“Are you writing?” he asked. “No,” I said.
No, I’m not writing. Not even now, not even during these unprecedented (to use a ridiculously over-used word) times.
I’m not writing. Even though I follow my poor daughter around the house beseeching her to document this moment. “You’re a filmmaker!” I say. “This is historic!” I say.
I find I have just about nothing to say about this time.
It’s rather odd.
It’s almost like nothing is happening, so there is nothing to write about.
Of course, I realize what a lap of privilege I occupy to even be able to write that.
I could write about gratitude, I suppose. That would be appropriate.
It’s strange. It’s like there’s a negative impression. A shadow where something used to be. An imprint in the sand where someone used to lie.
A memory of my former life.
Connections with people… I still have them. Or some semblance of them.
But not being able to step forward and hug the granddaughter of a friend (who I think could really use a hug), not being able to embrace my dance partners, not being able to playfully shove the arm of a friend as he cracks a ribald joke during a hike…
These lacks, these negative spaces, are taking a kind of toll on me. I feel blank, numb, speechless.
It’s strange. I feel the impulse to hug Simona every time I see her, but I hang back, because that is what we are supposed to do. And it affects our communion with one another. It creates a gap.
I don’t have a gap with my family though. We sit side-by-side on the couch night after night, watching movies. We are going through a book of 250 of the greatest movies ever since we learned my daughter was accepted to UCLA’s School of Theatre, Film, and Television.
I instigated this project. Since it was me who did so, it is suspect. My daughter slants her eyes critically at the book. “When was this written, Mom?” she asks.
She wants to disregard it. But I press on, and thankfully she hangs in there, which means she’s seen some interesting films by directors she will surely hear about in the next few years…
If everything remains on track, that is. If she goes to school in the fall, that is.
All bets are off, aren’t they?
My son got into UC Berkeley. He’s a transfer student. We should be elated. What an incredible boon. And, on one level, certainly, we are. But, it’s all a bit mystifying and muted now. Does he leave the job he has when the entire world economy is on the brink of imploding?
Or, is it? The stock market just keeps going up. Which is so weird. I can’t even fathom what that means, why that is. How can the unemployment rate be more than double what it was during the Great Recession, yet the stock market keeps rallying?
I don’t get it.
There’s a game being played that we’re not privy to.
We’re not sure if school will happen in the fall, for either my daughter or my son. We’re not sure if they should go if it’s online only (what are we paying for then? When we know we can get almost any class on Cornell.com for free?)
Everything is shaking. Things we thought were solid are proving to be rather bendy and ephemeral. Truisms of yesteryear no longer hold. The tired old conversation about a college degree, for example.
For years, my son said it’s no longer necessary. In fact, he said, it’s a detriment. A load of debt. You can learn anything online, he said. A person who figures out how to get their education for free is obviously someone you’d want to hire, Mom. Right?
But, he applied because I pressured him, and he got in.
Now, he thinks, how can he not go? It’s Berkeley.
But, NOW? Again, all bets are off.
I don’t quite know what to make of the present time.
I must admit, I’ve had some fun with shelter-in-place. Numbers of Covid-19 cases and deaths aren’t high in Northern California, thanks to our fantastic, prescient governor Gavin Newsom and San Francisco’s mayor London Breed, who was the first to issue lockdown orders in the country, I believe.
I do have times where I’m fearful. When I read the New Yorker article about how much we don’t know about Covid-19. About the kidney failure, the brain swelling, the blood clots. These are not cheering developments.
We don’t really know what we’re dealing with, and plenty of people my age seem to be dying from this. Even if I get a “mild” case, it sounds plenty nasty. I don’t want it. None of us do. And since I’m supporting a senior, bringing him groceries twice weekly, I have to be especially careful to not inadvertently pass it.
Am I though? Being especially careful?
Not according to my friend Jonathan. “Stop going to the store so much!” he says.
Not according to my son. “Stop going to the store so much, Mom!” he says.
I do go to the grocery store too much, I suppose. I like to cook even in normal times. During these shelter-in-place times, cooking has become a kind of panacea.
In the beginning, I was baking a lot too. Pies. Two in one week. Cakes. Scones. Etc.
I’ve gotten a little fat. But does it matter when you’re essentially living in sweat pants, yoga pants, stretchy pants, leggings, and maxi dresses? The other day I put a dress on, and I literally felt like a mom from the ’60s putting on my mumu. I remember my mom’s mumus. Splashes of color against a bright white background. Cutouts for the arms where little folds of fat gathered between the arm and the breast.
It’s a new world, that it is.
But, it’s not all bad. And I hope it’s okay to say that.
I see the kids in the neighborhood, on long walks with their parents in the afternoons. I see the posses of older kids on their bikes, keeping roughly six feet from one another as they ride by in snaking lines. I see more kids hiking the hills near my house, clambering up the grassy grades in a way I never saw them do before. They weren’t here. They were doing homework, in school, at soccer practice.
Now, they climb trees.
I don’t think that’s worse.
My neighbor Katie down the street has taken to mounting her cruiser bike and taking off in the evenings, no helmet necessary, her blonde hair undulating in the wind. She’s a symbol of freedom and simplicity.
In the mean time, the hills around us explode with wildflowers. Is it a coincidence that I’ve noticed, counted, and marveled at far, far more wildflowers this year than any other?
The birds sing so loud and in such grand choruses that I have to mute myself in meetings so they don’t overtake the call. Even with the windows closed.
But, that is a good thing, methinks.
It’s a good thing, nay, a great thing, that instead of filling my gas tank every six days (commuting to work), I now fill my tank every six weeks.
I like that. I like it a lot.
I don’t want to go back.
I do want to hug Simona when I see her because I worry about her, and I fear she is terribly alone.
I do want to dance, and hold my partners, and be held.
I don’t want to forsake physical intimacy completely, for the rest of my life. I don’t want that at all.
But do I want to go back to the way things were?
I do not. I do not want to commute any longer. It’s egregious, immoral. I do not want to be so busy. I do not want a full calendar. I do not want to spend sums of money in restaurants. I do not want shows. As much as I adore Hamilton, the cost is exorbitant for us. I simply can’t afford it.
And I don’t want to try any longer.
It’s time to save money, be sensible, be modest, calm the fuck down. Stop running around trying to do everything. Stop cutting my hair.
The hair has been a kind of revelation.
I thought I needed haircuts.
Turns out I don’t need haircuts.
For what? Why?
Maybe it’s time to stop thinking so much about ourselves and our needs and a little more about the big picture. Like the fact that the Earth is groaning under our weight, and we have nowhere else to go, and if we have progeny, we might want to pause and think for a minute about how they will be supported when the Earth is dried hull hurtling through space.
Maybe we can find time for that now.