In 2022, I pledge to take time to reconnect with my surroundings.
It’s a sunny day in late 2021, but the tree-lined streets of the fine neighborhood of Belgrano keep a part of the light out. There’s something characteristic of this neighborhood in them.
It’s that kind of old money that invites you in with its beauty, while advising you it’ll never share all of its secrets with you.
On a calm, crisp Sunday morning like this, it’s easy to rest my eyes on the city surrounding me. Not worry about dodging other people, or stay alert to all the dangers surrounding a woman in a big city. I can even lower the mask covering my face for a couple of blocks and allow the sunshine to reach my skin for a minute.
This is the kind of barrio where ladies go for afternoon coffees in Lululemons and impossibly manicured nails, where young men play rugby and young women have tennis teachers. But it’s also a place where your verdulero and carnicero still know you by name, neighbors say hi, and you feel safe and protected.
It’s a bubble, for sure. Big colonial-era houses that used to be the summer homes of rich families escaping the hustle and bustle of the city to the countryside, now nestled between 20-story buildings with tennis courts and pools housing new money, single upper-middle-class millennials, older couples who have sold their family houses when their kids have grown, young families with a second house in the suburbs.
Embassies, schools, coffee shops that grind you beans on the spot, a couple of bars serving craft beer and burgers, trying to look like Williamsburg with their vintage-style lightbulbs, faux-industrial metal chairs and wood-panel walls. And those ornate old balconies, big trees and wide sidewalks that make you feel like you’re somewhere else, not in a busy South American capital.
This is a city that always wants to be something it’s not. It wants to be Barcelona, Paris, New York. And sometimes, you get to forget where you are, too.
Looking outside of myself
I’ve been walking for barely 15 minutes but I’m already lighter. It’s as if the air has filled me with a new type of energy, even hope, inspiration. I’m working on new ideas, and I can’t wait to write them down. These streets of Buenos Aires, so familiar to me, offer a completely new perspective today, and it’s giving my mind the rest it needs to produce new things.
But in reality, there’s nothing new about it.
It’s just the same feeling I had when first I moved here. My face was always pointing up, taking in my surroundings, marveling at the architecture, the jacarandas in bloom in November. I was listening to people speak, imagining their lives instead of obsessing about my issues.
This must be why I’m so much happier on vacation, I realize. I stop looking inside myself constantly and rest my eyes and mind on something new. It gives me peace.
That tranquility doesn’t only appear when you’re in nature, and it’s not tied to those moments when you’re looking into the infinite horizon. It’s not only related to having more time to relax, although that’s a part of it. When we take a trip to Paris, Tokyo or New York, we’re not running from our jobs to the gym and the supermarket like the locals, so of course, we’re bound to be less stressed out.
But it’s also because for once, our attention is somewhere outside of ourselves.
We fill our days with self-criticism, relationship problems, things to do at work, scheduling our social lives and wondering what we’re going to eat at night, and forget to look outside.
Writers are especially vulnerable to overthinking. It's our job. We’re forced to reach inside ourselves constantly to produce work, but it can disconnect us from our surroundings.
But what does this mean for a writer? If doing my best work requires me to dig deep into my feelings, am I ever going to be happy when doing it? How can I maintain a healthy balance between tearing my heart open, and still focusing on the external? What perspective can I ever have?
Feeling the weight
2020 is what prompts me to finally see this.
When the pandemic begins, I’m sometimes strangely more relaxed, even though I work 12-hour days and can’t leave my apartment. There’s so much more to think about than my feelings when the whole world is on fire. I get to worry about my friends’ and family members’ physical and mental health, and not focus so much on my own.
When I do go out for the first time, I take it all in. A new city I’ve never known before. The streets near my home, now so quiet, oscillate between scary and calm depending on the time of day.
The first time I’m out, I watch the essential workers head to the bus stops and train stations with determination, living a life so different from mine. While my city has become smaller, limited to a walkable 5-mile radius, theirs is still wide and open, but just as empty as mine.
But the time we live in, this specific point in history, is the same. Will it leave the same mark on them as it will on me?
I walk to the ponds in the big public parks of Palermo, where the ducks and pigeons are waiting for people to reappear and give them their daily dose of dried-up bread.
Heading home, I see the empty storefronts of those businesses that didn’t make it, posters for plays and concerts that never happened. Grocery stores with long lines of people waiting outside, masked up but never six feet from one another. Groups of people standing outside cafeterias, technically not infringing the quarantine rules but consciously defiant.
There's nothing more Argentinian than defiance.
Little by little, I start seeing elderly couples strolling in the parks, daring to enjoy the fresh air. Kids playing without masks, not worried about the pandemic, their parents chasing them with hand sanitizer every time they touch something. Personal trainers and their clients, reappearing with kettlebells, resistance bands and yoga mats on the grass. Runners, cyclists, young families with strollers. Groups of teenagers who can barely hide how excited they are to be back outside with their friends.
I look at them all, wondering what their lives are like, who they are. Feeling the weight of history on all of us, this crazy year becoming a string that ties us all together, whether we want it to or not.
The year goes by, vaccines start appearing, and life starts going back to normal.
In 2021, I forget to look outside again. I’m always in a hurry. I need to work, hit the gym, clean my apartment, cook, study. There’s always something that’s taking all my time and focus.
Then, that one Sunday morning, I forget my earbuds at home, and I focus on it again. The city. Life outside of my head. It’s a breath of fresh air. I have never understood how much you miss out on when you’re always looking in.
I remember that observation is half the job of the writer. I need to feed my thoughts with new perspectives if I want to remain interesting to myself in the long term. Read other writers’ thoughts, but also ground my work on something real.
My only relationship with the world can’t be through my internal world. I need to get out and keep my eyes and ears open. Let the sun on my skin, hear the city around me, feel that invisible string of a shared moment in time tying me to those I don’t know.
In 2022, I'm going to give myself the time to do it. To observe, feel, live outside of my head. Let my eyes rest on the world around me. Allow it to nurture me.
An earlier version of this story was originally published by me, on Medium.