Katherine Stanley Obando, 41, is a journalist, editor and nonprofit coach living in San José, Costa Rica.
Before the pandemic, my priority was getting myself and my family adjusted to a new schedule as I tried to figure out what the rest of my life was going to look like. I’d had a pretty horrendous 2019 — still recovering from my father’s death the year before, I’d started the year with three demanding jobs and, by Christmas, had lost all three of them in very sad and frustrating ways — and was trying to put myself back together again, like Humpty Dumpty. My daughter started first grade in February and I had taken on a new part-time job along with an avalanche of freelance work. We were juggling all of this with my husband’s full-time schedule as a medical imaging student. I remember constantly trying to get life in order. There were Post-It notes on mirrors and schedules on whiteboards and a reminder on my daughter’s closets that Wednesdays were soccer uniform days. I felt like I was just starting to get the hang of it, maybe, when everything changed.
These days, I’ve given up on order, more or less. My priorities haven’t changed all that much: making books and articles, helping communities raise money, helping nonprofits make connections, trying to draw attention to people in Costa Rica who are doing great work (although sometimes I feel like I’m shouting into the wind). But after these months of chaos and roller coaster emotions and scheduleless days, I’ve more or less stopped trying to find a real rhythm. I’m just tossing in the waves and grabbing for things as they float by, you know?
The idea that’s made the biggest difference to me is that it’s enough just to make space for things. What I mean by that is, partway through June, I read an article on BJ Fogg’s “Tiny Habits,” which is basically the idea that if you can’t get yourself to eat more fruit, don’t even make that your goal. Just focus on setting out an apple on your counter every morning. I have done a terrible job taking care of myself during the pandemic — it’s a perfect storm for an overachiever who relies on coworkers to remind her to take her foot off the gas pedal and lighten up from time to time — so I decided to forget about the incredible morning routine I’ve envisioned for years, yoga and writing and a nice run in the early morning light before my coffee, and just promise myself to put on running pants every day. That’s really all I have to do. I can put on the running pants and sit in front of the computer for 12 hours and peel the running pants off again and go to bed. I just have to get them on my body, wiggling into the day’s Lycra contraption, grumbling all the way.
I’m now running, finally, and trying to focus on making space for other kinds of things as well. It feels like I’m drowning, most days, in work and homeschool tasks and too many great ideas, all of which I fall in love with instantly. Rather than trying to get myself out of the water, I’m just throwing out little lifelines for myself. Opening a Word document for that one project I’m dreading, or opening a tab for that website I have to use, or putting a book beside me on the bed where I’m answering work emails at night on my phone. Some of these will still get ignored or lost amidst the waves, but almost always, that lifeline will eventually pull me up to where I need to be.
That’s why I started the Five Questions 2020 project, which will run here from August through December of this crazy, historic year. This crisis twists like a knife in my gut, all the injustices, the imbalances where I am almost always on the favorable side of the scale. These include hearing from all the wrong people — well, some of the wrong people — and not from those who are really doing the work but have no platform, or are too damn busy fixing everything to write think pieces. Words are just about all I’m good at, so writing is all I can think of to offer. As we rebuild a world that was already full of broken pieces and has now been battered even further, we need to hear from as many people as possible. I do, at least. I want to know what it’s been like to be a teacher in a rural school, and a retired artist, and a mom without space or internet connection for homeschooling. I want to hear what they’re thinking about, what they’ve realized, what they’ve done to get through this time and what change they want to see in the world. I want to hear their voices, but I know they’ve got no time to spare, and even less energy.
I thought that maybe I just needed to put on pants. That is, keep it simple. I made some space in the form of five fairly simple questions for people who aren’t normally in the limelight, have an idea or thought to share, and don’t have lots of time. Over the coming months, I’ll be shaping the answers I receive into first-person “How to…” pieces for this publication. I hope you’ll join me. You can participate by filling out this online survey; by contacting me (in the messages below or at firstname.lastname@example.org) to recommend someone I should interview; or, if you write on Medium, submitting a piece here for publication in the Five Questions magazine.
I’ll be publishing pieces here in Spanish as well. Costa Rica’s Ministry of Culture has signed on to fund the component of the project focused on women in San José’s underserved communities. Thanks to their support, I’ve been contacting community leaders and lining up phone interviews where I’ll be asking these same five questions of some truly extraordinary women who have been facing horrendous struggles over recent months. I can’t wait to share what I learn from them in this space over the next few months.
Thanks for reading. Please watch this space and share with a friend. I hope that this space will serve to get a few more ideas and perspectives into the world, make a few more connections, and bring us a little more understanding.
I also hope I’ll keep remembering to put on pants.
Read more from Katherine here.