• bethany bauman

Boundless: Chaos & Convergence

Brand Designer Bethany Bauman writes about navigating America while navigating Covid-19.

I was originally asked to write this column about my life: one built around travel, adventure, community, design, and unconventional living. Then a tornado and a pandemic and a million other important things rendered most of what I’m about unsafe, then irresponsible, then impossible.

This month’s theme is Chaos & Convergence. With everything swirling around us, how do we turn the ship of chaos toward convergence? That’s what we all want, right? In eyesight, ‘convergence’ describes the inclining arc our eyes have toward one another: two uniquely distinct vantage points that must work together to produce a clear image. It’s how our bodies execute vision. Converging lines are not parallel.

This season of life has made my eyes tired. Tired from a thousand things we’ve all cried about at night, tired from the in-person connections we’ve had to instead forge through panes of glass. Hugs and kisses were never meant to be ones, zeros, tap-taps, or beep-boops. I could feel two parts of me battling against clear vision: one side arcing toward grounding, the other aching for adventure. In the end, everything was still blurry.

I run a remote design business, and for most of the past 12 years, I’ve basically bragged to anyone who will listen that I can work from anywhere. I even designed my home to be mobile! But at one of this summer’s particularly dramatic breaking points, I decided I could no longer work from those 172 square feet of wheeled glory in East Nashville- and like many of my late-30s friends, I decided to point my ship back home: to my parents’ house. Somewhere familiar and safe.

I drove, once again separated from my longings by glass, parallel lines stretching out before me: leading here and there, detouring, splitting up and meeting back...but never converging. On the road, I mastered the sexy phone-as-tether-to-laptop move as my beloved remaining clients graciously fielded my dropped service and apologies. We all fumbled through discussions of mood boards, brand stories, blueprints, and web maps: each of us doing our part to keep up the spirit, steering clear of anything personal.

On this first journey — over 1300 miles — I didn’t go inside one single place. Pre-existing immunity uncertainty left me so terrified that I’d either be getting the virus in some bathroom or leaving it there; so I used what I like to call the Covid Car Fort Method, which requires a bit more finesse than one might think. It entails pulling off the interstate and driving until you feel sufficiently in the middle of nowhere, with at least 3-5 minute time slots between passing cars. When the coast is clear, you run to the passenger side of your car, open both doors, and squat in between, right there on the side of the road. All I have to say is: if your parents live in the city, good luck.

When I finally arrived safely home I was met by a very different world than the one I’d left: football teams scrimmaging, entire families of hikers out on crowded nature trails, baristas serving lattés— everything was just as I’d left it: all unmasked. I wanted to shout at everyone. Shake them. I wanted to stay safely curled up in a hazmat-shrouded ball.

Why had I so strategically and carefully taken precautions, across all those miles, just to protect this community who so obviously didn’t care about my own health as much as I cared about theirs? Didn’t they know? Me and my trademarked toilet methods: are we, or are we not, better? Do I now have to relegate all the intelligent, kind, hard-working individuals I have loved most of my life to the ‘idiot’ category of my heart? (No!) How did we get here, and how do we get out of here?

The privilege of travel through the years has taught me to become familiar with being a stranger in a strange land, but what about feeling foreign in a familiar place? Is there now anything more poignantly American? Within the sanctuary of home, I experienced this inner turmoil, timid, and uncertain of all the fresh enemy faces surrounding me. Anyone within a 10-foot radius became a walking virus, every unmasked sneeze or cough marking a certain and immediate end to my life. I became an old-school video game character: shape-shifting, taking shortcuts, and basically just jumping around (sound effects included). We were all trying to find common ground this summer: two sides arcing so hard we couldn’t see the other side’s logic, efforts, or heart. It got ugly. I got ugly.

At this point, I had to face the hardest pane of glass: the mirror.

I ended up spending several more months on the road, driving around a handful of other states, sleeping in a tent. Despite the ever-present terror of losing work, I began to feel a slow re-focusing of my blurred vision. Weeks stretched on as I rode my bicycle miles and miles just to find the nearest electric outlet or Wi-Fi signal (shoutout to Discourse Coffee in Sister Bay, WI!). I delivered countless completed projects from my trusty tent, in all forms of weather. I encountered strangers who came a little too close for comfort, and dear old friends who painfully yet validly rejected my embrace. We all offered compassion and sorrow to grief-stricken loved ones as they described having to say ultimate goodbyes...through glass.

No matter what this year has offered you, I hope you’re no longer afraid to engage in challenging discussions. I hope you can do so in kindness. I hope you’re able to see the humanity in whatever might be blurring your vision. Because we can’t sit in this chaos forever. No one can survive that; we must find a way through.

Converging lines are not parallel. So we have to lean in.

This month’s challenge: Go outside without a device every day. Walk around the block, or two or seven, no matter what the weather is. Every day. Breathe. Empty yourself. Listen.

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