“Shit is weird and hard but it could be weirder and harder so am trying to remain grateful and keep my shit somewhat together with spotty results.”Amy Barnes
I know nothing.
Not how to write nor how to keep everything clean enough despite the smell of bleach pervading my home. I do yoga in my bedroom all the time now, which means I notice more than ever the black mold that’s made a home along the edges of the windowsills. I google what to do about it and collapse into savasana thinking of the labor required.
I used to argue with my friend Ryan that I’m an introvert, that I only seem like an extrovert. I was wrong, very wrong. I miss the reassurance, the charge, the inspiration that lunch or coffee or a hike through the redwoods with a friend provides. Oh sure, we have Zoom, FaceTime, various forms of video chat enabling us to see our people. I shall even provide a tribute to technology as savior in this time of sheltering-in-place. Here, have a story:
On Saturday morning I joined a streaming dance party. In regular life, I attend these in person, but of course, we don’t live in regular life any more, so I grooved around the living room in my ’80s-themed outfit without much heart, loneliness making my feet like lead. I noticed how badly the piano needed dusting. Joy eluded me. I stopped any semblance of seeking it and decided to make breakfast instead. Probably oatmeal. But just as I plodded to the kitchen, my phone buzzed. My friend Peri was FaceTiming me so that we could dance together – and we did, smiling and booty-shaking like we’ve done a hundred times over the years, my mood saved and my heart full, thanks to the screens serving as portals to shared fun.
Still, I miss the intimacy of shared meals, certain hugs, the eye contact made by looking into a friend’s eyes. When videochatting, to look at a face is to look at the screen; to give the impression of looking at a face directly, one must smile into the camera hole. We wave across the chasm, but the gaze cannot connect.
I lugged my sewing machine downstairs today, wiped off the dust, pulled the thread from the spooler across, down, back up, back down and through the needle. Put my foot on the pedal and slid a scrap of fabric across the base. The machine works. I do not particularly know how to sew nor do I see any hours in which to learn considering my life, slowed down as it has, has also sped up – I cannot explain this given how much is on hold and yet everything being on hold is now what all my work is about and it turns out living in uncertainty consumes as much time, more time, as the usual list of deadline-driven tasks used to.
But what fortune to have a job, especially now, especially a job I still love with teammates who inspire me. Even more, what good luck for me to live somewhere where one can still go outside, find solace in nature without crowds. I did not consider “great place to be in a pandemic” as one of the benefits of moving to Humboldt County back in 1998, but here we are. I imagine if this pandemic had happened before that, when we were living with my mother-in-law, trying to raise three small children in an environment that I will diplomatically describe as “not great.” When I was a waitress, a bartender, when Bobby was working at Kinko’s. We’d have lost jobs in a heartbeat, been broke and trapped in the desert. My stomach tightens even in the imagining.
So yes, as my friend Amy said, shit is weird and hard but could be weirder and harder. I’m trying to keep myself together, keep my family healthy, figure out what efforts might help beyond that, give my worries some actions to soothe them, to meet any list of complaints with a longer one of appreciation for what I have. To cease envying my friends posting photos of bountiful gardens and repainted walls on Instagram, to quiet the ever-present fear that I’m not doing enough. “It’s a fucking pandemic,” another friend reminded me. “You don’t have to be accomplishing all the things.” (My friends are wise. Also profane.)
Most nights lately I’m spending time with Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights, absorbing a few or many pages before sleep overtakes. The collection of essays chronicles the “small joys” life offers up among the complexities, violence and loss stitched throughout that same life. His observations steady me. And, another story:
I bought the book after hearing about it on This American Life, back in the days when I drove distances long enough to listen to an hour-long podcast or five. I’d recently conversed with a colleague about the mental health challenges of doing environmental advocacy in a world that felt surely doomed. To hear this episode so quickly after, to find this book as a result – without much thought, before I’d even finished my own copy, I ordered another for him. In the week between me buying and the book arriving, I wondered if I’d been presumptuous. Sometimes receiving a gift can be a sort of pressure. Would I be giving him one more thing to do, obligating him to find what I had? Silly thoughts like that. But I kept reading, enamored, and right there, a third of the way through the book, Gay revels in a collection of poetry he’s reading, a collection that happens to be by a poet my colleague loves very, very much, a poet my colleague calls friend and whose loss he carries and which Gay acknowledges in one half of a sweet sentence, the other half being reverence for her work. And I thought, yes, as much as anything is meant to be, my colleague – my friend – is meant to have this book.
My heart sings with gratitude for all the people who’ve stepped up to help those most in need, from making masks to checking on the isolated to sharing good cheer hour after hour to giving money where it will do good, for reminding those of us floundering that even in a pandemic, even when sheltering-in-place, even without hugs and the kind of eye contact that affirms you’re both thinking the same thing, that joy exists – and as I type this the geese call out overhead, my favorite Mary Oliver poem manifesting in real time, distracting me, reminding me – thank you.