Are you thinking of making a major life change right now? In today’s episode, Karen and Katie discuss making massive life shifts during this time of uncertainty, Katie uses a chicken metaphor to describe her partner, Karen loses her phone in the Chicago River and the pair discuss grief in crude, yet plain, terms.
Find the episode on Anchor, Apple Podcasts, or Spotify. Stream the entire episode here or read the transcript.
Katie: Hi, I’m Katie Morell. I’m a creative and writer based in the San Francisco Bay area.
Karen: And I’m Karen Hawkins. I am the founder of Rebellious Magazine for Women and co-editor in chief of the Chicago Reader.
Katie: You are listening to Of Course I’m Not OK: An audio Project. Join us as we talk about mental health, coping with quarantine and what conversations we wish the world was having and isn’t.
Karen: For some of our episodes, we’ll chat with writers and creatives to get their take. Thank you for joining us on this journey.[musical interlude]
Katie: Hi Karen.
Karen: Hi Katie. How are you?
Katie: I am not OK. How are you?
Karen: I’m not OK either.
Katie: I mean, I actually am kind of OK, because I’m talking to you, but otherwise, you know, state of the world, not OK.
Karen: Not OK. Of Course I’m Not OK.
Katie: But yes, I’m very happy to be recording yet another episode of our wonderful non-podcast podcast.
Karen: Exactly. Our audio project.
Katie: Our audio project.
Karen: Which Spotify is calling a podcast, but we all know the truth.
Katie: Yes. We know the truth and we will eventually graduate to podcast level. And we will tell all of you listeners when that happens. We will make a big ol’ splash, a podcast splash.
Karen: Oh no, don’t say the word splash.[musical interlude]
Karen: RIP, by the way, everyone, my cell phone, which I, this week, dropped in the Chicago River. That happened.
Katie: That happened. Can you take us through that experience a little bit, Karen? Because I would just love to know how this happened.
Karen: OK. Real quick, shoutout to Chicago Electric Boat Company or whatever they’re called that lets yahoos, random yahoos, rent drivable boats on the river. I went with a few coworkers and they have big enough boats, it’s like a big donut, and you can social distance on the donut. We were so excited. We got this coupon cause we went on a Tuesday night. As we were getting on the boat, I dropped my phone into the river.
And so, as I was telling you earlier, everyone was marveling about how calm I was, but I just thought, of course my cell phone has fallen into the river and sunk like a stone, by the way, like the person, shoutout Keegan, thank you so much for trying to help me get my phone. But I mean, it was just like: surface, gone. And thank God for T-Mobile cell phone insurance. I have a replacement phone, but that was my week. I’ve been out of my house five times in five months. And of course during one of them, I dropped my phone in the river.
Katie: Oh, I’m sorry.
Karen: In the river. What?
Katie: Yeah. It’s not really like, you’re going to jump in. I’ve done some kayaking in the Chicago River and it’s not, you know, crystal clear blue. So it’s OK, I mean, it’s a very beautiful place, but not exactly swimming excitement worthy.
Karen: I am, you know what? I loved my cell phone, but it did not occur to me for even a split second to like try to retrieve it. It was just gone.
Katie: Oh no. One second, it’s just gone.
Karen: It was a beautiful trip, though. We left from Belmont and Rockwell, for those of you in Chicago, and went south to North Avenue, there was like one other boat out there and it was so fun and beautiful and serene. And the river may require a sacrifice of you, is all I’m saying. Like you just may end up having to sacrifice some of your technology in order for the beauty to happen for you.
Katie: There you go. And also it’s kind of like you had a disconnected experience, so maybe you were able to enjoy the birds chirping and the lapping of water more. I don’t know. Maybe I’m being a little bit too Pollyanna about this. Cause I’d be pretty pissed if I lost my phone, I’ll be honest.
Karen: I did have to take things in more. And I will, I have to say, my very tech-savvy coworkers had a Bluetooth speaker with us and, we were playing a playlist and then we all started adding to it phone-related songs, as an ode to my phone. And I got to say, Lizzo’s “Where the hell my phone?” really just lands for me totally differently now.
Katie: Oh, hell yes.[musical interlude]
Katie: But I’m really excited about today’s topic, Karen. I think it’s amazing. Do you want to explain?
Karen: OK. So let’s see if I can explain. So I feel like you and I are both, you especially, so I’m going to let you go first, are like at kind of a crossroads in different parts of our lives, and are trying to decide if now is the right time, as we’re recording the last day in July, is, does it make sense to make big decisions now? Like does it make sense to change course at all from what we’re doing right now?
Katie: Yes. That’s the topic.
Karen: Uncertainty. Coping with uncertainty in quarantine.
Katie: Yes. So I will pick that right up because for those listeners that don’t know, so I live in the San Francisco Bay area and I have on and off for 16 years and I love it here. It’s my home. I’m from Michigan originally, but I moved here when I was 22 and it’s just, I’ve grown up here. I have a huge community here and it’s really home for me. There’s always been this nagging issue though, which is the affordability of homes here that is just, for my income bracket and the income bracket of my partner and I, we will never be able to afford a home here, like maybe in our 60s, fingers crossed, but like, it’s just, it’s just not a thing. So, and that’s OK. Like it’s just kind of like a reality that I don’t even think about it, to be honest.
But what has been really interesting in the past three weeks, actually, this is so new, is that my husband’s work has always been, tied to a physical office. Whereas my work as a freelance journalist has always been remote and there are so many jobs in the Bay. Like the Bay area is just a hotbed for people who are in his line of work. And so we’ve really just always resigned ourselves to this idea that we’ll be lifelong renters. And we’ve actually surrounded ourselves with people who are lifelong renters, who are in, you know, who are even at ages in their 70s who are still renting. It’s just a thing like, this, it’s not even that weird to rent forever here.
So with COVID, everything has changed. And I will say that like, it’s been really interesting because yes, obviously everyone’s been remote since March when all of this started, but it’s been only in the past month that my partner’s work has started to talk about running out leases of their physical spaces. And simultaneously, interestingly, publications such as the Wall Street Journal have been talking about like the number of commercial, you know, office spaces that are going to be vacant. And the next year, I mean, it’s it’s like, it’s going to be like a wave of just craziness in that respect.
But anyway, so we kind of started talking about it and then, and then it turned out that it was only like a little conversation, and then that conversation became big and his company decided, Oh, guess what? We are going to go permanently remote. It doesn’t matter when COVID ends. Like this is it, like that’s, we’re done. And so, I, you know, I think that I, like, I kind of, it takes me a little bit to kind of metabolize information. Like, it takes me like a few months and I, I’m not a huge proponent of change. Let’s just be honest. Like I, I don’t love change that much. And so I love my house where I live and I don’t really think about, you know, I mean, I get excited about certain things, but massive life changes are what my partner loves.
And so he moved every three years of his life as a child and I never moved, never ever once. And so this is, you know, I’ve only moved twice in my life and they’re both in my adult life. And so, so he, we were going for a walk the other day and he was like, Oh, hey, so what do you think about moving to Oregon? Like, no, just, just, no, disclaimer, just drop that bomb. Like it’s on.
Katie: I mean, it was just boom. Exactly. It was as if he was this chicken, he had all this ammunition in his mind. He continued talking for like, not ammunition, that’s not the right word, but like this content that he had curated and gotten really excited about in his brain without telling me. And so basically I felt that I was like walking into a chicken coop and he was like a hen that had been gestating this egg for like weeks.
And then he just shit it out. And then he was like, by the way, Oregon. And I was like, what?[dramatic sound effect].
Karen: It’s very vivid.
Katie: It is quite vivid. Also hens, are hens only female? I don’t know.
Karen: Aren’t male chickens roosters?
Katie: Roosters. OK. Let’s go with rooster, better. So he was a rooster.
Karen: But they don’t have eggs . . .
Katie: OK. So anyway, this metaphor completely failed. But you get the idea.
Karen: It’s so good, it’s so good.
Katie: So, so yeah, so he starts talking about Oregon, and I mean, to be fair, we actually have talked about moving to Oregon in past years and it just didn’t really work out. So long story short, fast forward three weeks. And we’re actually thinking legit moving and like, we’re seriously thinking about it. And we’re thinking about the city of Bend, which is like in central Oregon, it’s about three and a half hours south, southeast of Portland. And it’s in the mountains and it has a much slower pace of life as, as far as we know.
But, I mean, do we make these big decisions in the middle of quarantine? I mean, that’s the real question. Like part of me thinks that I’ll wake up in September 2021 in a house in Bend that I own and be like, what the fuck just happened? Like that’s what I’m, I’m thinking like that we’ll all be vaccinated. And then I’ll be like, Oh, I don’t even live in the same state anymore. Like how weird is that?
Karen: Oh right, exactly. That this all feels like this weird fever dream we’re all waiting to wake up from and then you wake up, right, and you’re like, Oh, where am I even? Yeah. Like, do we trust quarantine versions of ourselves to make decisions for future versions of ourselves?
Katie: Oh, hell, yeah. That’s the question of the year, honestly.
Karen: Right? Like, do I trust Quarantine Karen to do anything right now? No. Quarantine Karen dropped her fucking phone in the river. I don’t know if I trust her. Yeah. I mean, you wake up in 2021 and be like, Oh, thank you, Quarantine Katie for bringing us to this beautiful place. Like, I don’t know.
Katie: I don’t know either. And it’s really weird because like I have this really beautiful community here in the Bay area and I’m not able, obviously, to see these people very often. And so in a way it’s actually easier to think about like, Oh, well, I’m not that sad to leave the Bay. Like it’s only an eight-hour drive to Bend. Like even though that actually is a really long drive, but like, I mean, it’s kind of, you know, I think like, Oh no big deal. But the truth is if I was like having dinner parties and going out for drinks with people all the time, would I feel the same? I don’t know.
Karen: Yeah. I mean, it’s kind of you. Yeah. That’s such an interesting way to look at it because yeah, we, you don’t have to do this long goodbye. Like it’s really painful. Change is really painful, anticipation of the change, I feel like, is what’s rough for me. And I hate saying goodbye to people, but you kind of like have already had that. Like you don’t have to do it necessarily the same way.[dramatic sound effect]
Katie: Yeah. What about you? Are there big like existential life questions that you’re pondering right now, Karen? Or are you like, Oh no, I’m not going to ponder that until 2026.
Karen: My God. I’ll be so old. You know, I mean, one of the reasons I thought of this topic for both of us is that, you know, I live in downtown Chicago, not my favorite. I feel very fortunate to be here. Anybody listening who’s like, Oh, world’s smallest, violin, you live downtown. But you know, I like trees. I like neighborhoods. I grew up here and I’ve been wanting to move. And I feel like I was finally in a place where like my partner and I, Samantha, that we’re talking like more seriously about moving out of downtown. And now it’s just like, OK, well for us, at least that would mean additional expense. I know that sounds crazy. But it would be additional expense, like is now the time that you make a change, that costs more money, for instance?
Like I just don’t, I don’t like being in holding patterns. I don’t like feeling stuck. Like I feel like Sam and I are the opposite of you guys, because I’m the one who’s like almost constantly changing something about my life. And Sam’s the one who’s just like, Nope, I’m not changin’ shit. So yeah. I feel like I just feel a little, I definitely feel very restless and, and I’m also questioning like, does it make sense to change anything?
Katie: Totally. It’s so confusing also, because I think there’s this feeling of control that all of us feel like we don’t have right now. And that’s one part of the idea of change that is attractive to me because it’s like, OK, I can’t control a lot of things in life right now. I’m really scared about, you know, virus contraction. I’m scared about what’s happening with the election. I’m scared about like, God what’s, I mean, whatever’s in the news at the moment, but it’s like, Oh, what if I could control this one pocket of life where it’s like, what am I doing with my life? I could control that. Would that satiate this idea that we have no control?
Karen: I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s such an interesting, like yeah, your, your home surroundings are one thing that you can definitely control right now.
Katie: Exactly. But then there’s a lot, there’s a lot of questions around like, I mean, if you think about buying a home, if you and Sam wanted to buy, you know, outside of downtown Chicago, like, and I think about the same thing with Oregon. I mean, are we gonna, is it better to buy in six months, what’s going to happen to the economy? You know, all of these things, it’s like so many questions.[musical interlude]
Karen: I, you know, I don’t know a lot of people making, actually I know a lot of people around Chicago who have moved into different neighborhoods. I have a couple, I have one friend, oh no, I have two friends who have bought new places during this time. I know a lot of people in big cities who have fled, like, for the hills. Like my friend who lives in Manhattan is in North Carolina, another friend, her roommate moved to South Carolina. Like I feel like people decided they were going to quote unquote, I’m making air quotes, ride out the quarantine with their parents or somewhere where they could get a lot of space or somewhere where there was fresh air. And I feel like I envy those people who kind of anticipated that this was not going to be like a two-month thing.
Katie: Oh my gosh, I was definitely not that person. Like that’s, no, I was like, Oh, this, I have, I looked at my journal the other day, and I was like, Oh, it’s day 17. That’s, It’s so crazy that California is going to be under lockdown for two more weeks. I’m like two more weeks? Like try two years! It’s like, I, yeah. I don’t think I could have handled that if someone had told me that at the time though, I had a hard time digesting what the enormity of the situation.
Karen: I, I have the same problem. And I’m trying to remember when, from when I turned that corner of realizing like, yeah, like the, so I work for the Chicago Reader and we did this series called the Stay at Home Chronicles, and we numbered the days.
Karen: Up until like maybe day 95. And then we were supposed to be moving into this next phase. Right. So we stopped doing it, but I, I, maybe it was May for me when I realized like, Oh no, we’re done. Maybe it was, I feel like as the Chicagoan, and it was probably the realization that we weren’t going to have summer, like, you tolerate the weather in Chicago, the other nine months for this, for the amazingness of the Chicago summer. And I think it was that realization like, Oh yeah, no, we’re not, all of those things we all look forward to? We’re just not doing that this year. I think maybe that was it for me. Like, oh shit.[musical interlude]
Katie: You know, it’s interesting. The other day I was listening to, or I was reading the Wall Street Journal and there was an article that was an excerpt from a book by this author named Bruce Feiler. And he wrote this book, and the book is called Life is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age. And it’s interesting because it kind of relates to our conversation where he talks about how in generations it’s been like, throughout generations change has always been a constant of course, but it’s been very different if you compare, let’s say the Great Generation to what you, and I think identify with is Gen X. And so, I mean, I’m definitely on the border of Gen X / Millennial, but I definitely think that, I’m, as you know, in my heart, I’m more Gen X than anything. No offense to Millennials listening, but, um, but yeah, I just, I feel like I moved that direction.
But I was reading this and it was interesting because it talked about how, you know, enormous change in people’s lives up until like the 70s really, maybe 80s were just, it was all based on prescribed things like, Oh, you’re going to move jobs or maybe you’ll move, you know, houses once or twice in your life or you’ll have a child or you’ll get married or whatever.
And there were only a few like specifically with the older generations, like the Baby Boomers and the Great Generation. They didn’t actually change jobs very often. So those changes didn’t happen very often, but now it’s so common to change jobs, you know, every 18 months that it’s like, these changes are happening constantly. But one thing, one important distinction was he was talking, he also mentioned something called the, he calls life quakes, like earthquakes, but life quakes. And he said that there are maybe five of those in your life. And they’re enormous. I mean, it’s pretty self explanatory what they are, but they’re huge disruptors. And like, they are like a divorce or a death of a loved one that’s was really close to you. And usually what happens is there’s a lot of support around like, you know, if you have, if there is a death, then there’s going to be a funeral.
If there is a divorce, like hopefully you can get into, you know, a situation with your friends that you feel supported. But it’s very, very rare, like to not have, other people who are not going through that. So like, I guess it’s a double negative for basically what’s now happening with COVID is it all of us are going through a life quake at the exact same time, which actually has never truly happened. I guess you could say maybe World War II, but like, you know, there’s an example of like all New Yorkers going through a life quake with 911. And like, that makes sense. But like, I think it’s just so interesting because whatever the world is going to look like, but also what our own decision making is going to look like on the other side of this feels like it’s just so hard to grasp or know what that’s going to look like, because we’re all going through this thing simultaneously.
Karen: Exactly. That no one has, again, that no one has any control over. And that is impacting every element of all of our lives. It’s like, I can’t think of any part of my life that is not impacted by this. In some way.
Katie: No nothing. And it’s like, like every part. Yeah, for sure. And I think one of the things was he had, he was on the Today Show and he gave like, I, I recommend if listeners are interested in hearing more about him, Bruce feller, it’s F E I L E R, but he talks about how like some of the things that help people get through these transitional periods, you know, one of them is a support network, like just talking to people and like, you know, I mean, it’s interesting to even talk to you Karen, about like this potential move to Bend is so helpful to me. Cause it’s like, Oh, I’m not just like pinging around like a, you know, like a arcade game inside of my brain. Like I’m actually able to just talk with someone like it’s so helpful.
And then the other thing is to like have rituals around change. So like, you know, there’s like a lot of people, if they’re, if you know, that actually is helpful to your brain chemistry, like if you have a ritual around a major change, it makes it easier to then move to the next stage of your life. Like some people they’ll, you know, embrace rituals, like getting a tattoo of something like sometimes like it’s like that, that permanent. And then other people have like a, you know, some sort of ritual with friends that’s more, you know, more symbolic, I guess, for ceremonial. But, um, I thought that was interesting. I’m like, what kind of ritual do I need right now? Like for all of this change that I’m potentially ushering in. I don’t know. Maybe I should burn some sage on the top of Mount Tamalpais or something, which is near my house. I don’t know.
Karen: And palo santo, sage and palo santo.
Katie: There you go. Palo santo.[musical interlude]
Karen: It makes me think of like big changes in my life. Even ones I was really excited about, I didn’t figure out until way too far into therapy, my years of therapy, how important it is to grieve the past or to grieve just the changing. Like you are, something is ending, something is closing something, you know, even if no one died, you are moving on to this next thing. And it’s important to grieve that last thing, even if you kind of hated the last thing, like even leaving a job that’s really shitty. There are parts of it that were good, or you grieved the possibilities that didn’t happen or the people you’re leaving. Like, I feel I didn’t figure that out until later how important that is to like leave space for that, even if it is this very exciting thing, that it’s like, yeah, there is a loss there, the loss of this, of who you were before, what your life was like before, any of it.
Katie: Yes, totally like the honoring of that loss. And like, and just, I feel like for me, in my experience with grief, it’s like just allowing some open space for that because grief is a squiggly little motherfucker. Like I like, it’s like, at least in my experience, it’s like, it comes up in the weirdest ways and it’s, you can’t like prescribe it to like, you know, tell it like, it’s like, OK, grief let’s deal with each other now. Like it kind of like to give it some room is what I’m saying.
Karen: I can’t wait till we start selling our tote bags that say, “Grief is a Squiggly Little Motherfucker.”
Katie: They will be $29.99 on our future website. So, get excited.
Karen: Yep. Nope. Tote bags, coffee mugs. T-shirts, my nightgowns.
Katie: Oh yes. Your nightgowns that will be very Zoom-worthy.
Karen: Yes, exactly. Yeah. No. And I feel like I, you can always tell people in your life who have never had a major loss or never really, done a deep dive of grief, who are just like, who think it’s just this like thing that you like, Oh, you dropped your ice cream and you’re going to cry about it and move on. Like, no, no, the ice cream is going to haunt you for the rest of your life, like, yeah.
Katie: Yeah, exactly. I highly recommend therapy for anyone who’s going through grief. I know that’s helped me tremendously.[dramatic sound effect]
Karen: This website, this imaginary website we have, we will share resources. Cause I feel like resources about how to find a therapist because I think that’s what stops a lot of people.That they don’t know how to do it. I mean, there are a million reasons that people don’t go to therapy, but I think one of them is like, unless it’s like court-mandated, how do you even find a therapist? How do you know you have a good one? If you have a bad experience with one, with one, do you then just decide therapy’s not for you? Like, no, you just had a shitty experience with somebody, you should move on and keep trying.
Katie: Yes. Yes. Yes. I do think that that should be on our website, I completely agree with you. I also think that potentially doing an entire episode about therapy would be amazing. Cause I just, I know both of us really embrace that part of our lives and yeah. I mean, I think to wrap up on this whole idea of like how to navigate uncertainty like that, we are kind of dealing with right now with COVID I would say therapy is A Number One. Like that’s, you know, like, I mean, I’m, I’m on Zoom with my therapist, you know, a few times a month and it helps so much. And then also to talk to friends about, you know, just like the whole soup that we’re in right now.
Karen: Absolutely. Yeah, no, I have weekly Zoom therapy and I do feel like that like touchpoint, like that is a stable thing in my life. Like, just like this now checkin with you is just like this like thing, like no matter what else happens, like I know that we have these spaces to like do what we’re doing.
Katie: Yeah. Yeah. That’s a really good point actually. Cause it’s like, if people who are listening have, like, I think that structure for me has helped so much. Like you and I talk every Friday and it’s like without fail, like I’ll be going to, you know, to Oregon in a few weeks. And I’ll, I mean, I’m gonna make sure I have a good internet connection cause it’s just happening. And so, but actually that structure is really helpful mentally, I think. And so like to identify maybe if people, you know, are willing to try to identify a few trusted people in your life to, or even one person to say like, Hey, can we just talk for an hour every Tuesday at 6 PM or whatever time fits into your schedule? Um, I find that that’s just so incredibly helpful.
Karen: Yeah. I totally agree.
Katie: Yeah. Well this has been really, really fun, Karen.
Karen: Thank you.
Katie: Yes, I do feel like this is, this is also a form of therapy for me.
Karen: It is for me, for sure, 100 percent.
Katie: Also RIP your phone.
Karen: Thank you.
Katie: Yeah, I’ll have a moment of silence after this podcast-not-a-podcast.
Karen: Not a podcast.
Katie: But thank you all for listening.
Karen: Thank you.
Katie: See you next time.