Plague Diary, June 22, 2020

COVID / Plague Diaries

For anywhere between ten minutes to six hours every day since roughly March 20, I’m pretty sure I have COVID. Sometimes I’m able to chase off this worry with a long walk, sometimes with a stiff gin and tonic, sometimes just with fretting and eventually going to sleep, during which I wake up throughout the night and try to figure out whether my throat is sore or my chest is unnaturally tight or the lingering array of concerns left over from my weird intestinal stuff last fall is EXPRESSWAY TO DEATH.

That all of this has happened during allergy season is a thing, and allergy season in a new house is definitely a thing, and allergy season in a new house partially shaded by a hickory tree (which I’m officially allergic to) is definitely, definitely a thing. But still every day. Like clockwork.

COVID isn’t the only thing keeping me up right now, obviously, and that’s kind of the point. I’ve spent a good part of the week mulling over repeated claims by fellow white people in which they earnestly admit to having never really thought too hard about race before the last couple of weeks. This sounds improbable to me if not impossible. Even if you grew up in Idaho or Utah or some insanely expensive New England suburb, what did they teach you? I mean on a very basic level: have you been asleep for the for the last twelve years? Did you assume the blowback to, say, Barack Obama was because he was a democrat? It smells like bullshit to me, but I I’m also a southerner. I literally cannot imagine coming up in this country without “thinking too hard about race.” I feel like race informs just shy of everything. You don’t have to come up in the WTF cognitive dissonance of a summer afternoon singing Nina Simone songs while reading a children’s Harriet Tubman biography while swinging on a porch swing, dressed in an ersatz kid-sized southern belle dress, staring down the path of the Virginia family farm toward an outbuilding your great-grandmother still refers to as “the slave kitchen” with zero sense of irony.* You don’t have to spend family reunions trying to work out which of your elderly relations is the worst bigot (correct answer: all of them).You can just walk through any town in the south and look at the old houses and wonder who built them and who for and read a single damn historical marker or look at the stupid, fucking statues or notice who is getting pulled by police or living in what neighborhoods or working what jobs or attending what schools. You wonder, “How did the bullshit happen?” about just about anything that doesn’t make sense. The answer is almost always racism

Of course, white southerners are not the only bad actors when it comes to race. And the above exercise works in a shockingly diverse number of places (some of them not even on this continent) even if the names of the statues are slightly different. You could be in New Hampshire or Oregon or Arizona and probably still have a gaggle of honking Well-Actuallys dying to tell you how tearing down a statue is erasing history.

Erasing history, though. What a phrase. What a notion. Were it possible to erase history by pulling down a piece of tin outfitted with confederate epaulettes, it seems like white America would be all over it. Because what is America, as we know it, but centuries of concerted effort to erase history starting with everything that was here before us and revise the rest until we can look in the mirror and live with ourselves. But history doesn’t really disappear, no matter how many bronze plaques you hang over it. No matter how many times you edit, you can still see the original bloody draft. And that’s the thing, right? People are rising, people are fighting back, in large part because four centuries of history cannot be erased. That story demands its reckoning. It always has. I mean, isn’t that why the statues went up in the first place, to try and scare the truth back into silence? To keep history from getting any big ideas?

And I guess it worked. Maybe it even worked enough that some white kid that went to college in the south, at a university built by slaves, that never integrated until the latter half of the 20th century, in a town still largely segregated, in a state that still that goes out of its way to keep its African American voters from casting their ballots (and gerrymanders districts such that those ballots will have minimal impact, even if they can get to the polls) can say they’ve “honestly never thought much about race” until last week.

I guess.

Maybe.

But all the lights are on and History is wide open. There’s no excuse for not thinking. There’s no excuse for not knowing. At this point, at best, it’s willful ignorance and delusion. At worst, it something that looks like the old banal evil that would prefer to trudge along in service of the status quo no matter (or maybe even because of) how many bodies it must trudge over to do so. I don’t know about you, but I’m done even tacitly allowing for that to be an option.

Picture today was taken in Charleston, SC in August of 2019.

As of this writing, 4,888,316 people have recovered from COVID-19.

*Autobiographical truth.

Plague Diary, June 16, 2020

COVID / Plague Diaries / Uncategorized

I haven’t been sleeping well lately. I wake up at 3 at 4. Sometimes unprovoked, sometimes when the neighbors across the street turn on their floodlight and my bedroom windows glow silver behind the curtains, crosshatched with the veiny limbs of the tree in the front yard. I rarely try to will myself back to sleep. Instead, I rise and read or write until I drift off again. I pet Walter, who snores or purrs or snurrs beside me undisturbed. I’ve always had an unsettled affection for 4am, going back to the days in which I was more likely to see it coming from the other side. There’s a long, dark quiet to the hour. A touch of menace before the first notes of birdsong, the last dark shadows before the pale of dawn. The world of the inbetween.

Broadly, I think I live in the world of the inbetween. In between plague and protest, between denial and despair, between dread and something not quite like acceptance, but maybe its second cousin . There are people marching through a pandemic for justice in masks and just across the road are barefaced revelers, queued up for brunch cocktails, seemingly oblivious to the world around them. In between there’s me in the house, living roughly the same version of quarantine life I have for the past ninety-eight days, occasional trips to the supermarket aside.

At the beginning I thought the quarantine would be an inbetween too. I guess it is, but the parameters are, if anything, more unclear. It used to be I was waiting for it to be safe. I was waiting for a curve to flatten. I was waiting for a cure. Now? I don’t know what I’m waiting for exactly. All those things, to be sure, but with a big fat if and an asterisk because are those things even relevant or possible? I’m waiting to rejoin the world. I miss the world. Mine feels quite small, no matter how many nights someone drops by the deck for quick chat or a socially distanced drink. I’m waiting for each new sign of reckoning with collective horror show of history. I’m waiting for what comes next. I’m waiting for July. I’m waiting for August. I’m waiting for my still-living grandmother’s forthcoming funeral. I’m waiting to see how long it takes before I get COVID. I’m waiting to see if I can wait it out. I’m not sure I’ll be able to. I’m waiting to make sure I don’t give it to anyone else once I do. I’m waiting. And waiting. And waiting some more.

It’s comforting to think that most of the world is similarly muddling through the inbetween, but I’m increasingly aware that this is not the case. Remember when we were all this together? How tragically hilarious did that end up being, right? My close friends, my neighbors, my social network may mostly be keeping close to home, save the occasional well-masked foray through a march or to the outside part of the garden store. We feel like rebels when we sit eight feet apart on people’s driveways and go home to use the bathroom. My town passed a mask ordinance. I don’t remember the last time I saw a human being inside a public space unmasked, but holy hell, do I ever live in a bubble. And I hear reports from even inside the bubble that people aren’t or don’t and I’m like, “Have I just stopped seeing? Am I just blind to the world outside the inbetween?”

Outside the inbetween the world is churning on. Here in Limbo, a place I understand to contain a Jimmy Cliff record, a thing I could never master at the roller rink and maybe some unchristened, medieval Italian babies if you’re Dante, nothing much is cooking save the six or seventh pot of chickpea curry I’ve made since March and a snurring cat. It sounds relaxing but it’s not really. Life in the inbetween is still too variable and undetermined. No matter what you do, you may still get buffeted around the in wake of everyone else’s decisions. You can follow the rules. You can wear your mask. You can barely leave the house in months and the numbers will still go up. You can talk at length about four centuries of white supremacy, in as much or as little detail required, and still you run into someone you kinda liked from high school on social media who wonders why they have to take down all the monuments. “I mean, what next? Will they rename Washington DC? It’s a slippery slope.” On some level, life in the inbetween is all about making peace with not knowing and trying not to be bitterly disappointed when you’re unhappily surprised. It feels like a waste of time. It feels like there is nothing, really, you can do. And the inbetween is like, “Oh hey, you’re just figuring this out? You’re adorable. Have a cookie.”

I want to end this on a hopeful note. And a hopeful note less ambiguous than “I think we’re headed squarely for another lockdown that will be largely unenforceable because at least half of the world operating outside the inbetween will refuse to respect it and the government doesn’t care.” So here you go: The Supreme Court did something beautiful yesterday. Change—actual real deal, long time coming change—feels like it’s in the wind. Peaches are in season. And most of us, many of us, here in the inbetween are doing the best we can, even as we keep trying to do better. It’s not enough and it won’t get us out of here tomorrow or next week or even next month. It won’t fix the world. But I guess it’s something.

Picture today is of one little corner of the world I miss, taken during a dusk so beautiful I literally cried, in Riomaggiore, in 2016.

As of this writing, 4, 260,420 have recovered from COVID-19.

Plague Diary, June 8, 2020

COVID / Plague Diaries / Uncategorized

My social media is a blur of memes and reading lists, of heartfelt pleas to listen, to amplify, to defund, to abolish. I watch friends get in fights with their relatives, their neighbors, a friend of a friend in a comment section on Instagram. Most of the time those relatives don’t say the really awful, overt stuff—though the Nazis and the Confederate Flag wavers and whatever unctuous post-post-modern fusion of has been enjoying a bit of a cultural renaissance in Trump’s America—but the shit they still say is still terrible, if terrible in an “acceptable” way. A friend’s republican uncle would never say that he views George Floyd as less of a human, per se, but he would absolutely find some bullshit excuse to justify the thousand ordinary horrors endured by black Americans that he would never, ever, not for a moment countenance for his family, his friends or himself.

At the end of the day, I’m not sure the republican uncle is any less of a lost cause than the dudes with swastika tattoos and KKK belt buckles. I don’t know what good it does to spar about the relative humanity of other humans over the internet or over Zoom (or over the dinner table, if you’re feeling reckless). Life is short. I don’t know what to say to a person who could watch George Floyd cry out for his mother and remained unmoved, intractable, and oblivious enough to split hairs about crime statistics or economics. Is it worth it? Your call. Your time. In a pandemic, some of us feel like we have nothing but time. But in the United States, in June of 2020 , every wasted moment feels like the possibility of another life lost.

I don’t want to disparage the small efforts. Every things helps, I guess, except the stuff that doesn’t, which varies depending on who is writing the editorial, and who comments in the thread. Transformative change– real, radical paradigm shift change– is hard. The incremental work, done in baby steps and the baby steps taken by thousands of people at the same time, across the country, all over the world, makes the road ahead look less daunting. That’s good, because it will be, as the kids say, daunting af. My internal loudmouthed pessimist likes to remind me that humans, especially white American humans don’t tend toward entropy so much as inertia. The status quo can be seductive, even if it’s self-evidently sucky. People don’t like to be uncomfortable, and the sacrifices required for any real deal change? Those will not be comfortable for anyone who has, unconsciously or not, enjoyed the real benefit of being a white person in America. It doesn’t take that much imagination to see that. I want to believe that we’ll all stick to it. I want to believe we’ll continue to rise to the occasion when circumstances require more than a one-time donation, a hashtag on the bottom of shared article, or a sunny afternoon with a bunch of likeminded people at the only morally justifiable mass social gathering after twelve weeks of quarantine. I have to believe it—that there’s another side of this and it’s better and fairer than where we are and we’ll get there. Because where we are? Where we are has no future. Where we are is not acceptable for anyone.

The other option is pessimism and despair. And my despair? Well, that’s definitely a privilege. I am a white person who has enjoyed all the benefits of being a white person in America. And so I can sit here throwing stones and virtual $20 bills at various non-profits, because I’ve read the books and seen the memes and still can’t shake the sense that I’m not doing anything meaningful. I feel like I’m not doing enough. Those challenges coming and sacrifices required? I’m not at all sure I could convince anyone to make them. I can’t honestly promise I won’t complain when I have to make them myself. I feel guilty about that. Am I just standing in the way, taking up too much space? Am I not taking up enough? I feel guilty because I’m not marching because I have family shit but maybe my family shit isn’t that big of a deal. Maybe this is more important? I don’t know. I feel guilty for not knowing. I feel guilty for feeling guilty.

“You know your guilt doesn’t help anyone,” said a friend when I said so, and it never does. She doesn’t say that my guilt is privilege. She doesn’t say I need to put up or shut up. She doesn’t say “It’s privilege to assume you get to decide what’s meaningful” But she could have. And she would have been right.

When I was a middle-aged woman, I lived in a pandemic. When I was a middle-aged woman, the world erupted into rallies and protests. When I was a middle aged woman, I I saw possibility of real change and spent a whole week trying to find the right words to say about the future, so I looked to the past and said too many and kept deleting until what was left didn’t make much sense at all. I should have kept it simple. I should have just said: Keep going. Don’t stop. I’ll do everything I can to help.

Keep going. Don’t Stop. I’ll do everything I can to help.

As of this writing, 3,535,554 people have recovered from COVID-19.

Plague Diary, June 1, 2020

COVID / Plague Diaries / Uncategorized

I had a hard time getting up this morning. I read the news in bed, so I could have the option of turning over and crying into my pillow, should the mood take me. I didn’t. Maybe I’m cried out, dried out, not so much toughened up as turned brittle by Events. Maybe I’m too far up on the knife age between fury and despair to wring out any weeping. My life is okay, but if feels like every morning I wake up into a slightly worse time to be alive. Doesn’t really matter. The self-indulgent tears of a middle class, middle-aged white lady are the very last thing the world needs right now.

I didn’t go to protests over the weekend. Protesting is a young person’s game, or at least a younger-than-me person’s game. That’s what I tell myself, even though it’s probably a cop-out. I don’t want to court risk because I don’t want to be in jail or in the hospital when my grandmother dies. That’s true, but in context, it feels petty and trivial, dangerously short-sighted considering the big picture. I also don’t want to see people beaten or tear-gassed or fired upon. I don’t want to see journalists arrested. I don’t want to see the moment when a police force arbitrarily decides to escalate, to provoke the crowd, to try and unleash violence they can then quash. Because even though I’m not there, that’s the view from here. Peaceful protests until. And then. Someone throws a plastic water-bottle. Police disproportionately respond with tear gas and rifles. Then things spiral .

It’s worth noting that I don’t want to be beaten or tear-gassed or fired upon. I’m claustrophobic. I’m afraid of fire. And though I try to heed the promise of flowers rising from ash, it’s hard to hear the sound of a new world being born over the helicopters, the sirens, the people screaming, the boots of riot police. It doesn’t sound like justice. It sounds like a terrifying vacuum of leadership. It sounds like a mass chorus of angry, grieving, desperate voices and a few rocks and torches facing off against a vast paramilitary force that no longer even pretends at peace or accountability, held up by a four centuries of foundational racism and inequality, currently empowered by a cruel, venal, ignorant sociopath, who sits protected in his bunker under the White House trying to incite his fear-addicted, heavily-armed, ignorant (and also cruel venal, ignorant and sociopathic), plague-ridden supporters (including a not-small number of the police officers firing tear gas into the crowd) into something like a Civil War. It sounds like terror and violence and heartbreak. It sounds like America, the America we conveniently ignore until it finally claws its way through the mirror in the middle of the night, and we sit up in the smoky pre-dawn and are forced to remember what we look like.

There are people I can’t talk to right now, not about this anyway. A friend called at midnight last night, sobbing at the callousness, the intractable indifference of family member. “He has no compassion,” she said. “He has no compassion at all.” I wished I could hug her—we were separated by geography and COVID. I didn’t tell her that I’d spent the part of the evening unfollowing the last remaining friends whose commitment to social justice turned to scolding at sight of the first broken window. “Don’t you realize, you’re doing more harm than good. You must be peaceful.” And yeah, that’s the ideal, but it’s far too easy to ignore the peaceful. It’s easy to pretend it isn’t happening because it’s not happening to you or near you. It’s easy to let it get swept under a status quo that keeps you “safe” and provided for at an unthinkable current and historic cost. It’s already too easy forget that the tear gas came out before the windows were shattered and the buildings burned. It’s easier than you think to sound like you value an individual business more than a human life, or for that matter, a whole community of human lives. It feels like déjà vu. I mean, like, weren’t we just talking about this with the pandemic? The end of lockdown orders. The people bearing brunt of the risk, as we venture out, as we depend on them to safely shelter in place. “The vast majority of our COVID patients are African-American or Latinx,” writes a friend in a hospital. “The demographics are stark.”

The demographics are stark.

Are you paying attention? Have you been paying attention?

Did it take George Floyd plaintively calling for his mother as he was choked to death? Or was it seeing Minneapolis, a friendly, reasonably progressive city, the home of Prince, hardly a tinderbox, hardly a hotbed of violence and corruption, go up in flames for you to notice? Was it your friends and coworkers getting gassed? Was it your hometown under curfew?

How much more catastrophe must be endured by those least equipped to bear it before we get it?

I don’t like the way this feels. I don’t like violence. I don’t like those looking to profit off all this, via power grab, or just use it as an excuse to push their own agenda, whether to try to summon up some apocalyptic race war, or work out their personal vendetta against a local bookshop, or take part in wanton destruction for the lulz because they’re a young white dude who likely will never get shot by police and can return home after trashing a neighborhood, without fear of retaliation. I don’t like the unsettling sense of fissures spreading and widening beneath me, of lava churning under the surface, hungry to swallow us all. I don’t like people talking casually about Civil War, like they’re trying to will it into existence. I really don’t like people being murdered in cold blood by the people theoretically charged with protecting them for no reason other the color of their skin. And I really, really, really don’t like the entire elaborate racist system that allows it to continue unabated.

This isn’t about me, though. And it’s maybe not about you either. So maybe I should just shut the f@#k up for a few days and listen. Listen to the sounds of grief. Listen to the sounds of fury. Listen to the sounds of despair. Listen to the sounds of the old world cracking under the weight of so much horror, injustice and needlessly lost life. Listen that shitty old world fights back, and tries to take us all down with it. Listen to the voices from the fray. Listen carefully and pay attention. Because maybe, somewhere, in all the deafening sadness, fury and confusion, I’ll hear something that sounds a little like hope.

As of this writing, 2,874,179 people have recovered from COVID-19. #blacklivesmatter

Plague Diary, May 26, 2020

COVID / Plague Diaries / Uncategorized

Over the last few days, one county, thirty-five miles and about 180 degrees removed, politically, from the overeducated, progressive oasis where I make my home, about 4000 mostly-unmasked white people descended upon a local track to socialize, crowd into the stands, and watch car races on a national holiday to commemorate war dead, hours before COVID-19 neared its 100,000th (reported) American life since, roughly, March.

The smiling race fans, many of whom in a high risk category for COVID by age alone, bristled at the suggestion that they were doing anything untoward, or, in fact, illegal (North Carolina’s current Phase 2 guidelines prohibit gatherings of more than 10, inside, or 25, outside). They cheered the season, celebrated a return to normalcy, groused about the economy, and assured reporters that they weren’t scared of any virus, which is probably just a liberal conspiracy, and nothing worth getting in the way of their red, white and blue, Mel Gibson-invoking FREEDOM!

Local law enforcement, when pointed toward the thousands of people gathering in breach of the governor’s order, refused to step in. In fact, they went on record as saying the orders were unconstitutional, and that they did not recognize the governor– a nice, middle-of-the-road democrat, whose nice, middle-of-the-road handling of the pandemic and the soft reopening has afforded him 60% approval ratings, but varying levels of opprobrium from both edges of the political spectrum– or his authority.

Over the last few days, North Carolina had the highest single day spike in Coronavirus cases. Today, North Carolina achieved a new single day high in COVID hospitalizations.

Over the last few days, a Harvard educated author, editor and enthusiastic birder asked an affluent, young white woman if she would follow posted guidelines and leash her dog in Central Park. She responded by calling the NYPD to report that she was being threatened with violence by a vicious African-American man, an accusation that could easily lead to the man’s death. The author filmed the incident. The woman was rightfully excoriated.

Over the last few days, my dreams have all been terrible acts of violence that I have not been able to stop.

Over the last few days, a white man, spokesman for a ReOpen North Carolina group has gone on the record as being “willing to kill people,” should the partially re-opened state not acquiesce to his demand for everything to return to normal. Obviously he is willing to kill people if he is fine with everything reopening and people flooding back in the streets during the worst local surge of an unfolding pandemic. But he’s not talking about the virus. He maybe doesn’t believe in the virus. He’s talking about the automatic weapons he wears as he stalks people around the capitol, unmolested, screaming about his freedom, which has, evidently, been compromised.

Over the last few days, a forty-six year old man named George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police after being handcuffed, forced to the ground, and slowly strangled to death, pleading to breath, while a white police office knelt upon his neck. Bystanders pleaded, cried and cursed. The police didn’t stop until the he was dead. A bystander filmed the incident. The footage was devastating. That death was the opposite of freedom. It is the reason we, the people, theoretically, yell about freedom. And yet, and yet and fucking yet . . .

Over the last few days, US law enforcement has allowed thousands of white people to willfully flout public health guidelines, leading to exponential infections and deaths in a pandemic disproportionately affecting the poor, the elderly, and minority populations.

Over the last few days, US law enforcement murdered George Floyd, who did nothing to deserve it, who suffered greatly, slowly losing his breath, whose death will become another horrifying entry in another in a cruel, and impersonal catalog of lives lost to racism and ignorance and fear, of names remembered not for the men and women they were or the lives they lived or the people they loved or the people that loved them, but for the way they were brutally slain, as if they meant nothing, as if they were nothing at all.

Over the last few days, it strikes me that freedom means something different when you’re dying, when don’t know if you’ll survive, when you realize you have no value. Say you’re a black person, or worse, a black man apprehended by police. Or maybe you’re some other variety of not white or not white enough. Maybe you’re just old, you’re handicapped, you’re poor, you’re sick, you’re alone, you’re struggling to breathe and the only people that can hear you, if they can hear you at all, if you even have a voice to cry out, are strangers watching through masks, maybe they plead impotently on your behalf, maybe they remember your last fearful glances, and maybe if you’re very, very lucky, one of those strangers will not go out of their way to find some reason why you deserved to die in such pain.

Picture today is of George Floyd, age 46, a former high school football player and restaurant bouncer, who was murdered by Minneapolis police on Monday, May 25, 2020.

As of this writing, 2,477,342 people have recovered from COVID-19. O black people have recovered from being murdered by police.

Plague Diary, May 25, 2020

COVID / Plague Diaries / Uncategorized

A woman I know once told me that when she was young, lonely, and broke, she would venture out to the nearest box store—a K-Mart, perhaps, in those days—take a cart from the dispenser by the front door, and wander each aisle after aisle, filling the metal basket with anything and everything that caught her fancy. Dishes, housewares, games, toys, art supplies, dresses, jewelry bedding, candy, whatever. Sometimes by the time she reached the far edge of the store she would have filled more than one, and as such, would have to navigate the narrow passages and customers with these towering, wheeled monuments to appetite. And just before she would have been expected to check-out, the woman wheeled the carts to the edge of a display, took her pocketbook, and rushed out of the store, sometimes feigning an emergency, sometimes simply averting her eyes and just sklunking toward the exit, where she’d flee to the car, both disappointed and impossibly relieved to jot have spent all that money and come home with all that stuff.

I don’t know if she ever got busted, per se, but at some point it dawned on her that every one of these transgressive shopping trips ended with some hapless store employee having to spend God knows how long having to reshelve her non-shopping, shopping spree. She felt bad about it. She wriggled out of her lonely funk. She found other ways to spend her time. She found other ways to spend her money, once she had it (it is, in my experience, much easier to not hunger so desperately for a thing once you have plenty of money to buy it).

I relate though. I get the impulse. I always feel like I have to apologize when I tell people that I genuinely like shopping. It relaxes me. I find it thrilling, I’m a product of several generations of antique dealers, artists, epicures, and bargain hunters, though I’m less in it for the spree than the treasure hunt. I like to collect. I take enormous pleasure trying to dig out the holy grail from a rack of clearance fancy dresses, an overstuffed, dusty shelf at the thrift shop, whatever might pop up on a random end cap at Target or, like, between broken appliances on the card table at your next garage sale. I try to set parameters even if they’re artificial. “I have to find a perfect gilded mirror for the hall, but it has to cost less than ten dollars.” I maintain lists of mostly unfindable books and records, so when I find them it feels miraculous. I literally have, like, six or seven cups that look like a Holy Grail of some sort of another. All of them cost less than $5. And yes, I will absolutely tell you exactly where I bought/what I paid for them that if you mention them. That’s part of them fun.

So I’ve reached the part of this pandemic–Day Seventy-Six of Quarantine, Day Five of Partial Re-Open in NC, But Let’s Be Serious, No Reasonable Humans Are Actually Going Out Unless They Have To–where I’m trying to soothe my soul by filling online carts with things I’m not going to buy. I set my typical kinds of parameters (say, an A-line midi/maxi dresses, sleeveless but wide strapped, waisted, not too many gathers, with a geometric/Bauhaus-y sort of print, maybe sort of Mondrian, a bit late 60s/early 70s throwback, but more Anne Bancroft than Katharine Ross, in my size, under $150, ideally washable, and for real, I’m still looking for variations of this dress to wear on the deck this summer, so hit me up if you find it). I wander the digital corridors. It’s not the same as doing it in person I run my virtual fingers over the hems of hundreds of dresses and think This One? though I can’t feel the quality of the chiffon I do it because I’ve probably bought enough sparkly sneakers and I don’t actually like how I look in athleisure (like a convalescent slug waiting for sleep or death, though I suppose that’s perfectly reasonable for exercise) or how I feel in athleisure (like I’m sweaty and lazy, even when I’m objectively neither). A new dress suggests that one day I may have something to look forward to greater than a new series on Netflix or the fleeting thrill of the COVID death count only going up by a hair in my state (where COVID cases are actively on the rise, fyi). A new dress portends some possibility other than illness, failure, and whatever other apocalyptic rough beasts are slouching toward Carrboro even I refill this delightful G&T.

Shopping depresses a lot of people I know, and for plenty of good philosophical/political reasons. A friend of mine who didn’t actually like me very much once told me I would never make a good Marxist because I loved fancy department stores too much. I told her that was only because fancy department stores were the only places that usually kept ballgowns* in stock and my dream has always been to be invited to more events requiring ballgowns. This, she said, proved her point.

But there is something to the fact that I’m filling carts again, just as there is something to the fact that I have, after two and a half months of trying and failing, started reading books again. I’ve finished, like, five, in the last week and started on the stack** I collected at the beginning of Quarantine, back when I thought I would read the whole time. I still wake up and feel my pulse quicken as read the headlines, but the weight on my chest doesn’t feel like it might crush me.

I don’t know if I’ve simply grown more accustomed to living in upside-down world or if I just smacked so hard against the metaphorical concrete floor at the bottom of this, that it just knocked everything left out of me. I still try to give a shit. I really do. I wear my mask. I stay at home. I support my local businesses through takeout and curbside. I give money to the people that need it. I try to figure out what, if anything, I can do on the political end. I keep going. But guys, past that? I can’t do a goddamn thing, except float on the tides of this endless bad dream and hope when/if I get pulled under, the world as I know it, the people I care about, will still be breathing on the other side.

So until then? Dresses. Virtual shopping cart full of hypothetical dresses to be bought with imaginary money for events that may not ever happen. This, I believe, is maybe best I can do for now.

Picture today is of the interior of one of my favorite vintage stores in Edinburgh, which I last visited a couple millennia ago, back in October of 2019.

As of this writing, 2,430, 543 people have recovered from coronavirus

*Again, it’s worth pointing out that when I’m stressed out and trying to lower my heart rate and achieve solid “Happy Place” vibes, I like to imagine myself sitting on a velvet chaise, surrounded by fluffy kittens and corgis and piles of multi-colored, ruffled, tulle crinolines, drinking tea and a smidge of whisky with Billy Porter and I just listen while he tells me about all the gowns in his closet. Feel free to join me there the next time you freak out.

** I included a lot of popular/genre books I’d never gotten around to, because I thought, “These will be fun.” Controversial opinion: some of them are not that fun. Like, I’m forty-four years old and I’m finally trying to read “Dune” and for the love of all that is holy, I can’t figure out what you guys like so much about it. On the other hand, where do you go when you run out of Richard Price and/or John LeCarre novels? This is also a serious question.

Plague Diary, May 20, 2020

COVID / Plague Diaries / Uncategorized

True confession.

Everyday I get up and hear about everyone’s elaborate pandemic baking and their fancy home-prepared meals. And though I’ve done a little both, honestly I’ve gotten a lot of takeout over the last twelve weeks. Like, a lot of takeout. Like from all of my favorite local restaurants. Like multiple days of the week.

And what I want to tell you is that takeout is awesome. And it’s oftentimes more cost-effective than cooking for one. And I get to support my favorite businesses. And I don’t have to fret about trying to, say, make sushi at home. And I love to cook, but I mostly love to cook for other people. And it’s just too depressing to make something elaborate and not have people over to eat it with.

Everybody has their interests, their limitations and their level of comfort. I get that a lot of people aren’t comfortable eating food not prepared in their own kitchens right now, but did you know that most of your favorite restaurants are doing takeout? Even the fancy ones that usually don’t?

I mean, for real, takeout, y’all. It’s so good. It’s one of the only true, constant bright lights in these dark times. And bonus: it’s 100% one of the most delicious ways to keep your friends employed and stimulate your local economy.

FYI: tonight is Carrburritos night and seriously, I cannot wait.That is all. P

icture today is of Rocky’s, a particular favorite diner of mine up in Brevard, NC, taken just before Christmas, back when eating in was a thing we did. They have delicious chocolate milkshakes (and cheeseburgers, etc) there and it’s harder than you think to find a decent chocolate takeout milkshake around these parts

As of this writing, 1,999,534 people have recovered from COVID-19

Plague Diary, May 19, 2020

Uncategorized

Disasters, wars, catastrophes, pandemics. All larger than life events. If you’re inclined toward history, you read about them in the abstract and they stand so singular, you don’t consider the day-to-day. No one really thinks that hard about tax policy and roof repairs during the Bubonic plague. No one wonders whether Klaus and Maria’s marriage was seriously on the rocks during the back half of the 30 Years War. No one gives a thought for old Mrs. Jones who had a nasty case of shingles during the during the Blitz. And what about that nice Taino family who were already having a real devil of the time managing the garden pests on a mild October morning in 1492 before a bunch of heavily-armed, diseased conquistadors wandered up the path. These details are not significant to history, but they were to the people living them. And the thing you that you don’t get, until you are the people living them, is that the rest of life doesn’t conveniently grind to a halt in the face of cataclysm. You can stand in gobsmacked horror at the falling skies and dead bodies all you like but it’s not going to stop the mosquitos biting or the wind from blowing or your chronic preexisting health condition from flaring up again or your ninety-three-year-old grandmother’s heart from failing. It can’t stop the 25% of the mostly underpaid population carrying out the mostly thankless work critically necessary for you to wrestle with angels at at home and worry over your mortality at a safe distance. It can’t turn a Tropical Storm back to sea.

The world keeps turning.

By any reasonable measure, I’ve been lucky. I got to flit in and out of news stories, careening around from panic to rage to those moments on the deck when the breeze was right and for a minute I felt the same sort of brief wild-eyed peace with apocalyptic terrors as I did the first time I heard that part of “It’s the End of the World as We Know it” when everything drops out of the chorus except the vocals, an acoustic guitar and a tambourine. I kind of forgot about the fact that the rest of life was still out there, still going on, oblivious to stay-at-home orders, indifferent to pandemic best practices.

I should have remembered. After all, the floorboards on my deck didn’t stop curling up at the edges on March 12 and the leaky bathtub drain didn’t magically start holding water. The ants didn’t light out for the territories on their own and the dead tree in the backyard didn’t stop itself from breaking in half and falling into the garden. My fifteen year old car didn’t stop trembling a bit when it accelerates to over 55 mph. My job didn’t suddenly become infinitely more easy or lucrative. The fibroid tumors that showed up last fall didn’t just evanesce at first chatter of coronavirus. In fact, the largest, once described by my OBGYN as being “roughly the size of an Irish potato” evidently took on the general dimensions of “either a large grapefruit or maybe a small cantaloupe.” Which sounds fairly more whimsical that it feels when it’s just chilling in your uterus like a stubborn biological bowling ball.

I know this because I went to see my OBGYN last week. At least a few of you will undoubtedly view this as careless, but she insisted. Evidently ultrasounds cannot be performed via telehealth. The whole situation was weird. I went masked, sat inside a place that was not my home, yet occupied with other people, and allowed myself to be touched more than I have been in at least ten weeks. It felt both profoundly reckless and recklessly normalizing.

I was given drugs and a “we’ll wait and see.” I came home to the typical raft of irritations bobbing about on the proverbial sea of troubles. My mail was delivered to the wrong house. A tropical storm was brewing in the Atlantic. My cat puked on the bed. People I love were sniping at each other. The frustration-fueled fraying of the whole congenial “we’re all in this together” really started to speed up. Neighbors refashioned themselves into snitches and self-styled experts. Everybody at home seemed to have a problem with Instacart drivers, the people working in the supermarkets, the kitchens at takeout joints—how dare they be so irresponsible, have you seen how they behave—and it made me sad, because absolutely none of those people signed up for this. Our ability to stay home and moralize about whether a cashier is wearing her mask property or the produce stockers were standing too close or the Instacart driver used the exact right amount of hand sanitizer when delivering our drugs/pizza/mail/groceries depends entirely on them thanklessly taking on the bulk of risk, a risk that most of us would be unwilling to share, at least not until many of us (perhaps inevitably, most of us, depending on how long this goes on) lose the jobs/savings/support networks that enable us to be the ones being served and one-by-one replace the essential workers fallen to disease.

And right around the time I’m about to get worked up into a froth that is maybe Marxist or weirdly Republican (because anytime you mention jobs in a pandemic, you have to preface it by saying, “Not to sound like a Republican”), my mother calls and tells me that Nana had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure. She wouldn’t last much longer. Mom was headed back to Virginia.

Nana has a houseful of beautiful art and priceless antiques, but she doesn’t have a smartphone or a laptop with Facetime. If I wanted to see her again, it would require going in person, which I did, by the way, so go on and cast your stones. Nana is like my other parent. She is one of the most important people in my life. I spent part of yesterday wandering around her house, where I have spent countless summers, holidays, weekends and overnights. I talked to her maskless. I hugged her. I held her hand. I crawled onto the sofa beside her and lay my head on her now bony, still hair spray and jasmine-scented shoulder. She still looks beautiful. She’s a glorious, splendid woman, in spite of her faults. Maybe because of her faults. She is my hero. She still laughs and chatters and demands and smiles, even when she’s struggling to breathe. She tells me she’s had a wonderful, beautiful life. I take comfort in her peace, but then she still tells me she’s coming to visit in the spring, “When I’m feeling better. I’m going to come down for the day and see your new house.”

And it breaks my heart.

Nana is dying (and that phrase that still feels like a gut punch whenever I say it). She’s not dying of COVID, but, when in the future, when people are wandering through the cemeteries, looking at the headstones and speculating, “2020. That’s when the pandemic hit, and she was an old lady. That must have been what did her in.” And it needles me, the thought of it, because it diminishes her, her story, her legacy, her hard-won elegance and stubborn grace. Nana is a force of nature. She deserves more words than that. I’m trying to be rational, adult, scientific, polite, uplifting, all the things I’m supposed to be. But right now, I couldn’t give a fuck about the way I sound. And I can’t tell you how much I hate this. Maybe I can. I’m noisy. I have a terrible temper that usually involves screaming and broken things and crying in the space of about thirty seconds.

So far the glasses haven’t been shattered and my neighbors haven’t had to report a banshee. So far.

The universe did not hit a pause button. That’s fiction. It’s pretty sounding but unhelpful. This is not some magical reset so we can take a nice rest and learn something about ourselves. We still have to deal with all the shit we have to deal with, all the same shit from before, but now we have to do it in solitude and uncertainty with an (at least for now) untreatable virus we can’t cure and no concrete hope of resolution. And it completely and unequivocally sucks.

There’s never a good time say goodbye. But holy hell, is this ever a shitty one.

Apologies for the language. As a tribute to Nana, I invite you to do as she does and sotto voce all the four-letter words. Unless, of course, you’re chasing a wasp (no pun) through a formal dining room with a copy of “Colonial Homes” or arguing with a sheepish mall rent-a-cop about why you should be allowed to park your Cadillac in the fire lane outside Thalheimer’s (RIP). In those cases, absolutely feel free to go blue as you please.

I swear I’ll try to write something funny next time around.

Picture today is of the chandelier that hangs over Nana’s bed.

As of this writing, 1,937,486 have recovered from COVID-19.

Plague Diary, May 14, 2020

COVID / Plague Diaries / Uncategorized

A few days back, as I walked from the Co-Op to the car on a well-masked and socially distanced grocery run, I was approached by a similarly masked, middle aged white lady the parking lot. She waved me down and I turned, fearing I’d dropped something or left something in the store.

I couldn’t read her expression , but she waved and, though her mask, mentioned that she’d seen me in the store shopping and was concerned. Plagued (no pun intended) as I am with a perennially guilty conscience, I wondered if I’d inadvertently violated some protocol and went ahead and apologized. My default. She nodded, and then said, “I was just so worried seeing you in there. You know, as an obese person, you are at a much higher risk of dying of COVID. You really should be more careful. Try harder not to leave your house. Don’t be so cavalier with your health.”

I was stunned, but managed to walk away. It wasn’t my first rodeo. I didn’t tell her to fuck off or mind her business. I didn’t tell her how creepy it is for a perfect stranger to start talking to me about my weight. I didn’t tell her that I’ve spent the last nine months dealing with a wide variety of weirdo GI issues, causing me to (unintentionally) lose more weight than I have in years. I didn’t offer to show her my medical records or exercise logs, as some marker of good health. I didn’t go low enough to say that, in the grand scheme of things, I didn’t think I was THAT noticeably fat that she would trail me into the parking lot to “try and be helpful.” I didn’t say all the things I wanted to say because what’s the point?

She has her own issues. I have mine.

I drove home. I put up my groceries. I thought about all of my petty issues that I complain about and the ones that I don’t. I thought about how quick we are, as human beings, to assume that whatever is wrong with a person must be their fault. I’ve spent some of the last year grappling with various unsettling health issues, none exactly critical, but all a little scary. I’ve come under that eye more than once. The tacit sighing, the not-really taking serious, the “I don’t know exactly what’s wrong with you, but it’s hard for me to feel sorry for you because I’m pretty sure you’ve brought it on yourself.”

On the sliding scale of things, I don’t think I look terribly unhealthy. I know how to present. I wear most of my bad habits under the skin and therefore under the metaphorical hair shirt I wear whenever I feel guilty about my bad habits (or more accurately whenever I feel guilty about actually taking pleasure from my bad habits). It’s a challenge being both a hedonist and worrier. It’s difficult to accept that some things—illness, pandemics, shitty economies, terrible politics, wars, heartbreak, uncertainty- just happen to people when you’re predisposed to believe that everything is most likely your fault.

It’s the kind of irrationality that verges on superstition. I’ll admit to the sort of butterfly effect “Maybe if I hadn’t been so quick to try and buy a house last year, whatever chain reaction I set off wouldn’t have caused COVID” justifications you’ll need to support a 3am foray from a quiet house and into the thorny, disassociative borderlands way out beyond the pale. I mean, I know that’s crazy. But we’re all living in Crazy now and I’m stressed out and my stomach’s a little upset and I vacillate between, “If this is COVID, it’s because I didn’t wash my hands correctly and I probably gave it to people in the woods today so that makes me a possible murderer” and “Obviously, I had two beers on Tuesday night with a slightly upset stomach and therefore I now have liver disease, and it’s entirely my fault because I have no self-control and I’ll probably ruin people’s lives because of it.”

Ridiculous, yeah. But maybe not to that woman in the parking lot, the one who thinks I should stay home because I’m fat and COVID kills fat people and if I persist in showing my face publicly, I’m just asking for it. I knows she’s not the only person that feels that way. And so I have the additional burden, if I get sick—if I get very sick—of being reduced to a statistic, hand-waved by people who believe in their own invincibility, people who never think it’s their fault. “Oh well, you know she was obese. I mean, if you look at it, it was her own fault. Can you imagine how thoughtless, how selfish she was living like that? I mean, what did she expect?”

The real bullshit of secretly thinking everything is your fault is secretly knowing that, in a pinch, there are plenty of people out there hungry to confirm it.

So my point–other than the fact that I clearly need a new mental health strategy and that woman in the parking lot was a total asshole—is that this virus situation has us all over the place. There’s a lot of tattling and shaming and unsolicited medical advice (and unsolicited terrible medical advice) and shouting and complaining and denial and whatever. We’re all doing it. But do me a favor, the next time you feel like telling a perfect stranger how they should be handling their life in this most unhandleable era?

Don’t.

Picture today is a self-portrait I did last year, on another day of unsolicited opinions.

As of this writing, 1,703, 675 people have recovered from COVID-19.

Plague Diary, 5/12/20

COVID / Plague Diaries / Uncategorized

Things I Miss:

Haircuts

Massages

Friends

Hugs

Live Music

Noise

Crowds

Parties

Excuses to dress up

Human contact

“Dropping By”

OCSC

Bars, in general

Cat’s Cradle

Clubs, in general

My Family

Travel

Garage Sales

Thrift Stores

Browsing Records

Browsing Books

Theatres

Going to the Movies

Swimming

The Ocean

Vacations

Long dinners in restaurants

Weekends

Not being worried all the time

Being able to concentrate

Daydreaming

Ambition

My friends, together

Linear time

Spontenaeity

Museums

Tomorrows, without fear

Yesterdays, without regret

Unexamined happiness

Guilt-free recklessness

“What’s the worst thing that could happen?”

Having something real to look forward to

Picture today is of the unexpected pop-up concert that happened on the dock behind my house last weekend.

As of this writing, 1,602,091 people have recovered from COVID-19.