Yesterday I received a couple of nice housewarming gifts from a family member. They’re pretty things, for entertaining. I also received a new tube of mascara I picked up as an exchange for a returned item I bought weeks ago. Both already feel almost archeological, like, “Remember when I wanted more fancy glasses for parties? Remember when I had parties? Remember when it felt like I needed mascara just for fun? Remember when I felt like I needed mascara at all?”
I don’t want any of you to freak out here. I’m not going full utilitarian. Might I start taking my daily walks in fancy dresses as this thing goes on? Probably. Will my mental health depend on it? Certainly. But has my mind been making freaked out adjustments–“Should I start rationing water? Should I learned how to mend shoes? Is it a problem that I never learned how to build a fire in the wild?”
“Explain to me why you would need a fire in the wild?” as friend asked, yesterday (at considerable –nearly continental–social distance). And I explained how I can’t turn my brain off of all the unspooling potentialities and “Like, you know, when I have to run away because I’ve already lost my mind and I just need human contact and I have lost my home because I have no work and no money and live in the woods under a pile of bark, hoping not to get shot–but maybe that would be a blessing?– by roving gangs of armed thugs for breaking quarantine.”
“You really have got to figure out a way to turn some of your brain channels off,” she said. “Maybe you should talk to someone about getting you some anti-anxiety meds”
Maybe. I mean, I do have an overactive imagination though I was never much for survival stories. I hated Girl Scouts and “Little House on the Prairie.” When my friends wanted to pretend to be pioneers, I wanted to pretend we were putting on a Broadway Spectacular–AND WE ONLY HAVE THREE DAYS TO DO IT! SO WE’RE GOING TO NEED MORE CHOREOGRAPHY AND WAY MORE SPARKLES, DIANE!
At the same time, the old ways do feel a bit like a past life. I hate that. I can’t think about it that much because it makes me cry (then all five stages of Kubler Ross, back to back and at the same time). We’re humans and resilient and adapt. I don’t want to adapt to this. I want my ten days ago back, when my most pressing concerns were fixing the step in my garden and whether or not I was ever going to get the bathroom painted before my next dinner party. I can’t have that. And it sucks. So what do we do? In the words of my all-time favorite tour guide (Irish, and yes, technically I should have mentioned him yesterday), we “make the most of it,” even if it’s pouring down rain and the wind is howling. “You’ve only got this day once. And think of all you’ve endured to get here.”
My grandfather used to tell a tale of a man that lived down the valley from from his boyhood home in Floyd County, Virginia. And that man lived in a shack alone with next to nothing, but in the morning, as the kids walked to school, my grandfather reported that the man would sing “I can be happy anywhere.” Like a Mantra. Like a Mission.
And maybe that guy was a little crazy or a little drunk. In these unsettled time, though . . . I mean, I dunno, man . . .
We’re absent leaders right now that can look at a camera or speak into a microphone and deliver even a coherent, let alone inspiring message. The ugly divisiveness and anger (righteous or otherwise) of the last four years have made it hard for anyone to crawl out of the trenches, wipe the mud from their collar, and effectively communicate something like hope. I want the FDR/Churchill gloss on “Things are shitty. They may be shitty for a while. We have to get through this.” Certainly there’s a speechwriter out there who can put it better than I can. Certainly there’s a politician out there that could put it better than our current president. Or barring that, an ex-president? Beyonce? Tom Hanks from quarantine?
Until then, I have to settle for crazy old man in Floyd County, singing on his porch. And listen,I know I’m lucky to be where I am right now. In a nice house. With plenty of food and books and records. With a place I can go outside. With neighbors I love and trust, even if I can’t get within six feet of them for the indefinite future. “I can be happy anywhere?” Is that a threat? Is that a promise? Is that wisdom?It’ll have to do.
Picture today was taken in Floyd County, Virginia, a few years ago, when I was up for a summertime music festival, and wandered around its tiny, weird, charming downtown and tried to imagine my way into my grandfather’s youth there.
As of this writing, 82,091 people have recovered from COVID-19.
PS: Thanks to everyone who reached out to see if I was okay following the news of Idris Elba’s diagnosis. It is a tough day for fans of that God Among Us Mere Mortals. Hopefully he recovers quickly. The world truly cannot afford to lose that kind of perfection. Certainly not now, as my friend Rachel would say, “in this economy.”