I worked from home Monday. It was the last time I got to choose.
I haven’t really cried yet.
I wish I could really believe my own attempts at feeling compassion for those not taking it seriously, but it seems easier to be mad at those individuals, it seems more likely I could change one person’s mind than to be angry at the system that created the conditions to behave a certain way, because the system also created me.
Drinking from the firehose of news is easier than facing my own sadness and disappointment. A Zoom workshop instead of an in-person writers retreat. Smiles covering heartbreak.
Until I am preparing lunch and realize how amped up I am, all adrenaline and nerves, to the point of nearly slicing a finger.
I look at my list of ways to stave off depression. This list, which includes “take a shower” and “wear real clothes” suddenly looks like a quarantine survival guide.
In the world of the blind, a one-eyed woman is queen.
An anxious queen. Queen of anxiety.
Uncertainty swirls. I try to slow it by finding order and control. But there is none to be had.
Will my depression flourish in this environment where hermiting is celebrated and pants are optional?
Virtual happy hour is now a thing. Friends break my heart with their words of doubt. I want to exchange words, to wrap a bow around my words for them, receive their words for me, let go of the mean words we have for ourselves. Give love.
What can I have right now? The love of a partner. The wind through the blooming quince shrub. The salty air on a cool day. Calla lilies. Sighs of a dog whose one week with us turns into two and no end in sight as long as planes carry viruses as well as people.
Tears seem like a slippery slope. What will come once I let them start?
I want to rely on a granite rock of love to help me, but it seems that granite will be even more slippery and hard and make it hurt more when I fall. So I want a pillow, a cloud, but something less temporary. Maybe a sandy beach, something that changes itself with the weather and ties but remains in essence what it is: a solid but soft place where I can sit or walk or run or stand, that supports me even when it’s wet, that makes me feel part of something much bigger than me, that gives me perspective and reminds me I’m human and that I’m me. And so that sand morphs around my feet and gives when I sit, I can scootch my butt around to make a comfortable seat, but I’m not changing the essence of its being, I’m just finding my own way of becoming with it. And it doesn’t mind, it gladly yields.
Although what am I giving in return? That love is very one-sided, because what can I give a sandy beach? What does it need from me, human? Maybe appreciation is enough? My gratitude for its support? Do I do that enough?
Thank you for wrapping me.
Are my words empty, just because they don’t start a revolution?
Grad school friends I haven’t seen in years, how much there is to say, and all we can say is “Covid.”
When should I run? When should I write? When should I work? When and how much should I read the news, check social media, read email? Should I go for a walk or into the backyard? I could do a puzzle! Take a nap, in the middle of a work day! Suddenly the options seem both endless and claustrophobic. Like the cereal aisle, like the menu of a diner, so many options that I freeze and can’t pick anything, or drool over the bananas foster but then order eggs and toast.
And then more choices, about a brother and mother and sister and how many pieces I care to pick up and put back together. The guilt that comes from realizing that care is a choice.
What do people think about if they’re not thinking about making things better or doing what’s next or improving? This is a genuine question, like what occupies space in brains that aren’t wired like mine?
Can I ever learn that I can deserve something because every human deserves and not have to prove to myself that I deserve it?
Can I deserve loving working from home?
Last night, I told my therapist, whose face was blurry and pixelated on the telemedicine platform and I wondered if that’s how he saw me: blurry. Last night I told him it was easier when I was ignorant and 23. When I didn’t know I was craving attention. When I didn’t know how mean I am to myself. When I could use my perfectionism for discipline and success. When I could blissfully dampen anxiety or depression with work or drinking or a social life or ignoring any sort of strong connection with another person, when I could save up all my emotion to be released, which ended up happening in my mid-thirties. So here I now am, wanting that shell back, it felt safe and self-destructive, sometimes more appealing than the curse of self-awareness. I have eaten the apple and know that I am naked.
And being naked feels cold and lonely but also makes the arms of another even warmer and more tender.
Long walks and Saturday pancakes and the dawning realization that not having anything to choose from or say no to or happening without me and no shoulds might be kind of amazing. Is this how introverts will take over the world?
Presuming we’re not all wiped out by a virus.
Or squashed by the fact that nothing seems fair. Nothing is fair. We can’t even agree to follow the rules.
Freedom and paralyzation.
Moments of clarity, wanting to be kind to myself and gently coax myself out of bed after a single snooze, wanting to be someone who doesn’t suffer from her struggles. And then my head hurts and I’m tired and can do nothing but a jigsaw puzzle.
And there are so many don’ts: don’t get too close. Don’t go out too often. Don’t drive to a park. Don’t go out in groups.
What about the dos?
Do go linger on the beach. Do go look for new flowers poking up among last year’s dead leaves covering the forest floor. Do draw on the sidewalk with chalk. Do get groceries for your neighbor. Do let your dog run into the ocean even if it means a bath later. Do put your own bare feet onto the sand and let the cold water tickle your toes. Do snooze your alarm. Do have another glass of wine or cup of coffee. Do say yes to another walk ostensibly because the dog needs it but mostly you need it. Do watch the sunset even when it’s cold and windy.
Well, Zoom weddings are now a thing.
What if I’m enough?
All I need to be right now is alive. (And take my meds. And maybe cry, I haven’t really done that yet.)
Alive is the ultimate beginning, a choice I did not make, and yet here I am, trying to take control.
What if we knew there was an atom from Shakespeare in the cheap wooden writing desk we ordered online? An atom of Einstein in our pen? An atom of a fifteenth century waif in the twenty-dollar bill pulled from an ATM in a hurry?
Maybe what I want are more walks, more runs on the beach dodging sand dollars, more afternoons in pajamas with Earl Grey tea, more living room chats, more Fiona Apple albums in the bathtub. No more happy hours without realness, no more using work as a metric of success, no more filling life with busyness and false goals. More living in accordance with my values and with people who share them and don’t try to talk me out of being me.
Ruminations begin with the word, “Should.” The word is at the front of my brain when I wake up, when I’m falling asleep, when I’m wondering what to do, what not to do.
“Should” doesn’t care that I’m operating at a limited capacity.
“Should” doesn’t let me see what is.
If I try so hard to meet the expectation of the “should,” I can’t even start.
So I throw away my mascara and eye shadow and stop wearing a bra.
But I still try to wear jeans every day. That’s for me, not anyone else.
I saw a single meteor after waking up early and stumbling to the beach. But I heard the waves crash and the stars twinkle in the dark which are just as wondrous as a meteor shower.
I have never been so happy to finish a jigsaw puzzle that will get glued together and framed mostly as a reminder never to do that one again.
I discover I’m not that disappointed hearing the news that we’re sheltering in place another month. Not disappointed to continue working from home.
I have a job. I have a roof. I feel very far away from those who don’t, even though I interview them for newspaper stories and try to understand the economics. Even restaurant owners want to be safe, first.
I still haven’t cried.
But I haven’t slipped. A moment of silence to appreciate Lexapro.
Doing nothing is now an active verb.
Are those who don’t stay home the same people who read the “25 Ways to Make Life Easier” articles and expect life to be easy? That everything is an inconvenience? Instead of as a shared struggle that brings us together?
Instead of sharing struggle, we share guilt.
We share guilt over not being good enough, not reaching the potential granted to us – we think, guaranteed us – by the American Dream. And so we strive to best each other, to outdo, to out-earn. To put our eye on the prize of money and material objects rather than on helping and making the world a better place. We place value on likes and retweets and clicks instead of on real hearts touched and connections made. Will the pandemic now bring us farther into those online worlds because they’re all we have right now? Or will we emerge, blinking in the bright light, in awe of the world around us and forget the cave we’ve been trapped in? Realize that although we were duped, led into a cave with the promise of treasure and magnificent stalagmites, it’s not a place to be trapped. So when we dig out from the collapse and enter the world again, will we now reprioritize the humanity, the goodness, rather than the chase for wealth and printed pieces of green paper that mean nothing except what we tell them to mean? Will we stop with the hacks and magic bullets and pills to cure what’s wrong, or will we move through what’s wrong and hard with the grace that comes from knowing it’s part of the human condition to struggle, to gnash teeth. Otherwise, we’re robots, productive and unfeeling.
What if my existence alone can make a difference?
I want to think about brushing the dog and seeing a hummingbird and my roses opening and the pea tendrils grasping the wire scaffold and the wall of nasturtium and the buds of radishes peeking above the dirt.
I was told a lot, as a kid, to have more patience. This thought comes to me as I tell myself to have more patience for people not taking the pandemic seriously, as they refuse to move over on the sidewalk to keep distance, as they rant about this being a flu, the protests about hair salons being closed, the crowded beaches.
But wait. Now, I know that the impatience is really anger.
So was that true, back then? Was I angry and didn’t know it because I was told to be patient?
Girls need to be allowed to be angry.
And I’m angry at the bailouts of corporations instead of taking care of the workers, the parents, the people. The obvious valuation of wealth over all else.
What if we all stopped trying to make more money than we can spend? What if we all operated like a non-profit: provide a service, pay those who give it, break even, success? Where did this value on hoarding money come from?
Is the hummingbird that nearly flew through my open window a sign that I was exactly where I needed to be in the moment or a sign that I was doing the wrong thing? The thing about signs is, they don’t interpret themselves.
Maybe it was just a sign that the rest of the world is still okay, it’s just we humans that are doomed.
You are not enlightened just because you have an opinion. You are not right just because you’re indignant.
I feel guilty anytime I feel excited over something. I guess this is what they call survivor’s guilt. But we can’t suffer all of us all the time. We have to take turns holding the load, the suffering a weight above us all. Sometimes holding it up, sometimes taking a break, sometimes holding our part lightly, sometimes escaping to the side of the road to chase butterflies and to dance and sing for those still bearing the weight. Not to run away, to escape, but to stay close enough to see the struggle and remember to return to help with the load and let others dance and sing, for their own freedom and for yours.
My dance looks like spilling coffee on my shirt and not changing, forcing a dog to lie on my feet, scrolling through Instagram on the toilet instead of reading the pile of National Geographic magazines piled up, eating ice cream and taking a nap after lunch.
There will be a before. There is now a during. But will there ever be an after?
Or will it be co-existence? Homeostasis.
There will not be an after for the 82,000 already dead.
And we’re supposed to be worried about this “both sides” shit?
Is the only way out of this to burn the entire world down?
Because right now the “both sides” looks like a side that wants to prevent people from contracting a killer virus, and a side that thinks opening businesses will somehow save us. It’s the economy, stupid.
Do we all have to die in order to live again?
There are also date nights on the beach waiting for the stars to come out and talking-not-talking about big things.
Long walks and nasturtiums and calla lilies and goslings and poppies.
Teddy bears in windows and mockingbirds and bushtits and cheese on toast.
Coffee and waffles and cuddles.
Added weight behind the phrase, “It’s good to see you.”
Signs of blossoms through the ash of a burning world.
Is this how people become reclusive, they feel about being near people all the time the way I feel during shelter-in-place? A visceral avoidance of something that could infect me, a bubble of anger anytime someone deviates from what I think they should be doing.
A flash of anger seeing protests for salons opening.
In truth, avoiding the reminder that there are other people out there to impress, to project my inner voice upon and pretend it’s them telling me I’m not doing enough, doing it right, get off the couch you lazy girl.
It is safer and kinder to observe pea tendrils wrapping around the neighboring jasmine plant, to count ladybugs on the apple tree and cheer them on in their aphid hunt.
But then a friend comes to your sand dunes and you sit ten feet away from her as the sun goes down, alternating sips of beer with pulling the mask over your face.
The shoulds are out in full force.
They are around every corner and in every crack of the couch cushions.
Every should is a calculus. A comparison.
But also there are rumblings of a desire to have a goal. But is that because I think I should have a goal or because I really want a goal?
Everything feels stuck and I tell myself it must be my fault.
Or it must be something I can problem-solve my way out of. Without asking for help.
George Floyd. Tears.
A dead moth on the baseboard that I don’t move for days. I was the last living thing to witness its life. That little bundle of moth-sized energy released back into the universe and I was right there so now do I have some of that energy in me?