Gina’s Review: I think these ideas are the perfect “recipe” for coping with our tough times. Look out Helen Mirren, you’ve got some competition.
On the last morning of week 4 during our Asheville isolation, I woke up to a dark room and the low rumble of armored tanks crossing over the pass into our valley. I moved here from Texas, where the thunder is like an explosion capable of stopping your heart and rattling the dishes in the cupboards. It is never coy. Here in the mountains of North Carolina, it is more like an intimation of a storm’s stealthy advancement. It echoes between the peaks and rolls over the inhabitants of our nestled hamlet in the way that lazy waves disturb a quiet beach. I’m never quite certain that I am hearing thunder here at our little Corona Cabana, its ambiguity leads me to believe it could be a number of other disturbances.
I lay in the dark of my bedroom, waiting for the patter of rain. It came in fits and starts and then rapidly died down, the rumble having moved over the mountain to try its luck at soaking other towns and villages. I stared at the ceiling and sighed. How will this ever end? We are in a rough predicament, a nightmare, and progress seems exceedingly slow. In these wee hours, I tend to agitate. And the virus provides enough kindling to provoke an inferno of consternation. Once again, I vow to enlist my recently acquired coping mechanisms as soon as I get out of bed, which gives me enough peace to fall back to sleep.
We all have different ways of dealing with bad stuff that gets us through the class V rapids and into the calm waters of life. This particular disaster deals out a variety of difficulties in an array of settings. My current bad stuff is merely inconvenience mixed with minor terror and profound sadness. It is a step down, though of much longer duration, than being in a flood. It is the length of time that is dragging at me. We are all learning the meaning of perseverance and coping with the subsequent changes in our lives.
Routine is my first defense. I don’t necessarily need to do the same things everyday so much as map out times in which I will perform certain tasks, diversions and chores. I employ this strategy in my usual life circumstances. I’m pretty certain the world will implode if I can’t keep to a daily structure, so I am adaptable to amending the schedule when circumstances change. While observing a lifestyle of physical isolation, I’m getting up later in the morning. This is shocking for me as I generally get up early as a rule. Having fewer hours to fill up with sadness-diverting activities is working well at this point in time. I also take naps when I feel overwhelmed with lack of human contact. Naps have the potential of healing the world. I might start a new business as a nap consultant. I already belong to the International Napping Association, of which I am the only official member. This seems like a good time for recruiting.
Exercise has always been a part of my adult life, so I have initiated new physical activity times into my day. Tai chi on the deck, or in the kitchen, right after breakfast is the perfect way to start these hours of drudgery. I like to think I am preparing for a role in a Hollywood movie. Helen Mirren and I are competing for the part of a stylish pensioner who uses her super powers to convince the evil, corrupt politician that instituting universal, public tai chi classes would serve the country better than …whatever evil shit they are planning on doing. Okay, it is not a well-thought-out scenario, but it keeps my interest intact, though Helen Mirren will most likely get the role.
My husband and I go for a longish walk in the afternoon. We take our dog Mindy though we don’t always want to. The dog is ill-behaved in public settings. In all settings. She barks and lunges at passers-by even though we cross to the other side of the street to avoid the virus-y off-flow from strangers we encounter. We stroll through nearby West Asheville neighborhoods, remarking on the attractiveness of homes or the woeful neglect of certain select properties. We have names for the routes we take and can, upon leaving the house, shortcut the decision making by asking such questions as: Short Izzy’s or Long Wilshire? Sometimes we simply pick a direction and wander at will. A bit of spontaneity goes a long way, as long as it’s not too long. I have a schedule to keep.
Afternoons are alternated with yoga, weights, stretching and what I call the Fab Four, movements geared toward keeping my spine fluidly moving and catching up on Little Fires Everywhere. Combining exercise with mindless television watching had previously been scorned, but desperate times, etc.
Writing takes up most of the morning. Since working from home, computer perched on the dining room table with the cord wrapped around my djembe (African drum) to reach the outlet in the kitchen, I have been writing less per day with more frequency per week. I tend to get frustrated when there is nothing being shouted down from the circus in my head, so now I write in short bursts of inspiration strung out over the course of the week. When I really get stuck, I’ll start in on a crossword or Sudoku puzzle to redirect my attention for a while until I feel like facing that blank screen once again.
Various tedious activities are saved for late afternoon. Vacuuming the floors terrorizes the dog, so I have to make arrangements for her removal before I can tackle that ten-minute chore. Laundry, why is there more than usual? My Sewing Masks for the Future project has been launched to low-level acclaim. Being a sew-y kind of person, I have boxes of material heaped up in the basement. I collect fabric like some people collect coins or stamps (do people still do that?) or small porcelain pigs. In real life, I might drop by the Goodwill Store to sift through the blue bins, trained for finding colors and designs pleasing to the eye. I don’t want to use my fabric collection for something as mundane as a mask, but we all have to make sacrifices and that awesome faux leopard print will need to be shifted from cool sofa pillow to life-saving, mouth and nose covering, chic accessory.
Cooking is my Zen. I used to love shopping at the grocery store, especially if I was unfamiliar with the store. The thrill of discovery at an unknown Publix, where there is an ample kosher section. The noodle aisle at the Asian market I stumbled upon while out in the car. The sweet little bodega behind the Aldi. It’s so easy these days to find a recipe in which to employ that pickled mango or the can’t-pronounce-the-name dried mushrooms or the 5 lb. bag of masa. Now one must wait in line and go in one direction through the store, dallying at the risk of disapproval.
As usual, I make a menu for the week. If I can’t find an ingredient on my list, I make an uninformed substitution, the result of which we either find amusingly off key or offensively disgusting. We eat it either way. Without our restaurant visits, we have to eat all the leftovers, of which I make sure there are plenty. In the past four weeks we have thrown out some of the dregs, those concoctions which neither of us has the stomach to consume on a daily basis until it’s all gone or taking on bacteria. The idea here is to fight the monotony, not eat it.
We are saved by baked goods. Muffins, pies and bread mostly. These are devoured with alacrity. Finding flour is a chore. Suddenly everyone wants to bake or is stocking up for a time when baked goods are in short supply, aka the end of the world. If only I had some toilet paper to trade for stockpiled bags of flour. Meanwhile there’s plenty of chocolate, dried fruit and nondairy yogurt with which to experiment. The household lab rats are okay with this.
Friends call or text. Zoom is the new hug! Facebook keeps me aware of what people are doing for themselves and others. I am finding moments of peace. By observing my strict schedule and diverting my attention away from the constant bombardment of bad news, I find a little time to reflect, meditate and be silent. I know all the bad stuff is still there, and that there’s good stuff as well. People are amazing. That’s why I love being around them so much. From a distance for now, until we are released from our cozy Corona Cabana.
Stay sane my friends,
Guest Editor Gina named our little group of friends The Squad. Perhaps she was once a cheerleader. All of her suggestions for improving this story were spot-on.