On Hold: my corona diaries

The other day I got caught in the rain on my morning walk. More than a drizzle, less than a downpour. 

I don’t relish walking in the rain. I count on a 15-minute margin of error in timing my walks to the local weather forecast. Meteorology is only so precise.

A neighbor passed me on the road, offered me a ride home.

I’m okay, I laughed.

It’s summer, after all. Not a freezing cold winter day.  I let the rain drench me.

I’d recently finished reading D. J. Lee’s beautifully written, multilayered story, Remote: Finding Home in the Bitterroots. What starts out as a journey to seek clues to a friend’s disappearance becomes an exploration of her family’s past and their relationship, as well as hers, to a part of Idaho that holds the most pristine river in the country, outside of Alaska. Chinook Salmon return to the Selway River to spawn.

If you’re able to define wilderness, to pin it down, then it isn’t wilderness, she writes.

Back in 1978, I was riveted by a National Geographic cover story about a woman who went through the Australian Outback by herself (accompanied by four camels and a dog). To this day I recall her thinking, after hearing voices on Day 71, that she might be going mad. Without her being tracked, there would be no National Geographic photos (and a book that would follow) which only served to relieve my anxieties, vicarious or otherwise.

I still have that issue, and a handful of others, despite the now never-ending spring cleaning intensified by an ongoing pandemic. Riffling through the glossy pages I’m charmed by an advertisement for a Smith-Corona typewriter, with its state-of-the-art Correction Cartridge. I had one of those.

At the ripe age of 70, I honor what’s in my comfort zone, which doesn’t negate my envy for women who take treks to remote places, with the deep connection to the natural world it brings. I imagine an aloneness that is empowering.

It dawned on me, as I made my way home, that the pandemic, coupled with the upcoming election, have me feeling as if I’m on hold.

Waiting.

For an answer to something to which there can’t be an answer. I want to know—-right now—when the pandemic will be under control. I need every assurance—right now—that Biden will win the presidency, with Kamala at his side. It’s not a stretch to see this as all of a piece with walking in the rain.

On hold. Reading a lot. Writing very little, if at all. Meditation, yoga, music get me through the day. I think too much about what to cook for dinner.

I spend a lot of time alone, a product of a work-at-home lifestyle magnified by the pandemic—which makes it all the more ironic that I’m not working much these days. I’ve become a master of distraction, today’s joy being the magic of a coral reef Apple TV screensaver that I stare at to a backdrop of piano music.

The world is heating up, literally on fire. Even from a distance, and in the comfort of an air-conditioned living room, it’s hard to process.

Is it an unsimple twist of fate that in these dark COVID-19 times, worsened immeasurably by the lies and greed and psychosis of the monster-in-chief, Bob Dylan has his first No. 1 Billboard hit, seventeen-minutes long at that?

I’m looking for a word to capture the very subtle shift in light signaling the arrival  of autumn. I picture the glow I forever associate with Florence, Italy.

Evening arrives sooner. Rosh Hashanah dinner, a few weeks from now, will be a very quiet affair this year.

A girl and her mother are jumping puddles, in yellow boots.

Children are returning to school in staggered schedules. 

A teenager glides by on a skateboard, carried along by his dog, a beautiful Husky, on a leash.

Bruce Springsteen wrote “Into the Fire” in response to 9/11.

Bob Dylan wrote “Murder Most Foul,” well, because he’s Dylan. The timing of the song, on his new album, have a reassuring effect on me.

The pandemic has warped our sense of time. It was only in March that I began blogging more frequently, with a greater sense of purpose. Little did I know that my own Corona diaries would place me in a collective of writers with the same mindset. To reread The Existential Inconvenience of Coronavirus, a New Yorker essay by Geoff Dyer that also appeared in March, is to have a real-time reminder of how things looked back then.

Somewhere between then and now, the urgency to write dissipated. If I say, simply, it is what it is, I take the thunder from Michelle Obama’s brilliant use of the phrase during the DNC. I breathe a little easier now that both conventions have come and gone.

There is a Buddhist notion of freedom in confinement. For all the despondency the pandemic has given rise to, I find myself opening to new ways of approaching everyday things. Why did I keep the wooden garlic smasher for so long? The flat edge of a large knife works just fine. All those years of downward-facing dog and pigeon and vinyasas in intimate classes with yoga teachers I’ve learned so much from have given me grounding to pick and choose from an online smorgasbord of programs available to me. It’s a whole new world. I do poses with fresh insights. At its heart a yoga practice is personal.

No one would wish for the kind of confinement the pandemic has wrought. I may be anxious to know what I can’t know but this time warp, reset, call it what you will has also given rise to questions I don’t need any answers to. Will I write another blog post? If so, when?

Or at the ripe age of 70 are my days better spent sipping wine on a stone bench some squirrel has used as a nutcracker, as I ease my way back, fictionally speaking, into where I left off? Inspiration has never been in short supply for me, but all the real-time writing spurred by the pandemic is humbling. Just look at The Decameron Project or The Chronicles of Now. Maybe there’s some fresh start I’m headed for, now that I grasp the vast divide between being on hold and holding on.

This may be as close as I get to a wilderness journey of my own.

September 11, 2020

Corona fatigue syndrome: my corona diaries

A dear friend of mine, very fit, tells me she feels uncharacteristically tired after a recent hike. She lives in northern California. Same thing for another friend, who misses her gym workouts and is doing the best she can with brisk walks. She lives in Miami. Her new Bluetooth spin bike is due any day.

My own daily walks, 40-45 minutes at a decent pace, have me sometimes feeling the need to lie down when I’m home.

I’m giving this shared experience a name, ‘Corona Fatigue Syndrome.’

It’s no secret that grief exhausts us, worrying drains us. But aren’t we programmed to plod on? Isn’t our survival enhanced by commonality? Divided we stand these days, no idea where united will take us.

How much can the body and spirit endure?

Trying to process what one writer calls the Covid-19 ‘infowhelm‘ is indeed dizzying. Then there’s the rest of the news. I still can’t wrap my head around a headline, May 12th, re: Afghan militants storming a maternity ward at a hospital in Kabul.

* * *

In normal times, anxiety can make it hard to concentrate. The heightened anxiety these days has many people unable to focus on the simple pleasure of reading.

By all indications on social media, writers are having a hard time, too. We thrive in solitude to do our work, we need community to share it. But what happens when both solitude and community are on shaky ground? I don’t know that I’ll ever be comfortable with uncertainty, though I’m grateful for Pema Chodron’s words to remind me it’s possible.

At my most restless, I know that writing grounds me. More often than not, I need that walk before I can sit down and get to work.

* * *

I don’t typically take my phone with me when I go for a walk. There are always moments I wish had it, for a photo of something so striking.

Turtles sunbathing on logs at the edge of the lake I make my way around always stop me in my tracks, the early signs of spring. Seeing those logs in a bed of algae was particularly striking. With any luck, I figured, they’d be there the next day when I brought my camera.

Later in my walk would come a moment not photographed but imprinted in my memory the way the best of images are. Mother, father, two young children, somewhere between three and four. Both are wearing pint-sized backpacks. The girl has a pink beanie on her head. This is not for warmth. I’m reminded of my own daughter, and her very own sense of style from very early on.

“If I could bottle this moment, I would.” I remark as I pass the family.

A little further on in my walk, I pass a young woman and her golden retriever. In another lifetime I would ask to say hello to the dog. Today all I says is, “What I would give to be a dog right now.” The woman smiles in agreement.

Almost home, I stop at a house vacant for almost a year. A young couple has moved in. From a safe distance, I call out a welcome.

* * *

I’m beginning to hate the word ‘okay.’ It’s what I say whenever I’m asked how I am by random people who recognize me from years of walking.

In truth I’m better than okay, at least when I take stock of my personal world. I’m not so okay when the monster in the White House invades my consciousness and I look at unemployment numbers and wonder what may or may never come back. Can I go to sleep like Rip Van Winkle and wake up in November with a Democrat taking on the daunting task of fixing things?

* * *

Our sense of time is positively warped. We joke about what day it is, what time of day, although there’s consensus that early March, in retrospect, was the before and after moment.

My husband and I flew to Ft. Myers for the wedding of a longtime friend’s son. Weddings often bring up complicated emotions, in this case, the groom’s missing mother, lost to us from breast cancer thirteen years ago.

It was a glorious weekend, now forever imprinted in our memories as the last time we boarded a plane with some semblance of feeling okay about traveling. My daughter, ahead of the COVID-19 curve by virtue of living in Los Angeles, read me the riot act before I left: she cut me some slack on wearing a mask but insisted I bring antiseptic wipes for the plane.

How long ago it now seems. But not long enough for an extra measure of pleasure in an email alerting me to the news of a baby on the way for the barely newlyweds, due date November 4th, the birth date of the missing mother.

Mother’s Day, thirteen years ago, was the weekend she passed.

Mother’s Day weekend 2020 my daughter sends a text — Has it really been 21 years? — with a family photo, her Bat Mitzvah.

Mother’s Day weekend 2018 we celebrated her wedding.

“Is this the weirdest Mother’s Day ever?” she writes in this year’s card. Our sense of time may be warped by this pandemic, but I ike to think that markers coinciding with yearly rituals like Mother’s Day get pride of place in our memory banks. When we FaceTime on Mother’s Day, we reminisce about another momentous Mother’s Day, our 2014 road trip to Death Valley.

Yes, the weirdest Mother’s Day ever, and the proof of it in her loving, albeit glib, four-word sign-off: Until we meet again.

–May 18, 2020

Dancing with myself: my corona diaries

Saturday and Sunday have become cleaning days.

It’s not as if I can’t clean my house on any day of the week, but, for someone who has been working at home for years, pandemic protocols to shelter in place only reinforce the psychological divide between weekdays and weekends.

Until recently, Tuesday was cleaning day. What my housekeeper would do in four hours takes me two days. It’s as much a product of (dis)spirit as it is a reflection of my energy to tackle a large house. She’ll be back soon enough.

Old habits die hard.

Necessity, again, proves herself to be the mother of (re)invention. The act of wiping down kitchen counters, dusting surfaces, vacuuming and mopping the floor has the effect of transporting me back to my twenties and thirties, pumping up the volume on a Saturday as I danced through my two-room NYC Upper West Side studio. David Bowie. Donna Summer. The Village People. The Rolling Stones. Talking Heads. Billy Idol.

I don’t use Clorox when I clean.

I miss dancing with friends.

* * *

The other night I watched Kinky Boots via my PBS app, a show I managed to miss getting tickets to see during its Broadway run. I’m admittedly finicky in my Broadway preferences. I pride myself on being ahead of the game when it comes to shows I have a gut feeling about before they become a scalper’s dream. I got it so right with Rent, first seeing it Off Broadway, then again when it hit the Great White Way. I got lucky with Hamilton, scoring tickets before it became a huge hit. I’ve seen it twice.I pride myself, too, on getting past the mundane associations of everyday symbols in our world. Too often the ones we think of as female are trivialized. The top three in my mind—shoes, hair, nails—are the cornerstone of my short story collection. Shoes indeed tell stories.

To be watching the Broadway production of Kinky Boots on a reasonably large TV in the comfort of my home is a mixed blessing, a reminder of what I had missed and why so much is now available to us for our streaming pleasure.

To find myself reveling in a show that tackles the generational fate of family business, coupled with sexual identity, and spices it up with song and shoes as metaphor, is a reminder that what is lost so often finds its way back.

* * *

Today I’m doing something I don’t normally do on a weekday. I’m watching The Rolling Stones, an Apple Music video playlist.  I suppose it’s like going to an afternoon movie, a delight I don’t take enough advantage of, in normal times.

The upside of so much alone time is the personal exploration it makes possible. I get more creative in my daily yoga, surprising myself with release. I spend more time meditating, even if that means grappling with the psychological and emotional walls it gives rise to.

Sadness and anger kick in.

When I think about not knowing when I’ll see my daughter and son-in-law face-to-face, I get sad. But sadness all least brings relief in the form of tears.

When I think about the upcoming reality of needing to wear a mask for the duration of a six-hour plane ride to the West Coast, it makes claustrophobic. I get angry. What do you do with anger, the thumping in your chest, the heat rising? Writing about it at least brings a steadying measure of expression.

The Mayo Clinic should have told Mike Pence to get out if he would not wear a mask.

* * *

I tune in to CNN to check up on Chris Cuomo. He is the high-profile, visible face of COVID-19, allowing viewers to see him at possibly his worst and now hopefully his best. He is talking with a woman diagnosed with COVID-19 when she was pregnant, then put into an induced coma so she could give birth 26 weeks early by C-section. She is doing well. So is her baby, born at just over 1 lb. Chris Cuomo encourages viewers to support her Go Fund Me campaign.

A cousin of mine has recovered from COVID-19. Same for the daughter of a friend.

My son-in-law was among the family members who spoke at a Zoom memorial service for his grandfather, clearly a loving, intelligent, brave man. Suffering with Alzheimer’s, he succumbed to corona. Pandemic times may not let us be with ailing loved ones or say good-bye when they die, but we do manage to find creative ways to remember them.

Anderson Cooper now has a baby boy.

On my walk today I pass by a woman having a conversation, from a safe distance, with a neighbor. She is planning a drive-by visit to her parents. It is a glorious day, sunny with just enough clouds for contrast, temperature in the 60s. I don’t exactly join in the conversation but I do put in my two cents: We may feel as if we’re going through hell but a day like this is my idea of heaven.

We should live and be well: my corona diaries

A stanza from a Jane Hirshfield poem:

A moment knows itself penultimate—
usable, spendable,
good yet, but only for reckoning up.

Passover, with its nonseder/seder for me, the Zoom version for so many others, has come and gone. We should live and be well, Jews like to say.  And by any measure, the creativity and love that has gone into long-distance celebration during corona times, speaks volumes about the collective spirit and will to transcend.

And yet, when time and distance give us perspective on how we coped during the 2020 pandemic, can we ever view it without the specter of that heartless heinous criminal occupying the Oval Office? Not to mention his complicit cronies.

The anger rises, finds me conjuring speeches for Joe Biden. Whatever shape a Democratic convention takes, I imagine Bernie Sanders giving the speech of a lifetime. An impassioned plea for his supporters to follow his lead, vote for Joe Biden.  Likewise for Elizabeth Warren.

Could there be a better appeal to party unity? Is a Democratic landslide/sweep asking too much?

I spend what feels like too much time thinking about food, then stress over the logistics of picking it up. Do I have everything I need for at least a few days?  I’m not prone to hoarding.

I think about what self-composed creatures we can be. 

I think about how that composure so easily shreds when reason gives way to raw nerves. Do we need to be afraid of everything we touch?

Local news story: the 20 something girl with a mother in need of lots of at-home medical care, a father in the grips of COVID-19 at the hospital. The hardest thing for her is not being able to visit him. To touch him. Never getting to say good-bye when he dies.

Another stanza from the same Jane Hirshfield poem:

The moment finds itself weary,
blindered,
language confuses its ears.

Do we need a new language or at least different ways for expressing a very particular grief?  ‘No closure’ when a loved one dies in a hospital, alone, doesn’t quite cut it. I look up synonyms for ‘closure’ in Roget’s Thesaurus (the real deal, on my desk). Dictionary apps cut to the chase, no nuance. Roget’s shows closure in four different contexts: closing, completion, hindrance, joint.

To call this variant of coronavirus ‘novel’ gives it a peculiar stature. How can I help but think of all the stories it has to tell?

Even weeks before the grim reality kicked in, I found myself restless. Online more, a lot of time spent deleting emails, checking in on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram. I called it lackluster motivation, a time-in-life moment when I no longer know what it is I’m supposed to be doing. My daughter called it procrastination. 

* * *

I stare at the mesmerizing aerial and underwater scenes Apple TV provides as screensavers. I put on music. I am not stoned.

I get a cheap thrill at knowing I can watch Kinky Boots via my PBS app. Even if the reason it’s available is a mixed blessing.

I treat myself to a pretty caftan, a papillon pattern, to wear now, at home. Or whenever. I treat my daughter to a pretty blouse. Because I can.

Because what seems frivolous in dire times really does matter.

The very idea of procrastination to someone always one step ahead of deadlines makes me laugh. Maybe a new way of being has kicked in. Maybe I’m as thankful as I am tired of the “wild patience that has taken me this far.” Maybe this forced hunkering down is a time for shifting gears.

Adrienne Rich speaks to me now more than ever:

Nothing but myself? . . .My selves.
After so long, this answer.

Two stanzas later:

Anger and tenderness: my selves.
And now I can believe they breathe in me
as angels, not polarities.
Anger and tenderness: the spider’s genius
to spin and weave in the same action
from her own body, anywhere—
even from a broken web.

Speaking of webs, my days are off to a much less rattled start when I don’t check in on Facebook or read the  news, or even emails. I can even find enough calm presence to sit down and write.

* * *

A windy, cool, almost wintry day for April has me thinking: can a marked shift in weather blow away the virus?

A very dear friend, a gifted artist who also just happens to be gifted in all things culinary and whose perspective on just about anything I value, introduces me to a new word.

Consilience: a coming together of knowledge from widely disparate disciplines, to provide a depth of understanding that would otherwise be unattainable.

Jane Hirshfield, Now Even More:

Now again, even more, I admire Roget,
in whose Thesaurus
self-knowledge appears under Modesty.

Following verecundity-–knowing one’s place;
preceding reserve.

April 20, 2020