In response to the Covid-19 crisis, a community journal curated by AFLW Projects Editor Lillian Ann Slugocki grows organically as a conversation and a shared, living, breathing document of our days together fighting a pandemic. Participants write 500 words or less for 30 days. This space is inclusive and it is free. The course is structured like a Massive Open Online Class (MOOC), so people can drop in any time, day or night. All entries marked public will be published here. Read. Join in.
April 8, 2020
The Perfect Day in the Future
Lillian Ann Slugocki
I will be at the grocery store early Sunday morning. I will grab the first cart I see, bare-handed, no gloves, enter the store and breathe deeply. I will veer left to the produce section. I will pick up tomatoes and examine them carefully, looking for the seams or the puckers that tell me they are not ripe. I will smell them, do they smell like a tomato? I touch and touch and touch many tomatoes, searching for the perfect tomato. I am in no rush. I am not panicked. I am not freaking out. I do not hate the person who sneezes. Next I will palpate and squeeze and smell about 10 avocados– which are the ones that will not ripen, the ones that are already too soft. Will I find a container of chopped up mango? On my perfect day in the future, I find a container of chopped up mango, and it’s perfectly ripe. I may find two. I won’t be afraid of an open bin of green beans. I will grab two handfuls, maybe more, and put them in a plastic bag. They smell so good, so green. I don’t know why I’m crying. Maybe they are tears of happiness, gratitude, or grief. It doesn’t matter because I’ll continue to the donuts behind a plexiglass case. I will open it and grab a Boston creme and eat it immediately, my face will be covered with crumbs. I’ll reapply my lipstick and check my reflection in the stainless steel cases. Maybe I look beautiful, tears and all, maybe I don’t. Next, I’ll pivot to the sweet potatoes and for the hell of it, will buy the organic ones even though they are for my dog, Molly. My grocery store is still playing the hits from the 80’s and like the old days, I may dance a little in the aisles. The shelves are stocked with peanut butter and jelly, and the meat case is filled with chicken– wings, thighs, breasts, and big thick steaks. I buy two rolls of toilet paper, but I could buy more if I wanted. I get butter and eggs and biscuits and frozen vegetarian pizzas. Right before I stand in a line to pay, I grab a cold Red Bull, open it and guzzle half of it. None of us are wearing gloves or masks, we bump up against each other, we are not afraid. We say hello and we say thank you.
Here’s the thing: I’m afraid I won’t have a perfect day once this is over. Because once the pandemic started changing my life—when the tutoring center I worked at part-time closed, and the yoga studio that provided my only moments of peace soon followed, and I made the decision to fly across the country and stay with my parents rather than be trapped alone in my apartment—I realized just how bad things had been before. For months now, I’d woken every morning in a panic, eyes still bleary from staring at a computer screen till two a.m. I’d spent my days working, working, trying to balance the editing and tutoring jobs I dreaded with the writing project I wanted so badly to succeed at, but had so little time for. After my last relationship ended badly (or more accurately, pathetically petered out), I’d given up on dating, at least for the time being. My friends were just as busy as I was, and most of them I hadn’t seen in weeks, or months. The small pleasures in my life, yoga and coffee shops and an occasional walk by the beach, were things easily swept away in the virus’s path.
Yes, the growing danger of the virus brought new panic, but it wasn’t really any worse than the anxiety and dread I’d already been feeling every day.
I hope I can have a perfect day when this is over. I hope this experience can teach me to reach out more, to hug my friends and go on dates or even just say “hi” to strangers on the street. I hope it can teach me to appreciate the small moments, walking through a crowded mall or along an empty trail, without thinking about everything that might go wrong and already has. But I’m afraid I’ll just go back to the way things were before, working and waiting for some future when things will be good, when I’ll be in the “right” place to make connections and truly live.
Like the rest of the world, all I can do right now is wait and see.
I park in the faculty parking lot in the safe body of my 4Runner, windows sealed tightly, sunroof shut, air conditioner blasting, as has been my procedure since early March. The few cars here are far apart, as if our social distancing of our bodies in physical space has become an involuntary response as basic as breathing. The Communication Division building – gleaming bright in the desert sun, hard light reflecting from its big second story floor to ceiling windows. I shudder, flashing back to early March, when I’d learned of the first diagnosis in our town – at a hospital right down the street! – and instantly having my first COVID19 panic attack as I mentally reviewed several student emails from the previous two weeks: I’ve been sick with a fever for three days, and sick to my stomach, with a cough, one had read. Can I turn in my essay late? I managed through my lecture that day, but not after asking all students to sit in the second row – no offense, and I feel bad asking you to do this. By the end of the week, our school was completely shut down and we began transitioning to all online instruction. I was relieved and also sad. There had been no time to say goodbye. Many students made it through the semester, and many others dropped out of sight without a word, and I’ve worried about them ever since. Would they be back? Would they be alive? I brace myself to enter the zone of destruction. How many faculty will be here today? Did we lose anyone? Is our building safe? Was it disinfected in the long months we were away? I put on my home-made mask – now mandatory for everyone in the U.S., indefinitely, and make sure I have my bottle of hand sanitizer in my purse. – somehow manage to open my car door and walk towards the building. I almost don’t do it. I use the edge of my shirt to open the door, and enter, terrified. Slowly walk up the stairs and ender the faculty area. The place feels spooked. I walk past my colleagues’ offices, looking into their windows. Disarray. Papers on desks, sweaters thrown across chairs. Signs of our mass evacuation. I check my mask, make sure it’s in place. No one else is here yet. It feels like a ghost town. I open my office door with my key fob, turn on the light switch with my shirt sleeve, see the framed picture of me with my young grandchildren – who live 2,000 miles away and who I haven’t seen for eight months – that I’d just placed there before we all had to go away. My office, full of my books and favorite little things, feels like a warm embrace. I want to cry. I hear the familiar voice of a colleague calling out. Is anyone here? Hello? It is wonderful to hear that voice. It is my first day back to school.
A perfect day you say? You mean I can say whatever I want! Don’t mind if I do. First I wake up early enough to enjoy the most delicious cup of coffee known to man, without my children yanking at me. The silence is blissful and calming. I check my to-do list and enjoy my alone time. An hour doesn’t fly by like it normally does. I do a light workout, following my favorite fitness couple on youtube. I also lose myself in a great book and meditate to center myself. Now I am ready for my perfect day.
My children wake up smiling and practically leap out of bed as soon as I walk into their bedrooms. Both my older daughters greet me with big grins and tight squeezes and then they start their morning routine, demonstrating their very mature independence. The baby comes waddling out of our bedroom with her arms up for me saying “mama”. I pick her up and shower her with kisses and get her changed and clean for the day.
Savory bacon wafts into my bedroom as I get myself dressed. I meet my children and husband at our kitchen table for a big breakfast of pancakes, french toast, strawberries, eggs, sausage and bacon. My husband and I playfully banter and the children laugh, their happy, high pitched voices, the usual soundtrack to my life.
Soft music and quiet conversations happening around me are part of another playlist, one of my favorites that I try to listen to at least once a week. I browse the cramped aisles of a local bookstore cafe, grabbing a few books that interest me from their titles and covers. It’s a beautiful sunny day and the warm breezes in through the open front door where I finally park after I’ve ordered my decadent Cafe Mocha, this time I splurged and got an extra pump of mocha, when in Rome right? I flip through my selections as I savor the chocolatey coffee still steaming from my mug. I check my favorite Mickey Mouse watch, pleased that I still have another hour and half before the girls come back from seeing their grandparents and my husband finishes at the gym. I fire up my laptop and start a new project. I sit reading what I wrote for a while. I end up deleting most of what I just typed but I’m excited about where this is going.
I come home to my children eating lunch with my husband. “Hi mommy!” from all of my children remind me to be grateful for my children and our life. I give a full round of kisses and hugs savoring this completely routine moment. My husband embraces me and whispers in my ear. I join my family at the table and we talk about our days so far, I catch my husband staring at me from across the table as I tell our girls about the story I am writing. He’s tuned in to what I’m describing and nodding his head. When we make eye contact he winks at me and I smile back.
The girls decide they want to spend time in our backyard. I get them cleaned up and grab a book and some waters and we’re off. The three of them run around screaming and laughing while I read and listen to them. My husband pushes open the patio door with his Kiss The Cook apron on and all the fixings to make my favorite meal on the grill. I squeal and he laughs.
I lay back with my arms behind my head and sigh with a little smile on my face that only I know is there. Talk about a perfect day.
For the past two years, once a month twelve of us gals get together and play Bunko. It’s always been a time where we can all get together to laugh, enjoy good food & wine, and celebrate life. It’s been almost two months since we’ve seen each other and some of us are alone and really struggling. I’m reaching out daily to make sure my friends are ok. I can tell it helps but it’s not enough. I decide to do a Friday night Happy Hour zoom meeting so we can see each other’s faces.
After working through the technical difficulty of getting everyone on, we are finally connected. We raise our glasses and have a toast. We each take turns talking about what we are experiencing. The wine kicks in the laughs get louder and for just a glimpse; we forget about the current events happening in the world and are completely present. Tonight is the first time we’ve played in three months and I’m hosting. I’m smiling from ear to ear because I get to have some company.
As I listen to my favorite music and prepare my dish, I look at the wine glasses. One of them stands out. It’s the one that Anita made for all of us decorated in bling. It say’s “Bunko Queen.” My eyes well up with tears. As I hold the glass gently in my hands, I reflect on what I adore about each of these ladies. Our usual start time is at 6:30 p.m. but tonight the ladies start rolling in early. The doorbell rings and I’m like a kid on Christmas morning. I toss the fruit in my hand on the counter and run to the door. It’s Stephanie, my best friend. She has a warm plate in her hand and we both have tears in our eyes. We embrace in a hug that feels like a warm blanket to each other.
No words are spoken, we are feeling the same emotions of joy and gratitude. As we try to compose ourselves, we walk to the kitchen where she peels back the tinfoil and exposes the gourmet dish she’s made with love. My eyes well up again and the doorbell rings. It’s Robin and Janet both with tears in their eyes. We barely make it to the kitchen before the rest of the gang starts rolling in and now everyone has arrived. As multiple conversations are going on and the room gets louder, I stop for a minute and take it all in. I can feel the “shift” we’ve all had. As we sip our wine and enjoy the food, I feel the warmth in my home and the love in the air is surreal.
The time flies by and before we realize it, we haven’t even played. It doesn’t matter, we have a new perspective on life. We have been transformed and see things in a different light. We are together again and nothing else matters. As the night winds down each of us hug each other once again-holding each other a little tighter. We got through it together.
Francisca C George
I need you to close your eyes. Close your eyes. Just for a minute. Yes, close them. Yes you! All of you! This is a community effort. Come one, by now we should all know what community means, right? So, let it spread…this understanding of community. Close your eyes now! No, Prescilla! Take it off! How are you going to breathe with this thing in front of your mouth? Drop the bandanna already. You are not gonna need it. I promise. O.K., now close your eyes. Close. And follow me.
And one, two, just follow my voice as I engage you in my vision. Breathe!
Oh, come one, there is still some of you resisting. Just get with the group. Yes, you: the guy with the un-muted voice and some background effects of a Doritos bag being emptied. Really? Do you really need to snack right now? Thanks to you, we will all have to wait now until you put it down, go wash your hands and return.
You see, this indifference will now cost us at least a minute of our valuable time. I mean he’s gotta go to his bathroom, throw out the bag, wash his hands by the new standards, preferably 20 seconds (hot water, lots of soap, back and front of the palm, fingernails, between the fingers while he sings “Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, happy birthday dear whoever, happy birthday to you, and many more), and rinse of the soap too and wipe the knop) and return to us.
Is everyone else still here? hold it, someone is snoring. or is this a breathing issue? hallo, yoyann21?! are you ok? HALLO!! Can someone get her to return to us, pls? oh, good. Mike Wallis got her back. Thanks Mike! Wow, these anxiety hiccups get me every time! Good you are back!
Let me just tell you how much I value being here with all of you! It is such a great feeling not to be alone. Not to be so isolated!
Lets just all think of that for a minute and feel this community of all being on here together. Thanks to modern technology! You know, sometimes I wonder how other, I mean people back then survived those time. Without connection! Wow! What a thought! Breathe. Let’s just breathe together for a moment. In …and out…and in…and out…and…This is so life-giving. This is so important! Who would have guessed?
Breathe. And close your eyes. No, blinking, PLEASE! JonassG, what do you think you are gonna be missing. This is a community meditation. That’s all I can give you since literal dreams are deemed to be too much for the public on a social media platform. So, will you please stop and get with the program.
CLOSE YOUR EYES
a hinted breath
that makes your little hairs on your skin stand up
a wispier of words close to your ear
you are allowed to shiver
and get hot
or sneeze because the grass tickled your nose
reach out and
touch whatever you want,
reach out, get closer
you don’t have to push buttons, check your volume or check if your camera is on,
just let go, and be
reborn in your own flesh of no protection
new and plain
and full of possibilities
where will you take your first step?
I found out that a good friend is pregnant in a group chat.
This isn’t how she wanted to tell us—coworkers from a decade ago, most in their first industry jobs in Los Angeles, keeping in touch throughout the years at monthly brunches, girls’ trips to San Diego and New Orleans, and now, with half of us scattered across the globe, by text.
The No Bottoms, we call ourselves, because in the beginning we regularly gathered around pitchers of bottomless mimosas. Hashtag #NObottoms while we were in the Big Easy to celebrate one of us turning forty.
My friend will be the first of us to have a baby, and of course she wanted to tell us in person—those of us still living in Los Angeles, at least. The Half Bottoms.
The three of us had a dinner on the calendar—for this week, in fact—where she could have ordered an iced tea or, if she was feeling really festive, a Shirley Temple, and shared her happy news over shared plates of some type of Asian cuisine. We could have screamed with joy and jumped up and hugged her and generally made a scene.
Instead, under stay-at-home orders in Los Angeles and Atlanta and London for the foreseeable future, we had to settle for inundating her phone with emojis and capital letters and multiple exclamation points, and no one—not even the family members we’re isolating with—was the wiser.
So this is what I will do at my first post-coronavirus Half Bottoms dinner: I will shriek with excitement and squeeze my friend and toast her with Shirley Temples.
I will also invite myself over to another friend’s viewing party to watch her screenwriter husband’s first movie.
I will also whoop from the balcony when another friend accepts a prestigious local literary award.
I will also enthusiastically join the conga line at another friend’s wedding because even though I hate to dance, she loves to, and she deserves a conga line after having to postpone her dream ceremony.
I will also drive downtown on a Saturday evening for the world premiere of another friend’s short film.
I will also bring several dozen cookies to the launch party for this year’s issue of the literary journal I work on.
This is what I will do on my perfect day in the future: I will celebrate.
It’s just past eleven a.m. and I sit languidly at a rustic wooden table, against a sun-kissed wall of window, abutting a long line of such tables. I idly sip on a cappuccino, opting to gaze at my fellow cafe patron and passers-by than retreat to my phone. It’s been so long, just my phone and me. I’ve brought a book and a notebook. Nothing wrapped in cellophane or plastic bags. I notice a crumb or two, presumably from the persons who occupied this table before I arrived. I feel myself not care. What are a few crumbs now? People smile particularly widely. Pleases and thank yous a-bounty.
I see an elderly couple approach the shop’s front door and watch as the gentleman, probably around my grandfather’s late eighties, cheekily leans in front of his partner to grab the door handle before her. He steps aside, gallant and beaming. She plants a sweet, coy peck on his cheek. No masks, no gloves. They enter and he gestures to a table just behind mind. Her eyes meet mine briefly and she offers a shy smile. She shuffles to the table and her companion enters the line, surely having her order committed to heart. A buzz jostles my phone and the friend I am here to meet apologizes deeply for her delay. You know, the trains. But what a joy to be able to again ride the trains! I assure her there is no rush. There’s never been less of a rush. I bask in the sunny company of strangers and decide I’ll switch to decaf when she arrives.
My gaze falls upon a young couple just outside the cafe – early twenties perhaps? Their eyes are glued to one another’s and yet their bodies sway awkwardly. I am momentarily transcended back to the days where I too stood so unbearably uncomfortable in my skin. Constant bouncing, bobbing, boot kicking to divert anxious energy. One young woman looks down and smiles at the ground to say something sheepishly. The other throws her head back in laughter and delight. The freshly flattered focuses her gaze on the clever young woman and reaches for her hand. I know that I should look away, to provide the couple a sweet moment of privacy – but it’s been so long since I’ve seen anyone embrace in the street. I cannot help myself. Their kiss is tender and longing. They linger in the mere inches between them, smiling through their whispers.
In the reflection of the window / wall, I see the elderly women seated behind me, grinning at the women entwined. She closes her eyes for a moment and soaks in the warm sun. Her partner suddenly arrives with their teas. “Peppermint for my darling,” the gentleman offers. “Drop of honey if you wish.” “Thank you, my love,” she says softly. I wonder how they met. How long it’s been. Notice how I yearn for their story.
I go to open my notebook and scribble down ‘elderly lovers and their peppermint tea,’ when I am swept up into an embrace I’ve long-hungered for. “God, it’s so good to see you!” My dear friend. So many years we’ve seen each other through turmoil. Here we are on the other side of it, again.
April 9, 2020
So You Don’t Forget
1. I wake up in exhaustion after yet another restless night of stressful dreams. Groggy and grumpy, I lament the drudgery of my day. Until…I turn on Lizzo! I know that there’s still an inundation of trepidations and marathons of racing thoughts, but when the beat drops, I know it’s gonna be okay. And then…I dance, badly but with a bravado that is uniquely and awkwardly mine.
1. I awake in pain, nothing new. Roll back over, of course.
2. I awake again to the puppy’s bark, nothing new.
3. As I set my feet on the ground, I’m reminded this is not my ground. It’s been twenty-two days since I moved back into my mother’s suburban Connecticut farmhouse. It is blustering outside and I don’t necessarily miss the L.A. weather, just the feeling of a place of my own.
4. Descending the steep banister of the 18th century home, I hear the familiar refrain of my mother’s constant state of conference call. She is the ultimate female force – but these trying times have her in overdrive. When you run a family business, layoffs and furloughs are even more personal.
5. I enter the kitchen, let the dogs out (hers and mine) and look for a way to be of service. The dishwasher run has finished and I unload the steamy glasses, bowls, flatware. I feel uneasy at how quickly I’ve learned where everything goes in her kitchen. Forgotten the map of my own.
6. My stepfather enters the kitchen, chipper as ever. He asks me how I’ve slept and we exchange pleasantries. I am not a morning person and miss the sweet solitude of the early hours living alone.
7. My head is throbbing and my eyes are particularly resistant to the sun today. Rather than join the dogs outside, as I so wish, I call for them from the back porch. The oldest, a jovial and weathered golden retriever obediently follows the sound of my voice. The other two are mischievous and single-minded dachshunds – the three year old is my mother’s, the eight month old is mine. I identify with their will to simply play. Stay out of the house. I sit on the back steps for a moment and watch their jubilance.
8. I make a scramble of arugula, turkey, parmesan and egg. Pour myself an iced coffee brewed yesterday.
9. I receive word from a friend in L.A. that the custom sweatsuits she’s begun making since losing her job have been delivered by UPS. I don a pair of plastic gloves and find the parcel on my mother’s front door. Cutting the taped seams with a kitchen knife, a soft bounty of beautiful colors and dyes pop out at me. I send her a grateful photo and throw them in the wash, eager to wear.
10. The pain does not relent today. I have eaten the right things, hydrated enough, done a tolerable amount of exercise, and taken all my medications – preventative and abortive. I surrender to sleep once more. This time with an ice pack wrapped around my skull and a quiet prayer for relief.
Francisca C George
The following list will sound like an excuse of a day passed in isolation from the world. It felt a bit wasted in the weary undertones of April blah. The weather did not help either.
1) I extended my legs and rolled out of bed into a 9 o’clock nothingness of cold.
2) In search of something meaningful to do, all I could come across today was the BS of obviousness. All of them very consequential.
3) My self-inflicted daily “shelter-in-place-routine” led me online, to the county’s website, to (despite low funds) pay my property taxes which, for some reason, were not excused by the collector of such monies.
4) Since the coffee had no taste, I decided that I possibly skipped the brushing of my teeth. So I went ahead. – Note to self: Set a alarm on my to-do list for the day!
5) Art is my only escape from the confines of my indoors. It is my very personal hero’s journey. Yet today, it only held my interest for a little more than an hour.
6) I am proud to have remembered the taking of my magic pill today. My silent little savior in times of (forced) mass movements.
7) Yes, I am doing homework! But I am not enthusiastic about it!
Plant pathology check
Root dissection lab check
Small Business Management and…check
8) No, I have done dishes for the last 4? weeks here. I simply refuse today.
9) Eating is so non-essential when one is not really moving. Fine, I nibbled. I am craving some Mexican food!
10) I am saving my number 10 for something really special, when the kids are in bed…
ONE My sister-in-law met my husband outside her house to take my son, as only one essential visitor is allowed during Stage 3 Social Distancing. I set the address for the Emergency Room into the GPS and drove toward the virus.
TWO Driving through the neighbourhood, its eerily quiet. No one is walking outside and as we pass churches; they are all completely quiet for the first time … ever. Even during the two World Wars churches were open on Good Friday, but today they will be run online, even St Paul’s Cathedral will be broadcasting its service on YouTube.
THREE Stopping at the Emergency Department, huge signs tell us that if we have any Covid-19 symptoms we should follow the yellow line to the separate assessment centre. Two nurses and two security guards greet us in full protective gear at the entrance. ‘Have you been overseas in the past 4 weeks? Do you have a fever? Do you have any flu-like symptoms? Have you been self-isolating?’ After answering this and more questions, our temperature is taken and we’re allowed in to see the triage nurse.
FOUR As we enter the waiting area, everyone looks at us with a mixture of distrust and angst. When they see me in a wheelchair, they visibly relax. I scan the room in a similar fashion to see the kind of injuries I’m sharing the room with. Fortunately, no one seems to be coughing. Every second seat has a big cross over them and a note to not sit on it to ensure social distancing is adhered to.
FIVE A nurse calls my name within 5 minutes. ‘You’re really lucky, we’re not very busy today. Everybody is staying home, so there’s not a lot of accidents happening at the moment.’
SIX The ER nurse who greets us is wearing a funny-looking Perspex face shield that covers her entire face. ‘Good morning’, she fidgets with the face cover. ‘So sorry, we just got these this morning. It’s really uncomfortable. Can you hear me OK?’
SEVEN While I have my X-ray taken, the technician is talking with his manager who is discussing his availability for additional emergency shifts at other hospitals. ‘Just stay away from St Peter’s Hospital. There’s a whole lot of Covid cases there.’ She says as the door closes behind them and the X-ray is taken.
EIGHT As I wait to be taken back to the exam room, an elderly woman is wheeled past me with monitors connected to her chest. She’s struggling to breathe. I wonder if she’s here for pneumonia or heart problems as they wheel her past me looking grim.
NINE When we stop at my sister-in-law’s home to pick up our son, we decide to both get out of the car. We know we aren’t allowed to stay for coffee, but we go inside when the offer is made. We feel like we are indulging in a piece of chocolate cake after weeks of dieting, sitting across from them, catching up. We only live a few blocks from each other, but in these times, we aren’t allowed to see each other. If the police were to knock on the door, we will be fined $1625 each, but this morning we just want to feel some sense of normalcy.
TEN At 7 p.m. I wobble upstairs, tenderly on a severely sprained ankle and isolate myself in the spare bedroom and join my weekly support group zoom meeting. We would normally not meet on public holidays, but nobody is going anywhere, so we just keep the normal schedule. We don’t really have that much to talk about and we all miss seeing each other in person, but it’s still good to see a familiar face.
One: I wake at four from a nightmare about trying to practice social distancing in Naples. The episode doesn’t register on my sleep app. I wake for good sometime between six and seven, as I do every morning no matter what time I go to bed nor what time zone I’m in. I’m incapable of sleeping in, and it’s annoying. I read the paper in bed. All of the headlines are about the coronavirus—the statistics of it, the economics of it, the politics of it. It’s Friday, but there are no movie reviews.
Two: I take off my T-shirt and boxers and weigh. I’ve lost two-tenths of a pound. I’m frustrated that it’s not more because I’m working out regularly for the first time in months, but the stationary bike and free weights aren’t as rigorous as hauling myself up and down Southern California’s hiking trails. I’m also not stress-eating, which is my usual m.o., but I haven’t managed to give up a small sweet treat each night despite my doctor’s orders. I try to not beat myself up about it.
Three: Once I’m out of bed, I’m at work—the same as every weekday morning even before stay-at-home orders. My job description, however, has changed just this week, and I’m feeling both intimidated and invigorated as I start to figure out new beats.
Four: It’s laundry day. I’m so grateful that after working in Atlanta for a year, my husband returned to Los Angeles just in time to stay-at-home. He’s on hiatus, so while I’m hunkered down at my desk, he makes coffee, washes dishes, takes out the trash, does the laundry.
Five: As I do every Friday, I go to the local bagel shop to pick up lunch: loxandcreamcheeseoneverythingtoastednotomato. Starting today, face coverings are required for both workers and customers in Los Angeles, so I tie on a dish cloth. I wish the cute masks I ordered on April 1 would arrive. It’s sprinkling, so it feels slightly less weird to bundle up, but only slightly. It’s the first time I’ve left the apartment since Sunday.
Six: I post a picture of my sister and me for Siblings Day. In it, she is fixing my hair for a family photo shoot we did when we were all together at Christmastime. I haven’t touched another person besides my husband in more than a month.
Seven: I log out of work and work out. Today I lift weights while half-watching TV. I’m actually not watching a lot of television these days.
Eight: I tune into the mayor’s daily coronavirus update. Los Angeles County announced today that its safer-at-home order will be extended to mid-May, so I expect him to talk about that, as well as the number of new COVID-19 cases and deaths the county reported today, the number of tests conducted, the number of available hospital beds as the city braces for more and more patients.
Nine: We eat dinner. Leftover shepherd’s pie and some pillowy wheat bread my husband acquired at the local German restaurant that’s running a daily market with staples like eggs, sausages, and beer. I’m cooking a couple times a week now, we try to order takeout once in awhile to support local places, and for the first time in ever we have food in the house to last more than a day.
Ten: We watch a movie. It’s my night to pick, and I’m trying to watch more films by women, so I’ll look for one on the Criterion app.
ONE: I stayed in bed until 11 a.m, because I didn’t have to be anywhere: no work, no necessary errands, no friends to look forward to having dinner with. I stayed in bed until 11 because I didn’t sleep well last night, because I remembered, while cringing beneath the covers, that COVID-19 is a real thing, COVID-19 is our new blockbuster movie and we are all featured in it.
TWO: I drove way across town to pick up three homemade face masks from one of my college students, whose family is making them for medical workers and donating the funds to a shelter for undocumented immigrants. I paid her twice what she asked.
THREE: I reluctantly went to a UPS store to mail a box of Easter gifts that my mother, who is 77, is desperate to mail my daughter and the little ones, for Easter. I’m filled with resentment and fear. I did this because my mom was crying on the phone, frustrated she couldn’t go, as she normally would.
FOUR: I experienced an emotional response I never thought possible as I stood in line at the UPS store for 10 insufferable minutes. A sudden rage at the man in front of me for being flippant and not putting on his damn mask, although he had one around his neck. He wore a gold Rolex and expensive golf clothes. He was too relaxed, acting invincible, and it
made me angry.
FIVE: I experienced another emotional response that made me ashamed of myself. The man suddenly behind me in line was huge – very tall and wide. I pulled my mask a little tighter around my nose. I panicked, worrying if he was a super spreader. He got too close, only 3 feet from me, and although he had a bandana on his face, it was loosely tied and open at the bottom. I felt guilty for profiling him like this, but relieved when he walked away from me.
SIX: I spent two hours cooking. Apple Betty and chicken soup for dinner. I haven’t spent two hours cooking for years, since my daughter was little.
SEVEN: I hiked my daily hike in the hills behind my house with my new flower-print mask on. Hard to breathe.
EIGHT: Washed my face in the kitchen sink right when I got home, because I walked by a few hikers who didn’t have masks on, and even though I was able to get many feet away from them, I was worried that virus particles may have landed on exposed skin.
NINE: Triple washed my hands after washing my face. Just in case.
TEN: Binge-watched YouTube for news channel coronavirus updates and couldn’t stop myself from doing so, even though I knew I’d obsess about getting sick all night and have trouble sleeping (again).
One: I woke up at 10:10 a.m. Back when the world was still open, I slept relatively late, but not that late. I keep telling myself I’m going to get back to a more normal schedule, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Two: I took my sweet time getting ready before taking my dog for a walk. I was able to do this because my dad had already walked her—I moved back in with my parents just before the stay-at-home orders began rolling out. I was afraid of being trapped alone in my apartment in Los Angeles, so instead I faced a different fear: moving (temporarily, for now) back across the country, to my childhood home in Baltimore, Maryland.
Three: I drank filtered coffee from my parents’ coffee maker, rather than espresso from the neighborhood coffee shop.
Four: I drove with my mom to Dunkin’ Donuts to get iced coffees, and then we drove the long way home through a gusty afternoon, just to be out of the house for a few moments longer. The big East Coast farmhouses, the flowering dogwoods and the bare-branched April trees of my childhood already seem familiar again.
Five: I made a very basic author website, something I’ve been putting off for months. Most days since the quarantine began, I’ve been able to work on my writing/advancing my writing career a little more than I had time for before the pandemic. I’m almost ready to query agents, but I’m afraid of getting even more bad news at this time. Even before the pandemic, I was putting all my hopes into this new writing project, and I don’t really have a backup plan.
Six: I took my dog for an extra-long walk even though it was windy and freezing—again, just to get out of the house for a few moments longer. I passed my parents’ neighbor from 6 feet away, but it took me a minute to recognize her when she wasn’t standing in front of her house. I’m shocked by how much older all the neighbors seem–I haven’t seen them in almost ten years.
Seven: I did a yoga video online rather than going to a class. Since I know the teacher can’t see me, I always end up doing sit-ups during shavasana. More of a workout but less of the relaxation I need. I can’t slow down unless someone forces me.
Eight: I tutored a fourth-grader online rather than in person. This involved twenty minutes of (unpaid) fighting with the computer to make our online connection work, a lot of frustration, and probably not a whole lot of learning.
Nine: I took my evening jog much earlier than I usually do, since my mom doesn’t like me jogging late at night, and even though I’m 36 I still don’t want to make her worry.
Ten: I had a long list of things to accomplish tonight, but instead I’m sitting here typing this and trying not to fall asleep. Since I moved back in with my parents, I’ve had a hard time sleeping well—I’m in my sister’s tiny musty bedroom, since my dad took mine years ago—and tonight, I’m exhausted.
1.) I’m waking up every morning at 3:08 a.m. so excited to take on the day but my body is still tired. I tell it to rest for another hour. 4:20 a..m, bink! I’m wide awake and feel the excitement that only a child feels on Christmas morning. I make my coffee and stretch.
2.) I do meditation to the best of my ability most days.
3.) I join my daily zoom meeting with enthusiasm to see my new peeps and get my brain food for the day.
4.) I reach out to my friends that I know are alone and struggling to see how they’re doing by either FaceTime or a phone call which is new for me because in my old world it used to be just a quick text or a response on Facebook.
5.) I do some form of writing every day. The timing is divine and my creative juices are flowing for the first time in a long time. I’m enjoying writing and am mastering my craft. I’m proud of my writing and have become better at telling a story with detail.
6.) While I wait patiently for my book to be edited, I reach out to people and foundations that I can do some public speaking. I’m willing to speak for free to get my name out there and gain some credentials for future paid appearances.
7.) I spend more time playing and loving on my puppy.
8.) I zoom again with the friends I miss. I see their faces light up as does mine.
9.) I journal every day what I’m going through and what my goals are moving forward. I haven’t journaled in years. It’s nice to get back to basics.
10.) I’m spending 30 minutes a day reading memoirs; homework for my book.
11.) I hug my husband a little tighter as he goes off to work and remind him to get back to me, safe. I hug him one more time and remind him to get back to me safe.
I wake up a little after one a.m. as I have been off and on for almost a month. I think it might be my meds but I’m not sure since I’ve been on this dose since February and had no trouble sleeping before. I slightly maneuver my baby who is now 18 months and has been co-sleeping with my husband and me the entire time. I’m careful not to wake her up. I just want to get back to sleep, I do not want to nurse her right now.
My alarm goes off at 6 .am. After staring into the darkness for a few minutes I get up and turn on the coffee maker, the house is wrecked. Normally I would work out for half an hour, shedding my layers of clothing as I exercise. Today I decided to skip my workout so I can do last minute prep to properly prepare for my interview on IG Live today. I’ve been dreading it all week and it’s finally here. I have to remind myself that being nervous about this type of thing is normal and not my anxiety. The baby comes into the living room rubbing her eyes and whining. I sigh. Her interrupting my other morning ritual of enjoying my coffee, journaling and planning my to-do list is becoming all too common and it’s frustrating. I give her paper and a highlighter. She scribbles while I journal, I have to stop her from writing on my planner and the carpet. My husband sits down at the table to have coffee and we talk before he leaves for work. I tell him as always “I love you. Be safe.”
I make oatmeal in a saucepan for the baby and me and we both eat. I wake up the older two on the couch by playing music that they like “All the single ladies/ All the single ladies. My 4 year old wakes up smiling, my 7 year old moans and whines and it takes me a while to get her up. I make them both breakfast trying to find clean dishes so I don’t have to wash dishes in the overflowing sink. I reheat my coffee.
I stand over my daughters as they do some school work. I correct them and lose my patience and don’t have time to engage in their silliness. I’m worrying about my evening and going over some talking points. My to-do list is daunting.
I stand in front of the bathroom mirror, spraying, applying product and retwisting my locks, just the front because that’s all that will be visible later to the audience. I like what I see in the mirror and tell myself I need to do my hair more often. I probably won’t though.
After preparing three different quick lunches I bring the baby into my bedroom and lay on my side and lift my shirt. I’m talking aloud to myself trying to project my voice for later.
When baby falls asleep I enlist the girls to help me clean the living room and clear the dining room, then we have quiet time, and it is much-needed. I work in a gratitude workbook and one for mindfulness. Then I meditate for 12 minutes. I check on my to-do with not much crossed off.
The baby wakes up after giving me enough time to gather myself. I ask my girls what shirt they think I should wear for my interview. They vote but I end up wearing the simple white shirt with the black collar. Its so 90s and I adore it. I have a simple silver choker on and small dangling earrings gifted to me by my husband. I feel beautiful, but not confident.
My husband comes home and immediately showers. Instead of ducking out the door to go on a quiet walk I make some finishing touches in my living room. My husband attempts to mock interview me but I am too nervous for his playfulness. I find a spot on the couch and make sure the lighting is okay and play with angles although I won’t be able to think about something like that while I’m talking about my upcoming book and trying to look comfortable and chill. It’s time.
I turn Instagram Live off and ride my incredible high to my bedroom where my husband has sequestered our children while he watched on his phone. Now that the infamous event is over I feel like I can finally breathe again. Back to the regularly scheduled programming
Lillian Ann Slugocki
ONE: I wake up this morning to a large, fat blue jay on the utility pole outside my bedroom window. I say hello.
TWO: I dress in blue jeans, sweater, knit hat and sunglasses to walk my dog. My face mask is a gray bandana. I’m sweating, fogging up my glasses, as I put on my sneakers at the back door. There are moments of despair, like am I ever going to be safe.
THREE: Out on the avenue, I see a boy of about 10 years old on a blue bike. We are the same but different. He has a black bandana as a mask, black bicycle helmet, and red sweats. He crosses the street and rides past a red door the exact color of his sweats.
FOUR: After Molly’s walk, I go across the street to my favorite cafe. I trust them because they were very early adopters of all the safety measures– take-out only, masks, gloves, social distancing. But when I open the door, two men, early 40s, sit together on the window sill. It enrages me. I’m immunocompromised. I’m about to walk away, but I don’t. Instead I say to both of them, How exactly are you adhering to social distancing, are you 6 feet away from each other? You are not. So now I’m not safe, so now I don’t get my coffee, and you both are fucking assholes. When I’m back home, I have a headache. I know as I sit here, crying, writing this, that so much of this anger is a mask for grief.
FIVE: Later, a storm rolls in while I’m eating my lunch. I step out for a second on the back porch and watch gray clouds racing east across the sky.
SIX: An hour before the end of my workday, I marinate a steak in teriyaki sauce, garlic and ginger for my dinner. I’ll force myself to cook this, even though I may not eat it. I have days where meat grosses me out. But I need the protein.
SEVEN: There are two trees outside my living room window, bending and twisting in the wind. If they were turned upside down they’d look like lungs. The wind is a palpable presence.
EIGHT: As I edit a medical document, I notice my hands are shiny because there is a thin film of bleach on them, and I can’t get rid of it, no matter how many times I’ve washed them. They look alien to me. Like, these are not my hands.
NINE: The sun comes out at 4:00 p.m. The landscape out my window is like a layer cake, silver ribbon of the Hudson River, the arc of the Palisades, and above me, a cerulean sky.
April 10, 2020
The World Outside My Window
I have this sacred spot in my house where I go every morning, cup of coffee in hand. It’s all about the window and the view, the quiet time I have to reflect before the day starts. I always look for my favourite signs that the day will be a good one. Any sighting of an Australian Pelican fills me with so much joy, I just know that whatever the day might bring, I’m going to be OK.
We live in a suburb about 25km (15 miles) outside Melbourne right on the edge of a small man-made lake. In the 20 years since its transformation from salt marshes to family living, the water birds have also moved in. Black swans, Pelicans, Cormorants, Australasian Darters and thousands of the Eurasian Coots frequent the lakes and swim past our home.
Many families visit the little sandy beach on the opposite side of the lake. Chinese tourists taking photos to show their families at home, as they are shown property to invest in; Indian girls posing for professional photos in traditional dresses as they celebrate turning into women; the elderly father of the Chinese family living on the corner doing his morning Tai Chi exercises; young teenagers using the barbeque facilities to have a picnic.
The first time I saw the beach quiet was in January this year. I woke up for my morning coffee and could taste smoke in my mouth. I immediately opened my emergency app on my phone to see if we were in danger of any fires. But there weren’t any in the whole of Melbourne worth mentioning. The whole world was starting to take note of the fires in Gippsland 320km (200 miles) away. As I walked downstairs, I made sure all the windows were closed, but only one small window was open. I stopped by my window to look outside over the lake and couldn’t see anything. It was just an eerie smoke haze. I could see two swans sitting on the edge of lake on my lawn about 2m from me.
We were told to stay inside, to not exercise, to wear masks if we were to leave the house as the smog from the fire was so bad, we would permanently damage our lungs if we did venture outside. We turned off the cooling in the house for fear that it might let smoke enter our homes, no small thing in the 40-degree (104F) heat. People worked from home and face masks sold out. Our air quality became the worst in the world. Hospitals were put under strain as people with pre-existing conditions were having heart attacks due to the struggle to breathe. The beach remained quiet and empty during that month as we all looked on in shock, wonder and admiration at our brave firefighters and thought how we would tell our grandchildren of the great fire of 2020.
This morning, the beach is still empty. All parks and beaches have been closed. The police visit it a few times a day and write tickets to the few people brave enough to sit down and look out over the water.
As I sip my morning coffee, I look for my sign and see two Australian Pelicans floating by. I’m grateful for the privilege to be able to look at them from my sacred spot.
Lillian Ann Slugocki
I live in Hastings on Hudson, right outside of New York City. I live high on a hill overlooking a river on Warburton Avenue. The sidewalk below me is wide, and the housing stock is eclectic. It feels like a slightly seedy resort town, but still charming. Now, outside my windows, the world is mostly empty. But there are still so many birds. There are more birds than people at any given moment. In fact, they rule not only the roost but everywhere else as well.
About two weeks ago, when Cuomo said, every day, flatten the curve, flatten the curve, and everybody went inside– I was looking down on the avenue, at the world outside my window. As I like to do. It was about 5:00 pm, and usually, it’s filled with joggers, kids on bikes, the lady downstairs who screams at her boyfriend, commuters with backpacks, the guy who sits on a lawn chair with a radio and a cigarette– but on that afternoon, it was so eerily quiet. And empty. Everything looked the same, the houses, the sky, the river, the trees, but there are no humans. I’m the only person I see. There are no cars, no busses. No dogs out for a stroll– I don’t see Luna or Bobbo or the tiny chihuahua on a pink leash. It is surreal. It is fiction.
Because it’s right before the sun sets, and the river is now a very cold blue which almost matches the sky, and there are birds everywhere. And down on the avenue, two enormous buzzards land on the sidewalk. Enormous. I’d seen them before, yes, skulking around the garbage cans, but never this brazen. They are as big as turkeys, but so much more sinister. Turkeys are goofy, but buzzards, believe me, are not. And they just stand there. Like they own the place. And I think I have to get a picture of these birds, when the largest of the two– stepped out onto the avenue, like royalty. A crown prince. And this bird is so big and so imposing that cars slow down and go around it. One lone man approaches but turns back.
Who gave this bird such authority?
Francisca C George
The world outside my window is wet these days. Tears from the sky roll over the porch. Crowns created on impact. They softly stroke my window, leaving trails of their existence. I want to be like them. Leave something behind when I fall from my sky. Even if it’s just a tried up spoor that tells the ones after me that I strolled here, once. A simple trace on glass. See through but existent.
I live in the clouds that eat the mountains outside my window. He stretches below the fluffy blanket, an old dinosaur. Sometimes he growls and shakes as if he aims to rise only to decide against it. People named him Cajon, the drawer. Like an old piece of forgotten furniture tossed into the landscape. But I know better! He watches back and when he does not get enough attention, he rattles the windows. The Cajon wants to be noticed. I don’t mind. I feel him as he rests beneath the dam and dreams over the reservoir. He steams in his sleep, in his nightly mares of people’s inability to see the world. Often, I long to reach out and breathe with him, there in the spring green hills that turn yellow brown under the soon arriving sun of long Southern summers. I grow here – into the hero of my own myth. Together we oversee the world as it spins below, the mountain and I.
But, at the moment, our watch is not enough. Confusion rules in the valley. A stir of anxious hustling. A fear of things to come. We are lucky up here. We can feel uninvolved. We can stare up through the clouds, let the raindrops whisper along or cheeks in caress and dream the world away. Until it’s all over…
This April, if things were normal, I’d be watching and listening as a huge surge of cars, windows down, and stereos cranked, scream tires screaming downhill from the mountains along Highway 74, rushing towards the Indio Polo Grounds for the start of Coachella Festival, Weekend 1. Instead of being blasted with the unleashed party energy of 200,000+ visitors arriving for the world’s biggest, most famous annual music event, cancelled this year for the first time since its inception in 20 years. I look out the window, and hear nothing except the sound of one lone car, tires splashing in the odd April rain, and then, only the sound of raindrops on palm tree fronds.
This April, I sit on my couch, as I have been doing day after day, all day for weeks, and watch the junior high school age girl who lives next door practice twirling her big blue flag for her drill team. She’s been out there day after day since schools shut down, practicing, and predictably, dropping the flagpole ever so often, a sound that irritates when it hits the sidewalk. I don’t know her name. I don’t know her parents’ names, though we always say hello when I see them in the parking lot. I haven’t seen them in weeks; their vehicles appear to not have moved recently. I watch and listen, and silently root her on to help win the game.
This April, I look out my kitchen window towards the golf course, which should be brimming with golf carts and people playing tennis on the courts nearby. April in Palm Springs is almost always filled with long sunny days that aren’t yet unbearably hot as they will be by June. Instead of golfers, I see only jackrabbits, more than usual, munching on the tediously tended non-native flowers that club gardeners have maintained all season; their job is to keep snowbirds happy. But the winter snowbirds have gone. My neighbor didn’t have time to prepare her vehicle for its long storage from May-November before international borders shut down – her car is uncovered, not parked in a carport, wheels still attached, her paint job and Canadian license plates exposed to a soon-to-be blistering sun.
This April, my upstairs guest bedroom offers panoramic views of the far-off desert mountains that form the southern perimeter of Joshua Tree National Park. This is the time of year for wildflowers there, the time of year I will start to disappear into secret canyons without roads, the time of year I’ll wait in the shade cast by huge rocks and wait for the silhouettes of bighorn sheep to appear on high ridges as the day grows long. I stand at this window more than anyplace else inside my restricted windowed world these days, imagining the flush of yellow desert dandelions and purple phacelia carpeting the Mojave Desert for endless miles, and wait for this rain to end so the party can begin.
I am back in Baltimore, in the house I grew up in, and for the first time in years I’m sleeping beside a window. I look out onto a backyard where the trees are bare in April—a strange sight after nearly a decade in Los Angeles, where the branches flaunt their greenery all year. Yesterday there was a sudden rainstorm, groans of thunder, raindrops flinging themselves against the windowpane with a violence they don’t often muster on the West Coast. It lasted only a moment, then the storm blew itself out.
I’ve been back in Baltimore less than a month, and the weather has ranged from high seventies, humidity hanging low; soft sunshine and temperatures in the sixties; and now, two days before Easter, below fifty degrees with a frigid wind making the branches wave outside my window. With the pandemic to worry about, we may have forgotten about global warming, but it’s still here, the unpredictable weather reminding me how much the world has changed since my childhood.
From my window I can see the playhouse my father built for me, a six-foot-tall act of love, now with the door half-broken, window shutters and roof shingles missing, ivy growing over the sides. I see ghosts of the younger, dreamier me, the little girl who spent hours swinging and singing at the top of her lungs, so sure that she and her voice were beautiful, wearing her Little Mermaid T-shirt and believing she could be anything and inhabit any world she wanted. I see the older, teenage and early twenties me, bigger in height but smaller in mind, who spent hours sunbathing in that backyard, hoping she could hide her flaws behind golden skin. I see winter nights hushed with snow; summer evenings lit up by fireflies; pastel spring flowers and firey autumn leaves.
With all those ghosts around, it’s easy to forget about the pandemic that brought me back here. It’s easy to forget that my home for the last few years has been an apartment with no backyard, where I always keep my blinds drawn to avoid the dangers of peeping Toms on city streets. A terrible place to be locked down, locked up, for months.
Now, I’m caught in between: not wanting to return to that small apartment, that small life full of work and hopes for a future I can’t quite believe in; but not wanting to stay here, in a house full of ghosts.
It’s too much, like this pandemic is too much. The next time I look out the window, I’ll try my best to see nothing but trees.
The weather is stunningly beautiful today—a perfect Los Angeles spring afternoon, sunny and breezy.
Out on the balcony, hummingbirds float by the feeders—so close that while their wings whir so fast they’re invisible to the human eye, the birds’ small, fragile bodies hold so still you can appreciate the unique markings of their feathers.
The hummingbirds have been feasting for weeks—now that we’re home all the time, we keep the feeders full. One in particular—a tiny brown scrappy thing we call “Peb”—is the boss around here. She posts up in the palm tree out front to chase off younger, bigger birds, and she hovers outside the French doors when we bring her feeder inside for a refill, tapping the chain from which it hangs with impatient anticipation. We added a second feeder this week to see what would happen.
The neighbors are playing music. Sometimes in my office in the back of the apartment, I can hear someone in the neighborhood practicing the piano, which is lovely. Today, outside the front of the house, it’s club music. A woman accuses her boyfriend(?) of making fun of her—a mid-day dance party? I think I catch a whiff of pot in the breeze.
Henry—the tall, lean, bald guy who’s lived kitty-corner across the street for as long as I can remember—is discussing the coronavirus and Middle East affairs with an orthodox Jew who is standing in the middle of the street. Henry has one of those deep, resonant voices that always carries, but today’s he’s especially projecting as he maintains social distancing protocols from his stoop.
Henry’s a writer, too, I imagine—who else is home all day, every day, even before the pandemic?—and a centerpiece of the neighborhood because he steps outside several times a day for a smoke. I’ve never spoken to Henry, but I’ve eavesdropped on many of his conversations like today’s.
Their chat ends, and the Jewish man—full beard, dressed head-to-toe in a long black coat—continues down the middle of the street, shouting and waving hello at someone half a block away. It’s the Sabbath. I think I hear someone call him “rabbi.”
I live in the Fairfax District, a ten-minute walk to the Farmers Market and the Grove, the first block north of a busy crosstown thoroughfare on a street lined with four-unit apartment buildings. Yet traffic is virtually nonexistent. Instead, there are dogs out for walks, families out for strolls, and neighbors taking out the trash.
The world outside my window: There is a Sinclair across the street. It’s close, really close. Too close. Anytime I feel like I NEED a soda it’s too easy to run across the street and get one. It’s been a problem before me before this thing started. Its still a thing today. There is a dinosaur outside the Sinclair. A brontosaurus of sorts, it stands about 5 feet tall. It’s green and is usually dressed for the various holidays. A few weeks ago I realized someone fashioned a face mask for the dinosaur. I seen a young woman dressed in scrubs the other day, she pulled out her phone and took photos of it.
My body lays prone in a guest bed meant for no one in particular. It is mine for now, and indefinitely I suppose, but I shudder to think of staying here long. The bookshelves are filled with books without owners, the furniture is an amalgam of other peoples’ lives. Two windows do abut this bed, though. Once the sun goes down and my eyes can tolerate a pulling of the blinds, the night reveals itself to me. April has arrived and the crickets are aplenty. In the distance, yips of foxes or coyotes echo menacingly, yet playfully.
A major benefit of leaving the city is the clarity with which I can see the stars. They gleam more brightly than I can ever remember previously. Perhaps this quarantine will give the ozone a break, after all. Just at that thought, a fast and expensive-sounding car speeds by. I cringe at each car I hear pass throughout the day – are they wearing gloves? a mask? do they have Lysol with them? How essential is their errand? Is it someone rushing to the hospital? My own stepfather leaves the house daily. It infuriates me beyond measure. Not only is he diabetic and is at increased risk of contracting the virus, but he also has the infallible ego of a teenage boy. I close my eyes and remind myself of what I cannot control.
The night sings sweetly to me, a delicate wind crisply filling the room. I am grateful for this temperature, this chill. I imagine months from now when the inescapable humidity will fill every crevice – ooze sweat from every pore. Will we still be homebound then? Will I have escaped to a home of my own? Will the mandatory lockdown ensue, and the summer stars grow ever-brighter? Multiplying the clarity of asteroids in flight? The puppy at my feet stirs and I am struck by the simplicity of the moment. My gratitude knows no bounds for a safe place to rest my head – my bed, or not. Outside my window is a full but waning moon, beaming proudly. I thank her for her power. Restorative, prophetic, shepherdess. I crave the night outside my window and breathe fully of the ritual it deserves.
My body aches in ways the doctors, healers, hypnotists, and shrinks cannot seem to cure – otherwise, I’d be out there. Walking or running, dancing ’round a fire. Weeping silver tears illuminated by her luminescence. The moon has watched so many moments of the earth. She is watching now, as we all take pause, and with little more to do, peer out our windows at her.
As I sit on my patio and have my coffee, the only thing I hear is the birds singing their song. It’s so quiet and peaceful. The noise from the world has stopped. I take it all in and feel a stillness that, in my old world, I struggled to feel. The sun rises and shines on the trees lighting them up leaf by leaf. The trees are even still, in total acceptance of what is in this moment.
Pre-quarantine-Mr. Sunshine is happy as usual and the elementary school is right around the corner from my house. As the cars start to roll up in front of my house, I watch the little ones shuffle out like baby ducks with their backpacks. Others are walking their kids to school, moms and dads with strollers and the dog. It’s a family event.
But today is different. Today the streets are empty until afternoon and it’s so quiet you could hear a pin drop. I hear a noise for the first time today. It’s the sound of a razor. I look out the window and see a pile of kids with dad. The kids are grinning from ear to ear. Here comes another family on their bicycles. I’m seeing a new perspective. Everything has slowed down and everyone enjoying the simple things. I’m mesmerized as I am the witness to the human ability to improvise, overcome, and adapt. We are back to simplicity, we are at peace.
April 13, 2020
My Last ‘Normal’ Day on Earth
Little did I know, in early March, that my sense of hard-earned and meticulously maintained normalcy would slip over an unseen edge in a splintered instant. I didn’t know that I’d join a club I never asked to join: COVID-19 resistors. Like the moment ten years ago almost to the day that I learned, by phone, that my partner had killed himself, everything normal fell instantly out of place. A broken plate, thrown against a wall, never saw it coming. Slammed broadside on the freeway by an automobile that came out of nowhere. Shattered by a phone call that had seemed, at first, to be something so ordinary.
Now, like then, things happened so fast. Ten years ago, a single shot fired. Last month, the first confirmed diagnosis of coronavirus in the relatively small town where I live.
One day, I was lecturing in front of my students at the community college where I teach. The next day, I was transitioning to using Zoom and chat, and our campus was sealed shut, entry forbidden. One day, I was anticipating an active spring schedule of reading at the inaugural Bombay Beach Literary Festival, giving a desert literature presentation in Joshua Tree, and planning my trip to NYC to visit my cousin and read poetry at several events in Manhattan. One by one, in less than 24 hours, all events were cancelled. Doors slammed shut. Socially-connective and emotionally-critical group activities, lost. Anticipation vanished. I struggled to maintain strength and leadership to my frightened students, wept over the joy lost in my cancellations, and quickly made one last mega-shopping trip to Costco to buy as much food as I could cram into my small condo’s refrigerator, freezer, and tiny cupboards, terrified to breathe.
The only difference between now and then is that now, my hairline fracture and the fallout I’m grappling with is a shared event. The sudden stop, the car engine slamming shut in mid-drive, the unworldly sound of crushing glass and bending metal and steel. Most of us are now negotiating our haunting tango with COVID-19 in greatly accordioned-down ways of being and doing, in this new lexicon of social distancing and sheltering in place. I’ve become a servant to tiny virus particles that remain unseen. It’s not just my life that’s been wobbled out of kilter. Everyone I see, on my necessary errands and mind-saving daily walks is also moving around out of tune, off-scale, struggling to adjust to the grotesque orchestra of our new, deadly social maestro.
There is both comfort and despair in knowing this. Before, I suffered alone, feared for the unknown implications of my sudden isolation, alone. Now, suffering is pandemic. I struggle with, despair over, and fear all that COVID-19 is and does as it ravages its way through the instrumentality of our lives – as does everyone else. I’ve never felt so connected to my fellow human beings all over the country and world. And I’ve never felt so alone, trying to outdistance a killer.
My last ‘normal’ day on earth was already uncomfortable. Thursday, March 12, 2020. A pearl of defeat on a long string. My baby sister’s nineteenth birthday, too. My errands for the day included shipping half of my belongings to donations, the other half ‘home’ to my mother’s house, dropping a few unwanted odds and ends at Goodwill, and stopping by friends’ apartment. The first stop of many on my planned farewell tour.
It starts to pour when I begin unloading cargo at FedEx – always an omen in Los Angeles. The customer ahead of me in line is having trouble communicating their needs due to a language barrier. I wait thirteen minutes to request access to one of the shipping department’s dollies. “Oh you could have just taken one,” a kindly faced employee tells me. I thank her and smile. Better not to presume. Great practice in controlling my blood pressure.
The donations have prepaid labels and are merely drops. The oddly sized duffels, suitcases, and bankers boxes containing much of the past five years of my life take quite a bit more time to coordinate. In the half-hour that the very thoughtful and sweet but slow-typing Jackson takes to label and organize my things, my stomach suddenly drops out of my body. I’m destabilized. It’s not my usual vertigo and from the lack of alarm on everyone else’s faces it was no small earthquake.
My phone buzzes, it’s my mother. Again. “Your sister is getting on a plane tomorrow, Indiana is shutting its campus. The head of the port authority just tested positive and visited JFK and Laguardia yesterday so now both construction projects are shut down indefinitely. The board thinks more are to follow. You need to get home — now.”
As a mechanism of abating my own anxiety and stubbornly clinging to my agency as an adult child, I negotiate. It’s our eternal dynamic. “I’m here, I’m shipping the last of my things – I just need the weekend.” “For what?! Beatrice – they’re going to start closing state lines.” I close my eyes and breathe deeply through my nose. “They can’t close state lines, Mom. How else would they get emergency supplies to people?”
The truth was that I was just as terrified as she. I clung to the fact that I’d made a Monday morning appointment to walk through my soon-to-be empty apartment with my landlord – but that wasn’t why I needed the weekend. The grief of giving up my life here was only just beginning to set in.
Heartbreak’s wreckage of the body has no calculable timeline, but I knew that an extra forty-eight hours would at least give me room to hug or wave to or sit six feet apart from the chosen family members I’ve found here, in L.A. My body had won this battle and my nervous system could no longer contend with the city – but I demanded my goodbyes. After Jackson the diligent FedEx boy completed the transaction, I got in my car and reluctantly turned on NPR. There it was – an official state of emergency. The bizarre cross-country journey back to my childhood town was being birthed out of chaos. But, of course.
Lillian Ann Slugocki
On March 2nd, I was already a little afraid. At work, I was already washing my hands like crazy, certainly not the way I do it now because now it’s like I’m a goddamn surgeon, but the anxiety was already there. I was already using a paper towel to press the button on the elevator, and then to open the glass doors on the ground floor, out to a wooded parking lot. I’d started to take a Lyft home, no more public transportation for me. I loved the ride, south on Broadway, right on Williams, then a sharp left onto a narrow road that runs along the Aqueduct, high over the river. It never took more than 5 minutes. I loved how the drivers tricked out their cars, some of them had my name in neon lights on a small screen, Hello Lillian. One woman said to me you are blessed to live here, blessed, it’s so beautiful and on that day around 4:30 it was. I felt it. And I probably went into my apartment to feed my dog and cook a bowl of pasta while watching reruns of SVU.
But everything changed the next day. I had an early doctor’s appointment, mostly to get a refill on my meds. He’s an Albanian man, with a deep scar on his face, and the body of a dancer. He said, Do you know what’s happening with the man in New Rochelle? And of course, I did. My co-worker lives there, New Rock City. He said that man is very sick. He’s in ICU. He’s got many of the same issues as you, and you are older. You have to work from home. Starting when I asked, starting now, he said, right now. His office is in Dobbs Ferry, and I don’t drive, so I walked south on Ashford Avenue, past a deli and cemetery to get to Walgreens. It was cold and sunny. And the fear was palpable and bitter, like a copper penny. At Walgreens, I grabbed a pair of leggings and an extra pack of underwear and four pairs of socks. I was home by 1:00 p.m. in my new home office, logged into Zoom and Wrike, and I did my job like I always do, but now everything was different.
This was my last normal day on earth.
Francisca C George
“Normal” is relative. I was never “normal” by the consideration of others. Nor did I ever want to be. Neither were my days. I would have drowned in the “normalcy” of the world. The sameness of every day. Monotony killed for all I was concerned. Yes I was told that routine was necessary, many times, especially now that I was a mom. But who could convince a creative mind like mine? Someone who had to find different ways of doing things, not to get bored. People I knew always took the same way home, the shortest, or most economical. I, on the other hand, had found about 38, and had become annoyed with all of them. I invented new foods, never adhered to recipes or instructions. When others pursued study guides to learn, I made up entire stories from the glossary.
The first time I became aware of THE VIRUS was in Ceramics class when our teacher remarked that she was not sure if the schedule would change or what would happen to the class since the administration was discussing closing the college. I think it was March 11th, but I am not entirely sure. Since this was an art class and the teacher a bit unorganized, I paid no real attention to her words. Sure I had heard about people getting sick in China but I was more concerned with my teenage daughter who barely talked to me these days, and refused to come back home from living with her grandma for the last 8 month.
The first real sit-down talk happened on a Wednesday. I was at City College, eager to create a new book. Suddenly, my creativity stunted by the confusion which ruled the room. I became a captive in between the fronts of followers and believers. I couldn’t take this seriously! Paranoia ruled this country! People used it on each other to get what they wanted, to control the masses. And then were the conspiracy-theorists who took the stories they were fed and spun them even further. I longed to be back home in Germany, were things were straight forward and emotionless plain. I had just returned mid January after extensive PTSD therapy and refused to be pulled into an anxiety hype. So, whenever someone came with the Corona scare, I would be on the contrary. I would show myself unafraid and rational. “No more drama!” Sure I took precautions; I touched as little as possible, washed my hands extra long and with extra hot water, and stayed away from sick people. More than anything, I was pissed someone wanted to take away my art classes. In my 6 month of daily therapy I had rediscovered art as my outlet, my grounding, my bliss. And now they wanted to take it all away again?
After the news, I went to my parked car, and sat. I needed to talk. So I called people to sort my own feelings. I received nothing from the other end. I had just been told this was a catastrophe and things were going to happen but life around me was still going on. Nothing had changed. This was surreal! I have had this feeling before. This deja vu experience we get when two universes collide. This was such a moment. My little self alone on a still spinning Earth. Life around me went on in its normalcy, yet what just happened to me did not match this “normal”. I found myself on this edge again. One foot on each side of reality, attempting the impossible – to keep balance.
March 13th – Things are starting to change daily. My Australian girlfriend’s daughter, Peyton is at SMU in Dallas and they’ve just been advised to fly home. However, on the flip side they’ve also been advised that if the foreign students fly home, they might be able to get back into the States if Trump closes the borders. My friend makes an executive decision and flys her to us. We don’t know how long we will have her but they are family, and we are happy to have the company.
March 14th – We need to run some errands, the first stop is the grocery store. The shelves are empty and it’s an eerie feeling. No one is making eye contact, no one is smiling. Instead; people are looking in other people’s grocery carts to see what they are stockpiling. That’s a first.
Next, we hit the mall. The parking lot is empty and Macy’s and Nordstrom are closed. It feels like we’re in a movie and I can barely wrap my head around it. We walk in Dillards and there are about 10 people inside. The sales are amazing and my selfish side wants to take advantage of no crowds and the deals. I remind myself we need to get out of here and go home.
March 17th – Peyton joins me to go get my hair done. Casey is there with gloves on, sanitizing everything down from her last client. It’s just us three and we talk about what’s happening in our world. I would have never thought in a million years we’d be having this conversation. And, as with any foreigner, Casey enquires Peyton with questions about being an Aussie and what it’s like there. She’s been in the states going to Uni for two years now so she’s grown accustomed to the same questions. She complies.
Pj’s phone rings; it’s her mum. She’s crying because the prime minister has just announced they will be closing the borders to Australia in twenty-four hours. I have an hour to get her to the airport so she can take the next flight out. The reality sinks in quickly and Peyton is now hyper-ventilating but there’s no time to comfort her in the way I want to. We rush home and pack her bags in record time and get to the airport. Another eerie feeling, there’s nobody there.
Anyone knows that when you’re dropping or picking up curbside, it’s a race to find your person, grab the bags, give the quick hug and get your ass out of there. Today is much different. We arrive early and both take a huge breath of relief that we made it on time; and then the emotions start to rise. Everything has just happened so fast and we were just getting her settled in and now, bam! She’s flying back to Australia.
I contain the tears that are welling up to the best of my ability. By now, she’s calm and cool as a cucumber. She’s ok and with that, I give her a huge hug and say goodbye. I take one last look throughout the terminal and inside the airport. There’s not much sign of life, so surreal.
As I drive away the tears well up and I lose it.
Deep down I knew this day was coming. The signs were everywhere but I kept trying to ignore them. I have an internet writer friend that lives in South Korea and seven weeks ago she posted a picture of herself wearing a face mask and the caption noted frequent hand washing, staying home and social distancing, a term that I had no idea would be a huge part of my vocabulary a few weeks later as the governor of New York announced that we would be shutting down the schools for the next two weeks. It was a Friday afternoon and I was squeezing into the only jeans I own because my boss doesn’t allow leggings at the mom and pop restaurant I work at. My county’s superintendent hadn’t made the announcement official as of yet but a lot of other county’s already did and a lot of moms in the Facebook group I follow were posting official-looking paperwork about schools shutting down.
I was in disbelief that we actually made it to this point. We’d been hearing about cases breaking all over the country as well as the death toll. I even heard about some confirmed cases in the town next to mine. It was still easy to act as if this wouldn’t have any effect on me, my life or my family.
But there I was wondering how much I would explain to my first grader who is already showing signs of anxiety sometimes, a trait she’s inherited from her mother. I pulled on my wrinkled work shirt, picked up the baby and ushered my middle girl to the porch, waiting for my daughter to get off the bus. I wondered if it would really be two weeks until she got on the bus again, I suspected it would be much longer.
I called my husband who was on his way home from work. I told him to stop at Dollar General by our house before he gets home. I was kicking myself for not getting paper towels, toilet paper, Lysol and other essentials when my father advised me to, two weeks prior. Even then I was in denial. I called my job and told them I would be a little late, the lines at the store were insane, the public panic was beginning. My husband came home with enough paper products and spray and wipes to last us a while. I made sure he came home with lots of hand soap as well. We were going to be safe right? The virus wasn’t that bad, right? Just a respiratory cold, we’re a healthy family, we should be okay. That’s what I had to tell myself, over and over.
When my husband was done unloading I gave him an extra-long hug. I feel safe with my husband, almost invincible because I know he will do whatever he can to make sure nothing bad happens to us. But this isn’t in his control. I kissed my children and went to work.
It was Monday, the second week in March, and I was back at the tutoring center where I worked on weekday afternoons, though my mind was still on the date (okay, hookup) I’d had the night before. Bill had been grumbling about the whole world shutting down because of a virus that was no worse than the flu. Usually he left quickly, but yesterday he had lingered, wanting to cuddle while he complained. He was disappointed they were cancelling the NBA season, but he was still planning on going to Palms Springs for a tennis tournament the next weekend. If he didn’t end up going, he’d call me and we could get together again. I hated that, the not-knowing, the last-minute-ness of it. I was thinking about that on Monday, along with how much freelance editing I had, and when I could fit in work on my own book proposal. I’d been *almost ready* to query agents for months now, and until I could get my own writing career going, I’d be stuck in this slog of low-paying, time-consuming jobs.
Like the part-time tutoring I was currently doing.
My boss called all the tutors into one room, shut the door so the waiting students couldn’t hear us, and told us he was preparing for—and fully expecting—the LA public schools to close. We were all shocked. This thing doesn’t even affect kids, I thought. None of us had yet heard the phrase “flattening the curve.”
“This isn’t like the school strike last year,” he went on, “when we stayed open and offered additional programs. If the schools close for safety reasons, we’re obligated to as well. So we’ll transition to online tutoring for a few weeks.”
My mind, already stacked with a list of tasks like heavy old-fashioned textbooks about to topple, rebelled at the thought of learning some complicated new online system for such a low-paying position. I decided I’d ask my boss later if I could just bow out of the online tutoring, use the extra time to get my book proposal done. It would only be two weeks or so anyway, right?
I don’t remember what I did after tutoring that day. Maybe I stopped at the grocery store; maybe I just went to the Coffee Bean near work and forced myself to do another hour of editing before heading back to my small apartment which I had begun to avoid, a place that had become synonymous with stress and striving. I wish I had stopped at Trader Joe’s and CVS, stores I haven’t been to in a month now, and picked up some special treat; I wish I had savored the sensation of working at the coffee shop with others around me, all of us focused on our computer screens, alone but together as well.
But I didn’t know how soon everything would change.
As the days passed and it became clear that yes, by the end of the week, schools would close, I started to pay more attention to what was going on. I was spending a lot of time on Twitter, justifying it as a way to build my author “platform,” but really it was because I was lonely and craving any semblance of human contact. I started to read accounts of what was happening in Italy and then Spain, and I started to think seriously about whether I could survive a few months completely alone in this apartment, this place that had become filled with all my frustration and loneliness and exhaustion, this place I’d lived in for four years without bothering to change the pictures on the wall that no longer matched who I wanted to be. I decided to go back to my parents’ home in Baltimore, before it was too late.
The day after I arrived in Baltimore, that guy I’d been hooking up with texted me. “I haven’t been leaving my house,” Bill said, “except for walks. I hope you’re washing your hands. This thing is really serious.”
April 14, 2020
Seven New Ways of Looking at the World
Francisca C George
All of my “former lives” (like the one of my childhood, the one with husband number one, the one with my soul mate, or the one I lived in crisis after everyone had died) have provided me with one certain way to see the world. At the end of each of these lives I had to face a new reality and a choice. Everyone at the end comes to such a bifurcation and is forced to make a decision. It is a simple yes or no question.
To be or not to be? To dream or not to dream? To rethink or to simply give up?
As before, this crisis was a turning point in my life. Luckily, I had just gotten out of intensive mental therapy and freshly returned from Europe, when life here got very strange. I have to say that when I arrived back in San Diego from six months away, I had some difficulties fitting into my American life again. I had grown a bit more into myself.
But when Covid hid in March, I stayed calm. I felt well-prepared and always two steps in front of everyone else. Suddenly, everyone around me was full of anxiety. It was astonishing how, from one minute to the next everyone was in the same boat (or so it seemed). I no longer felt isolated and alone. I could comfort people because I already knew how it felt. I no longer was “the abnormal one.” With my two steps ahead, I clearly had the advantage. And had I been alone, I would have taken it – no questions asked. But having to take care of people who depend on you makes you feel stuck.
So, I retreated and coped internally. A logic approach to problems has always helped me stay rational and not get carried away on some magical carpet of emotions. I created guidelines to follow, which kept me in check. They function like a mantra that I can repeat to myself whenever I get carried away or pulled into someone else’s paranoia.
1. You are alive and well enough to live! Use the time wisely!
2. Don’t blame! Everyone is new at this. Nobody chose this.
3. Be kinder, you can! To yourself and others.
4. Try something new! Every day.
5. Explore new ways of intellectual nourishment, social connection and personal growth.
6. Practice Flexibility and constant Readjustment!
7. Live in the moment! Make it worth your while. This is a once in a lifetime experience!
I was never been much of a believer in grandiose karmic lessons universally conscripted to humans. That was until the unbearable weight of my self-righteous omniscience brought me to my knees and harrowingly close to an early grave. What was it – at the core of my disbelief? Of my arrogant agnostic-atheistic-compulsive-faithless-hopeless-desperation? Merely fear.
If an addict is to recover, to find freedom from the grips of the fear and its insidious tools, a surrender is requisite. I am brought to my knees in a new way now. The fear has not left, but the heart-pangs of loneliness that come with attempting to figure it all out myself, they’ve lessened.
In the rooms, we joke that we have been given the most excellent pandemic training. Smart feet and slogans keep us alive, but the true gift is a paramount shift in perspective. I ask for the strength to humbly do my part and, even minutely, help shift a restless mind.
1. We know nothing, ever – and thank [insert your word here] for that.
2. We are not alone, even in the moments when we feel most isolated – a phone is a heart-opening tool and though even I bemoan the screens that seem to build emotional barriers between us – what a gift in these moments of missing the ones we love most.
3. It’s going to be what it will be, and there’s absolutely nothing any minuscule human can do to determine the outcome – that said, we owe undying gratitude and support (in any way possible) to those selfless individuals bravely working on the frontlines of this mess – but in the end, it will be what it will be.
4. Fear is a feeling, and an evolutionary imperative, but it will not kill us – if anything, it will make us stronger – to sit in it, write through it, sing, chant, dance or cry – may it crack open a new door within us all, may it help our spirits shine.
5. Take at least one moment, every day, to wonder at the world – notice the white and purple hepatica trying their hardest to burst through their buds – marvel at the proud chest of the tree swallow – at the surface tension of a drop of dew – all this magnificence exists, regardless – may the natural world remind us of our profound smallness.
6. To those in fear and those in sickness, lend a gentle heart and hand – everyone treads this earth with a different tolerance for uncertainty – be in service to get out of self – a beautiful opportunity to show one another our gentler underbellies.
7. This sumptuous earth and all of her bounty has done a great deal for us – held us and raised us in our constant mortal missions to improve, accelerate, triumph – with our manifests have come decay – our mother is asking for respite, may we honor her and use this moment of pause to consciously restore some of what we’ve used.
I hold my loved ones close, through skin or screen, and thank the skies for all their gifts. I am still afraid and these are shiny ideas to tout, but I breathe surrender. So much will soon be clear.
1. I’m thankful for nature. When I can’t rely on window-shopping for pretty dresses, or sitting in chic coffee shops to distract me from my problems, I still have the natural world to support me. I’m trying to take the time to look at the daffodils and crocuses springing up, the trees bursting back to life, giving a little new life to my soul as well.
2. Understanding that when you resist a necessary change, the universe will force you into it. In the months before the pandemic, I was constantly burned out, having breakdowns at work, considering moving or quitting some of my jobs but afraid to make a change. Now that the universe has forced me—at least temporarily—to take a break from one job and move across the country, I’ve found that I was able to do what I was afraid to. Yes, change is challenging, but resisting is even harder and causes a lot of the burnout in the first place.
3. Not everything has to be comfortable. We live in a consumer culture that emphasizes enjoyment and comfort—Netflix and chill, shopping sprees at the mall, dinners and movies out. But life has challenges and uncomfortable periods, and right now, we’re all stuck right in the middle of one. It’s worth it, for our futures and for the greater good.
4. We all have different anxieties. Before the pandemic started, I thought I was one of the most anxious people I know, with my OCD fixations on little problems others considered unimportant: a flaw on my skin, too many dirty clothes, a wrong word in a published article. Any of these was capable of making me fall to pieces, on the wrong day. Yet now that this pandemic has started, I’ve seen so many people who I never realized had anxieties of their own, now sharing their fears about germs and disease. In contrast, this particular anxiety over contracting COVID is one I struggle with much less than others, as long as I’m taking the necessary precautions. It’s fascinating to discover the hidden parts of people we thought we knew, coming out in times of crisis. It reminds us all to be gentle with each other—we never know what is difficult or easy for another person.
5. Time is relative. Wondering how long this pandemic will last, each day can feel like a month. But when I think back to other difficult times in my life, like the pain of getting over a breakup or dealing with an uncomfortable living situation, I remind myself that eventually they did pass. One day, we will look back at what felt like an endless trial, and recall it from beginning to end in the span of a few moments.
1 – The ruby-throated Ana’s hummingbirds that buzz in and out of my front porch seem thirstier than ever, and each whirr of their blizzard wings cheers me. Their persistence in finding their vital sugar-source both intimidates and reassures me. Each flash of a visit cheers me on. I pull the feeder down, even though it’s only halfway gone, bring it into the house and refill with warm sugar water, then gently replace it on its hook. These hummingbirds have become my surrogate real-time friends.
2 – I’m distraught and enraged that while California is being portrayed in the national media as having kept the numbers of pandemic diagnoses and casualties at bay due to early stay-at-home orders, my county is not part of this trend. Our country has one of the highest rate of infections of any county in California. Please quit saying we’re winning this “war.” Because we’re not.
3 – I can’t cry. I want to. Not when sitting safe and hushed and alone in a deep canyon palm tree oasis that I’m able to hike to. Not when I’m watching YouTube videos of nurses sobbing. Not when I grow frustrated as I watch my baby grandson chew on a pickle, discovering a new taste and texture for the first time, and I’m unable to hold him.
4 – My line of demarcation on how I perceive people has radically changed. “The good citizens- people who are okay in my book” who are wearing masks and social distancing” vs. “the absolute asshole, disrespectful fucks who don’t wear masks and don’t give others space.”
5 – Nature doesn’t need us. And possibly is sick of us. I see it in the rush of seasonal waterfall, coming from an unseasonal past week of snow in the Southern California mountains – ha ha, ski resorts are closed during one of what would have been THE best spring ski seasons in memory. I feel it in the warm spring wind, scented with wildflowers, heartbreaking day of desert beauty filtered with every masked breath – taunting us with a great pull to be outdoors, to go on a road trip, to camp and exuberate, when we can’t. I notice it in the bold assertion of a huge roadrunner on my evening walk: it’s not going to move for me. I subordinately walk around it. The classic California sunsets flourish like the peacocks they are, and we watch from indoors. Tourist season in my international vacation destination town is over. Gone.
6- I am more addicted to sugar in times of stress than I ever know. Chocolate, in particular. Not getting my Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie dough in today’s food delivery (it was sold out) was a heavy blow.
7 – Zoom gets on my nerves.
1. Death is a foreign concept until it hits close to home.
2. Us Vs Them is the go-to mentality for some people during public panic. It starts with toilet paper, it can end in murder. It terrifies me. An every man for himself scenario is my worst nightmare.
3. The Almighty dollar rules the day. Money talks. Deaths are mere casualties
4. Some people still don’t have time to learn a new skill. My husband still collapses into bed every evening exhausted. I come home from my part-time job cranky and uneasy.
5. The internet is the real MVP. Although I am trying to make sure I unplug for at least an hour each day. Thanks to the internet, life can somewhat go on.
6. Being quarantined in your own home with loved ones is a blessing and getting through this time with no financial woes is a privilege.
7. Creatives, artists, introverts; this is our time. In terms of my usual life, pre-social distancing, this introverted homebody didn’t go out too much.
1- I’ve never washed my hands so much in my life! I must admit, pre COVID I didn’t wash my hands every time I peed and I NEVER washed my hands for 20 seconds! That is the longest 20 seconds of my day now.
2- Going to the grocery store with my mask on has become the new normal and 90 percent of the other patrons have theirs on too. It’s starting to feel more comfortable. Since people cannot see me smiling, so I make sure to say hello to everyone who will acknowledge me or strike up a quick conversation and ask them how they’re doing.
3- Today I was feeling a little restless so I took my pup for a drive. She loves to go bye-bye! I had to run to the post office but after I decided to drive through the outdoor mall. What used to be a parking lot and you felt like you’d won the lottery if you scored a parking space in front of the store, is now lifeless with empty streets and signs on most the shop windows.
4- I love the quiet. I love listening to the birds all day rather than people speeding through my neighborhood and ambulances on the daily. It’s peaceful and I’m thoroughly enjoying every minute of it.
5- I love that I have time to write more and practice honing my skill. I’m surprised and on the rare occasion rather impressed with my writing. Sometimes I feel a writer’s block but I just walk away and know something will come to me at the right time.
6- I love the zoom meetings I’m doing. I’m connecting with new and like-minded people from all over the world that, without this pandemic, would have never happened. I’m facetiming my family and some friends for the first time ever. I’m having a zoom happy hour with my Bunko girlfriends to stay connected.
7- While I’m concerned and doing my part to be a part of the solution, I’m not afraid. I’m very fortunate to have my husband with me, we have a little nest egg and we’re both working still. I truly believe in my heart of hearts we desperately needed something this big to get our attention and wake and shake us up to our core. This Too Shall Pass.
One. It is deeply satisfying and relaxing to wash one’s hands thoroughly, with scalding water and soap worked into a silky lather, rubbing methodically and systematically, for two “Happy Birthday”s.
Two. The scarcity of paper towels and toilet paper invites conservation practices that no amount of concern about climate change has induced.
Three. It is calming and consoling to have eggs in the fridge.
Four. The frontline workers I’ve encountered, at least, have been more friendly, helpful and courteous than we deserve.
Five. Some Angelenos still drive like assholes no matter how few vehicles are on the road.
Six. The health crisis has accelerated the adoption of technology in our homes, at work, in education, across industries.
Seven. Honestly, the shape of my life really hasn’t changed that much.
Lillian Ann Slugocki
ONE. Handwashing is an art.
TWO. Now I understand why my grandmother, displaced and imprisoned in workcamps in Nazi Germany, had a drawer filled with empty plastic bags, another drawer filled with rubber bands, and another filled with tin foil, used and gently washed. When I heard these stories, in the 70s, it never occurred to me that one day, I would do the same. I now have a drawer where I keep used aluminum foil, Ziploc bags and coffee filters all neatly washed and put away.
THREE. I sometimes think that the portal that we are going through as a collective, will drop us in a world that we don’t recognize if that’s not happening already. That the “united” in the “states” will no longer be a given. I don’t think this country has ever been more polarized.
FOUR. How funny it is, not haha funny, but strange funny that the thing that brings us to our knees was not the much-touted “nuclear winter,” the bomb that was going to be detonated, the cities that were going to be flattened, the radiation sickness, the all-out war between two nations where we threaten to knock each other into oblivion-didn’t turn out that way at all. It turned out to be something entirely different.
FIVE. I unravel at least once a day. I never know what’s going to trigger it. Sometimes it happens because I can’t walk my dog in the morning, and this means everything to me. Because we hike up Division Street, onto Aqueduct Lane, which runs parallel to the treeline. Because it’s so high over the river that I am looking down at the world from a great distance. Because the forsythia is blooming, and there are birds singing and it’s one of the few places where I feel safe. Sometimes, when I’m up there, I sing “Angel From Montgomery,” but only the first verse-“I am an old woman, named after my mother.”
SIX. Even though the current administration scares me, and our healthcare infrastructure is broken, there are pockets of humanity and grace, within our own communities. For me, because I am high-risk, neighbors and strangers have brought me chicken, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, mandarin oranges, English muffins, seltzer, cereal, peanut butter and palo santo sticks. I think this is what will ultimately save us-each other.
SEVEN. Every night at 8:00 p.m. I begin my cleaning and cleansing ritual. I wipe down all the surfaces I touch each day with bleach. I begin with the kitchen sink, the small window overlooking the parking lot, the stove, the garbage can. I follow the exact same order every night, so I don’t forget a step. I wipe down the thermostat, the doorknobs of the bedroom, and the bathroom. In the hallway, I sanitize the light switch and the door to the back porch and end with a small prayer to the Black Madonna I inherited from my grandmother. Then I light a palo santo stick and repeat the exact same ritual, in the exact same order, sanitizing every surface in every room, but now I’m doing it with smoke.
April 15, 2020
The Things We Carry
Lillian Ann Slugocki
ONE: For two years, I carried the weight of a trauma. My brain was completely rewired by this. My body broke as well. I really believed I could never set that pain down, but I finally did. I worked so hard. I got a new job in an entirely new field. I created new rituals. I met new people. One day last October-and I can still see this so clearly, on the couch, the sun is setting over the river, and I said to myself, almost out of the blue-you can set that suitcase down, because that’s how I envisioned it. And the relief I felt in that moment-I don’t have to carry this anymore. My god. The weight of it. On Christmas, I said to a friend, I feel the light has come back to me.
TWO: I carry my groceries home. In the old days, I used to take a car service. When I go out for food, today, I carry a shopping bag, and a bank card, nothing else. I even leave my keys on the back porch. I have to travel light as I walk north on Warburton to the greengrocers, the river and the Palisades to my right. But now I never take the time to stop on the bridge over the ravine, and admire the view (once I saw a hawk on a street light). On the way home, I have to make frequent stops, the bags of groceries I am carrying are heavy, because even after I’m home, everything needs to be cleaned so it passes inspection and is allowed in my home.
THREE: I carry music with me, but not literally-I don’t carry my phone when I walk along the Aqueduct (I don’t need another thing to clean). I hear it in my head, or sing it out loud. Lately it’s been a duet with John Prine and Bonnie Rait singing “Angel From Montgomery.” The song is about a woman asking for something to hold onto, because “to believe in this living is just a hard way to go.” And I’d like that too-something to hold onto, and maybe it’s just that moment that I get-in the morning, in the sunlight, with my dog. I carry that song with me. Last December, I carried Stone Temple Pilot’s cover of “Dancing Days.” I was so obsessed.
FOUR: I will be happy when I’m not carrying the fear that underscores every waking moment of my life with few exceptions. Sometimes it’s a low voltage hum in my brain, and sometimes it engulfs me. It’s a roller coaster I ride every day with few exceptions. I will be happy to only carry the quotidian concerns of my ordinary life again. I think I can be happy with that. I think I will be happy with that. I’ll be happy when I can set this suitcase down again.
Francisca C George
WEIGHT. I don’t know what weight feels like, I numbed this ability to sense pressure long ago, threw it out with the pain, the nightmares and bad memories. I had a system of drugs, PPE and withdrawal. Although, access to two of those are delayed, I cope and no longer remember.
Denial? Possibly. Since I am still the one awake past midnight to lock out the bad possibilities, I also open up the windows for fresh air at dawn. Maybe these actions give me away. What can I say: I am female, mother, survivor. It’s genetic intuition. A missing link in Darwin’s theory.
I’ve always carried worries and guilts and regrets around like a collection of stones in my pocket. My sister used to collect stones when we went on camping trips as children. But instead of carrying them, hanging on to them, she would arrange them into little nests and leave them behind at our campsites for the next arrivals. My sister collects worries like I do, but she knows what she wants to do with them: she went to graduate school and became a social worker, and now she’s trying to help others.
Since this pandemic started, I’ve traveled across the country and I’m now physically closer to my sister than I’ve been in years. We’re only three miles from each other, a long walk, that’s all. My mom and I drove by her apartment, and she came out on the porch and waved. But we haven’t touched, haven’t hugged, haven’t talked.
After I moved to Los Angeles, my childhood interest in spirituality and ritual reawakened. Yoga, meditation, even crystal healing. I never truly believed in it, never bothered to memorize the meanings of the crystals, but I had a collection of blue and yellow, pink and black stones on my desk, right by my window. I knew some of those stones stood for love, some for creativity, some for protection, even if I couldn’t keep track of which were which.
I left those stones by the window when I flew back to Baltimore during the pandemic. Now, I realize I might lose my Los Angeles apartment, and I might never get those stones back.
With every day this virus tightens its grip on this country, sinking over us like an invisible weight, I’ve felt the weight of my own past grow stronger. I think about the people I hurt, the mistakes I made, the hopes I gave up. I don’t think I can let go of these worries, but maybe I can transform them. Paint them the colors of the crystals I lost, assign them any meanings I want—black for what I’ve lost, pink for what I love. Silver for a light I carry inside me, along with all the weight. Green for new growth. Yellow for hope.
I still carry my gooney bird with the chipped beak. The drone of a plane awakens me out of a peaceful slumber. They’re coming to save us! Like paratroopers landing on the beaches of Normandy. But history shows what happened on D-Day. And there will be casualties of war.
I’ve awakened into a bad dream and strain to hear the ghost planes–those ghost riders, phantom fighters my husband heard as a Coast Guard patrolling Midway in the 80s. Islands isolated except for the gooney birds.
I turn my head and stare into the eyes of a miniature porcelain Laysan Albatross
on my nightstand. A souvenir from a gift shop in Midway. I smile, will we ever travel again? I roll over and cover my head with the quilt, shelter-in-place wrapped in survivor’s guilt.
While we don’t have it as bad as Anne Frank and the others hiding in a tiny secret annex nor are our grandchildren living in filthy cages, I suffer to think I’ll never get to hold my little lovebirds again.
Even if the quarantine is lifted, without a vaccine or a cure, we’ll never get back to normal. Daycares are petri dishes full of germs, and the grandkids bring colds home like artwork to post on the fridge.
I’ll live with anxiety wondering if a soldier of death will come knocking on the door or just shoot first. I know there are other lonesome doves out there. I’m grateful to be isolated with my husband, within the walls of our 860-square-foot bunker, our gilded cage during this tarnished age. I’m a survivor of misfortune, he’s a survivor of cancer. But can we outlive this pandemic like soldiers of fortune?
I wonder, after this pandemic, will the gooney be the only species left? Does a gooney suffer survivor’s guilt?
Well, there is one thing. It sits on my shoulder. It’s constantly on my mind. Even when I’m feeling good and having fun I’m reminded of it, afraid it will come and destroy everything. How did I end up like this? Why is my brain wired this way? Will I ever be over this? In moments where I get down on myself, I always have to remind myself of what I have and how blessed I am. I know this thing on my shoulder is here for a reason. I know it’s supposed to test me. It wants to break me. Take me away from my children. Make me crazy. Make me ashamed. And for the longest time, I was. And when it wreaks havoc, the times I am unable to control it, the shame washes over me and I wear it for days, the stench is terrible. And I beat myself till I’m black and blue.
It still affects me. The screaming. Glasses breaking. Doors slamming and cars racing off. Names that you should never call someone you love. He was so hurt. She left and broke his heart. Seeing a grown man cry in pain from a broken heart is heartbreaking. But I’m not supposed to see this. I’m not supposed to hear these things about her. Especially not from him.
I confronted him recently. Previously we acted like these years never happened. He apologized and I forgave him. I understand him, but the damage is still done.
I would never do that to my children. Love and respect were taught but stability was absent and chaos was consistent. From NY to CA. From CA to NV. How does anyone know themselves when they are ripped from everything they know? I’m still trying to figure out who she is. Raising children isn’t easy. As a mother myself so many things have come full circle. I get it. I do.
Whenever I leave the house, I strap on my purse—a gray utilitarian bag that hangs across my body from my right shoulder, freeing my hands. I used to carry it on my left shoulder so that the pouch was convenient on my right hip, but a left shoulder injury changed that habit as well as the arrangement of the items inside with the new orientation.
Most prominent inside is a Coca-Cola wallet—a gift from my husband from the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta. (I used to carry a Coca-Cola purse and Coca-Cola phone case as well.) Inside that are my driver license, credit cards, cash, change. A selection of other bits of paper and plastic as the new wallet doesn’t fit all that I’ve collected over the years. Highlights include public transportation cards for both Los Angeles and Atlanta, an America the Beautiful pass that grants free entry to any National Park, passes to the Alamo Drafthouse—none of which I foresee using any time soon.
Also in my purse: a sort of slate teal shopping bag raggedly folded inside its own pouch. A generic Ziploc bag with tissues, Advil, sunscreen and hand sanitizer—a precious commodity these days. Warby Parker sunglasses with a three-year-old prescription. A stack of worn postcards to promote the literary journal I work on. Usually a little-used notebook and pen, though that’s been on my desk since a source called me during a walk early in the pandemic, after which I spent another 30 minutes deciphering my illegible notes.
Inside two small pockets in the main compartment: keys—the car key loose by itself; a plain ring with two house keys (one for the front door, the other for the back) and two mail keys (one for the box at home, the other for the post office). Business cards—both mine and others’ whom I don’t remember meeting.
How I wish I could use the past tense here; so wish that the heft I carry in shame, in self-blame, in humiliation would somehow slacken. That I could find a quiet spot, deep in the woods to lay it to rest. I am the accumulation of my failures wrapped in the gauze of a life I do not recognize. It feels heavier every day.
When I left Los Angeles the first time it was “temporary.” It didn’t feel necessary to mourn my dream job, the nebulous social value, the zeal of individuation, because we were going to find an answer. Surely it would only take a few months. However, when I returned a year later it was with no cure or success to speak of. We knew more of what didn’t work but I dragged my demoralization back out west. I was still leagues away from able-bodied but desperately grasping for a fragment of that former life.
I thought that a team of bicoastal doctors would expedite finding the answer. A cohort of coveted specialists that I bounced between despite the physical strain and the mental wear of contending with healthcare systems across state lines. I carried photocopied medical records to more offices than I could count.
In October I decided upon a new accessory. Under the skin just below my right clavicle I carried a device we hoped would be the answer. Electroshock is – well, can be – far more civilized these days. The back and forths felt manageable for a while, LA <> NY, for surgeries, followups, holidays – but by mid-December, I knew. The brave face I’ve forced my entire life could no longer mask the heaviness.
March 19, 2020, I left Los Angeles again and this time for good. Despite my nervous system’s swift decline, I insisted on driving and driving alone. There was the minor obstacle of COVID – crossing the country was going to be trickier this time – but the open road is the only place I can feel remotely unburdened. Even with my car packed tight.
I carry hope and prayer for I have no choice to assign a fraction of my heart to optimism. Without it, I could not go on. Yet, just alongside that ventricle of positivity I carry the knowledge of the others’ stories – the degenerative worst-case scenarios. The physical pain is plenty to carry – but the invisibility of this disability adds intolerable weight on my soul. I am a ghost shrouded in leisurewear. My uniform of detachment from the working world. I do not recognize the woman I am today and the third layer of weight is the shame that I cannot accept this fate. That it still feels absolutely unacceptable, and somehow my fault.
Buried in an inside pocket: pads, passport, chapstick I rarely use, and a drink marker in the shape of a muscle man named Mitch (I know this because “MITCH” is spelled across the rear of his pink Speedos).
In a front pocket that zips closed: five pens and a mechanical pencil; a tangle of earbuds; three packs of gum, peppermint- and bubble gum-flavored; loose gum wrappers, some with used gum stuck inside; a tin of Mister Rogers’ Encouragemints (get it—mints?); an extra phone battery that’s probably drained.
In a sleeve that snaps shut: a stack of shopping lists and recent receipts, including ticket stubs from the last movie (Emma) and play (Man of God) I saw.
In a front pocket that snaps shut: three Alex and Ani bracelets that I haven’t worn since the last time I went through airport security; three badges for a mentoring organization I volunteer for whose pins spring loose and stick my fingers when I reach inside; stray cough drop wrappers. This is also where I stuff my phone when I don’t have decent pockets.
These days my gray bag lies mostly untouched on a dining room chair.
What I carry, 9:13 AM: A cup of coffee in my Roy’s Cafe/Amboy, CA – Route 66 mug, cradling the warmth with my hands, which are raw and tender from so much washing. This is my morning gold, one of the last KPods of organic Columbian special bland from the very last box of coffee I bought at Trader Joe’s more than a month ago. When it’s all gone, I’ll weigh my fear of going into the store to buy more of my favorite coffee against the discomfort of missing my urgently nurturing morning caffeine ritual.
What I carry, wearing thick work gloves,11:54 AM: Three bags of Wal-Mart groceries that I ordered online five days ago and drove to pick up. I set the bags down on my condo front patio, distancing my face from the goods as far as possible, as if the bags were filled with something toxic. My mind spins: Did I get too close to the worker who came out with my groceries? He was a nice young man, but I can’t erase the image from my mind of his loosely-tied mask coming down from his nose. I chastise myself: Why did I get out of the damn car to open the trunk? I should have let him do that. But I know why. Because I didn’t want him to touch my car. I pour my canned goods, giant spaghetti squash, a bag of unusually small lemons, a strange brand of noodles that I didn’t order, into two boxes. It looks like someone else’s food. This is the first time I’ve ever bought groceries at Wal-Mart. I only ordered there because their wait time for pickup as many days earlier than any other stores I could find online. At least 10 things I ordered were not available: strawberries, fresh broccoli, milk…I want to cry. It looks like only the least favorite items I picked are in the bag: refried beans. Gag. I will need to spray it all down with my bleach/water disinfectant mix, but I rebel and just don’t do it. Later.
What I carry, 1:50 PM: my MacBook Air, which is only semi-functioning ever since my two grandsons (ages 4 and 6) played a “let’s pour water on Gaga’s computer when she’s not looking” prank on me a few months ago, to my kitchen table. I’m careful not to let it get unplugged, because the battery won’t work without this. I had just about been ready to head to my local Apple Store to buy a new MacBook when the store was shut down. Ordering any Apple items online has been impossible. I log into my college website. It’s time to open a Zoom session to teach my Monday-Wednesday Composition class. We start with Chat, and when all my students are there, I try to open Zoom. Error message. Error message. Error message. Student comments flood the chat. They are getting the same message. No one can log in. We try and try for 10 minutes, and by the time I’m ready to scream and throw my disabled MacBook at the wall, I call it a day. No class.
What I carry, 3:00 PM: laundry, including my three, new, hand-sewn masks I acquired from one of my students, upstairs and into the washing machine.
What I carry, 4:00 PM: my small backpack, filled with two liters of water, a small bottle of Gatorade, trail mix, Kleenex, a lightweight fleece jacket and flashlight. I carry my cherished hiking stick, which I fashioned from a huge downed Saguaro cactus that I came across years ago while camping in Arizona. My stick is smoothed down from years of sandpapering and linseed oil, and has a natural notch at one end that’s perfect grip point for my thumb to rest in. I make my way up a steep hiking trail in the waterless, sharp desert hills near my home, careful to keep my mask adjusted in place, even though it makes my face hot. I carry determination: I will get to my favorite spot high up the hillside, where I can look down on the valley views below. I carry fear, which I can taste in my mouth, even as I begin to breathe more heavily: It’s inevitable I will encounter other hikers, some not wearing masks, some in groups, some not socially distancing. I carry hope, invisible as it might feel: yellow and orange wildflowers are blooming on the hills, and they will be short lived, their persistence urges me along.
Carrying my darling 3-year-old has to stop. My body can physically not take it anymore. On Friday we almost got very badly hurt when I lost my balance and wasn’t able to stop us from falling down four stairs to the tiled floor. I was able to use my body to cushion his fall, but I have all the bruises to show for my motherly instinct.
But it’s hard when carrying him is so important for his sense of safety. He can face so much more of this scary world when he is being held. When the wind is blowing and he needs to get from the car to the front door or when he doesn’t quite know who is going to be greeting him at daycare.
When he is being carried, he is a fierce lion, able to face any change, loud noise or uncertain emotion with a brave boy face. He doesn’t need to be afraid of being exposed or overwhelmed. What mother would not want to give that to her son for as long as possible?
I have tried to be tough and just say no, to leave him and walk away. Hoping that he would follow. But that made more trouble than I can even begin to share. I have gone with the soft approach of explaining how there was nothing to be afraid of, or what he could expect; printed little cards to show him the steps like the therapist suggested. But that only works if he is in an agreeable mood.
And as he walks, with no shoes on as he finds it too overwhelming, with his head bent down to shield his eyes from the light and his neck from the feeling of the breeze on his neck, the same breeze I don’t even register; holding my hand being brave for me, I lift him up when he looks up at me and with outstretched arms calls me for comfort, carrying him while he answers with a contented ‘Muuuum.”
For now, I’ll keep on carrying him, just not on the stairs.
April 16, 2020
A Love Supreme
Lillian Ann Slugocki
I can’t say that I love the annual influx of small black ants in my home. But I don’t hate them. In a strange way, I welcome them. They’re survivors. They astonish me. I am also astonished by the white blossoms on the cherry trees, and how when the wind blows, they float, like angels to the ground. I love the odd patches of daffodils in incongruous places as if they decided where to grow, and snowdrops in the shade of large trees. It takes courage to prevail when the rest of the earth has been brought to its knees. I will stamp out the ants with a sponge and soap, but now I do it with respect.
I love New York City-it was my home for almost 30 years. I’ve been watching NYPD Blue because I can be a voyeur to a life that is now gone, but still so familiar. A shot of a chain-link fence? I know it’s Thompson Square Park. A string of bodegas? It’s the ass end of 14th Street. The strip club as the sun is coming up? It’s Baby Dolls on West Broadway and Chambers. The towering shot of the Brooklyn Bridge-as familiar to me as my own face. I am nostalgic for “dirty old New York City.” I travel the streets with the characters in the show, but I also travel alone. I hope when the pandemic is over, I can take Metro-North, to 125th Street, walk to the 4 train, get off at 86th and Lexington, walk three crosstown blocks, and drop off a bouquet of flowers, maybe daffodils, at an apartment building on East 88th-to honor the brother I had to leave behind. I still love him, but that portal is closing, too.
I love and adore the cafe across the street. It’s called Antoinette’s, and she is a master pastry chef. I don’t use that term loosely. Her two children run the front of the house and her husband, the kitchen and to-go orders. The decor is European cafe meets Brooklyn coffee shop. I’ve been to France and eaten croissants, and these are easily as good, if not better. God help me when the almond ones are fresh, with a faint dusting of powdered sugar, still warm, practically falling apart-with a cup of strong hot coffee, ground fresh. In the bad old days, they played great music, and I loved to stand at the counter or sit outside on a bench beneath the window. Today? The tables are gone, the chairs, too. There are Xs on the floor to indicate proper social distancing. I wear a mask and gloves. I still love it.
Francisca C George
(This one is dedicated to my daughter who grew with me. I hope she can forgive me and understand one day.)
I love to be here. In this life. It is so full of-EVERYTHING. Death and life, pain and ecstasy, tears and endless giggling laughter, loud vivid days crazy with uncontrolled action and the still refrain of the nightly blanket covering parts of the world in hushed tones. I can’t believe it holds so much for us, this little insignificant life. This existence that is so fleeting and easily broken. Just one thought and it can be disappeared back into the never-ending ”lose-yourself space” that is the universe.
A few years ago, I was micro-inches from voicing that thought, that wish of end-to-all. It soaked into me like a disease when my husband’s hand was no longer holding mine. Both our lives drained from our bodies. We became empty shells. His was allowed to rest but mine wandered on, trying to raise my baby daughter. (My last promise to him.) Over a decade, I gave it all, drained my energy into her budding life. I became a dry sponge hungering and thirsting for anything to fill it. Slowly, drops found me, inflated me with sensations I had once taken for granted but never really savored. What delicious essence-this life! Once tasted, I could not get enough. I filled every waking minute to search for more. I welcomed it all; the sadness, the anger, the loud, maddening world. Oh, it was so wonderfully distracting from all my little everyday problems of growing with my child. I did not even see her or notice the passing of life. Too involved with satisfaction I got from learning the workings of the universe, I missed our little world.
Only about nine months ago now, I realized I needed someone to guide me back to myself. The construct of myself was nothing but a shell, indestructible with a smiling face on the outside and a sign that said “Bring it on! Use me! You can’t make it any worse.” The six months of reconstruction were full of agony. Growing hurts, I realized. It happens in waves. And is never over until it is.
Being in quarantine has given me the time and space to re-evaluate what brings me joy and what does not. I’ve realized how precious life is and how important it is for me to experience more happiness in my life. My love has grown for myself because I’ve realized that I don’t love how I do my business. I don’t enjoy being around shallow people and having shallow conversations. I’ve always known that it’s better to have a few good people in my life than many people on a shallow level.
Moving forward, I’ve utilized my “delete” button and have eliminated negative and shallow people from my life and social media. I’m following more people that I emulate and want what they have. I’m learning to say no and not feel guilty about it.
I’m learning to meditate more and that it doesn’t need to be perfect. I’m gaining clarity in my life’s purpose, that just being myself is enough. I’ve learned that just by sharing my story I can have an impact on the world and help others. I don’t need to gain profit or stand on a stage to make my point.
I’ve realized that I don’t need to be perfect to be whole and that is empowering. I love myself more because I’m being true to myself and my core values. I’ve surrounded myself with like-minded people who I can learn and grow from moving forward.
I’m humble and know there will be times I’m the teacher and times where I’m the student. For me, those personal breakthroughs are more self-love I could ever ask for.
I wasn’t surrounded by a lot of love growing up, at least nothing demonstrative or verbal. I mean we had a roof over our head, food and clothing, but nothing I might imagine existed except in fairytales. And yet, I searched for it as if I knew it to be real out there somewhere over the rainbow. Something, like a magic genie or a fairy godmother, that if only I could find it, I could make it real.
“I love you more today than yesterday,” my husband, my Prince Charming and the love of my life, whispers as we lay our heads down to sleep. “But not as much as tomorrow,” I respond. And if tomorrow were never to come, I will have known the greatest love, greater than I’d ever imagined-an unconditional love (I’d count the ways, but I’m limited to 500). A love I’d only read about in love stories like Sleeping Beauty, Pride and Prejudice or The Notebook.
Unconditional love. I remember during a college cultural anthropology class the professor telling us there was no such thing as a gift without strings. I struggled with that concept. In one of my favorite love stories, The Gift of the Magi, we know about the love shared between the husband and his wife. While I did threaten to cut my hair (and it wasn’t to purchase a watch for my husband, I was going through menopause and I’d get so sweaty, my long wet hair snaked around my neck at night), not only did he buy me a comb and scrunchies, but he bought me a miniature fan that mists and a cool pack to wrap around my décolletage. And while he goes through his cancer treatments, he’s bought me some CBD oil to calm my nerves. So, if love is the invisible string attached to his heart-all he asks in return-I will gladly love him unconditionally.
I’m a mother and a grandmother. My children were my first true loves and I do love them unconditionally and now as we go through this period, I’m even more proud of the women they’ve become. Kind, generous souls, they’re navigating through these times while tending to their own families, too.
I am also a sister, a friend, a citizen of the world. I am overwhelmed by humans being human to each other right now. Proof that there is love in the world. I can feel it even though this time seems surreal.
Finally, I am besieged by the love, support and generosity coming from the writing world. Artists, like angels or fairies, have stepped up to pull and push me through this pandemic. I’d always dreamed of connecting with other writers but never like this. Never had I imagined finding so many like-minded people with whom to share my love. “And what’s not to love?” my husband reminds me. “You’re right!”
This is my fairytale and the moral of the story is: never give up imagining the love until it becomes real!
I love words.
As a child, I loved other people’s words. I lost myself in books, in hopeful stories that made the world a more beautiful and magical place; in darker stories that showed me, I wasn’t alone in my loss and pain. Words brought to life characters I could identify with, people who reflected my own emotions more than my real-life classmates ever could. But despite my love for other people’s words, I always resisted the idea of becoming a writer. Writing was too hard, like chipping away at a brick wall with a table knife, trying to carve it into something beautiful.
In my twenties, I went to graduate school for writing, I wrote screenplays and novels and had literary agents, but none of my stories were me, were my truth. I was always holding back, not digging deep enough, not, as Hemingway would put it, opening a vein. I was hoping for financial profit more than meaning, and I ended up with neither. For a long time, I gave up on writing completely.
Only two years ago, I rediscovered my love for words in the same way I originally had: through the desire to see my pain and loss reflected on the page. But this time, I wanted to tell the story myself, rather than living through someone else’s words.
When this pandemic was just beginning, I fled across the country on a plane ticket I’d bought the day before, bringing only one suitcase, hoping I’d be back. I didn’t bring all my dresses or jewelry or perfume, or the books by other authors stacked by my desk. But I brought the stories that had begun pouring out of me, half-written in computer documents, the rest of them waiting in my mind. Now, I realize I may have to give up my Los Angeles apartment. I’m sad about the things I’ll lose, but my stories, my words? Those I can carry everywhere. They can help me make sense of this senseless world, they can keep me going even when I feel like everyone and everything else has abandoned me. They can help me mourn the things I left behind, and they can help carry me somewhere new. I can’t lose them, because they’re inside of me, my purpose, my truth.
In a time when everything is changing, I’ve rediscovered my love of words.
I love my Mojave Desert homestead cabin more than I could have known I would when I closed escrow just this past late January. Located on 5 delicious acres in a remote patchwork of 1950s jackrabbit cabins, each on its 5 or 10 acres of homesteaded land, my cabin was renovated into a small house and mixes the best of both worlds: old and new. After making the non-stop 75-minute drive from the Sonoran Desert, where I’ve been based for the past 20 years, I exhale and feel myself slow down as I leave the pavement and enter a world of rough dirt roads, no Internet access, a 360-degree view of various mountain ranges, some still loaded with spring snow, and the occasional jackrabbit or roadrunner.
I love making my infrequent journeys here-confined now to my more urban home down the hill by stay-at-home orders, which are mandatory-to check on my hauled water system and to make my presence knowN in an effort to ward off vandalism in this rural outpost. The drive here, through the towns of Joshua Tree and 29 Palms, was especially resplendent today with yellow wildflowers carpeting the desert. A series of March storms brought enough rain to trigger a bit of a late super bloom. Pops of hot pink jump out from the yellow here and there: the beavertail cactus are all in full blossom.
I love sitting under the shade of the one tree on the property: not a native plant, but a big tamarisk which gives crucial shade from the ubiquitous April sun, already warming temperatures up into the mid-80s. This lone tree is home to many birds, including a mourning dove that’s just spent a good while cooing its late afternoon song. Now, a soothing spring breeze stirs its spearmint green leaves. It’s one of the most restful sounds I know, dating back to my young childhood.
I love that I’m coming full-circle to the earlier years of my life and to the desert that resides deep in my soul. I grew up in the Mojave Desert, about 90 miles from here, and spent my young adult years here. I left this desert in my 30s and then moved to another desert, one of golf courses, huge music festivals and high-end resorts. I built a career, raised a daughter. Owned a house with a pool. It is or maybe it isn’t, a coincidence that I intuited returning to my home desert after all these years, even if it is only a partial return. This is a vacation house, a place to bring my grandchildren and focus on writing and start my long-dreamed-of writing residency program for women authors. A place to lead some of my writing workshops. That’s all on hold now. I’m learning to love something that is both new and old. Wonder Valley is, for today, the perfect place to be, a transitional and literal in-between desert-for this is where the Mojave and Sonoran meet and begin to overlap with each other. This is an apt metaphor for the odd and unique landscape of our quarantined, traumatized world. Our world doesn’t look like it did weeks ago, and we don’t know yet what it’s going to look like when we emerge from the pandemic zone. So for now, I sit in the stillest of desert places, loving this moment of pause.
My mother is the kind of woman with whom, platonically or not, everyone immediately falls in love. Her charisma and luster are grounded but not muted by her humility. She puts absolutely everyone else first yet still finds the time to keep herself together-emotionally and otherwise. Her sacrifices and heartbreaks in this life have been plentiful. I have always worshiped and balked at her ability to survive a childhood of addiction and abuse with grace and zeal for life. She raised three very complicated and plighted children, single-handedly, without an ounce of self-pity or lament. She took over a rigorous and unglamorous family business out of obligation and reinvented it along with herself.
She is my north star and most supreme love in this world. Our bond has bordered and dipped into codependence at certain times, but we have leaned on one another through the deepest darks. The unfathomable heartaches. The moments that shift all of one’s paradigms. Hers is the only approval that matters to me, and all I want in this life is to make her proud.
It is no longer just my mother and me, though. She has found true love and partnership and for that, I am eternally grateful. He makes her sparkle in ways my father never could or tried. This man lifts her up and together they are building a life full of gorgeous possibility.
I like him, and I tell him I love him, but I love him for my mother’s sake. It brings embarrassed tears to my eyes but I am mourning the years of it being just her and me against the world. Against all the odds. Her happiness is paramount and it is inspiring to see her find a love so deep-but oh, how I miss her.
On March 19, I arrived at their shared home and knew temporarily moving back in with them would be tough. My mentally ill brother resides in the garage, my baby sister is home from college and my very complicated step-sister seeks shelter from Manhattan. So many personalities under one roof are bound for speed bumps. But the toughest part is being simply a few rooms away from her and yearning for her so deeply. There is simply no space for the connection we once had. No more than in small bursts, anyway.
While I celebrate the new chapter of life that has brought her so much joy, being quarantined with her, her new husband, this eclectic blended family-my love for her supremely deepens. It is clear that there is nothing this woman cannot do. She leads the century-old family business through this economic downturn with courage and empathy, she is engaged in the minutia of all her children’s lives, she walks the path of chronic illness with me as a patient advocate, and still, she is filled with effervescence and light.
Living across the country from her was hard, L.A. made me miss her physically-but what feels both harder and beautiful today is bearing witness to this shift in our lives, in our blended family-the unspoken sacrifices we all make to support the ones we love most.
April 17, 2020
The Week in Review
I am very grateful to be part of this group journaling project. It’s connective and inclusive, and I’m appreciating and benefiting from this. Crammed in my small Palm Desert, CA, condo, living alone, I was instantly cut off, in mid-March, from my college students, my daughter, my parents, my friends, and a slew of literary events/lectures I was due to give: activities that I was greatly anticipating, including a trip to NYC to do some readings and visit my cousin and other family who live there. Nope. This massive disconnect to my necessary writing life, in particular, has fueled every last self-doubt and sense of not belonging as a writer (whatever it means, to belong as a writer). This group has stretched and challenged me to keep writing, to keep forming writerly connections, even if this one was and remains SO unplanned and nothing I could have foreseen just recently (writing about a pandemic? About sheltering in place? WTF?). This group has then, by proxy, become the VERY thing I need as a writer to keep moving along, wrapping my voice around what’s happening and participating with other writers from around the country and world. My heart continues to warm and break as I read everyone’s beautiful, gut-wrenching and strong, so strong, posts as we all fumble and find the words that work and help illuminate our way-shared and individually-for this collective journey through the dark.
Francisca C George
Although I am not one for routine, I value the implicit harmony in the group. Even if it’s just in a virtual sense. Writing comes close to the catharsis acting provided me with, yet it is more consummate and forces me to engage my whole inner world. The entangling process urges me to release myself into words. I become the translator for the undiscovered microcosm that is me. It is an intimate flow into untreated territory without a knowing who awaits.
I am grateful for people who care. You all share in my path through this surreality that has become our world. Companions, like you, have kept me sane when I lose myself in the absurdity of stories swarming my head. I value the multitude of views and roads we take for like reasons. I feel unity in little careful steps we take in compounding a new future for mankind. No giant leap, just tiptoed syllables.
This week has been a challenging one on a personal level for me. I’ve been under the weather and it felt like the isolation of the pandemic permeated right into my body. I wasn’t able to get up and do whatever I wanted to. It felt like even my mind was forced into isolation, just because I wanted to do something didn’t mean that I physically had the capacity to do it.
In the midst of this, I was able to make time and space for writing. I always made excuses about waiting for the right time and mood, or not having a good enough idea as the reasons why I haven’t written anything before. In the past week, I realised I didn’t need any of that. I just needed a quiet hour and my trusty laptop.
Knowing that I have to journal about my own experience during this strange time in history on this project has also made me more aware of observing my own responses to it. It has also made me more aware of the more local ways this pandemic is affecting life in my community.
Not everything is worth sharing, but I found just the new habit of writing in itself really rewarding.
As a society, we need to make connections. And while we’ve evolved since living in caves, we’ve devolved and have returned to our hollows still with the need for connection imprinted into our DNA.
The idea of a shared public journal is a good one and yet how public is it, really? It’s available to any or all who want to listen or to read about other’s thoughts. It’s a community where you can share those thoughts or opinions. Out in the big, loud, crazy world, some of us are just tiny ants of voices that get drowned out and squashed. Some of you, like me, embrace the silence, and it isn’t that we have nothing to say. I used to be plagued by inauthenticity, but I’ve quit trying to strain my voice to project my thoughts or opinions out over the chatter. Writing has always been my way of expression in this big, loud crazy world. Writing is my own stamp of approval. It’s scary to think that now because we’re a little quieter, people might actually hear me and as long as I share my truths, I think I’ll be okay. I think that’s enough. I can share my vulnerabilities that to some out there in the big world seem weak. But there’s strength in voicing vulnerabilities.
The public journal is like a room full of trainers coaching and helping us work those muscles. There’s also courage in speaking your truth. The public journal is like a squad of cheerleaders showing us some of their trick moves and encouraging us to shout out loud. Here in this forum, it’s clear I’m not alone. We have more in common than not. And there is strength in numbers. I’m so happy to have made these new connections!
I could not be more grateful for this collective venture-and that I’ve uncharacteristically kept with it. Paralyzing perfectionism holds me so tightly. Fear, fear, fear. Fresh out of my first workshop in almost a decade (abruptly halted by the pandemic, of course), I was starving for connection to other writers and their inner worlds.
What a deliciously safe home for our inner musings. Strangers-but sisters on this unpaved road of survival. Our group consciousness vulnerably morphs every day-each of our mundane and surreal experiences depicting, therefore historicizing, the new normal.
Writing has always been both my safest and most vitriolic space. I so embarrassingly want to be brilliant-original-universally empathetic-that I have wasted many years holding myself back from touching it at all. Ego, ego, ego. I thank the great creative spirit for being generous with me lately-reminding me that I must be brave enough to be bad-and that processing my life through written word is a survival mechanism. Always has been for me.
Self-judgement and flagellation are absent from this gorgeous group. There is no competition or malice-only support. At first I shamed myself for waiting to write my entries so late at night. That I wasn’t doing it correctly, that I am forever incapable of keeping deadlines! Mercifully a shift did come, and today I choose softness. I’ve reframed this to be a late-night ritual-a retrospective once another surreal day is done. Once the house is quiet and my brain finds some ease.
Thank you to this aggregated compassion for helping me find the courage to seek words under the most outrageous and chaotic circumstances. Night by night, word by word.
Lillian Ann Slugocki
About a year ago, I stopped writing completely, including keeping a journal, and that is something I’ve done all my life. I mean no matter what was going on, I could always write. But when I couldn’t, I wouldn’t-and I was smart enough to say, let it go, for now. See if it comes back. And it has with this project, so I am grateful. Part of me wanted to do this so I could be of service, so many people have helped me out so much. In addition, I’m in awe of healthcare workers, in addition, I admire the people who are in sewing groups and making masks, and people in my community who volunteer to run errands, and I really wanted to contribute.
When Michele Raphael asked me if I wanted to teach a class, I started to devise this project-a shared public journal. I had no idea if it would work. None. I knew it could fail, but even in failure, it would probably still be a beautiful thing, so I took a chance. Also, in the past, I’ve signed up for various MOOCs, all free, and really enjoyed the interplay of the participants-free exchange of ideas, with strangers, who love the same things as I do. Initially, I wanted to invest in the same software to run this class, but it was crazy expensive. In the end, with the support of AFLW, we came up with this structure, and I have to say I’m thrilled. I feel honored to read your work every night and crafting each prompt brings me such joy. But also, in addition, omg I’m writing again.
April 17, 2020
How Can a Box of Darkness Be a Gift?
“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.” ― Mary Oliver
Lillian Ann Slugocki
The pandemic is a box of darkness. It goes beyond the everyday frustrations of oh my god I left my house keys outside all night, or how do I sanitize this carton of eggs, or I can’t use the washer and dryers in my building because the tenant who is a guard at Sing Sing has tested positive and that room is small and unventilated, so I have to wash everything out in the bathtub or the sink, and I’ve run out of chicken for my dog, and I have nothing to eat for dinner but PBJ, and everyone on the street is now wearing masks, and I have to cut up more T-shirts–it goes so beyond that. It forces us or at least me to confront myself. I’ve become more myself than I have been in a long time. This polite human will cut you if you stand too close. Not literally, but you know what I mean. I will speak up. I’m not so concerned with being likable, presentable or normal. There is no normal.
This box of darkness serves the earth and the environment. There are more birds, and they are singing louder. Spring arrived almost defiantly–we don’t need you. The skies over major cities are clearer than they’ve been in decades, or even longer. In the summer, how many days are dangerous? We are warned–the air quality for the next week is going to be very bad. And we thought we just have to live with it. But the earth said, No. Enough. I don’t think this lesson will be lost on future generations. There is change in the air.
I am closer to my family. We set up Zoom conferences. We check in with each other. My oldest brother is growing a beard. He looks like Jerimiah Johnson. My aunt is turning 75, and her daughter is planning a surprise birthday party, pandemic style. A parade of 50 cars will drive by her home on May 2nd with balloons and banners, and music playing from car stereos. I won’t be there of course, I don’t live in Wisconsin, but I did write her a poem, “Everyone should have an aunt as cool as you.” We have to get creative and stop being complacent. In the words of Cat Stevens aka Yusuf Islam, “We’re “only dancing on this earth for a short time,” and this earth will only tolerate us for a short time, if we don’t stop to consider how it is also broken.
This is how a box of darkness can be a gift.
Francisca C George
How can a box of darkness be a gift?
How can it not? It is the ultimate gift.
A box. A gift I was given at my birth. Pandora was the one who left it by my tiny feet, years ago. For this long, I could not bring myself to open or even sneak a peak. So it stood…and waited…longed to be opened…to be released.
I know I have to wait. I feel that I will know just the right moment to open the box. I long for it, too, dream of it. The box waits for me, and I for it, like a box of chocolates, ripening like aged wine. When I do, I know, it will be my end for it holds the ultimate gift.
There are so many speculations about these boxes. We all have them and we all guess. Urban tales speak of darkness, of “heolstor”, “genip” and “sceadu.” At night, there is a sound sneaking from my box, like a little escape to keep me company. “In het geniep,” it whispers and nestles close to me in an ancient mother’s embrace until I rise again with the first rays. She returns at dusk, whispers and protects my eyes from the ugliness that light can bring. When daylight wakes, she again is gone. All that guides me through the desolation of my day are the words she leaves behind for me to contemplate:
It follows me, the light, for polar opposite
why do we fear what we name “dark” as
we do not fear illumination;
both blind us from all hue’s divide
and if we search out bright,
black holes photon-full, we’re
swallowed into void
For in union, dark and light birth
shadows, depth perspective to a
world that would be flat without that chiaroscuro.
Turn off the light, in private
leave yourself to vision’s afterimage
cherish time the intramural comes
to life; in unreflecting mystery
conceals the body’s insignificance with
heightened sensed intensity and
pupils in dilation
When unaware I slip from dark to dark
in full secluded secrecy, it must be
A box full of darkness…I think of Pandora’s box. All the sickness, death, hatred and despair unleashed upon the world, along with hope. We can’t have one without the other, the light without the dark. If you feel the high of love, you’ll suffer the low of loss. Our pain gives meaning to our joy.
In this new millennium, it feels like we’ve opened a new version of Pandora’s box. We’ve made such great strides: invisible connections that allow us to share information and thoughts and pictures instantly, all around the world; means of travel that bring us all closer together, more quickly than ever before. But now, these achievements, these moments of soaring, of flying, have brought something else. The overwhelming ability to see a world of pain and loss, reflected on our computer screens, more tragedy than any one human brain was meant to hold. Global warming, our planet dying while we look away. And now, an invisible invader that’s hitched a ride around the world with us, that’s taken so many lives and changed so much.
Can all that darkness be a gift? Does a gift have to be a good thing, after all? Maybe it’s just a shift in the atmosphere, a coming darkness that we all need to welcome, to sit inside; to feel it pass through our skins and turn our bones cold for a while, to remind us of how little we can control.
Maybe we need this so that one day soon, we will recognize the light.
The long shadow of Covid-19 fell quickly, incredulously, across the fabled Coachella Valley, California, just as another tourist season – this one expected to top record numbers of visitors – was kicking into full gear. First, rumors of the Indian Wells tennis tournament, one of the world’s grand slam events, to be canceled. Could it be true? It suddenly was. People here gasped. Then, the biggest question: Coachella Fest. No way could that be called off. Workers were already busy building stages at the Indio Polo Grounds and preparing for another two weekends, followed by Stagecoach, expected to bring close to a million people to the desert in April. And then, it was over. Like that. The entire tourist industry, from the highest-end resorts to Motel 6, folded as quickly as a row of dominos. Flattened, flatlined, restaurants shuttered and for the first time in anyone’s memory, the beautiful valley of sand dunes, palm trees and light, nestled in between massive, snow-covered mountain ranges, fell into a silence that was deeper than the dark desert night.
How much money is lost here, in a billion-dollar seasonal tourist industry? How many locals, losing jobs in a rural economy that offers very few other employment opportunities? Our region’s winter/spring population dropped in half in a heartbeat, and the seasonal winds, always strong and fueling sandstorms at this time of year, blew across a wide sense of emptiness, revealing the desert for what it really is: a place of solitude and exile.
Nearby, on the other side of the valley, where the boundaries of Joshua Tree National Park begin with the rise of the little San Bernardino Mountains and smooth out into the Morongo Basin, filled with iconic Joshua Trees, experienced a simultaneous, dramatic collapse in tourist numbers when the Park was closed, first to camping and drive-throughs, and then, for everything, even hiking. What was just 10 to 15 years ago the dustiest of little desert towns populated sparsely by true desert rats, who’d exchanged city living for a simpler way of life, instantly reverted back to just that: the small town close to where I’d grown up, just across the Mojave Desert. Not a massively over-run and over-impacted international tourist Instagram-tagging destination. Driving in my desert now, running my necessary errands, feels like it did 20 or 30 years ago before the crush of tourists began to overwhelm this part of the world like a series of tsunamis.
In the long shadow of the darkest of boxes, the desert here breathes again. Our skies are bluer: airline traffic coming into Palm Springs is almost non-existent, and traffic on Interstate 10 and Highway 62 is back to pre-2000 levels. Our desert wildlife pushed farther to the edges of the wilderness-urban interface by development and numbers of humans, has begun to tentatively re-emerge in its ages-old natural habitats: herds of health, relaxed bighorn sheep are being spotted right along the edges of the valley floor in Palm Desert, something people can’t remember ever viewing. Joshua Trees and boulders in the Park breathe sighs of relief: hordes of campers and climbers and even vandals who have defaced petroglyphs and even Joshua trees in sharply increasing numbers just the past few years are gone, for now.
The desert I’ve loved and lived in my entire life has been given an unexpected pause of renewal, in this darkest box of fear-shadows, disruptions and suffering for humanity. And I guess this is how it must be: for if we are to continue as a species, nature in its healthiest and most re-invigorated state, is what will sustain us. We have pushed it to an unsustainable brink. And now, we have been forced to step back and allow it to become sustainable again. The music of Coachella and myriad other music festivals that have filled the desert every April for the past 20 years may have fallen silent, but the desert, the magical, mothering desert, rises with its own music: the sound of cicadas, the yearning of coyotes, the murmurs of mourning doves, played out against a backdrop of absolute, arid stillness, the perfect palette for human hopes for renewal.
To hold a box of darkness may feel burdensome or heavy, so someone may put that box in a dusty corner for a while and let it fester out of sight, out of mind. Someone else may cast open that box right away – eager to find an appropriate place for its contents – compartmentalize and move on. Yet another someone might be quite afraid of this box. That someone may attempt to regift or donate the box of darkness, making haste to rid themselves of what lies underneath the lid.
There is certainly no right way to handle a box of darkness, it’s indeed a tricky object. For those unable to peek inside or let the creature out upon receipt, beware that the longer it sits on a shelf or up in the attic, with time your unease will grow. There is no shame in this. Darkness is a wild and unpredictable creature, prone to mischief. You must be ready to submit to its terrors, for if you fight it, it grows only stronger and more volatile.
If you yield to the darkness, it takes the shape of an unusual but curious beast. It means not to harm you, but rather to teach you. The darkness shows us that inside its black holes there exist very different versions of this world in which we live. In those worlds live all the same yous and mes, but those someones resist the darkness to less or more degrees. The darkness offers us a chance to learn from our alternate selves – the opportunity to notice how fear and madness increase in those who choose denial or deference. Their pain feels intolerable when the darkness comes inevitably bubbling out, containable for only so long.
Then there are the alternate someones who open their boxes and sit with their darkness, invite it to dinner, share words by the fire. These someones do not indulge in darkness, but they respect it. They pay homage to the darkness of their ancestors and ask their own for guidance. Their boxes of darkness sit on esteemed shelves in their homes and in exchange, the darkness offers perspective. Its challenging language prompts growth.
No one can advise another on how to handle their boxes of darkness. They arrive at different times for each of us and never look the same. The one word of counsel I would offer, however, is to listen. Listen for the hum. It will start in your stomach, or maybe your throat, but whether you hear or feel it first – take heed. The darkness has an offering. Whether you open the box and listen or nervously drown it out, know that at some point it must be heard and that either way you will survive.
Forrest Gump said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Well now that box is full of darkness and we’re not talking nuts and chews.
See’s Candies closed last month due to the “C” word and I really started craving chocolate! Funny thing, I’m not a big sweets kind of person. Except for a crispy honeycrisp apple, I prefer nuts and cheese to snack on. I drink my coffee black. But, I’m like a kid (not in a candy store) – you tell me I can’t have something and I only want it more! Who cares that I’m pre-diabetic?
In its 99-year history, See’s only shut down one other time and that was during World War II when the company encouraged its loyal, sugar-toothed customers to “Be conservative in your See’s candy purchases, and buy more War Bonds.”
In this time of war, as in other times of conflict, I would shop at See’s, but only for others. After a battle of ideals with Mom, I’d throw up a white flag and then arm myself with a box of chocolates as a peace offering, making sure to also add her favorite, the peanut brittle, but now Mom is gone. And, to put a smile on my friend fighting cancer, I’d get her the butter crèmes, but now there’s this darkness that’s come over our friendship. I can’t even send her a box of Whitman’s when only See’s would do.
Oh, how I’ve missed See’s Candies. I took for granted they’d always be around. I assumed if I controlled my sugar, someday it would be okay to splurge on a box of chocolates. I rationalized that, after all, some research suggests that dark chocolate may help lower the risk of heart disease, reduce inflammation and insulin resistance, and improve brain function.
All that willpower and self-control during the Christmas holidays and Valentine’s Day made it easier to give chocolate up for Lent – not that I’m a practicing Catholic, but I figured as long as I was giving stuff up, perhaps doing so might earn me some brownie points with the Big Guy. And now that See’s is gone, where’s the reward? (At the very least, there’d better be a dark spot for me in heaven.)
I’m growing nostalgic writing this. I need some comfort and the nuts and cheese have backed me up. My research also shows that dark chocolate lowers the risk of depression. I remember the emergency box of Thin Mints (purchased only to help out a little Girl Scout neighbor) in the back of the freezer. Am I really that desperate? Yes! Shall I break the glass? Back away! Control yourself! Call someone! And as I start to slip lower into a dark abyss, I learn See’s Candies is resuming operations, reopening — but slowly. Hallelujah! Just in time for Mother’s Day. A day, I’ll spend without my Mom or my children, or my grandchildren, or my friend, in quarantine with only my box of dark chocolates.
Life isn’t always a box of chocolates. Sometimes it’s a box full of darkness. And what choices are there in this blackness? And while I might have been able to control my chocolate intake, this dark monster, I can’t control. There’s only acceptance in a box of darkness.
God grant me the serenity to accept this thing I cannot change, and when See’s finally re-opens, the courage to stay away from sugar or, at the very least, the wisdom to only eat dark chocolate in moderation.
April 18, 2020
Please Send Chocolate
Right now, I am craving a Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream bar dipped in chocolate and almond chips. In fact, I’ll soon be grabbing one of the last ones from the 16-pack I bought on my last Costco run (weeks ago, before Covid-19 infection and death rates were still at a minimum). I shared the pack with my parents, who live down the road from me, and I’ve become so oddly driven with food cravings lately that I’m going to make the effort to “borrow” one of these ice cream bars back from my mom, along with two sticks of butter (she was able to order some; I couldn’t find it), in exchange for half of the blueberries, strawberries and red grapes I just managed to source at the local California Pizza Kitchen, at an astronomical price, along with hard-to-find eggs and milk, but the taste of that fresh fruit this morning and afternoon was worth every penny.
Food. It’s occupied my mind and dictated my daily rhythms far more than I could have imagined, pre-pandemic. In fact, it’s safe to say that the acquisition, preparation and consumption of food is probably the organizing principle of my life right now, even more than work, my usual one. I spend my days planning out meals for the weeks to come, thinking ahead, scouring local store online order/pickup availabilities, and worry continuously about running low on anything, and fret about having too much food crammed into my small pantry, cupboards, and modest-sized fridge and freezer: I have a thing about food hoarders and yet….I can’t really argue with them in times like this.
I’m cooking recipes I haven’t even thought of making for years since my daughter was a kid and I dutifully played a “home-cooked dinner every night” mom role: enchiladas, oatmeal cookies, juicing fresh spinach in my NutriBullet before it spoils, to freeze and drink later, macaroni/tuna salad. Now, I turn to my daughter, who’s turned out to be an excellent chef, for food preparation advice: How do YOU cook spaghetti squash? I’m grateful that she’s turned out to be a resource for me to keep churning out meals that aren’t just reduced to impatient grab-and-go stuff like the refried bean and cheese tostadas I threw together tonight (nominally satisfying). Living alone makes me more susceptible to getting lazy with the food and turning to snack foods like crackers and cheese instead of healthy meals.
I’m getting nervous about how rapidly I’m burning out my supply of coffee K-Pods, and surprised at how quickly that last loaf of bread disappeared. I’ve eaten only exactly three takeout meals, picked up from CPK, in the last 8 weeks: two take-n-bake thin-crust pizzas, and one Cobb salad. Normally, I eat out four or five nights a week, which suits my on-the-go, professional lifestyle. I have a weakness for one Mexican fast-food restaurant, which makes the best chili renello burritos with fresh salsa verde and pico de gallo I’ve ever tasted. But I’ve avoided that, too, in the worries of being infected with *the virus.* It’s weird, sometimes overwhelming, and very time-occupying to do all of my own food now, and I’m both enjoying it and resenting it.
Food. I am incredibly lucky that I am able to find and afford to buy healthy food at a horrific time like this, when so many people have lost their jobs, are waiting hours in lines at food banks (one right by my home), many with children to feed. I am grateful that I don’t have dependent children at home to feed, and, so far, I’m helping my daughter and son-in-law with their grocery bill right now; they have four small children and have been struggling to make ends meet. I worry constantly that the kids aren’t getting enough milk or fresh produce, and from 2,000 miles away, I ache from not being able to take them a big pan of hot dish or fresh cookies made with my love. I feel soothed and guilty as I indulge in these delights, both relieved and guilty that I can’t share with anyone.
Francisca C George
There seems to be an obsession with food in this country, of running out, of snacking and then of waste. Yet, I have never really seen anyone go hungry.
I have not entered a store for about four weeks. I don’t see why I need to take such risk just for a bit of food. Sure, the kids need to be fed. For myself, I would not even cook. I am still good at German coffee I had stuffed my bags with when I returned to the U.S. in January. I could survive on that with half milk and sweetness added. The optimal breakfast!
Initially, when the lockdown was on the horizon and most people still stood there awe-struck, I filled my shopping cart, with careful pre-planning, at the local 99 Cents Only Store. They usually have everything I need except meats and ice-cream. And although the toilet paper craze had already escalated in the media and it was proclaimed that Costco and Walmart were entirely empty-shelved, I found most of what I needed: two packs of toilet paper rolls (12 rolls each for $3.49), lots of fresh vegetables, salads, and fruit, eggs and milk. I also got a bit more dish soap and shower gels. No canned food (which I usually don’t buy but is good to have during a crisis). Well!
When the lockdown started, we were immediately out of income. No more work in the entertainment industry! Probably not for a long while. So, I had to get creative on feeding us while making payments on mortgage, taxes, cars, insurance and utilities. I found resources in food banks and kid’s school lunches.
As a child growing up in the GDR (Eastern Block Germany), I was used to making do with nothing. Since early on, I pre-planned, traded with others and found alternatives. I couldn’t believe the Facebook posts about lines in front of stores! Lines equaled extra special goods in my childhood; bananas, cherries, pineapple, oranges or homogenized milk.
My family of four has eaten pretty well over the last few weeks. We even had a whole turkey for Easter; fresh green beans, stuffing, corn, gravy and – yes – even cranberries! There were a few items I had on my wish list that were nowhere to be found. – until yesterday when the weekly church food drive-up featured flour! A minute later in line for school lunch we also got eggs! Sixper kid! And I have three of those! It is absurd how this free treasure made my day. I could finally bake bread! Today, I realized that I had no dry milk. But trying to order from a store for pick-up and Amazon gave me hot flashes after three hours. So there will have to be a new bread recipe without milk powder.
Overall, most of these days I don’t dwell on what I want to eat. I am never hungry and don’t snack much either. But there is one thing, I could almost break the vows of my isolation for: a California burrito!
When I first arrived in Baltimore to stay with my parents, my mother took me to Mom’s, the local upscale health food store. It reminded me of Erewhon in Los Angeles, with most items being almost as expensive. They had the new $10 Coconut Cult ice cream I’d wanted to try. Maybe Baltimore wouldn’t be so bad, I thought. Maybe the pandemic wouldn’t seem so frightening here. It was a smaller city, a smaller grocery store than the last one I’d been to in Los Angeles. Hardly anyone was wearing masks. The paper products aisle was empty, but the rest of the store was stocked.
Two days ago, after I’d decided to give up my Los Angeles apartment, my mother and I went to Mom’s again. I’d been fighting with—and probably lost—a friend who was staying in the apartment while I was gone. My stomach twisted with anger and guilt and I didn’t think I could eat anything. I was wearing a mask my mom made me, a thick fabric that half-smothered my nose and mouth, elastic hairbands that pulled at my ears. My ears and cheeks burned, turned red as I threw food into my basket, more $10 yogurt, prepared foods, sushi, cake, every expensive thing that I knew my mom would insist on paying for as the basket grew heavier and heavier until it matched the weight of the emotions inside me.
By that evening, I still felt anger and guilt, sadness and uncertainty over the choices I was making, all pressing down on me like that mask across my face. But I was still able to eat. My body would go on, demanding its basic needs despite my personal crisis. Just like all our bodies, demanding our needs be met, despite the madness ripping through our world.
Lillian Ann Slugocki
I just finished roasting Yukon gold potatoes, tossed with EVOO, salt and pepper. I ate them in a Pyrex bowl, standing at the kitchen counter, saying, oh my god. Because they were so good. Food is complicated in the pandemic, but potatoes are not. I’m trying to remember what I ate last week. Was it the store-bought quiche that I reheated for lunch over and over, until the sight of it made me queasy? Recently, I paid $12 for a loaf of bread, and $8 for a jar of peanut butter. I have to have this in my house, no matter the price. I ate steak for a week with roasted carrots, and I’m not a fan of DoorDash, although I have succumbed to its easy allure. Food is complicated.
I’d rather settle for cheese, crackers and fruit. I usually have a big bag of clementines, and I don’t mind paying almost $20 for a pound of freshly roasted coffee. If I don’t have sugar or cream in the house, I happily drink it black and consider myself lucky. I’ve calmed down a lot over the past week or so when it comes to buying food. In the early days, it felt like a hostage situation. The last time I was in a grocery store, I wept. The empty shelves were surreal. I went today, however. I’m a bit more relaxed. Part of the new normal and my psyche has adjusted, maybe? The curve is flattening, and everyone around me understands that this could be life and death. The boutique grocers and regular, old Foodtown all require masks and gloves, including employees. There is now a Plexiglass shield around the cashiers. Everyone keeps their distance. Sure. We all want to live.
It was very empowering to take care of my own shopping for the first time since March 4th. I’ve had friends drop things off for me on my back porch. But it was never exactly what I wanted, or needed. And mind you, today, I only got six things–bread, normal peanut butter, bacon, Yukon golds, coffee filters and clementines. At the very beginning of all this? I’d have a biscuit, topped with poached eggs and Canadian bacon. I made pasta with pancetta, garlic, arugula and pine nuts, sprinkled with parmesan. I’d have a salad with fresh radishes and yellow peppers, yogurt mixed with honey. Once, for a lover, I made roast chicken with garlic and honey, with basmati rice. We ate it while we watched Rosemary’s Baby. That was a million years ago. That was December.
Just like any substance that one might use for pleasure or pain and do so compulsively, I’ve got a food problem. The compulsions to sneak food, eat perfectly in front of people and sneak treats in secret, compare my body to others, go back as long as I can remember. I received messaging early-on that all foods and food behaviors were associated with a measurement of morality and that the ultimate goal was perfection. It got pretty bleak, then dark, and eventually brought me to my knees. To be fair, not an uncommon story for an upper-middle-class American white woman.
I’ve done the work and worked hard to access freedom from fixation with my food, your food, the weighing, measuring, body obsession, checking, pinching — whether I’m a good girl, bad girl, gross girl, fat girl, still-not-thin-enough girl. Today I am grateful for my relative sanity here. A day at a time I must surrender my food and body to an omniscient power that takes care of it for me.
Yet, when the world came to a screeching halt and began obsessing about food, its scarcity, coveting food the way I used to — things got interesting. I experienced a surreal and out-of-body calm. What will be, will be. Whether I am alone or with family, I will have enough. It might not be exactly what a normal day looks like – but it will be enough.
When I come home to my mother’s house my inclination is not to eat. The chaos of the personalities and general sensory overload makes the task altogether daunting. But I have trained feet and know not to let that feeling win. We are all big food people. We gather in the kitchen, graze and snack, peer into other people’s bubbling pots, obsess over bizarrely specific ingredients and have redundant, requisite conversations about each person’s diet. It’s one strange way we show our love.
A neurologist put me on a very restrictive diet four months ago to see if it might alleviate or dampen my chronic pain. It hasn’t (yet), but it’s given me a little more energy to deal with it. I’m sticking with it for a few more months, just to see, and the beauty is the freedom I have from others’ neuroses. My food, my business. I order specialized items online, require some specific produce, and I get to tap out of the clusterfuck.
Cooking brings me joy now. It’s meditative, even when the ingredients are basic and I’ve made it on auto-pilot a thousand times. Tonight I made a soup out of beef bone broth, thinly sliced steak, broccoli, soft boiled egg, jalapeño and red chili flakes. Threw a little avocado in on top. While my family fussed, I stayed in my lane. One meal at a time, I take it easy. Long past are the days where I felt I had to feed everyone – crafting feasts that served everyone’s particularities – that unspokenly paid my emotional rent. Turns out they can feed themselves. Who knew?
My relationship with food used to be as destructive as my relationship with myself. There was a time in my teens and 20s that I could eat a 12” subway sandwich, chips and a coke. I could also eat a medium pizza by myself. Fast food was a way of life.
In my mid-20s I had a boyfriend who was really healthy, and he taught me to eat better. I learned to love it because of the changes I felt both inside and out. I learned portion control and when I went back to my old ways it just didn’t work. I felt heavy and full.
Since I was 13, I struggled with IBS and tried several diets but nothing really worked. I still had a stomach ache every day. I started eating clean and getting rid of gluten and dairy. That helped but it wasn’t until just last year that I had a colonoscopy and the results were that I had a tortured and twisted colon. It was recommended that I take Metamucil daily.
It’s changed my life and I no longer have those stomach aches. I eat clean but still enjoy and indulge in my dark chocolate every day. I just practice portion control and honor my body.
April 19, 2020
A Time and Space for Intimacy
Guest editor: Francisca C George
Francisca C George
“And thus, as a closer and still closer intimacy admitted me more unreservedly into recesses of his spirit, the more bitterly did I perceive the futility of all attempt at cheering a mind from which darkness, as if an inherent positive quality, poured forth upon all objects of the moral and physical universe in one unceasing radiation of gloom.” ― Edgar Allan Poe
What we now need more than ever is contact with others and, in turn, ourselves. Yet, intimacy during pandemic times is as surreal as Edgar Allan Poe’s repeated tries to find love without darkness overshadowed.
I am German and therefore not very touchy-feely but there is this visceral force, which seems to build often when suppressed. We just need what we can’t have. Long for it. It becomes our driving force and nothing less will do.
At various times in my life my body has tricked me into the dire need for intimacy. I know now that somehow nature found a way to make herself heard during those great times of despair. Every time, I conceived, despite all precautionary measures. Me! Someone who needed to undergo tons of fertility attempts to have a child in the first place!
This pandemic is no exception. Just about a week ago, without any indication, my skin started prickling with the need to be touched. Well, normally, giving in to such desire is not a huge problem since I have a live-in partner. Yet, these are not normal times. Now we barely stand close to one another. We wash and shower repeatedly during the day and strip our shoes and clothes as soon as we come inside. At night, we sleep in different beds for a fear that one’s possible little Corona-symptoms might be breathed onto the other. We have little kids who carry all kinds of germs and always share with one of us. Or both. Many times have we gotten violently ill with something they picked up in school, daycare or by licking the shopping cart at the grocery store before anyone could wipe it down. Although those times are over – for now – we are extra careful. So, when this strange languishing crave tingled my body, we were at odds. We had not the slightest clue what to do.
Nobody had publicly announced that sex was dangerous and yet, none of the news clearly stated that it was safe. If catching this virus by shaking hands and sneezing was so easy, the exchange of bodily fluids for sure would do us in. Thanks to god, we knew we had condoms somewhere in the house. Stashed away from my teenage daughter who at 15 is not interested in such things, right!?! Hours of forensic investigation turned our home upside-down, while the little ones played Zombie-games online. “Found them,” I exclaimed after an hour and a half, in sighing anticipation. Would the risk go down with condoms stamped 1995? Both unsure, we calculated that if we both got sick, the kids would be alone without anyone to care for them. So, he went for a run, while I wrote about 30 pages. I was mentally exhausted from entertaining little kids all day! Finally, back, he just dropped on the bed, sweaty and everything, running shoes still “infected with the outside,” and fell asleep! Snoring! I was pissed, decided on a shower to relax and then spent the rest of the night awaiting the daylight, thinking of Poe.
A part of me wants a reckless love. I want to sneak out at night and climb through someone’s window, I want to be grasped and held tight in someone’s warm, warm embrace, I want them to stroke away the goosebumps on my skin and shake free the worries from my mind. I want to want this person so badly—their full lips, rough hands, heavy body—that I can’t stop myself; I want them to want me the same way. So much desire, we don’t care if we’re carrying danger, if we destroy each other.
Isn’t this how humans always respond to catastrophe? Isn’t human touch, need, desire, the thing that lets us know we’re alive?
Despite my fantasy, I live like something half-frozen, in this coldest April of my memory. The dendrites and synapses in my mind frost ever, blocking my thoughts, numbing me to the disaster outside me and the need within. I wouldn’t be able to enjoy touch in this state anyway, I tell myself. I wouldn’t believe it was real.
I keep myself rigid. I don’t breathe too deep. I just keep trying, trying, to hold on, hoping soon, in one way or another, warmth will come.
Somewhere in my body I could feel the gap lessen between us. Each mile closer held electrifying promise. Our story is a strange one. Strange stories are wonderful playgrounds for minds built for whimsy. I am the fantasizer. He is the pragmatist. It’s a formula for disaster, and a very predictable heartbreak, but do you think I’ve walked away?
This was my third cross-country drive, and, this time, in his direction. I imagined our reunion would be something of epic proportions. Perhaps he’d be waiting at my mother’s house to surprise me upon arrival. Maybe he planned to stay there with me. Surely the pull of our chemistry and months without physical contact would overpower all Covid concern. We’d quarantine together, romantically nest at either his place or mine – spend the days tangled up in one another with small breaks for food, news and sleep. The mile markers waned and it became clear that no such offer was coming.
He was not there when I pulled into my mother’s driveway that night, and he has yet to arrive. Remember? He’s the pragmatist. His directive is to play it safe, assume anyone and everyone is an asymptomatic carrier, heed all caution. He meticulously tracks the numbers, knows the mandates per municipality and makes me feel like a petulant child having its plaything withheld. As the more impassioned of the two of us, it is painfully me who brings it up every day. Though he reassures me that he also wishes we could be recklessly and sweatily entwined, that he wants to see me just as badly as I do him, I feel pitiful.
It is not the severity and mounting danger of the virus that I cannot grasp – though blinded by passion at times, I am not suffering from cognitive dissonance. It’s his unwillingness to quarantine together. We’ve traveled to Italy, Spain, Colorado, L.A. – our families are intimately acquainted – and yet … he wants to “protect us.” While I’m sure there is sweetness in there somewhere, I cannot help but feel unfettered rejection.
I finally saw him, 31 days after returning to the East Coast. He agreed to a socially distanced hike. No (real) touching. I found a state park equidistant between us and sent him coordinates to the trailhead of my choice. He arrived first, his huge, red truck parked conspicuously against the April greenery. I pulled up already mad. Sad? Disappointed. Our masked and gloved embrace was sterile. His body like a stranger’s. I told him to lead and remained quiet most of the four miles. We passed countless initials of lovers etched into trees and I could not help but feel betrayed, heartbroken by his (social) distance. The day ended in another, longer hug. “Let’s do it again tomorrow,” he said.
I’ve offered a few times that if he wants to end things, he might as well buck up and do it, Covid is an excellent out. He is neither threatened nor amused by my thinly veiled humor. My desperation to reclaim our intimacy is bubbling over into self-effacement and despair. He guarantees me that we just have to follow the rules, be patient, stay flexible in the uncertainty of this weird new normal. I can’t help but feel I’ve already lost him.
April 20, 2020
Chop Wood, Carry Water
“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” ― Zen saying
Lillian Ann Slugocki
I like waking up before the sun rises. While it’s still dark, time still feels neutral. The day before me is still an abstraction. I like drinking coffee in the dark. But when it’s undeniably morning, when the Palisades are orange and gold in the light, the fear sets in. I am paralyzed, and utterly incapable of accomplishing the smallest task. And if it’s a day where I have to go food shopping, the dread increases. My executive function misfires. If only I could stay in bed all day. But I can’t. First of all, I have to walk the dog. The amount of courage it takes to change out of my leggings, replace with blue jeans, brush my teeth and my hair and then put on a mask, feels way out of proportion to the simple task before me–walk out the door. But that’s not so simple anymore, is it?
When we’re back, she goes in and I wash the bottom of my shoes, take off my cloth bandana, tie it around the porch rail and sanitize my hands. I walk into the apartment, hands up like a surgeon, and wash them with hot water and soap, and re-sanitize. Now, I have to feed her. She’s 13 now, so this is a production. I cajole and sing and sit on the floor so I’m at eye level with her. I’m barely finishing up with this, and haven’t eaten anything when it’s time to log into work. I love my job and my co-workers. But the documents I edit have absolutely nothing to do with what’s going on in the world. And it’s so hard to hold focus, so hard to fall into the page. I want to rant and rail against the current administration, but I can’t. I have to focus. I want to support my friends on Facebook who are struggling, but I can’t. I have to focus.
I hit my stride around 1:00 in the afternoon. I remind myself–this is why you are not struggling financially, even though the world is upside down. I wonder if my work has slipped since all this has started. I wonder if I’m as good as I used to be. On a normal day, in the bad old days, I could edit close to seven thousand words of complex medical or legal documents. And I know that this job shapes the waking dream of my life, right now, which is also necessary. I cry at several points throughout all this. Why? I’m afraid, I’m tired, I’m in shock. As the sun sets, the fear slips away. I’m almost at peace again, but I won’t be in the morning. And so it goes.
I still put makeup on every morning. Do I have to do this? I suppose not. But since my obsessive-compulsive disorder caused me to attack my skin a few years ago, I’ve been living with scars I’m ashamed of, and skin that’s often so red it looks sunburned. I don’t even want my neighbors to see my bare face from six feet away, when I’m out walking.
I think it’s good, in a way, that I’m still putting on foundation. It makes life seem normal, creates an artificial, slightly-too-orange-for-my-skin-tone divide between the daytime me who works and focuses and interacts politely with the outside world, and the nighttime, makeup-less me who goes jogging after dark, who feels the edges of her body dissolving into the night and allows her restless mind to take over, who worries and dreams and sometimes crafts words of her own until the early morning hours.
But even if the symbolic meaning of the foundation is good, the ritual of applying makeup is not. I’ve always felt clueless, unwilling or unable to manage the Beauty Blenders and foundation brushes, instead patting the cream in with my hands and settling for something that looks artificial close up. I don’t love the brand I use, but after trying so many disasters, I don’t want to look for something else. For years now, those 15 to 30 minutes spent on my makeup have been a time of panic, my heart ticking, breaths shallow, knowing if I mess something up I’ll have to live with it the entire day. Maybe this seems silly, but to my obsessive-compulsive, perfectionist mind, it was enough to make me want to hide—even before a pandemic forced me to. Even now, I can’t get rid of that panic, though I know how nonsensical it is in these strange and scary times.
Maybe my panic isn’t really about the makeup at all.
Maybe it’s about starting a new day, full of opportunities for me to be my imperfect self, to make mistakes, for things to go wrong. Lately, so many things have been going wrong.
I can’t control much; I can’t even control how my makeup looks, most of the time. But it’s one ritual that ties this strange new existence to my former one. And for now, at least, I can’t give it up.
Francisca C George
I am sick. No, not from the virus. Or maybe I am with the pressure headaches and the worn-out feeling that have permanently settled in my bones like the new routines. One never knows with all the newly connected ailments whose company gets longer and longer the further we ride into this crisis. I am sick of all the work it takes to keep a family going, day in day out. Every day, 24/7, chop wood, carry water. I get the Littles out of bed by splashing them with drops of wet. Make a fire if it’s cold and I have enough dry wood. I feed them, not forgetting the two cups of water they always seem to drink. I trick the toddler to enjoy the wooden trucks while counting Mikado sticks for homework with the second-grader. We measure the rainwater for a science project. She then has to entertain her brother, building birdhouses, so I can boil the water for the noodles they will most likely eat for dinner. After, I supervise homework or instruct the other adult (who is pro-un-routined life) to do so in a timely matter, while I can already guess the tears that will be cried over “playing school.” But I knock on wood, hoping for a better outcome.
There comes the rain, again, and I still have to go out to pick up food. I dodge the wet and grab some chopped wood for the neighbors on the way. I fill the sink with hot water to soak the dishes and my tired hands. I still feel the splinters, mindful sharp and unseen. I re-use the water and carry it to feed the flowers. Then we play. They collect wood for a fort. I reset the jugs and jars to collect the water from the next rain. I think about the fire and the wood and try to remind myself before I sleep tonight. I check the fire so it is warm for the shower. I scrub the kids as the water runs. The nightly pots and pans are next, the counters and floors, storytime about a Rainbow Fish and bed. I forgot the drinks. Two cups of water so they can sleep. So, I carry water into them and kiss them good night. Maybe a bit more firewood? It is so cold! I make myself go back out before it rains and chop and collect and hides from the rain to come overnight
Never have I paid much attention to how many chores I did daily. I interlude them with self-distracting acts of kindness, normally. I take classes at the local community college to stay sane in a life that centers on family. I thirst for that mental stimulation I cannot get from talking to little ones or interacting with the partner who ‘visits’ between work assignments and is usually not in the mood for talk. I enjoy deeper conversations on more eloquent topics than Minecraft or the adventurous sleeping arrangements for the night. I need that hands-on feel of my life. I love riddles and problem-solving. Even those involving water and wood.
These days I am reduced to the motherly servant role, to the “someone who holds it all together” role; the food, the warmth, the money, the work delegation, the sanitation and whatever else needs fixing. The chopping of wood and carrying of water. Drained from mind-numbing duties and heavy-armed, I no longer feel the energy to hug my kids. And I should know better! But these days are difficult, more straining, watchful and expectantly alarming. Twenty-four hours every day for what is now more than six weeks for me. For us. It is not what I expected when wishing for family life. I have lost my balance, my joy of water and the care that comes with chopping wood.
Being self-employed by choice challenges me every day. In order to achieve what I want, I have to push myself through some sort of fear. Usually, it’s the fear of rejection and although I’ve dealt with rejection all my life, it still scares me. One would think I would have mastered it by now. What I have mastered is procrastination but I have realized that when I do that, it just sets me back. I know I have to push that fear, be brave, take action and release the outcome.
I know that whatever someone’s response is, it’s not personal, and that’s sometimes hard to accept. I have in many ways but there is always a new challenge I get to face that I’ve never done and that always scares me.
Overall, every day I wake up with the excitement of what the day will bring. Every time I overcome something challenging I realize how strong I am. This pandemic has caused me to reflect on the daily things that sucked the life out of me, and there were many. I’ve decided that going back into the world, I’m no longer willing to do those things, and I don’t care if it takes forever for me to achieve my goals. Life is short and precious and I’m no longer willing to surround myself with shallow people who don’t care about me. I’ll build my business slowly with good people who appreciate the level of service I provide. I find that both freeing and empowering because I’m in charge. I am the master of my ship.
April 22, 2020
Instructions on Not Giving Up
Welcome to the year 2025, and thank you for coming to my talk today.
By now, all of you are familiar with pandemics as a way of life, so for those in the audience who were perhaps a little young and don’t remember too much about the tsunami called Covid-19 that started in Wuhan, China, then slammed into the rest of the world, sickening and killing millions and changing our way of life forever. The focus of this talk today is not to lament our massive loss of life and more innocent, much easier way of life, but to focus on how we learned to persevere and not give up when most of us reeled for weeks, then months, trying to wrap our heads around the bitter fact that our world had changed in a flash, never to be the same.
Here in the United States before Covid-19 arrived, an invisible interloper, we were all a little too secure, a little too confident, a little too disconnected from disease and widespread death, and for most adults in 2020, we always tended to view this – say, as with ebola outbreaks in Africa – as something that happened far away, in third world countries.
But then, we were hit, and, suddenly, the distantly archived memory – for no one in 2019 was old enough to remember having lived through it – the 1918-19 Spanish Flu pandemic seemed as if it was here again.
We’ve all become so used to wearing masks that masks themselves have become a fashion statement for some, and we’ve learned to rely on emojis to convey our emotions – good thing we had our smartphone with us even then! (Smile under my mask, and hold a sign with a smiley face on it. Audience chuckles.) It might be hot in the summer, and annoying to not be able to walk outside and feel the fresh air on our faces, but we all know the price we’ll pay if people start taking those masks off. It’s a small price to pay for our health and safety for us and future generations, now that seven more pandemics have followed hot and heavy on the heels of Covid-19, with no end in sight.
How did those of us who lived through Covid-19 stay hopeful and not give up?
We remembered how to cook. Many of us who were middle-aged had grown up in an earlier era when we learned cooking skills from our mothers and grandmothers and even in a class at school called home economics. Teaching our kids to learn these traditions was essential and helped create bonding between family members.
We learned, if we didn’t already know, how to garden. Before Covid-19, gardening was a lost art for many Americans, but, now, it is second nature, good exercise, and produces some of the best fruits and vegetables to help us boost our immune systems.
We cheered our clearing, cleaner skies and quieter highways, and rejoiced as we realized that we were fighting climate change and helping restore our polluted planet by drastically reducing our reliance on air travel, cars, ships and more. In fact, it was the Covid-19 disaster that led to the passage of the monthly “Stay Home – Save the Planet” laws that we all observe now.
We remembered to love each other and wave at our neighbors. We remembered to help others. We remembered that we are not alone.
We reconnected with our families and the people who mean the most to us. Because it was vital for us to survive. We realized that we had to learn to depend on one another again, first in Zoom meetings, during those rough months of sheltering at home and socially distancing and, finally, slowly, with hugs.
Francisca C George
Directions: Breathe in deep. Concentrate on all that is bad. And let it out. If you have not at least broken a few glasses, you have not mastered the task. Try again until you get it right!
Do this at least once a day. It clears your mind. And your throat. A beneficial side effect is that, after people have heard it for a few days, they tend to stay away. Far away.
Directions: Find things that make you happy and use them. Whatever you do, let it touch your body and soul. Find the love for yourself. This is what it’s all about, your purpose! Nothing in this life is worth doing for less. Make it count! Enjoy every minute of it!
Directions: Don’t judge! Just experience and gain understanding! Everything you experience is a chance for learning, good or bad, success or mistake, purpose or accident. All of it is equally important.
Directions: Close you eyes. Breathe in and out and in and out. Longer and longer. Until you get tired of it. Close your eyes and drift off.
If this does not work, do a routine of the things mentioned above (in any order and with increasing intensity) and try again.
Do this whenever you have had it with your surroundings, people and the world. It will teach the ones around you to try a little harder. And, if not, at least you got a nap in.
The year is 2025 and I’m in awe of where I am in my life and what I’ve accomplished. I look back on the gripping fear I held onto as if it was my last breath. What was I thinking? The scary stories I told myself were much worse than the reality I’ve created. I’ve learned that nothing ventured, nothing gained, and I’m so grateful I pushed through that fear because today I’m making a difference in millions of lives.
In 2014 I was diagnosed with Autoimmune Hepatitis. It felt like I would never get through it and at one point, I was ready to “go home.” I was on so much prednisone, throwing up every day and felt like shit. I knew I couldn’t do my life feeling this way and it felt like it would never end. At one point, I was ready to give up and go into liver failure. I’ll never forget my best friend in Australia saying to me, “Mate, just take the fucking tablets!” When she said that it gave me enough strength to continue, and eventually the storm passed. Today, I still take meds for my condition but there are no side effects and I’m very healthy. I don’t know what I wouldn’t have done without her push.
As far as my purpose, writing my book and wanting to help as many people as I could, my spirit was not about to allow me to play small and that little voice inside of me kept pushing me even when I wanted to block it out. It never went away. Back then, I thought it was tormenting me, and in a sense it was, but it was pushing me to live the life I was meant to live.
My husband and friends listened to me endlessly, probably until they couldn’t listen anymore. I needed constant validation outside of myself because I didn’t believe in myself. It took that unwavering faith of my loved ones to push and propel me forward. The patience they’ve had with me is such unconditional love. I am so blessed to have a few good people in my corner to help me become the best version of myself.
Lillian Ann Slugocki
ONE. Even though it seems impossible, or highly unlikely that you will ever do this–you must take off your clothes and step into a very hot shower. I mean the water should almost be scalding. Imagine: The steam is rising. The water rains down on your head, hard, and courses down your neck, your back, your legs, your arms. It’s more than a shower, it’s a benediction. Welcome back to your body. Now lather on something that will make you smell delicious.
TWO. If you live alone, as I did, you will be confronted by so many uncomfortable truths about yourself. And the good things are as hard to take as the bad. How could it be any different? I became more of myself. I felt so loved, it was almost unbearable because I felt so mortal. Or at least my bones did. And then the dark side, the shadow self, the anger, the fear. I lost my temper twice (so far) in public, and they deserved it–counter-balanced with I am great. I am powerful. I am stupid and sad. Listen. You aren’t crazy, and you are not required to fix anything. All you have to do is stay alive.
THREE. Find one thing you love and become obsessive about it. I chose coffee. I could be facing a shit day–a trip to the grocery store, which is a horror. The dog needed wee wee pads. But as long as I had a strong, dark cup of coffee (and I mean good coffee) when I woke up, I knew I had a chance of being human. Just that one thing, that one little thing. Because it still felt so normal to do that–right before the sun rose. That one thing, trust me, will keep you grounded in the old world, as you confront the new.
FOUR. A good citizen of the world should have the following in their homes: bleach, soap, sponges, masks, gloves, buckets, detergents. They should designate a section of their garage or back porch or hallway as the decontamination zone. Your goal is to ensure that everything that passes the portal is as clean as is humanly possible. Mine was on the back porch. In the early days of my pandemic, I would strip down to my underwear and a t-shirt, and wash my hands in undiluted bleach, before I would step foot into my house.
FIVE. When someone dies, the most appropriate, and the most loving, thing to say is–may their memory be a blessing. Someone said that to me once, but I didn’t understand it. Now I do.