A ritual in the making
It is a Monday morning. While others may be groaning at their alarm clocks reminding them that workweek has, in fact, begun once again, I jolt up at 6:30 am — half an hour before my alarm is scheduled for. I down a bottle of water and feel the cold liquid slowly wake my body up from the chest outwards. My shoulders crack and my legs pop as I wiggle and stretch myself around. Some mornings I use this routine to give me the momentum I need to get up, change and go for a run, but not today. Today, I grab my phone and text Angel that I’m awake and wait for her to reply. Once she’s ready, I wake up my computer and get ready to call her.
I’ve known Angel for almost seven years now. We met in college, as suite-mates in our freshman year dorm. Like many friends I made in college, I wound up seeing Angel periodically although not incredibly often. We were in different majors and both found ways to make ourselves incredibly busy, but when we did meet we were able to suspend ourselves in an ethereal space. Conversations and time spent with Angel have always felt saturated with a sort of realness that I haven’t found in many others. We spent a good chunk of our time confiding in one another, and the rest of it giggling goofily.
Even after college, we found time to call each other, especially in moments of difficulty. Through relationship conflicts, travel and uncertainty about the future, we hopped and skipped around our recounts playing catch-up. There is only so much time you can dedicate to these conversations — living in different places makes this even harder, with time differences and other aspects of life filling up more and more space. I’ve struggled through this with many friends and feel grateful for the times I have been able to connect with those far away from me, but there is usually a sense of incompleteness that lingers shortly after we wave goodbye at our monitors.
I am certainly not saying we have solved this problem, but we have found a way to feel a little less empty after we hang up, and it involves a special ingredient.
I don’t remember how we came up with this idea. It had something to do with rewatching a couple Miyazaki films and being frustrated by how few of the others I had seen. On my first quarantine birthday, my friends and I watched Kiki’s Delivery Service, one of two Studio Ghibli movies I had seen, and the familiar warmth I had felt in my chest as a child glowed once more. It was almost irritatingly comforting, possibly because I knew it was going to leave me until I could sit myself in front of another feature.
I shared this with Angel, along with my desire to see more, and a simple, “I’ll watch some with you” made all the difference.
When I log on, Angel is sitting in an office chair like I am. It is evening in Seattle whereas the sun has just risen in Bangalore. Her cats Lychee and Linux like to climb on her system, meowing loudly to catch her attention. We spend a little time catching up before getting started. Our conversations of late have moved from dietary issues (mostly mine) and hair-styling decisions (mostly hers), all the way through thoughts about work and hopes for the future. We once had a call when the west coast forest fires were at their peak, and we talked about how the skies were red and the future felt bleak. We have many-a-time shared thoughts about the pandemic and pondered what lay ahead.
Of my favorite conversations with Angel, are those about being young professionals. We get into our expectations for ourselves and the spaces we occupy, being Asian women in male-dominated industries. These are conversations about resilience, and conversations about growth. We cheer for each others’ successes and scratch our heads through each others’ conundrums, and then, we put on a movie.
Angel and I giggle our way through Studio Ghibli films, occasionally expressing our disappointment at particularly annoying characters. We audibly “ooh” and “aah” when the illustrations are particularly breathtaking, and let out gasps and “oh damn”s when we see blood and explosions. We are both critical and supportive of how characters defy the laws of physics, and enjoy bobbing our heads synchronously when some great background music starts playing. Occasionally, we have to pause to figure out what’s going on, and usually we are successful (or so we think).
For some stretches we are talkative, and for some we sit in silence. Roommates and pets linger in and out of the camera frame, and we mute ourselves to keep the magic of the film going. We eat meals (breakfast for me, dinner for her) and let our jaws drop to effectively communicate to the other “this is amazing, but what on earth is going on?” Afterwards, we sit and chat before parting ways.
This time around, as with most times, we are in awe of the strong women we see on screen, and how unapologetically they navigate the world. I love how this conversation sometimes mirrors the conversations we have about ourselves, trying to cement our own places at home, at work, and beyond. The warmth of the film and the soul poured into creating it fill my Monday morning with an energy that I find hard to attain elsewhere. Sharing it with a friend who is literally on the other side of the planet makes it all feel a little more surreal.
Some people think it’s ridiculous to wake up so early on a Monday morning to throw on a movie, and to be honest, it kind of is, but it feels important. In a world where even seeing someone in-person has become a matter of careful consideration, every interaction can feel like a little extra work that needs to be done. This happens, to the extent, that interactions themselves may not feel worth cutting out time for.
I say this, because I often find myself in this rut — missing people, but feeling emotionally exhausted and unsure of how to proceed.
That being said, my standing time slot with Angel, whether taken or left, seems to be working. Weeks go by in between these sessions, and yet they do not feel too far apart. We have successfully reached a place where our interactions boast enough quality that the frequency does not seem to matter as much.
The timing is strange, and the activity a bit random (given the time) but, like I said before, it works.
So far we have watched Princess Mononoke, Ponyo and Nausicaä together. I’m glad to be making my way through the Studio Ghibli collection.
Plus I get to see my friend, and get a few giggles in before 10 am.
Good enough for me.