In quarantine with Rachael Yaeger
Where in the world are you?
Are you currently on lockdown?
Are you alone, or with others?
I am living by myself and spend most days having no interactions with people other than over a video call but I have also essentially quarantined myself with best friends that live a few blocks away, allowing ourselves to see each other occasionally and spend some time collectively reflecting on a stoop.
My partner Hugh lives in Red Hook so the first week he spent here and the other weekend I ran over to get exercise with a small backpack containing whole wheat spaghetti, kale (which I have lovingly found out, lasts weeks and weeks in the fridge, which strangely makes me resent years spent favoring spinach), scallions, pine nuts, pecorino left over in my fridge wrapped in tin foil. He had wines and charcuterie delivered for the weekend.
How are you keeping yourself busy/occupied?
I told my mom this, and a few friends, but I am the happiest I have ever been. I’ve found a lot of stability being home with myself. I enjoy knowing every inch of my home by deep cleaning the kitchen and bathroom. It's like this moment in time that I have been waiting for and didn’t know how to ask for or grant for myself.
I have been stockpiling little gifts for my friends for when I’ll see them again, a blue tansy herbivore face mask and Dimes’ new cookbook. I’m writing this on a Sunday afternoon and it’s raining which reminds me of my dad; I always think about my dad and my family but today feels special. I’m overly thankful that Emma and Jon, my best friends mentioned above let me do laundry with them - and I had a clogged kitchen sink so that being now fixed makes me and I am not lying, filled with joy.
I noticed it happening, and you know when you’re consciously doing something wrong, and do it anyway? well I have been putting some my french press ground (half trash, half sink) down the drain, it’s like I knew this week would come. So I ordered Drano, breaking my no-Amazon 2020 streak and now it’s game over, which didn’t work. Then ordered a drain snake, (which I knew wouldn’t work), and finally asked my new landlord to send my super.
Yesterday I was so grateful, he was about fifty and from Hungary and when I explained this to Hugh he didn’t get it at first, but I was so happy because, instead of entering my home in this 'step aside you idiot little woman - where’s the sink?’ way, as some mechanics will do. We repaired the sink together, and he explained every step, treating me like an equal.
I’ll say we were, we replaced the 1 and a half inch pipe, which industry standard should be 2 inches, and he is telling my landlord it needed to be replaced because it was rotting, not because of the coffee grounds.
I am now using this 70s mustard yellow beautiful vintage plastic bin I got at the Brooklyn Flea for my coffee grounds. I have been thinking about both of my grandmothers often, but especially of my mom’s mom who has passed, and she would say, things are meant to be used.
What are you finding the easiest/most difficult aspects of social distancing, lockdown?
My laptop is annoying me. I used to see it as this powerful force that enabled me to make my dreams come true, this tool. And now I roll my eyes at it and my back hurts in strange ways because I have never worked from home before and suspect it’s because I don’t have a proper desk setup. It’s like I can’t really think and do on my laptop, it’s not translating for me like it used to. I don’t want to get bored with my work, I want to get better at it, year after year, day after day. I am trying to stay focused and as my dad and mom would say to us growing up, do one thing at a time.
One of Emma’s greatest fears, or greatest, and I don’t think she’d mind my saying, is losing her memories and in “talking” right now, I’d say one of my biggest fears is having a hard time focusing. And I’m having a hard time focusing. It’s really important for me to finish things. I have always struggled with how to do everything and nothing at once. My favorite state is baking and listening to a podcast. Working with my hands while my mind absorbs.
I primarily build websites for a living with my team online so my everyday isn’t that; we work hard at building and communicating. I’m grateful to be able to work from home and do what we do, but in another life I am baking and learning with my ears. It’s hard for me to do two things at once when I am so focused on digital work. How do we both enjoy things and accomplish things? I watched Agnes Varda’s Beaches last night and I was being so typically myself, wondering how long each film took to write, how many people helped produce, like when did she have the time to make these movies and have adventures? I kept reminding myself how long life is; jealous she didn’t have a life with the internet as a distraction.
Maybe that’s part of why I love Hugh, he’s incredibly focused. I’m struggling with the internet. I’m tired of internet famousness and this blase scared attitude I see some people have on Twitter. So sure, I am hating the internet but I am a part of it at the same time. My ‘lift each other up’ ethos and attitude isn’t applying to some. Does every person 10 years older get annoyed by those 10 years younger; where you don’t see hope you see laziness, and I’m not worried I’m annoyed. I want to say, maybe you’re anxious because you’re not living and living is hard work and consciousness, to me. I don’t think it’s cool to be a feelingless robot but I don’t want to only surround myself with people my own age, which is only 33.
Sure positivity is one of my core values but I’m having a hard time spending too much time online I guess. I’m thankful for people that really know me. I have this urge to record everything and photograph it, like right now, I just finished baking and my now clean sink is filled with bowls, whisks, measuring cups. I’ve had this feeling before, it’s happiness.
I used to walk to work through Chinatown, a short distance from East Broadway to Canal Street past NomWah, admiring men and women in striped shirts and fruit stands.
Do you have any positive thoughts on what’s happening?
I’m grateful that my grandmother, my dad’s mom, can text and Facetime. She’s so feisty and savvy. I hope that people are opening themselves up more. To themselves, to their families. I’m honoring my time as our greatest luxury. Granted, I acknowledge I’m writing this on a Sunday when I feel my soul beating out of my chest and I am truly honoring myself.
I couldn't write this on a Thursday slammed with emails (grateful) and tired from the week. The first two weeks at home I was running more, I kept inbox zero up, something I haven’t had in a long time.
In the past week, I’ve been busier, my clients are back online more, everyone adjusting more. My positive thoughts come from looking within. I’m exploring grief and the idea that it doesn’t go away or necessarily get easier, there is no recipe or roadmap, and grief can come in many forms, job loss, a breakup, a life transition, a death. My cousin and best friend Liz is in the mental health and wellness field and I think she pointed out really well that as human beings we all want certainty, answers, resolve, so in that spirit I have been so much more gentle with myself, starting to relax in the right now.
I hope we can all find a bit of quiet peace. “For a time, I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.” Wendell Berry The Peace of Wild things. I have time for more moments; I used to purchase an iced coffee from Oliver Coffee every morning, I now get to be my own barista and make the perfect iced coffee in a green glass I carefully carried home from a Oaxaca trip and watch the dash of soy milk swirl. Zach Pollakoff, my close friend and co-founder of Likeminds.Camp with me, gave a talk last year and he read aloud his favorite article https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/06/26/before-the-internet. I hope we can get a little life back, now living more in ways, at least for me, before the internet.
What new things are you learning during this time?
I’m thinking about resilience. I’m reading Brene Brown for the first time. I’m fascinated by my own coping skills. I am nostalgic for my upbringing. I am thankful for my parents. I have a newfound respect for people I have always looked up to and that are my friends. I’m excited and motivated by that. I remember actually meeting photographer and now friend Kathy Lo for the first time when my company was based out of RoAndCo studios when we were shooting for Datura. I’m grateful for talented friends and people I admire, like Roanne Adams and Kathy. I’m learning how much I thrive being alone. How much I am enough. When I bake or cook I am a rigid recipe follower, it’s a sure way to success and I like mitigating the chances of failure. I like paying ruthless attention to the steps and taking my time towards perfection. I’m learning to let that go a bit. But I think letting go only comes with the confidence and strength of knowing what you’re doing.
I’m listening more, remembering more. My friend Jon has been explaining the foundations and functions of cooking, how things work and once you understand what you need you’re better equipped to solve and experiment. It’s small but today I ran out of unsalted butter, no big I thought, I’ll use my salted butter and use a little less baking salt. Yesterday I ran out of sour cream and with ease swapped with whole milk yogurt that I had. It’s an essential time and you learn to make do, to be reminded how lucky we are. I have a job, I am healthy, I am flowing with the universe, I am lucky enough to have a fridge, to have ingredients in my fridge, there’s no such thing as perfect.
I was so happy to have some clean underwear from doing laundry that I slept blissfully last night in fresh cotton briefs and a tie dyed orange shirt. This morning I saw my silk orange Datura pants laying in a pile of clothes I am rewearing but adding to and needing to put away. I put them on in an act of sabotage, knowing that I would be baking. 30 min ago I splattered butter on the pants.
I think of my mom and how she never runs out to buy things; she is so good at substituting ingredients. I’m so happy that I can’t shrug, think whatever, and that I can’t just lavishly drop these pants off at the dry cleaner on my way to work tomorrow. I feel dumb that I don’t know half as many of the renaissance man or woman tactics that I should know, want to know, like how to get butter out of silk, but google knows, and it’s to apply table salt onto the grease spot and rub it in gently with your fingers, then moisten a clean white cloth with seltzer, dab and let the garment air-dry. I wonder if tonic is the same as seltzer? Again, think of its purpose and function and decide. Sure, it’s all about clear carbonation.
Don’t overthink it.
Grateful for my friends and upbringing.
In your opinion - how will this period change our lives in the future?
I hope we become kinder human beings towards ourselves and each other. I’m privileged and I don’t have kids, I haven’t lost my job and I can only hope we move towards a more socialist society. Emma said this early on, but, there will be a clear distinction between a pre and post Covid world.
I don't know the answer to this question but I know it will change. I hope and I know for me I want to slow down. I bet I’m not the only person dreaming of living on a self sufficient farm. I think we can be skeptical of bureaucracy. I hope we stop being lethargic. I hope we care more.
Are you planning on making any life changes when the virus eventually disappears? A new career-path, focus, or hobby?
I’m trying really hard to finish one thing at a time. I launched wildfruits.co with my mom, my brother and his fiance, Tricia. As a family we’re making a homemade jam tart business. I’m going to honor myself more and my legacy. I’m going to not so be so afraid of being the person that does too many things. I’ve been calling it Sylvia Lake life, but I want to ensure I continue to lead a life where I read, rest, relax, appreciate, breathe, enjoy as much as I can. We’ve been recording Humans+Computers podcasts remotely and they’re going so well, we just recorded with architect friend Jessie Baxta last week and Amy Auscherman, corporate Archivist at Herman Miller will be released this week. I’m working on researching sustainability and working with Emma and my dear and talented friend Noemie on Bagggy. I’m doing a lot and it’s all fun and what I want to be doing. I want to continue to enjoy my Saturdays and Sundays the way my younger self always imagined them, typing while looking out a window like I am Carrie Bradshaw, owning all of my time, calling Liz and Jilly and talking about philosophy, what it means to be alive, what love looks like, and how we can do less and more at the same time, making things, looking around at my rugs and books.
I want to continue to make my own coffee, relish in the routine of taking vitamins, smile as I enjoy the things my parents did too, like my mom also loves yogurt like I do, and my dad also loved cereal and ice cream which I do too.
I want to continue to have the time to water my plants. I just bought an iron from Amazon so I don’t need to dry clean in the future, and I’ll admit it, my first batch of micro-greens just sprouted.
What can we do to help those suffering the most?
I’m ill equipped to answer this because I am only one person but I keep an ear open. We can be empathetic, more than ever. We can be compassionate in the ways that we can be. I say hello or at least nod in the direction of every human being I encounter on my walks. If you love someone tell them that you love them. We launched https://www.lunchticketsnyc.org/ 4 weeks ago; you can donate to City Harvest or find what feels right to you. City Harvest is committed to delivering food to New Yorkers in need.
What could be a new mantra to emerge from this with?
Before and after he had lung cancer my dad would say “take it one day at a time” and I think we can do that pre and post Covid, take it one day at a time....
My esteemed contemporaries (hi, Elie and Natalie) are reading Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art. We’re posting a book every day to https://www.instagram.com/reads.delivery/ and are encouraging people to buy local, online, https://bookshop.org/lists/the-reads-library.
Finally watched Shawshank Redemption
Pizza from Saraghina
Hard Boiled eggs, salads that I’m making from scratch with nuts, fruit, greens.
Too much wine.
I’m not going to pretend I do yoga every day or even every week, but Kyle Miller rocks: https://www.instagram.com/kylemilleryoga/?hl=en
Rachael's quarantine diary: