Jennifer’s Review: Cheryl had a rough couple of months this spring, but after a slow start she got a pretty good routine going which eventually led to a return of the circus. Most excellent! I felt her pain, her whoa, annoyance at dirty foot prints and the opening of the clouds of mental restriction when…an idea…………..
NOTE: I wrote this letter to my dear friend Jennifer in response to the fantastic letters, filled with photos, stickers. small doodads and fridge magnets, which she sends to me. In my letter, I describe my path through the five stages of pandemic isolation: 1. Sulking 2. Zooming 3. Manic Activity 4. Creative Breakthrough 5. Acceptance
It’s been too long since we’ve seen one another. When I moved away, I figured we would be visiting with each other from time to time. I could picture that trailer of yours parked in our driveway and slow lazy hikes along the river. When we made plans for you to fly here and join me on an excursion to the shores of South Carolina with my local friends, I was overjoyed with anticipation. I even started to write up a menu of meals to make in the rental cottage and enjoy as we sat on the beach, reading and chatting and snoozing in the sun. It brings back memories of our trips to Galveston and those lovely walks along the coast. Now our plans have been dashed, which makes missing you more strongly felt. If I saw you today, I would hug you until you went limp and I suffered massive muscle failure and then was arrested for harming us both. I fully understand why some people are doing things they ought not be doing. They miss their friends.
Ten weeks of staying at home, even voluntarily, can take a toll on a soul. And knowing that these 10 weeks might stretch into 10 months brings a kind of anguish that seeks to be relieved by any means possible. My mind-set has experienced a sort of fast-track of evolution that would rival the constant mutations of flu strains. Ten weeks is nothing on either the scale of time with which the earth changes or that of human development. Yet the speed with which changes have occurred for me in a fleeting number of hours is scientifically observable. Let me give you the breakdown of the last ten weeks. I call it the five stages of pandemic isolation.
SULKING. For the first couple of weeks I did nothing. I sat around, watched TV and sulked. I displayed all the attributes one acquires during the first days of a longish prison sentence. Sleeping late into the morning, throwing things at the dog, forgetting to stock up on toilet paper (I’m not entirely sure that’s a concern for those in the slammer), cursing of microscopic enemies and the equally microscopic brains of those entrusted with the management thereof. Week 1 was a real bitch.
I was trying to write from home. Thankfully, I had already finished the story which was to be posted that week. Starting the story for the following week seemed daunting. My imagination seemed to be taking a holiday, so I did what writer’s do, I started giving readers a peak at my own struggles with the pandemic. People would surely relate, especially if they too were riding it out at home with desperately impatient anxiety.
As time passed, my appearance became less of a matter of grooming and more of a matter of comfort and abject laziness. I am proud to report that I have, from then to now, taken a shower and brushed my teeth every day. I no longer bother with earrings or styling my hair. I was due for a haircut back in March. Now its shearing might require a sturdy pair of hedge clippers. How often I have thought of texting my hair stylist and offering her a pile of cash in order to be first on her list when she can again operate. I haven’t worked up the energy it takes to find her phone number, and I am afraid her answer will be “Who’s this?”
ZOOMING. By the second or third week of staying at home, I engaged in online, self-training in Zoom. After some initial tech-induced stress, I can now set up meetings and join them with aplomb. The number of people speaking at once is annoying to me and I can tell you honestly that I can handle up to 6 people if none of them insist on being the only person who gets to say something. If I don’t get to speak, it’s not a conversation. I need interaction, not the Roy and Myrna show. I never thought I would ever do this, but I am now limiting my Zooming time to as few people as possible.
Maintaining a routine got to be very important to me around weeks 3 and 4. Setting aside time for exercise every day, specific hours for writing and cooking and Zooming. I also required some leisure breaks throughout the day to engage in napping, tv watching, reading and indulging in periods of general apathy. This strategy has served me well over the course of our at-home patriotism, though has not been entirely successful at keeping the monotony at bay.
MANIC ACTIVITY. The sameness of the days finally got to me in weeks 5 through 7. I became obsessed with cleaning the house and noticing all the annoying things my house mates did on a regular basis. Things like not wiping their feet, forgetting to take out the compost or dragging dead things in from outdoors were starting to wear on my nerves because I noticed a repetitive pattern I had not previously seen back in the good old days when I left the house for several hours to take the bus downtown to my office space.
Judging from the poor availability of flour in the grocery stores, it seems like baking is an activity scores of people have turned to for solace during their many hours of boredom. I used to bake on a weekly basis, so I had plenty on hand when the stay-at-home party began. I baked so many loaves of bread during the last 2 weeks in April that I think I may have enough stashed in my freezer to last until I can harvest the wheat I planted in the back yard.
CREATIVE BREAKTHROUGH. I swear, Dear Friend, I was beginning to crack, to crumble like my home-made falafel, to disappear into the void of house-bound self-pity and mind-numbing diversions, when the sky opened up and rain poured down to clear the air of pollen. My headache went away and was replaced by that old bug. That bastion of joy and entertainment. The Internal Circus was back, returned from exile. I made puppets!
Now, I know the thought of making puppets is a mundane business for those who have no circus. It was my salvation. I could suddenly see the mind set of all the creative people who have ever lived. The best artists in human history are those who have not given even the teeniest shit about what people will think of their creations. I knew people would scoff, think it childish or beneath dignity, but here is the best part of all this insight: I did not care! How freeing! How wonderfully, exquisitely, revolutionarily bondage breaking! Week 8 of staying at home was the best week of my life.
Then came week 9. Putting it all out there for the world to see. My really, poorly-made puppet movie. In my blog. I now have my own YouTube channel…whatever that means. Some people, the good people of Internet Land, have asked me to make another show for them. I will. I have to. My circus has returned and it is demanding I make as many stupid puppet shows as I need to in order to keep the creative juices flowing. It’s on!
I have come out of the social isolation fog to see with more discerning eyes all the contributions of my fellow innovators. Music, art, literature, all are on offer through the imaginative spirits of inspired people everywhere. I just found out my neighbor has a photography exhibit at a nearby gallery.
ACCEPTANCE. For the first time in 10 weeks, I am having fun. Some stores are open, but I’m not going to them. We have supported the restaurants (take-out), breweries (more take-out) and local shops (shop online and employee delivery or pickup) in the hopes that they are still standing when it is safe to return. We get our conversations on the streets now and with friends on Zoom, it’s the new happy hour (though it’s really only 40 minutes for the free account). We bought some masks in case we need to look fashionable when we go to the hardware store.
Let’s get together online soon. I can’t wait for you to see my hair!
Love and miss,
Guest Editor Jennifer and I have had many adventures together from building a gingerbread house to kayaking on Canyon Lake and weathering a few of life’s nasty storms both actual and metaphorical. I’m looking forward to the day we can do some picking and singing on my front porch. Until then…letters, of which she is a true artiste.