The other day, Austin and I had a 10-minute conversation about Life. I don’t mean we talked about our thoughts and feelings, or the state of the world, or our experience orbiting around each other in close quarters like planetary moons for the past two weeks. I mean we talked about Life! The cereal. The subtly sweet squares, golden brown and reminiscent of a woven basket. The breakfast staple of our ’90s-era youths.
This particular conversation sparked when I purchased a box of it, on a whim, in the midst of buying pantry staples when the quarantine first began. It sat there for a little over a week, surrounded by more nutrient-dense options–canned lentil soup, chickpea pasta, raw cashews, kale chips. I prioritized consuming the latter, dutifully sandpapering the texture of my days to make them resemble something like a normal, healthy routine. I spent hours plotting how to make everything look and feel the same and hours wondering why my anxiety almost seemed to worsen with each measure of supposed self-care:
Wake up as soon as my alarm goes off–no snoozing!
Get dressed in a presentable ensemble!
Eat a well-rounded dinner with protein, vegetables, fats, and carbohydrates!
Go to bed!
Then one night, after a particularly manic day of regimented activity, I was standing in front of my kitchen cupboards, contemplating the responsibilities of an impending mealtime. I attempted to hype myself up about the prospect of drizzling raw chicken breasts with herbs and olive oil and baking them in the oven at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, and then sautéing some spinach in a skillet because I had a carton in the refrigerator that was about to go bad, and heating up leftover white rice in a pot… when the box of Life caught my eye. I took it down from the shelf, opened it up, and poured some into a bowl. I topped it to the brim with oat milk, carried it to the table, and started eating. It tasted like 1998. It tasted like my mom braiding my hair before school. It tasted way better than chicken.
I was still hungry after finishing the bowl, so I fried an egg sunny-side-up and ate that on top of a heel of toast. When I was done with that, I pressed my fingers into the plate to pick up the crumbs and licked them off. I sat back in my chair and thought about a quote I’d once loved but hadn’t thought about in years, from the first season of Modern Family, spoken with comedic seriousness by the uptight Uncle Mitchell: “I am loose. I’m fun. Remember breakfast for dinner last week? My idea.”
I’ll be the first to admit that pouring cereal into a bowl instead of roasting some chicken breasts hardly constitutes “living on the edge,” but the tiny thrill I got out of it was enough to make me pay attention. Over the next few days, it dawned on me that–despite all the advice I’ve heard about the importance of adhering to the habits that buffered my pre-quarantine life–a “normal” routine does not necessarily lend itself to a completely abnormal situation. In fact, for me at least, it was a bit like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole: frustrating at best, damaging at worst.
I still see the value in routine, I’m just open to rethinking what the concept of routine looks like right now. Maybe it looks like chicken, maybe it looks like cereal. Maybe it looks like watching TV on weeknights. Maybe it looks like trying to start the first chapter of the book I’ve always wanted to write. Maybe it looks like lying on the floor in my living room and closing my eyes for a few minutes every day. I’m still figuring it out, holding gently to the things I thought I knew, understanding now that the answers were always meant to evolve.
Photos by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.
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