Some Thoughts About Digital Nomadism, Social Distancing, and Doing Social Good

I’ve been thinking a lot about birds.

Yup, birds.

There are so many birds in my area – scattered across the grass, making nests in high trees, chirping their lullabies as I take my evening walks.

It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole with Google searches like “types of crows.” But now I can name the birds I’m seeing (and hearing).

Rook. Jackdaw. Magpie.

Seagull. Coot. Mallard.

Corvid Species of Britain | Bird outline, Crow, Family poster

But there’s another reason I’ve been thinking about birds. I sit on my balcony in the morning and watch them, pecking at the grass, flapping their compact bodies from streetlamp to rooftop, flying in formation. Free to swoop and whoop as they please.

In fact, ‘free’ is the key word that comes to mind when I look at them. Our ~earthly~ worries barely touch them. They can take to the skies whenever they damn well please.

Dealing with my anxiety over the years, I’ve found that one of the most helpful things has been to vocalize it. Simply saying, “I’m anxious right now” and acknowledging it – whether in a quick, serious, or joking tone – I choose every time what I’m comfortable with – takes away its bite.

One way this manifests is that when I feel overwhelmed, I will say, “What am I doing with my existence?”

So meta. I used to say it so often while teaching, usually when there were 10 things to do at once to prepare for my next class, that one of my Gymnázium colleagues posted this catchphrase at the bulletin board above her desk. I think she did it to poke fun at me but also because – I argue – it’s a genuine, everyday, real-world concern.

And it’s more relevant than ever right now. A lot of people are asking themselves what they’re “doing” with their lives – whether that’s the newly heroic act of staying home and watching Netflix or baking sourdough, of buying from local restaurants in times of crisis and social distancing, which for many people means committing not to see friends and relations even when you really want to.

This has been a surreal experience for me as an expat, but prevailing through the fog are overwhelming feelings of gratitude for everything that I have, everything that I’ve built for myself.

I am so lucky, for example, to have already made that leap to digital nomadism, to have already worked from home. But it’s also been a new sort of journey – learning to network online, to take relationships virtual, to relate strongly to a community of individually amazing people that you’ve never actually met outside your WiFi connection.

After sitting on my couch – ahem, MY OFFICE – for two months now, I realized I’ve been working too hard, trying to optimize every minute, never really allowing myself to relax. I’ve needed to fill my cup for a long time.

For me personally, that’s through:

  • Yoga and stretching (20 minutes a day or more if I’m lucky),
  • Taking walks in nature,
  • Art breaks (rarer than I’d like – see Arabicaland below),
  • Creative Mornings Field Trips (where Arabicaland was created via an awesome map-making class by Anne Ditmeyer!),
  • A daily virtual writing session thanks to the London Writers Salon,
  • Baking (thanks to a Danish friend who’s giving me endless supplies of rhubarb),

I also realized that I really enjoy having no real-world obligations.

Before, I felt so much pressure to go out despite being an introvert. Now that that’s been taken away, a weight has been lifted from my heart, and that’s…kind of sad. But it’s what works for me right now.

There are a lot of silly things we devote time to. Sometimes they really are silly, but we may love them. Sometimes they’re silly things we tell ourselves, like “you’re doing nothing” when you’re really doing a lot.

The best thing we can all do is right now is to keep ourselves healthy! And you can do that however you want or need to.

(Including drinking up to 5 cups of coffee a day.)

Still, I tend to push myself pretty hard. I have some good days where I realize all of my anxiety and ambitions are so silly.

But I often ask myself, “What am I doing to help anyone?”

And I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling that way.

The truth is, we can always do more. But it’s also way too easy to be hard on ourselves, way too easy to be over-critical.

It helps to acknowledge the little things. I call my family every day and schedule catch-up calls with New York friends as often as possible. I offer support to new freelancers. I write about sustainability and food waste. I look for volunteer opportunities wherever I can find them, and I volunteer at a cat shelter (or I would be, if I could right now) 🐱

Social distancing is social good right now (and will be, as long as acute concerns about this novel coronavirus persist).

Social distancing also does not prevent real, on the ground OR virtual social good from happening.

From the fast rise of food banks to the Some Good News YouTube channel, there is lots of good in the world. Lots we can do for each other, lots to contribute to.

In the meantime, I’ll be looking for opportunities where my unique skill set is needed. If there’s any upside to a bad situation, it reminds us that we’re a lot more similar than we are different, and there’s a lot of healing to be done.

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