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.


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

Submit Surrender Retreat: my corona diaries

As a writer I think about words in all their nuance, music, use and misuse.

I submit work in the hope of having it published.  In this context, submission is a good thing. No pressure, except what I put on myself in terms of deadlines, not to mention the emotional underpinnings of rejection vs. acceptance.

In the context of submitting to someone else’s will, it reeks of aggrievement. In these days when the abomination of racism, in general, and the reverberations of slavery, in particular, have brought us to our knees as a nation, conversations with my daughter have me hopeful that out of the ashes of protest may come a new level of awareness, maybe even change. We talk about books we’re reading, movies we’re watching, and their relevance to the times in which we live.

Doesn’t an individual story, fictional or personal narrative, so often move us more than historical texts?

‘I am here, telling this story, and not from the grave, not yet, but from the here and now, peering back into another time, when we were Tasked, and close to the earth, and close to a power that baffled the scholars and flummoxed the Quality, a power, like our music, like our dance, that they cannot grasp, because they cannot remember.’ – Ta-Nahesi Coates, The Water Dancer

It’s a gift, as poetic as it is poignant and powerful, to tell a story of slavery and the ending of it that would seem to have come, only to continue haunting us hundreds of years later. 

It’s a ruse, as political as it is linguistic, to try to take the wind out of #BlackLivesMatter by telling us #AllLivesMatter or #PoliceLivesMatter.  

The same can be said of what Susan Faludi calls the right-wing trap that turned  #IBelieverHer during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings into #BelieveAllWomen.

The misappropriation of language is indeed a bitch.

* * *

Surrender, in the world of meditation and yoga as I know it, is a melting away of resistance. The body, if you’re lucky, eases; the monkey mind quiets down, chatter gives way to present moment awareness. It helps to call that kind of surrender ‘sweet.’  

In his final moments we hear George Floyd—no more resistance left in him even if this was no true surrender—calling out to his dead mother. 

My daughter sends me a text: The world is over. Fuck us all.

I want to reverse the curse, give her reason for some hope.  I know my need to protect her has limitations and everything I can, or cannot, do, everything I fear is filtered through the lens of being a white mother.

We had to hire someone to help us help our son sleep. I have paid someone to buffer me from my own tendencies of protection in pursuit of a higher good. I am a black mother living in America. You cannot blame me for wanting to watch my child breathe all night.’— Idrissa Simmonds-Nastili,  Letter From Oakland: Black Motherhood in Sleepless Times

Black creativity emerges from long lines of innovative responses to the death and violence that plague our communities. “Not a house in the country ain’t packed to its rafters with some dead Negro’s grief,” Toni Morrison wrote in “Beloved,” and I am interested in creative emergences from that ineluctable fact.’—Elizabeth  Alexander, The Trayvon Generation

* * *

To be disciplined enough to sit in front of a blank screen in the hope that something of relevance will come forth sometimes takes effort. Even without a pandemic forcing our hands re: staying home, solitude is a means to a form of expression, possibly even revelation.  No sooner do I finish reading The Water Dancer than I found myself caught up in novel that tackles five hundred years of Brazilian history, in which slavery played no small part, via one family’s lineage of women.

The savages, while he wouldn’t say they had no feelings, for even he could attest they did, were like cattle: their suffering was of a lighter nature and would soon pass.’—Maria Jose Silveira, Her Mother’s Mother’s Mother & Her Daughters

To be disciplined, sometimes to the point of embarrassment, for doing something someone else thought was wrong or simply did not want you to do is a whole other matter. It’s an expression of power. 

* * *

Will wearing masks, part of our routine, ever feel routine?  it’s rhetorical to ask how wearing them became politicized.  Like all performers, the man Fintan O’Toole cleverly labeled the unpresident has his routines, though I think he gets too much credit for thinking things through. He says what he wants/whenever he wants. He bastardizes language. He himself mistakenly misspelled ‘unprecedented’ as ‘unpresidented.’ 

* * *

These days find me in retreat, another riddle of a word.

On the battlefield, retreat most often echoes with impending defeat. 

Retreat, in the context of tuning out, stepping back, is a form of self-preservation. It brings ease, yes. But there is no real ease without unease. The demons—anxieties, fears, doubts—masked by routine become restless, exposed. 

As a writer I’m prone to overthinking, counting on words to make sense of things better grasped from a place beyond words. The need for retreat at a time when a pandemic already has me sheltering in place would seem to be overkill. And, yet, if there’s any personal good to come out of a time of misery it’s the diminished compulsion that has me slowing down. If my writing feels less driven, that’s okay. If I check in on social media once or twice a week, that’s okay too. News need not be up-to-the-minute to find me.

Some days all I want to do is listen to Igor Levit play Beethoven or watch dolphins swimming on my TV screen.

All of which has me me feeling almost liberated.

—-June 30, 2020

Rock paper scissors: my corona diaries

Memorial Day weekend has come and gone.

The traditional beginning of summer, this one like no other we’ve experienced, brings a little easing of pandemic restrictions, if not the anxiety that we’re moving too quickly too soon. People are antsy, edgy, ready to go to the beach or the park, not to mention get back to work.

A few hours with friends, late afternoon, three couples sitting far enough apart to feel safe but close enough for easy conversation, is refreshing. We bring our own picnic dinners, no sharing of food. Does it feel weird not to be dipping into a big bowl of chips and guacamole, cook up a batch of burgers and hot dogs? Yes. At the same time, it’s not Zoom, and that’s a very welcome thing,

The New York Times front page, May 24, 2020, is sobering. Newsworthy. The New York Daily News front page, May 24, 2020 is sobering, too, even if it brings a smirk of satisfaction to my face.

America is broken, and no matter which side of the political divide you’re on, it’s hard for most caring, thinking people not to be moved by the despair, the frustration, the deaths. Then comes Memorial Day. You can almost smell the salt air, feel the sand between your toes. Try to remember why this holiday even exists.

Try to believe that something approaching normalcy is possible.

Last week had me finally trashing a box of cassettes I’ll never play again. But those toys from another time and figurines–Ariel, Cinderella, the Tin Man, the Lion, the Scarecrow, Dorothy–collected when my daughter was young and later on used in my elementary school writing workshops, well somehow they don’t want to leave. Laying claim to my Marie Condo ruthlessness gets me only so far.

They don’t want to leave–pay attention to how I phrased that. Yes, they have a life of their own. They want a Memorial Day that means something. They want me to play a simple game, something tactile, not digital.

I curl my hand into a fist—

rock crushes scissors

Open it out flat—

paper covers rock

Make a V with my index and middle fingers—

scissors cut paper

* * *

Barely a week since Memorial Day and American is not just broken, it’s burning. If echoes of the ’80s reverberated when the current occupant of the Oval Office took power, his reign of horror is evidence that the ’60s (not the mention the Civil War) never really ended.

A text from my daughter in L.A., Sunday, May 31st–

Sorry I haven’t called today. I just don’t have the words.

Who does have the words? I’m tempted to write back. Instead I let it be, just tell her I understand. Then I open a link she sent, an op-ed piece in the LA Times by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It’s eloquent, heartfelt, poetic:

Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere.

* * *

My toenails have no polish, my hair is, thankfully, all grown out grey, in need of a trim but I can easily fudge it. I’ve learned how to give my husband a buzz cut. After dinner we take a walk outside. I marvel at what nature, with a little coaxing and pollination and pruning, takes care of if you just let her be. He loves seeing bees moving from flower to flower. Not everything planted survives.

He used to buy me irises, my favorite flower. Now they bloom, like clockwork, every May.

Is there some equivalence between the reassurance I take from seasonal renewal and seeing familiar brands of paper goods–Kleenex, Scott, Seventh Generation–return to supermarket shelves? Will the unfamiliar (at least to me) ones–TreeFree, Envision–disappear?

In my car, listening to a Sirius XM station named for Frank Sinatra. His daughter Nancy is hosting. She ruminates on her father reminding us what a great country we live in. We’ve been through hard times before, he would say. We got through them, we’ll get through them again. She wonders what he’d say now, then plays New York New York.

I’m a Sinatra fan, and I believe in the power of music to save us. But right now my money would not be on the chairman of the board.

-June 1, 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

Lipstick (redux)

More than once is recent weeks, online conversations re: why bother wearing lipstick have come my way. Maybe sheltering in place has made many of us skip the makeup on most days, though I confess to a touch of color on my eyes and cheeks from time to time to brighten what I see in the mirror and, always, lipstick, never mind that it’s lost behind a mask when I venture out. All of which got me thinking of a post I wrote several years ago that touched on, among other things, the lipstick factor as a reflection of economic times. So here it is, one from the archive.


There’s a woman who lives down the road from me, a hearty soul who ran the family business, a septic-tank service, until Alzheimer’s put the brakes on some of her organizational skills.  I’d see her on the road walking one dog or another (she has two), a stick in hand to keep at bay any aggressive canines straying from their property, getting a little too close for comfort.  She always carried biscuits in her pocket, treats for the friendlier dogs she’d come across. All mine had to do was sit and look pretty, her wagging tail as good as any smile.

Over the years we’d strike up conversations, mostly about dogs, sometimes about the challenges of life. She lost a brother early on (a car accident), ministered to her husband when his kidneys were failing and he needed dialysis, at home.  She drove down to visit her father in Florida for a few weeks every year until he became too frail to live by himself. At which point she brought him (and his dog) up to her house in Westchester County.  She lives an hour north of New York City and has never been drawn to its pulse.

Her Alzheimer’s is far from advanced, and she always seems to recognize me, though I’ll have to remind her why Maggie isn’t with me, pulling me toward her house, a dog’s charm all the trick she needs to get her treat.  And she’ll remind me of how much pets bring to our lives. The tug of her dogs, small as they are, is too much, so these days she’ll take walks with a friend or her brother-in-law, who shares her home.

She always wears lipstick, and it always extends past her upper lip. There’s something about this that really touches me, the need to smear on that lipstick, no idea really that she’s missed the mark. She is not a glamorous woman, has never been. She could be wearing sweatpants and a sloppy sweater.  Her hair is neatly in place. Then there’s the final touch before she heads out the door, the lipstick.

Many years ago, as an editor of a newsletter focused on AIDS-related health and social issues, I attended a panel discussion on developments in research. One of the panelists was a ground-breaking researcher, a woman who had a certain style and glamour to her. Still, the last thing I would have expected, as the panel discussion was winding down, was to see her pull out a compact and freshen her lipstick.  Years later, I still remember being struck by the ease and nonchalance with which she did this. The more I thought about it, the more I admired her for the ever-so-subtle pronouncement. It’s only lipstick.

And yet. There are studies that call up the ‘lipstick factor’ as a reflection of economic times.  Maybe yes, maybe no. More to the point is what that purse-size stick or tube reflects in the woman who has made a deliberate choice today:  Red or pink or tangerine. Purple. South Beach Bronze or  Peppermint Candy..

My (unglamorous) neighbor is doing her best, putting on a face that pleases her even as something inside is dissembling.  I would like to tell her she doesn’t need it, and in fact might look better without it. I would like to tell her that the person she sees in the mirror when she puts that lipstick on is not the person she is, or was. But she knows all that. And besides, who am I to talk? I always dab on some lipstick or lip gloss when I head out. I like the way it makes my lips feel. I wear it like an assumption.

May 11, 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,
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

Walking Waiting Worrying Weeping: my corona diaries

Walking helps the weeping. Springtime brings a little something new to notice each day. Mostly I’m swept up in that touch of green-gold on just-budding leaves.

Typically halfway into my walk around the lake endorphins kick in. My gaze shifts from the ground to the trees and sky. Nests show themselves. The worrying, intrinsically linked to the waiting, eases up. Today I passed a mother walking with a two-year-old. “Oh what I’d give to see the world through his eyes,” I said from a safe distance. The mother smiled.

“A seed knows how to wait,” writes Hope Jahren in Lab Girl.

“After scientists broke open the coat of a lotus seed (Nolumbo nucifera),” she notes, “and coddled the embryo into growth, they kept the empty husk. When they radiocarbon-dated this discarded outer shell, they discovered that their seedling had been waiting for them within a peat bog in China for no less than two thousand years. This tiny seed had stubbornly kept up the hope of its own future while human civilizations rose and fell.”

An odd irony to be reading these words in these times. Waiting tests our patience, whether in a doctor’s office or sitting in my home office wanting to scream about an Internet that seems slow today, no reason other than a traffic-jammed information highway.

This waiting is about wanting to wake to tomorrow with the promise of an end to corona in sight.

* * *

Just now a sigh. I’m looking out my window, leafless tree branches swaying. I’m waiting for words, the right ones.

Don’t words too often fail us when we most need them?

Jill Lepore, in a recent New Yorker piece:  “Every story of epidemic is a story of illiteracy, language made powerless, man made brute.”

There’s a higher frequency both in the nature and number of text messages. One day a friend sends me a link to a man speaking Italian while demonstrating how to use a sanitary pantiliner as a mask. Another day she alerts me to the death of Bill Withers.

In texts with my daughter we can go so easily from conversations about shoes and trinkets and the local stores we want to make sure survive to despair over the need for convention centers to be turned into makeshift hospitals.

I glaze over numbers—is it really possible that the death toll in China is closer to 40,000, not the 3,500 reported?

It’s the individual stories that get to me most: The single mother holed up with her two-year-old. Patients struggling to breathe with lungs that sounded like sandpaper.

I suffer from supermarket stress. Get in and out as quickly as possible. Hope that I’ll find what I need. I hate wearing this mask. I hate that I have to ask the woman at the checkout counter to repeat what she said. Her mask muffles her voice.

 The other day there were three pairs of swans on the lake. Over the years just one pair.

Today it’s a swan convention, five pairs of them.

I hear more birds each day. They keep me from thinking. They remind me of something I read many years ago. Before words, we communicated through sounds. We made music.

My husband knows just the thing to make me laugh at night. Seinfeld reruns work like a charm. The other night a Netflix special, Dave Chappelle being honored with the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

Today my husband tells me he was kept awake during the night with thoughts of a Russian takeover of our country. He’s convinced The Manchurian Candidate is in the White House.

“You’re starting to scare me,” I tell him. He’s troubled, too, about the rise of anti-Semitism worldwide.

I’m troubled that I can’t get a kosher chicken and brisket from the local butcher. Passover is days away. There won’t be the usual gathering of close friends and family at our seder, just the two of us.

My mother died during Passover. For years I could not recall the solar calendar date (April 8), only the lunar (Jewish) calendar date, 15 Nissan. This year brings synchronicity to the two ways of marking my days.

My daughter amuses me with a text about how Larry David, our favorite curmudgeon, copes during corona times. Today she texts me an alert from the White House COVID-19 coordinator re: avoiding supermarkets and pharmacies.

I take it all in, the worrying and the weeping. And I ask myself, by not rushing out to buy chicken and brisket a week ahead of time, am I simply being my normal, pre-corona-anxiety-stricken self? And isn’t that a good thing? If it turns out I don’t get what exactly what I want for a Passover meal, I’ll. make do with what I get.

New York State reported a drop in the death toll (594 new deaths, down from 630 the day before). The governor says it could be a ‘blip.’

April 6, 2020