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.

Letting Go

The other day I became obsessed with finding two books I could not easily locate.  It was a reference to one of them—The Family of Man—in Sally Mann’s wonderful memoir that set me on my mission.  The other book, To Be Nobody Else, bears a connection in my mind to The Family of Man, mostly for the photographs that make for a compelling narrative. They speak to a certain time in my life.

I looked in all the logical places I would have placed them after they’d been released from boxes following completion of a renovation.

I created stories – did I lend them to someone? Did I use them in a writing workshop?  Did I share them with a visiting friend who inadvertently tucked them under the sofabed? Books have a way of disappearing, then turning up in unexpected places.

Let it go, I said.

I looked at the same shelves over and over again, a strategy that sometimes works when my mind or eyes are not playing tricks on me.

Are they under a couch?

Let it go, I said.  They’ll either turn up. Or they won’t.

But I couldn’t let it go, and my last-ditch effort took me to the last place I would have expected to find them—a crawl space where my husband stores old files. Apparently some overflow boxes from the renovation were tucked away here, until they were forgotten.

I can breathe better now.

* * *

I grapple with letting go. The two concepts—‘grapple’ and ‘letting go’—would seem to be a contradiction, maybe even an oxymoron. Years of doing yoga have me yearning for ‘effortless effort’, that sense of moving from pose to pose with such fluidity that I’m (almost) light as a feather. I have my moments of grace, and I’m thankful for the patience and, yes, the consistent work that has brought me to these moments.  But I can’t help thinking the greatest insights come during the plateau phases or the walls we hit when striving for something. It’s the reason I decided to learn to swim at 66. 

There’s an image that comes to me sometimes when my breath moves into a slow, easy rhythm during meditation. I’m sitting on the edge of a high cliff, very much at peace. How I got here is beside the point.  To watch Alex Honnhold do his free solo climb of El Capitan is to bear witness to being as in the moment as it gets. Letting go is not an option.

Language is my métier. ‘Let go’ is a world apart from ‘let it go.’ One added word brings a pause. The free fall of letting go now has room to negotiate its landing.  

***

On a visit that my daughter used as an opportunity to clear out clutter (pre-Marie Kondo) she handed me a small box fashioned from a cut-up manila folder. Decals (a bat and a cat) adorn the outside of this time capsule. Inside is a cornucopia of candy wrappers, her private stash of indulgences not readily available in our home. 

I smiled.  This was not deprivation by design.  Her sweet tooth, like her father’s, found satisfaction enough during family outings, movie nights, birthdays, Halloween.  Or so I thought. No surprise that she’s become the baker her mother never was.

As I move into my own decluttering, is it time to let this precious memorabilia go? My daughter insists it is.

***

A very large Webster’s dictionary sits in a cubby all its own in my office. It’s something I acquired many years ago—1962, to be exact—an award with a name as cumbersome as the dictionary itself.

Take a peek. Read the inscription.

Elsa Ebeling—now there’s a name worthy of a short story.

I was just twelve when I graduated from eighth grade. A December baby, I would enter kindergarten before I turned five. In the middle of fourth grade I was plucked out of my class and moved into fifth grade. They called it ‘acceleration.’ I could only see it as displacement, but who was I to complain?

Eighth Grade Graduation Day, 1962. Valedictorian. As if the isolation of being singled out—oh so smart—weren’t enough, here I was standing on a stage looking out at a sea of faces, speaking words (mostly mine) but possibly made a little loftier by a teacher’s coaching. I finished my speech, back to my seat, a sigh of relief.  Only to find myself called back to the stage when the award was announced. 

I can still feel my heart thumping.

The gift of an oversize dictionary was, is, and will always be cumbersome.  It requires a table, maybe even a room, of its own to be of any practical use.  We kept it on a low bookshelf.  Sometimes I would lug it out for more than a basic definition of a word, other times just to be awed by words and illustrations that might open me to something unknown.

To call it an underutilized, if not underappreciated, tome is an understatement. 

Today, as I pull it from its cubby with every intention of letting it go, I can’t help seeing it as the embodiment of a very particular moment in my life much better expressed without words.