July, she will fly

I wrote this in late March as I was on a plane flying to Washington, D.C. where my best friend was about to give birth to her son. At the time, it was the rallying cry I personally needed to carry on through the uncertainty of traveling; at the time, which now feels like an age ago, it felt as though this was a temporary circumstance that would soon pass. Here we are five months on with no end in sight. In many ways, my thoughts remain the same: Carry on and don’t collapse. But it goes beyond that now. Our government is failing us – we as Americans are failing each other in a way that is both shocking but also unsurprising. It is up to each of us to hold ourselves up and do the right thing, which means wearing a mask, electing responsive officials into government, and supporting in any way we can – financially, electorally, and through advocacy – fellow citizens who do not enjoy the benefits of being white in a privileged society. So. With that preface, a post from March 27, 2020:


On September 11, 2001 I woke up to a world that was disintegrating. Like so many other people, I watched on the news in disbelief as planes collided with towers and crumbled into ash. As news anchors like Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather cried openly on TV so did so many of us in our homes – some of us because we knew we had just lost loved ones, and all of us because even without having all the information, it was clear that everything in the world had just forever and irreversibly changed. Do you remember the days that followed in September 2001? The days when our entire country came to a screeching halt and we walked like zombies through our lives trying to make sense of what had just happened? When the airports closed and our skies went silent? When we watched the news together thinking “this cannot be happening” but also what does it mean that it actually is? All while trying to manage this overwhelming suspension of disbelief and the sense that everything felt so incredibly wrong and out of control…

What I remember distinctly about this time almost 20 years ago, is the feeling that nowhere and nothing felt safe. It was like being followed around by an invisible, noxious fog that kept creeping into my brain and my heart to remind me that I could be hurt at any time, or worse, that the people I loved most in this world could be taken away and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

Fast forward to yesterday, when I found myself bursting into tears, overwhelmed with waves of panic and fear about me and others getting sick and dying, and engaged in a barrage of intrusive, negative thoughts about the future, my finances, work, and just this general tirade of unsteady wrongness. As I was chastising myself (“Jesus, Demitz, pull your shit together”) I suddenly realized that this is a place I have been before. This is a place a know.

While a pandemic is not a terrorist attack, it very much feels like one. It feels like living in fear of an enemy you cannot see but that you know wants to hurt you. Worrying about the economic toll this will take or whether you’ll be able to finish school. Afraid for the safety of your family and friends. Watching as the streets empty out and America stops going about business as usual…

Fear is one of the most out of control feelings in our emotional dictionary and it will gleefully fill in the cracks in our souls and our hearts and our armor if we allow it to run unchecked. Fear is eager to give us permission to lose our shit and unhelpfully freak out. It will jump at the chance to politicize itself for those who would take advantage. It will silently weave itself into the way we look at resources and human beings and privilege as we use it to justify decisions that seem reasonable at the time but don’t pass the history sniff test later on.

So, your PSA for today is this: I am not doing this again. Cities may be closed for business, the skies might be slow, and the uncertainty of the future may permeate everything we do for the next weeks or months but fear? FEAR CAN GO FUCK ITSELF. To all of you out there who feel the weight of fear in your chest like a bowling ball these past few days, FEEL IT but do not let it run amuck in your life. We’ve been down that road and this time, let’s take a pass. Harness it instead. Listen to it. Activate it. Let fear be the superpower we need to make the changes in the world that we must.

And if you’re not there yet, just remember that love and gratitude even when things are the WORST are reminders that we are bigger and stronger than this one moment we are living through. Love and hand washing to all.

Entry stamps

“Wow. You’ve been a lot of places.” This waitress in Healdsburg, CA is flipping through my passport, seemingly unaware that every time she touches another page and opens her mouth I come one step closer to kind of wanting to punch her in the face.

“Tanzania? Bolivia? That’s a big visa from Kenya, huh?”

I smile politely and ask her, again, if she could possibly deliver on that order of zinfandel I just put in. Oh right. She smiles and hands my passport back to me before day-dreamily walking back towards the bar, totally unaware that I am sending her stabbing eye jab looks at the back of her head the whole while.

This scenario played itself out twice that night, again at another bar with another server who felt entitled, when I handed her my passport as identification, to flip through the pages and discuss the contents of the last 9 years of my life while I sat on the other side of the bar listening to my internal commentary switch come dangerously close to “f**k it” and “f**k you.”

I suppose bar patrons, particularly Americans living and drinking in America, don’t often use passports as the common denominator of identification. But I don’t really have much of a choice at the moment. My Massachusetts-issued driver’s license ended up on the losing end of a battle between me and a Malawian cop who for various reasons (ranging from me having an expired “certificate of fitness” on my car at the time to a streak of obstinance that prevented me from bribing him purely out of my own stubborn principle) resulted in my license being impounded sometime in July, effectively vanishing into the abyss of the Malawian police system never to be heard from again. Hence, the passport as my principle form of I.D. – As it turns out, it also now functions as a passport into my life when placed into the hands of complete strangers. Zikomo. You are certainly NOT most welcome.

Reverse culture shock this time around is creeping up on me in ways I didn’t anticipate. Some things are the same, like the fact that my first trip to the local supermarket nearly gave me a heart attack. (Are you aware of how many kinds of blue cheese there are? Or the fact that a pint of sour cream is only $1.69?! It’s criminal — CRIMINAL. Someone needs to stop the insanity). But the emotional ebb and flow of being back in California this time around is hitting me up side the head a bit differently, I suspect mostly because I am having to dually reconcile that this time it isn’t a vacation. This time, I’m not going back to Malawi.

I was standing in line at Peet’s Coffee the other day, waiting patiently to order some sort of ridiculously fancy and overpriced cup of coffee/espresso/tea/whatever when I had a little mini “WTF America” moment of unpleasant zen. The couple behind me were talking about repainting their house. The two women in front of me were discussing the sale going on at the local boutique where they were apparently headed to next. The entire place was packed with people, chattering, jabbering, gibbering people. When the cashier at the front said “hello” to me he looked genuinely surprised when I answered back, “Hi. How are you?” (Because greeting people in America is apparently akin to holding them up at gunpoint and demanding the soul of their first-born child). At any rate, it was your typical yuppie coffee shop scene, and all I could think about the whole time was, “jesus, this is utterly ridiculous cacophony…and there is a panic attack lurking riiiiight around the corner as a result.”

It’s only been a little over a week since I left but I miss the sense of living life in my own personal observation bubble. When you live abroad and don’t speak the language, the daily sound of life is almost like friendly white noise. It’s like a chipper background tune in a foreign tongue that buzzes around your head in an odd, yet soothing, urban symphony that you don’t realize exists until it’s no longer there. Or you’re no longer there. Instead, you’re in a new place where you suddenly understand EVERYTHING being said and demonstrated by nearly everyone around you almost all the time. I find this incredibly unnerving and kind of intrusive. Quite frankly, I’m having a really difficult time concentrating on the internal when everything external is just so incredibly chaotic, rapid, and irritatingly “loud” both in an audible and lurid sort of way.

And as “American” as this place so obviously is, so much of it sends me right back to thinking about people or places, even specific moments in Malawi. My friend J out there always says that even on the worst days of work, in the afternoons where you feel totally depleted as if the inanity of Malawi has actually, finally, crushed you, there is always this moment at the end of the day as the sun is setting where you catch a glimpse of something bigger. When you can suddenly understand the reasons you’re there and why we all do the things we do. The sun dips low on the horizon. The sky turns orange…then pink…and ends in a sea sky full of deep blood-orange red. You are conscious of your heart as all this is happening, and the sense that it is expanding, bursting, and breaking all at the same time. Everyone around you could be talking total bulls**t but that one moment in the day is clear and nothing, absolutely nothing else in the world could bring you more peace and clarity than the site of that sky and that sun setting in the distance.

I’m having trouble letting go of those sunsets out east and embracing the ones out west. There’s too much background noise here. Too many people, too many cars, too many kinds of blue cheese. I underestimated the learning curve getting back into the groove of American society. It’s not bad, but I’m not gonna lie, it’s hard and I have moments where I feel torn and tired, and a bit compelled to hibernate from the world and my friends and LIFE for a little while I retune my internal radio settings. None of it is unexpected but that doesn’t seem to lessen the fact that it kind of sucks. 

Which is where the passport situation comes in. I am putting barricades up against the noise. I’m plugging my ears to the dissonance. I’m fighting NOT to have panic attacks at the supermarket and do normal things like have a nice glass of wine with friends I’ve known for over a decade and haven’t seen in a year. And yeah, I know you’re curious about all those pages and all those stamps, and god knows you probably don’t come across them all that often, but those 22 pages of my very old American passport are a little summary of my life, one that I don’t have an obligation to share with you and one I am clinging to while the discord of my new life in America knocks on my door as asks to be let in.

So, madam bartender, if I may? Please just serve me up that glass of vino. Go back to your banter with the other patrons. Comment on the weather. Wipe up your bar. Do whatever is you need to do while I take a second to myself here. I need a moment with this part of the sky, with these new 7 p.m. pinks, oranges, reds, and blues. Because I’m looking for that heartbreaking moment on the horizon where it all makes sense…so far, it still feels a world away.