to go to parades because it was just too much. Too many people, too many noises, it was all just so out of control. As an adult this makes me a planner. I try to plan things out to avoid the stress that lack of planning creates. I’m usually the person that shows up prepared for things, thinking of everything in advance that has the potential to make me uncomfortable. I arrive 2+ hours early to airports. I’m the person who brings handwarmers, snack bars, band aids, Advil….just in case. It can be exhausting sometimes but it keeps the anxiety at bay. So you can imagine how I handle moving. I’ve lived in 6 places in NYC since 2011. I know how to move. I have a plan. I am calm. I am a machine. I’ve been known to unpack 48 boxes in 24 hours just to reestablish some sense of normalcy. But the thought of sudden move, an unplanned move, an un-alexa-ified move, at 4:45am with unbrushed teeth was simply obscene. My heart started to race as I got into planning mode, frustrated by the fact that it was still pre-5am and I couldn’t even start making phone calls to line everything up for at least another 4 hours. I brushed my teeth and headed over to the gym with Kyle for our 6am class.
We started Movement Brooklyn in December of 2017. We weren’t the people who had a grand plan, saved up all of our money and opened a business (those wise people!). I casually looked at some commercial space online, and a couple of months later, using our wedding money to fund it, we opened our place. Kyle taught all of the classes and I did everything else. It was a full-time job for everyone involved. There were highs and lows, but just as 2020 was starting, our business was taking off. Every week new members were joining. We started worrying that we would need to find a bigger space. Commercial real estate in NYC is so expensive that the problem becomes, I need more space because the business is growing, but if my rents quadruples with the new space, can I afford to keep it going? This is why all of the small stores and hidden gems of NYC have been lost to Chase Banks and GAPs, no small business can afford it. And many landlords will leave the spaces vacant for tax purposes rather than rent at a rent-able rate. So where would that leave us? I stressed about it. But like so many things we stressed about in 2019 and early 2020, the issues became moot. Side note: I’m hoping that Covid will create fertile ground for small businesses in NYC to grow and bring back some of the interesting experiences that once made NYC so great.
Along with the business stresses of 2019 and early 2020, the landlord for our apartment, a beautiful prewar building, conveniently located right across the street from the studio, informed us in December 2019 that they needed our apartment back. Their granddaughter was moving back to NYC and wanted to live in OUR place. In some ways I couldn’t blame her. The apartment was on the third (top) floor. It had beautiful hardwood floors, huge windows, a stone mantle where a functioning fireplace once stood, lots of closets and was on a historic street. It was my dream apartment. We made the one teeny tiny room that most people would have used as a closet, as our bedroom. It was wall to wall bed. When we moved in, I told the movers that the King size bed would indeed go into this space. They laughed. But they didn’t understand an Alexa-ified move. I had measured. I meant business. Sure, it was hard to change the sheets as you had to be on the bed to do it, but as a result we had two large living rooms. It felt like a palace. We bought a second couch. Kyle started reading. Things were really falling into place.
It was December 2019 when our landlord told us we needed to move, but thanks to the new tenant friendly legislation passed in the fall of 2019, we had 90 days to move rather than the previously enforced 30 days. I was so sad, but this is life. We started looking right away. I’ve always thought about finding an apartment in NYC much like shopping for a dress. You might find the dream dress, but if you don’t get it, remain calm, there is always another one right around the corner. Just dress for battle, prepare to move at lightning speed and for the love of all things, don’t forget your checkbook. I was not stressed about finding a new place, just sad about leaving a place I actually loved. Although I can’t say that having to drop $9K to rent a new place, plus the cost of movers ($1K+ for a move of less than a mile) made me feel not stressed…. Plus, how could we move now??? We bought a couch! Kyle was reading three books at a time! We started playing chess!!!?!
The winter of 2019 brought a strange and unforeseen apartment shortage to our North Brooklyn neighborhood. All of the brokers we spoke with agreed that there just wasn’t that much inventory. What can you do? It was hard not knowing where we were going to live. Each week not knowing if it would be the last in our beloved apartment. For anyone that hasn’t had to find a new apartment in New York City, it’s a wild mad dash, not a well-paced marathon. Most apartments aren’t listed until they are empty and available at that very moment. So, if you start to look one month before your lease is up (seams totally reasonable), you may find your dream place, only to find out that you must move in NOW (or at least start paying now) or it will be lost to the next available person who can take it NOW. If your great fortune doesn’t allow you to pay rent on two places at once where the average rent on a one-bedroom apartment is like $3K a month, then you must hold off on looking for apartments until 2 weeks before your move date. Like I said…it’s a wild, mad, crazy, cash blowing, dash. To the victor go the spoils…..
Ninety days to find a new place, knowing that our landlord would take our place back at any time, was a luxury. I kept thinking…maybe this week will be the week that we find a new place and I will finally know where I will be sleeping for the next few years. But there was nothing. NOTHING. The same sad places popped up week after week. We saw a whole bunch of apartments, but our current place was so great, the bar was set quite high. My anxiety tracked the plume of Covid as it spread across the globe. Normally I would be stocking up and planning on hunkering down, but our apartment felt like a temporary holding cell. It was three long months from mid-December to mid-March, feeling like my home was no longer my home. It was a long goodbye. We stopped spending time with our new couch. It was too sad to think that with rising rents, that our next place probably would not be big enough for it. Covid was coming regardless. In February I started to fill our freezer with as much frozen stuff as I could. I didn’t know what it all meant, but I bought some masks online and hoped for the best.
I don’t know why Tom Hanks having Covid made such an impact. Maybe because he is not only the best of humanity, so good, so kind, but so recognizable. If the good Tom Hanks and his wife could get it, it was real and it was coming. The news shook me a little, but it was 5am and we had a class to run in an hour, so the show had to go on. The vibe in NYC during the first few weeks of March was weird. You could feel it in the air, something was off. It was like a beautiful sunny day on a tropical island when you know that a Category 5 hurricane is barreling towards you, set to make landfall in the coming days. We had seen attendance drop during that time as people became nervous and uneasy. But we still had a small group who were coming and although they seemed uneasy, they were forging ahead. As a co-owner of the business, I always felt like I needed to bring my A game to class, but on Thursday March 14th at 6am, I just felt ill with sleep deprivation and anxiety. I don’t remember exactly what we did, but I do know there were pull ups involved and I remember just trying to go through the motions, because I didn’t have it in me. By the end of class, we were all discussing how the next few weeks would play out. No one knew what to do. Plans were being changed; things put on pause. I didn’t know it then, but it would be our last day of classes in our studio.
One of the biggest challenges that Kyle and I faced with our studio was scale. We couldn’t just produce new teachers. Although there was no shortage of volunteers or talent in a place like NYC, hiring someone convenient just to fill a slot went against everything we were offering to our members. Kyle’s personal practice had grown and evolved over many years of daily hours-long sessions. For all of the certifications you can pay for in this country, there are very few people who actually put in the time. Although I am certain we could have made more money by just filling the slot, it didn’t feel right (perhaps not an ideal mindset for people trying to survive in New York). At some point in 2019, I can’t remember when, Kyle met Emily at a workshop. Emily was kind, humble and a very talented dancer and pole practioner. Emily just felt like the right fit. Maybe, just maybe, Kyle would be able to stop working 6 days a week and give Emily a few of the classes. It was dream. And as fate would have it, it was …just a dream.
After months of coming all the way to our studio in Greenpoint, to train and co-teach classes with Kyle, Emily was ready to make her solo teaching debut at Movement Brooklyn. It was a big deal for us. We were passing the reigns (for at least a few classes a week) to Emily. We both felt great about it. She brought a lot to the table and members really liked her. Emily arrived to teach her first solo class. It was 6pm, Thursday March 12th.
When we got home from 6am class, Kyle and I were tired with all of the swirling thoughts going through our heads. We sat down. Kyle decided that that Saturday (2 days later) would be our last class for a while, until Covid had resolved. We chatted about it some more. By late afternoon, with the news coming out of Italy, we knew that we couldn’t risk waiting until Saturday. It was 2 days too long. Articles from the Italians and the Chinese were telling us what was coming down the pipeline, that we still had time, that we could stop the seeds from being planted. And that the seeds we planted that day would be in full bloom in 2 weeks time. They were telling us to STOP EVERYTHING YOU ARE DOING NOW. YES NOW. It was 5pm. Kyle said he would meet Emily at the studio before class and tell her that this would be the last class for a while. It’s so strange to think that after 2 years of searching for the right teacher that we would finally find her only to make her first class, our last.
After 3 months of feeling sad about having to leave our apartment, on Thursday March 14th, sentimentality went out the door as I went into full-Alexa mode. I was so tired from the lack of sleep, but it didn’t seem to matter. I knew that we had a mission to get us and our stuff out of NYC before the following week when we were certain that the Covid numbers in New York would explode. According to the NY Times, on that day, Thursday, March 12th, New York reported 109 new cases, by March 19th, one week later, we had 1774 cases reported, and by March 26th, one week after that, 4805 cases. Within one month, New York was reporting 10,000 cases per day. There was an uncertainty around how NYC would handle this. We thought there was a chance that they might shut down all movement going into and out of the city, like some European cities had done. We felt that time was of the essence. I was also worried that the longer we stayed in NYC, the less safe it would be for us to go and stay with my parents. I was terrified to get them sick. Back then we still didn’t know that Covid was airborne, and that we needed masks. We were washing our hands….so much washing.
My hands were DRY and my mind was moving a mile a minute. I submitted about 10 yelp inquiries in 10 minutes, about moving estimates, storage etc. I settled on a POD. We could pack it, and then have it brought back to us when we moved back to Brooklyn in a couple of months. I felt extremely anxious watching the news roll in as the large POD we needed wouldn’t be able to be dropped off until the following Wednesday, almost one week away. Did we have one week to spare? Would we get stuck in our place under lockdown, having to pay all of the rent that goes with it?? The thought made me shutter. I ordered some Gorilla bins (solid plastic bins rented for moving) to be dropped off on Saturday. It was the soonest they could do, and I knew from all of my past moves, it’s the easiest way to pack things in a rush. I couldn’t take any real action on packing until the bins arrived. I tried to calm myself, because I knew that I needed to gear up.
The next day, Friday, March 13th. was an unseasonably warm and sunny day in Brooklyn. By 3pm it was almost 70 degrees. Kyle and I decided to attempt to enjoy the sun and we took our nervous energy for a walk. Knowing that we were going to my parents’ house, we decided that we wouldn’t go into any stores, restaurants or bars because we didn’t want to risk getting sick. But Brooklyn was not concerned. Most of the big corporations in NYC had just given their employees orders to work from home. It was the equivalent of a snow day for adults. Bars in our neighborhood were overflowing with people celebrating the warm weather and their newfound lack of commute. On our walk, we ran into a friend who was in a bar with fellow celebratory day drinkers. She spotted us walking and came out to say hi and ask us about our plans for the gym. I was sort of horrified that she was inside partying in a packed bar. I mean, it looked fun, but it also felt dangerous. She probably sensed our concern and said without prompt, “I’m just hanging with some friends, none of them have been sick.”
I spent my Saturday morning gearing up for the Gorilla bin drop off. I had 48 bins coming my way and I was going to use all of my anxiety to fill them up and pack that apartment quickly. The pod wasn’t coming until Wednesday, but it felt like progress. At that point, waiting for every day to pass felt like a 2000lb weight on my spirit. Not knowing if Wednesday was soon enough to get out of the city without being locked down and without getting sick. I was so tired and running on fumes. I made many flustered calls to my parents and friends looking for advice, wanting reassurance that Kyle and I weren’t acting crazy. Everyone assured me that we were making the right decision for us (although I’m sure many thought otherwise at the time) and my parents simply said, “you know, you’re talking very quickly”.
I never thought of myself as a fast talker, unless I’m surrounded by non-New Yorkers, and I then I think maybe they need a transcript. I’m generally even keeled. And I think I’m pretty good in a crisis. But this one tested me. In some ways the crisis was not sudden. We had seen the news building for months and well-meaning Italians told us to take this shit seriously. But as the virus’ spread was compounded by a lack of government organization, communication and transparency and Americans’ need to proclaim personal freedom over all else, the virus spread like wildfire. I knew it was coming. If China and Europe got rocked, why would we be the exception. Especially being in NY where international travel continued because…. the economy? My thoughts and fears were flowing fast and furious and I remember making a conscious effort to slow my speaking because I was trying to conserve my energy. I literally didn’t have it in me to form words and thoughts with so much to do and so little sleep. So, I was genuinely confused when my parents commented on my cadence. I was speaking slowly, right?
It was around 8am on Saturday morning. Kyle was going over to the studio to get some training it. It seems like a strange choice looking back on it now, but until the Gorilla bins arrived for the packing there was really nothing for us to do. Moments after Kyle walked out the door, I could hear him chatting in the hallway with some of our building-mates. I was still in my robe, but I went out there to join them anyway. I figured; times of stress bring us together in commiseration. And I needed to commiserate.
I got my robe from one of Kyle’s clients as a wedding gift. It is SUPER soft, and it has my initials on it. As the story goes, Kyle’s client was friends with Katy Parry (one of my favs! I’ve been to two of her shows, solo). Katy had given this brand of robe out to all of her friends as Christmas gifts the year before. So not only was my robe soft, it was practically a gift from Katy herself!! With all of the changes over the past year, the robe has stayed with me. Given the materials, she can be a bit hot as times, but mostly she is comforting.
I came down the stairs of our building in my robe, which was a first. To my shock, our neighbor, who was chatting with Kyle in the hallway, was also in her robe. Two robes in one hallway? This was a new level of comfort. Her husband is in the FDNY, so we were asking her about his take on whether NYC would get locked down and what that would mean. She thought there was a chance that it would happen within the next few days. My POD wasn’t coming for four days. The robe started to feel hot.
As it turns out, the girl who needed our apartment, the original reason for our needing to move, was currently living in a basement studio in our building, waiting for us to eventually find a place. Her husband was still in DC, but she was also worried about an impending lockdown, so she had convinced him to pack up and come to NYC that day. He would be arriving that night with a U-Haul. My mind raced, looking for the fastest way out of NYC. What if he added me as a driver to his truck, changed the drop off location and we took his truck the following day to my parents’ house? She didn’t object. The mission was set in motion. At this point, I was drenched in sweat. The robe was like a wet blanket.
I spent the next hour rearranging my plans. I cancelled the POD and arranged for movers to come the following day and take our stuff to storage. I’m still amazed that they could do a move on such short notice and on a weekend! We would use the U-Haul to take our personal items, some stuff from the studio and ourselves to my parents’ house the very next day. The Gorilla bins came at noon. Kyle and I spent the next 9 hours packing up every inch of that apartment. It’s amazing what you can do when you have to. Pack up your whole life in 9 hours? Totally do-able, just don’t forget to hydrate. When the movers came the next day at 7am, they said we were some of the most organized packers they’d seen. Maybe they say that to everyone ;)
Even though I knew we would be moving in the next 24 hours and that we would most likely make it out of NYC, my brain bombarded me with thoughts of a sudden lockdown announcement just as we had packed the truck. Although every step was one step closer to accomplishing the mission, I was walking on eggshells, terrified that our choices would evaporate before we could make them.
By noon on Sunday March 15th, our whole lives were packed up and on their way to storage. To this day, I don’t even know where the storage was. I forgot to ask. And at that point, it was not my biggest concern. Kyle collected some items from the studio and filled the U-Haul with our immediate personal items. I had a feeling that the pandemic would be much longer than 2 weeks as originally stated, so brought my summer clothes. To this day, I’m happy I took what I did. Even though I hadn’t slept, or really eaten in days, and I was running on adrenaline, my mind was oddly clear. I found the focus to think ahead and take what I knew we would need. My desire to be in control and avoid chaos really came through for me.
I remember standing on our stoop, saying goodbye to our building-mates, not knowing what was coming down the pipeline and thinking, I don’t know when I last washed my hair. As a committed Herbal Essences user, I’m big on fresh smelling hair, so this kind of neglect was unprecedented. It was so strange, wandering around in a tired haze, unwashed hair, dry hands on a beautiful sunny day. People passed us on the sidewalk, probably wondering if we were fleeing NYC or just doing your average in town move. As I waited for Kyle to bring the truck around, I saw a couple moving into the building across the street. It was a rare single-family house that they had purchased, although it was in need of major repairs. I chatted with the uber driver who dropped them off. He said they were going to live in the one room at the back that they had apparently fixed up and would work on the rest of the house while they lived there. I so desperately wanted to ask them what they thought was going to happen and why they chose this time to move into that house.
Soon we were in the truck and on the road. A little over 72 hours after Tom Hanks announced he had Covid, we had no apartment, our furniture was on its way to somewhere, and we were blindly driving one hour north to Westchester to move back into my childhood home with my parents. I felt a wash of fatigue pass over me, tempting me to indulge it. But I wasn’t ready to relax, we still needed to complete the mission. Get this truck out of the city. As soon as we hit the familiar highways outside of the city, a few layers of tension released inside me. I could see the finish line. I was almost giddy. 55 minutes later, in what would be the fastest commute from Brooklyn to Katonah, not to mention that we were in a truck and had to take the least efficient route, we made it.
Kyle parked the truck. I went inside the house to drink some water and then wandered back outside in a haze. My parents were out on a walk. All was quiet. It was warm, slightly humid and sunny. The kind of day that reminds you that spring has sprung, and summer is coming. The air smelled fresh and sweet. My stomach growled from lack of food. Physical exhaustion from packing compounded by not sleeping or eating made me feel like I was in a strange state of dream. I could hear the chorus of newly active frogs peeping in the swamp. There were no people, no sounds of traffic. We had accomplished the mission. I indulged the fatigue that had been waiting to engulf me. I needed to feel the ground support me, I needed to know that it was real. So, I laid down in the driveway. No blanket, no chair, no fuss, I just laid down, looked at the sky and listened to the sounds. Finally feeling like I could call off the adrenaline soldiers who had been keeping me going for the last week, I took a deep breath and allowed my body to relax. I knew I would never forget that moment of elation, relief and a deep sense of peace. There was a joy that came with that moment and it can’t be reached through an intentional course of action. It wasn’t a happiness and fireworks joy, it’s was a joy that comes with sprinting from a predator and finding euphoria when you’ve found a place to hide, knowing that the future is uncertain but for that moment, you are safe.
Moments later, my eyes fluttered open to the sounds of my parents’ calling my name as they saw me lying in the driveway as they returned from their walk. For obvious reasons they were confused. I sat up. I tell them I’m okay. I made it home.
It’s hard to believe but it’s been almost one year since Tom Hanks got sick and I laid down in the driveway. I don’t have any answers, but I am proud of the quick decisions that Kyle and I made and grateful to all of the people and companies (landlords, service providers, movers, friends, MY FAMILY) that helped us navigate an uncharted space. Covid has taken many lives and livelihoods, so I will hold on to even the smallest pockets of joy that I can find, while I can find them, even if that means ordering another Brooklyn Blackout Cake. I raise my glass of milk to 2021 and sincerely hope that this year will be different.