Plague Diary: February 15, 2021

COVID / Plague Diaries

So you know I’m not a big fan of Valentines Day. It’s a long-running thing. I even have a top flight Valentines Hater origin story that involves high school, embarrassing unrequited love and a traumatic head injury that maybe you’ve heard ( though honestly I pretty much hated Valentine’s Day well before that). I don’t like red roses or filled chocolates. I don’t think it’s an accident that most of the best songs are the ones about how people tend to disappoint you (I may have made a mixtape for you at some point to that effect). I don’t like flirting, first dates and all the traditional expectations of at least nominally heterosexual relationships. But I’m not an unromantic person, and have an ego, bruised as it may be, so think it’s absolute bullshit that people don’t try harder to sweep me off my feet. Like, WTF, Cupid? Stop messing around with Psyche and get with the program already.

People used to call and check in with me on February 14 to get a blistering earful of my best ornery Miss Lonelyhearts. It was a reliable schtick that often ended with me sitting at a bar with other single people talking shit about the newly encoupled. That sounds like sour grapes and I can’t wholly deny the accusation. After all, new love is a world-class high and if it holds, a dual income is a real game changer when it comes to housing options. But like most drugs, love feels great when it’s happening to you and pretty tedious when you’re friend is telling you for the fifth or seventy-fourth time that with Steve it’s really different, like, really, for really real, not at all like it was with Sean and Scott and whatshisface from the gym . Besides, we were all still young enough in those days to worry the people our friends were before they fell in love, got married, had children were never coming back (some of them didn’t, most did eventually).

These days I’m not so hung up on Love or Lack Thereof. After years of worrying about becoming a sad old Spinster, it would seem that I have settled into Weird Cat Life with considerable ease. It is not such a bad thing to be alone in the world. Sure, it’s possible I’ll end up forgotten and impoverished in old age, dying of something stupid because no one is around to check in on me, but that could just as easily happen the tomorrow if I climb up on the bathroom vanity to change a can light over the sink and slip or whatever. And in the meantime, I have a lot of space to decorate, minimal conflict, and absolutely no one to call a sexist if they assume I’ll make dinner, wash their socks, or learn to appreciate their views on Prog Rock. I have not spent any of quarantine weighing divorce and/or contemplating trading my kids in on the black market. For that, I am truly grateful. And while it is true I hunger for physical affection, I’m not sure that, nearly a year into stay-at-home with all its undeniable, attendant unsexiness , anyone’s actual love life is the stuff of fantasy right now ( I don’t want to know).

But while whatever sting I felt at romantic deprivation on Valentines has mercifully diminished, the day’s proximity—a mere fortnight—from my birthday has brought it’s own Bonus-Size quiver of slings and arrows. Because feeling Overly Single is, on every imaginable level, a more manageable and less existential dilemma than feeling Unrelievably Old. Among other things, you can (at least theoretically) fix for the former. Old is not a thing that improves. It just deepens, and it’s so inevitable and unrelenting, that I can sit here right now, knowing that some portion of you are thinking, “Alison is not that old,” while others are thinking “Thank God, I’m not where she is yet,” and even knowing that I myself will look back on this chapter of my misbegotten career and think, “How much time did I waste in my early middle age worrying about being in my early middle age? Oh to be forty five again!”

But I’m gonna level with you: this age that I am now? It’s terrible. It sucks. It’s the worst. I hate it. And I really hate the idea that, in a few years, I will look back on this age as some comparatively healthful and halcyon youth. That is truly the most depressing thing I can imagine. Because what that tells me is that from here on out, things only get so much worse and harder. I just become more irrelevant and useless. The aches become more unrelenting. The illnesses less beatable. The people I love disappear. The opportunities for a better or more meaningful life, continue to blinker out like the burnt out letters of shabby roadside neon. And I am left with, at best, bittersweet nostalgia for a past that is, at best, a kinda funny anecdote.

That’s without the impending doom of climate change (that will probably be the death of me if I don’t go out first via illness or bathroom can light-related trauma) and the overlay of Covid, which has stolen a year—a year I might have wasted, but a year nonetheless. At least, Covid has an end date, maybe. If I can make to vaccination, if the variants don’t get catastrophically worse before they can figure out a booster, I can maybe travel again and be out in the world and pretend a nice vacation is an actual achievement and not just an expensive, temporary mute button.

45, guys. Seriously.

We all have one life, so we take the good with the bad. This is mine. It is insignificant. It is fine, though, seriously, fine. It is mostly missing the wild, sexy, adventurous bits in the first half that would make the stretch pants, “have you tried a gratitude journal?” and hangovers of this new section feel earned. It is not what I thought it would be, though honestly I don’t remember what I imagined. It was never a plan so much as a mood and a silhouette. On some level, I think I was always a little too superstitious to want anything bad enough to envision a future with actual shade and dimension.

Before Covid. I had some notion of how I would mark the year. I thought I might go sit in mud baths and contemplate the universe in the alien landscape of the desert Southwest with my best friends. I thought my best friend and I might go back to Europe or somewhere tropical. I thought I might plan a party themed around dancing to old 45s (and perhaps he occasional 12” Extended Disco Mix), because I’m a girl with zero meaningful accomplishments but a whole room full of cool records. I

nstead, I guess I’ll quietly meditate on the rest of my life. I suppose I could make some changes. I could do more yoga or stop eating dairy. I could take a page out of the Midlife Crisis Journal favored by the hometown crowd and trade in irony, and glittered, maximalist blasphemy for oatmeal knits, socks with sandals, and woo-tinged self-help. My mother would /will probably tell me to do more volunteering. “And you know it’s never too late for grad school.”

But, like, why? Will that make a difference? Does older adulthood, like life after high school, get better? (Be honest. It’s not like I haven’t already imagined the worst)

Somebody called and asked a couple of days ago what I wanted for my birthday. I’ll tell you: I want a Bloody Mary brunch and a massage, then a new dress and an Edie Sedgwick-inspired makeover, then I want to go out with my friends, and sometime, too late to be reasonable, I’d like to find myself on a dance floor, dancing to “Fame” ( both the Bowie version and the Irene Cara version) with a bunch of drag queens in a cloud of sparkly confetti. Then I’d like to fly to the Italian coast for a week . You know, normal middle aged lady stuff.

But it’s 2021 and I do not have that life, so I have to readjust. I want cheap dresses and cheaper tulle skirts and novels. I want fancy cheese and gin. I want my front door repaired and a new humidifier. I want a sunny day. I want to see a friend in person. I want consider the future without being sidelined by regret and dread. I want to look forward to something, not shuffle onward with a resigned sigh and sensible shoes, hoping that a multivitamin, magical thinking, and a chirpy inspirational quote will somehow keep the whole ship afloat. Honestly? I really just want a b-side that goddamn slaps.

Thirteen days ‘til 45. Tomorrow is Mardi Gras, my second favorite holiday. So laissez les bon temps rouler, weirdos. Please be gloriously hedonistic (but also Covid-safe) out there.

Picture today is of yours truly at her first birthday, when I was probably also, already having an existential crisis.

As of this writing 81,877,363 people have recovered from Covid-19. 173 million vaccine doses have been administered globally.

Plague Diary: February 11, 2021

COVID / Plague Diaries

When I was a freshman in college, inclined to stomp around the idyllic campus of my toney women’s college in leather outerwear and combat boots like I might hit Thunderdome on the way to Art History class, I signed up for a psych study to test for Seasonal Affective Disorder, because they offered to pay me $15, which, in those days was enough to buy a carton of Camel Lights and cup of coffee+100% tip at the Waffle House up the rural highway from the school. I sat in a dark room answering a personality inventory looking a few slides, ultimately flummoxing the two students doing the study.

“Oh my god,” they said. “It’s like you have the reverse of this. It’s like you’re actually happier in the winter. How weird!” They were both tall and blonde, a matched pair of Malibu Barbies, the kind of girls that had tanlines in February because they’d spent short term doing a bikini internship in South Beach, the kind of girls for whom summer as a concept exists.

I remember thinking, “I am a fat, indoorsy, pasty, ginger-adjacent misanthrope with a whole galaxy of moles and thunder thighs who has managed to get sunburned in the UK in February and currently favors a wardrobe that is 90% black tights. From a strictly practical standpoint, does it surprise you that I’d prefer winter?” Then I probably stalked out humming Jesus and Mary Chain lyrics under my breath, as I chainsmoked on the brittle winter grass under a sickly sky. I probably thought, though I never would have admitted it at the time, that I looked pretty cool. (I didn’t).

For the next few years, I liked to brag about having Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder, as it if were some kind of official diagnosis and not a result of a 20 year old’s pre-Buzzfeed Buzzfeed quiz. I’m sure I did it in some ironic, blasé way, like, “I mean, total cliché, right?” inviting people to make fun of me, while simultaneously thinking that summer was for chumps and boors, the crass, the conservative, the shallow, the banal, the grossly commercial, the sort of people who would willingly wear shorts and sandals and choose to live in, like, Florida or Southern California. As opposed to, say, Seattle or Scotland or any other place that bands I liked were from.

Being into winter was a stance, a reflection of how cool and tough you were as a person, a move that justified wearing fashionable layers and keeping a closet full of boots, vintage coats and sweaters. Of course, being into winter was not such a heavy lift when you lived south of the Mason-Dixon line, in the kind of New South southern sprawl city where there is roughly one snowplow per million pairs of flip-flops and an inch of snow elicits panic at the supermarket. My “Winter,” even then, in the pre-Deep Climate Change years of occasional deep-ish snow, was a heavily 48 degrees Fahrenheit and cloudy phenomenon, in which you could comfortably chainsmoke outside the coffeeshop in January in a hoodie and a motorcycle jacket and feel zero pain.

It wasn’t real winter, which was not a thing I remember walking into until sometime the late 1990s when I exited a hotel on my birthday in an insufficient (but cute!) vintage coat into February in Chicago and it felt like an aggravated assault. I spent that night shivering and drinking whiskey and having a bit of an identity crisis. Who was I? A weak person? A warm weather person? God forbid, a summer person? Three days later, I flew to Austin, Texas and stepped off the plane into bright sunlight and about 75 degrees at 6pm and tried to make myself hate it.

Reader: I could not.

Because the truth is I loved warm weather. I’d always loved it. I loved swimming and beaches and bright sunlight. I loved dusks that went on forever and peaches and cherries and being able to walk outside wearing barely more than a sundress and being able to go about in the world without looking for gloves. I liked the feel of an impossibly warm wind that would blow across salt water and make you feel like you were flying. I love the heavy lush of peak summer when the green felt so dense and liquid you might slip into it and come out the other side just a mess of vines and gardenia and mosquito repellant.

So I very carefully, very quietly, stopped telling the Reverse Seasonal Depression story, because it was obviously bullshit. And though I loved my winter wardrobe—I mean, I do truly ove a good sweater and a nice pair of boots—I also loved the porch all day. I stocked up on sunscreen and wide brimmed hats. I learned to set my beach chair under an umbrella. I embraced sandals (within limits). I still avoid shorts (I have some self-respect), but I leaned hard into hot weather.

And twenty-odd years later, I still live in a place where I’ve never had to shovel snow in my life. I have friends now that never knew me when I was in my winter era. They give me a hard time about the summer thing. They don’t like the heat or the sweat or the bugs and all of that is valid. VALID. They’re also probably cooler than I am, or at least they actually know how to look like a badass and not a swollen marshmallow in a puffy coat and a beanie. Or else they have attractive throw blankets and candles that smell like boreal forests. They have Fair Isle ski sweaters and actually know how to pronounce “hygge.” They’re the kind of people who see a snow flake and think “magic,” as opposed to “Oh Christ, I should probably start rationing the alcohol.”

It’s not that I’m entirely opposed to cold weather. I’m rather fond of November, in fact, which tends to have a lot of dramatic clouds and limb-rattling winds and if you want to stand around on the deck and let your scarf unfurl around you like Gothic heroine on some poetic promontory (and who doesn’t?). January is tough, though, and February (the month of my birth) is always pretty brutal, even, maybe especially on the years when it’s mild. BECAUSE YOU NEVER KNOW.

That’s this year by the way. And this year is worse because the only way to do anything at all other than stare at a screen and write about your cold weather trauma is to be outside and outside right now is bullshit. There are not enough leather jackets and cute vintage coats in the world to make it bearable. Mostly because of the rain, which feels endless. Even with umbrellas and wellies and rainjackets, outside is mostly just an endless, lonely, muddy squish through the neighborhood.

I’m trying to stay positive, because winter will end and the particular conditions that make this winter so godawful will also (at least, theoretically) end. Spring will breeze through on a cloud of pollen and pent up frustration. The temperatures will rise. The days will lengthen. I’ll stow the sweaters in a drawer with a bunch of mothballs and eat peaches and burrata for days and feel like a human being again.

In the meantime, I’m trying to remember if there was ever a grain of truth to my youthful Winter fandom. Is there some part of my past I can channel? If I pull out the Doc Martens and stomp around my yard with Jesus and Mary Chain in the headphones, might I find some momentary reprieve in the Big Dumb Sad Angry of yore? The groundhog saw his shadow and it’s 36 days until spring. Worth a shot, I guess.

Picture today is of me in Central Park, peak Winter Layers era (circa 1997).

As of this writing, 80,317,150 people have recovered from Covid-19. Globally, 159 million vaccine doses have been administered.

Plague Diary: January 28, 2021

COVID / Plague Diaries

Plague Diary, January 27, 2021: A few weeks ago, a presidential election and a failed coup ago, I drove over to Hillsborough, to sit outside on a cold day, in a winter brown yard, ten feet away from a friend, the way you do when you’re trying to survive a pandemic. I stopped on the way for a short walk around the historic center of town, so I could feel like a tourist, and shuffled past the newly restored Colonial Inn. People were sitting on the front porch between heat lamps, enjoying a leisurely brunch, which is a thing I can hardly imagine myself doing. I peered in the windows to see the new interior, and saw a bunch of people in the interior dining room, also enjoying a leisurely brunch, which is a thing that feels about as unthinkable to me, at present, as joining a mass singing and nose-blowing event in an unventilated cruise ship cabin with a bunch of handsy, unvaccinated elderly nudists.  But unlike The Great Snort, the Great Interior Unmasked Brunch didn’t look so bad, and I found myself temporarily incapable of my typical righteous indignation at people seeming to happily and steadfastly carrying on as if we weren’t still living in a plague. I wasn’t mad. I wasn’t frustrated or smug.  I was just kind of sad. Because that used to be my life.

I remember what it felt like to walk inside a nice warm place that smelled good and looked different than your living room on a cold winter day. The ambient chatter and dishes and inoffensive jazz or whatever in the background. The food someone else cooked for you, that someone else would clean up for you, and conversation with the friend across the table that would maybe restore your mood if the Bloody Mary didn’t. Standing outside with my face pressed against the glass (metaphorically, I was masked, and standing 10-12 feet away), I felt a tug of desire so profound, I could have walked right in and sat right down at the slightest encouragement, if the wind at hit me the right way. I’m not exactly wishy washy on this quarantine thing. It’s been almost a year since I’ve been to Target, and a couple of months since I last went to the supermarket in person.  I had a beer outside on a public patio the day they called the election back in November, and I basically had to come home and take a Xanax. So I know. And I wouldn’t. But like–the temptation. Sitting across the table and seeing my friends smile and laugh? Having a drink and reading in a fancy hotel lobby bar. I love a fancy hotel lobby bar.  Even if you’re a local, and especially if you’re staying at the much less fancy hotel down the street, because hotel lobbies are a great place to disappear into a different life for a while.

I can’t seem to escape myself into that whole different life thing right now. It’s probably the biggest reason why I look at all half-finished plays and fiction projects that seemed just the thing for Covid escapism and I feel like any useful part of my imagination has just dissipated. I can’t even come  up with dumb puns for ads. I think that’s because, though I may be booking  hypothetical vacations in between the Zoom meetings, I know I’m not going anywhere anytime soon (and I typed that sentence before I read that the More Vaccine Resistant South African Covid variant is afoot and enjoying community spread  in the other Carolina). In this context, does imagining a different life make me feel better or worse? I don’t know. I don’t like that.

My little sister called yesterday admitted that she couldn’t figure out whether to feel hopeful or hopeless about the future. I was stymied by both how accurately she described the feeling and  for the appropriate response. Do I give voice to my actual worst fears? Do I throw in the unfolding climate crisis for fun? Do I try to make my little sister, who I love more than just about anything and I haven’t seen in almost a year, feel better? Is it more helpful to be confronted with the worst case scenario upfront and in the face? Is it better to, as both of my parents (divorced, but still somewhat psychologically aligned) parents say, think positive? Didn’t I just read another article today predicting that the next few months will be brutal and we should steel ourselves? Haven’t I read that article at least once a week since March 2020? I’m not Superman. There’s only so long I can pretend I’m impervious before inevitable stress fractures.

I say this because I can understand why people are doing crazy shit right now. I’m not talking about the militia member conspiracy theorists or the kids (they’re still alright, as I understand it, fighting the power and doing sea shantys on Tik Tok) or whatever Jim Jordan and his cohorts are up to.  People are buying wildly overpriced houses in places I’m not at all sure they’re going to want to live in 12-18 months. People are getting way into Peloton. Friends are adopting puppies in the dead of winter with children in the house and nowhere to escape when they all start to cry at the same time. Friends are making fine-stitch knit blankets and taking up petit-point. At least two far left, secular academic friends (comrades?) up and started the process to convert to Catholicism (I failed at both the radical left and The Church, and both times just ended up back in the theatre). A couple more started selling real estate (see above) or stocks. Lots of people I respect and admire seem to have a lot of sudden respect and admiration for Taylor Swift (don’t get it, and I love dumb pop songs) and most of my favorite journalistic outlets have spent most of this week inexplicably obsessed with what a bunch of nerds are doing with video game store stock (don’t care and I’m too broke to gamble/invest). A couple of otherwise absolutely sane, pro-Science, Covid-believing people are planning elaborate trips for the near future, vaccine be damned. At least one of them invited me along and I wanted to go so bad it hurt. Like physically hurt. Because it would be so easy. It would be so easy to click a button, buy a ticket, let the chips fall as they may.

But Alison, you say, Alison. The vaccine is coming. Why start walking when the finish line is in sight? And of course you’re right.  I’m a human being, though, operating at the edge of what feels reasonable with a real faith deficit given the fact that I’ve spent, at minimum, forty odd weeks an unwitting participant in a collaborative global demonstration of Murphy’s Law. I am tired. I am sore. I am having a hard time putting effort into doing anything right now because all of it, frankly, feels like it might get obliterated at any moment. There is absolutely nothing I can do other than what I am doing and what I am doing is nothing.

Yesterday, I stood up in the middle of a ridiculously busy workday, surrounded by piles of work I hardly even know how to start, and drove out to a dairy on the outskirts of town and bought a chocolate milk shake curbside for lunch. I sat in the car in a muddy pull-off across the street, sucking at the straw and contemplating the unfolding pastures under a sky so flawlessly blue it seemed impossible it was winter and would, in fact, snow about twelve hours later. My phone buzzed with emails. I didn’t read them. I just at the sky and enjoyed the way the chocolate coated my tongue. 

When I was nineteen, and very unhappy, I used to sit in the strip mall parking lot outside the record store where my roommate worked, car pointed west, and think, “It would be so easy for me to leave. Start driving. If I had just a few more dollars, a word of encouragement. I would be gone.” Of course I never had a few more dollars. I never had a friend dumb enough to encourage me. I never went. It wouldn’t have been practical. It wouldn’t have been smart. It would have been dangerous and selfish. I don’t want to be either of those things.

Quarantine is tough for escapists. Maybe tougher for escape fantasists, because what do we have to imagine we’re running to but something so much worse.

I finished my milk shake. I drove home. I painted pictures of parties from the past until I got tired enough to sleep, because I, well, I couldn’t even dream of what the future might look like.

As of this writing, 73,819,457 people have recovered from Covid 19. More than 86.4 million vaccine doses have been administered worldwide.

Picture today is of the party paintings on my kitchen table.

Plague Diary, January 26, 2021:

COVID / Dresses / Plague Diaries

My parents got vaccinated yesterday. All three of them. They’re all over 65, and had been trying to get an appointment somewhere for days. Here, in my state, the various county health departments and large urban health care entities seem to have no functional system for handling the people that want a shot. There are theoretical appointment times, a theoretical waitlist for a phone call in which you might get an appointment time. But mostly you just sit around and refresh a webpage moment after moment, day after day. Or some friend or relative who gets an appointment calls and tells you they’ve opened up vaccines—“ACT FAST!”– in some distant rural county, where they have a sudden glut of vaccines. Then your parents get in a car and drive 30+ miles away, and you hope they won’t have an anaphylactic reaction in a parking lot behind whatever church/closed elementary school/dead mall that is currently standing in for a vaccination site.

My mother and stepfather went to Lake Lure, a small resort community a couple counties over built around the eponymous water feature. It’s a weird place to go for a vaccine because Lake Lure is a weird place to go for anything that doesn’t involve a boozy lake house weekend and maybe some Swayze-based nostalgia (“Dirty Dancing” was, in part, filmed there).  They’d been tipped off about the Lake Lure vaccines by my Dad, who had been tipped off by my Aunt Molly, who’d been tipped off by who knows what friend of hers. 

Vaccine info is the new Hot Gossip among Boomers, at least among the pro-Science, anti-Q-Anon variety of Boomers. As always I feel grateful that my folks are reasonably sane on that front. It’s nice to not have to convince my loved ones that Covid is real or that Joe Biden isn’t selling nice white Christian children on the black market to Hilary Clinton and her cannibal lizard cronies. About the worst I generally have to deal with is trying to explain the concept of tone policing in protest movements and why, when you give the homeless man in the supermarket parking lot a ride to the shelter (great!), you should probably open the windows, offer him a mask and certainly wear one yourself.  My people are good people and I love them, but the truth is I’d still be relieved that they’d been vaccinated regardless.

Mom called afterwards to report that she felt fine and that she cried after she got the shot I called Dad later (with a glass of wine) and he gave a similar assessment, sans tears.

“Can’t wait for you to get vaxxed too,” he said.

“I’m thinking, if I’m really, really lucky, that will be somewhere between August and October 2021,” said I, a healthy forty-five year old woman with no preexistings and a job I can work from home.

“Bud, I think it could be April,” he said.

And I laughed and thought that was exactly the kind of whimsical optimism that makes me love my parents. I didn’t mention that a friend of mine had said, on Sunday, that she thought it would be well into 2022 before the likes of either of us got a shot.

Still, I spend a lot of time these days looking at hotel websites at places in other countries I am technically not allowed to travel to right now. I pick out rooms. I plan vacations. I wonder who I would invite to come along. I sometimes poke around shopping for travel outfits.  After all, I’ve never been a person particularly comfortable hanging out in pajamas (honestly, most of my pajamas are not that comfortable) anyway.  One critical component to my mental health has been getting up, getting a shower, getting dressed, even if dressed is just clean gym clothes and lip balm. I also tend to put on shoes around the house, which I’m aware will horrify at least half of you, but I like the thought that I’m ready to go at a moment, should be needed, even if the odds are I will not (I also kind of like my shoes and my clothes and can anthropomorphize anything.  So I’m always operating with a touch of “Leopard heels! Satin shell with the giant bow: I promise I haven’t forgotten you! You are all loved! And  honestly, people are weird about secondhand goods during Covid and I can’t begin to  figure out the donation hours at the PTA thrift store right now, so I couldn’t even give you away right now if I wanted to!).

Yesterday, while I was talking to dad, thinking about the potential for vaccination (far flung as it may be), dreaming about travel, I was wearing a polka dot dress I’d bought years back for trip to Ireland. I thought it was purple when I ordered it, and that it would be appropriate for a Wilde statue pilgrimage in Dublin. As it happened, the dress was navy and Oscar lounged permanently in the square across from our hotel, so we ended up there just off the plane before I even had a chance to change. But the dress ended up being kind of perfect otherwise, for that trip and maybe a half-dozen others to various places both foreign and domestic afterward. Whenever I put it on, I feel a hankering to go out of my way to walk down a street, just to see where it goes, even if that street is just a cul-de-sac in the next suburban neighborhood over from mine. Maybe there’s something cool there.

You do what you have to so you don’t end up pacing the living room and forgetting the way the air feels and the world smells when you’re in a place beyond the allowable travel distance—the supermarket, the forest at the end of the block– in January 2021.

“April is a good month for travel,” I said, even though I knew I wouldn’t, I couldn’t, there’s no way.

“Sure is,” said he.

But hope springs eternal. We all have to have our fantasies. And you know, I already have the dress for it.

Picture (taken by father) today is of me in the dress at Trinity College in Dublin circa 2015.

As of this writing, 72,728,091 people have recovered from Covid-19. 68,153,138 vaccine doses have been administered worldwide .

Lady Business

Personal History / Uncategorized / Women

Six years ago, I was having a cocktail with a friend. She’d recently crossed the threshold into Later 40s and was grumbling about the myriad issues that accompanied what she called “the slow train to crone town.” I nodded along, giving the occasional sympathetic smile or the expected “oh, yeah, totally, right,” but I was only half-invested. I was not quite forty at the time, and though I was the kind of youngish person who had been describing herself as “old” since approximately eighth grade, I didn’t really think of myself that way. I was still trying to learn about new hip hop and fretting whether I was wearing the right jeans to fit in at art parties. I went to shows. I didn’t have any kids or any savings. I was single. By any material measure, I was still just starting out.

My friend let me nod along for a while before taking a good swig of bourbon and sighing. She said, “You’re thinking this is not going to happen to you, but it’s going to creep up sooner than you think and when  you least expect it.  So buckle up, because your 40s are tragic and weird.”

It’s unlikely she had the foresight know just how tragic weird my 40s were going to be. We were still months away from Trump and years away from Covid. She meant, simply, the ordinary particulars of being a human woman in your forties, which I could maybe describe as horror movie material, but that makes it sound way more cool and interesting than it actually is.

I knew it was coming. My mother was pretty forthright with me as she was living through it. She kicked off her fortieth decade with a divorce and the death of her father then slid through job loss, recession, and bunch of scary medical issues in the first half. Mom said that she’d never had any realistic advice on how to get through middle age. Her own mother, Nana, was a woman who thought nothing of getting into a shouting match with any highway patrolman foolish enough to give her a ticket and boasted about her ability to endure dental surgery with no painkillers, so not exactly a World Champ on the empathy front. As a result, Mom offered instructive advice while having a maternal excuse to vent about what was happening to her.

Every now and then a memory catches on something said to me (something about what does and does not work to cover gray) but I was I was in my teens and early twenties then, still bound up tight in the solipsistic fog of youth, sincerely concerned that if I did not make something of myself by twenty-five I might be doomed to sadness and obscurity forever. I didn’t have time to listen to Mom discuss the vagaries of hormonal flux. I didn’t have time to discuss what time would do to my body because at the time I still thought time was a renewable resource

And it was, until suddenly it wasn’t.

I don’t remember the first time I picked up on the idea that something had gone kinda sideways. It was nothing so simple or obvious as a fresh crop of gray hairs (I’m still holding out, on that front). It was more uncomfortable, internal, unsettling. Things weren’t happening to me the way they were supposed to. Things hurt, for one thing. I went to the doctor with my complaints and was told repeatedly I was just anxious (“You’re totally turning 40 soon. That would absolutely make me anxious,” said a perky 27 year old resident) and that nothing was physically wrong with me. Then something was physically wrong with me. Then it wasn’t. The clock reset under different conditions with the same results. The pops, squeaks, grumbles, mumbles, aches, itches, spells of great sadness, fear, fury, frustration all continued apace, and a lot of nice people with more degrees and way higher science grades than I ever had tried to attribute it to nerves, to food, to exercise and lack thereof, to invisible cysts, hypothetical tumors, a raft of what if diagnoses vague as the test results. Ultimately it was , my OB-GYN, a woman, not so much older than I am, of considerable empathy, wit, and hard-won honesty, who finally looked at me and said, “You know . . . you are a woman in your forties.”

I am in my forties.

I am a woman.

Both of these things are complicated. All of the complications inform each other. I don’t want to blow anyone’s mind here, but it’s tough being a woman. And it also sucks being in your 40s. There’s the whole Bottom of U, thing, in which researchers suggest people spend the decade scraping the floor of the happiness curve for a whole wide variety of reasons, up to and including the illness and death of parents, our suddenly aging bodies, the dawning realization of our own mortality, the creepy suspicion turned 100 foot skywritten message that “Hey, the way you’re life was going to go? Maybe time to start making some serious downward adjustments.” I’m sure I would feel super weird and uncomfortable about being in my forties if I were a dude too. Certainly the midlife crisis runs in the family. It might have played out differently in the all the traditionally coded masculine ways. Like, I might have started hitting on age-inappropriate partners at the bar. I might get so freaked out about my heart and my impending demise that I try to extend myself into the infinite with body building or whittle myself into sinews trying to outrun mortality on the back of wildly expensive bicycle. I might be more likely to buy a boat and fashion myself an admiral. I might risk my life trying to climb something dangerous in some Tough Guy showdown with God or whatever. I might not have spent so much money trying to buy my way out of fear for the future via multiple pairs of glam rock boots and glittery sneakers (but knowing me, even me as a dude, probably not).

Maybe I’d be more confident, less appearance obsessed, because I’d know it just wouldn’t matter as much to people. Maybe I’d see myself on some upward sweep of professional satisfaction, because I’d believe the only thing holding me back was ambition or lack thereof. It would be easier to navigate the workplace without having to constantly walk the impossible high wire between not overwhelming men by appearing too aggressive and not giving so much that you allow yourself to become erased. Maybe if I had the privilege and trust of knowing that I’d be taken somewhat seriously, I might not spend so much time grappling with the best way to be heard.

Here’s something: I suspect the dude version of me would be able to walk into a doctor’s office, point their abdomen, and say, “Look, everything hurts. Everything is swollen. I don’t know where one problem starts and the other begins. My skin is weird. My hair is weird. My emotional make-up is middle school bathroom stall dire. “ And I feel like that dude version of me would get a “This is exactly how we fix that, pard.”

Because the real difference between being a man in your forties and a woman in your forties is that men aren’t also dealing with a whole section of their anatomy reconfiguring, restructuring and starting to cease production.  This is an uncomfortable and confusing process, which feels a little like puberty but without the implicit promise of Better Days Ahead at its conclusion. And to make matters worse, the world doesn’t really know what to do with women in their forties. Are they harridans? Are they hags? Should they start acting their age? Should they start dressing like a grandma? Should they start dressing like Sofia Loren? Should they shuffle off quietly and stop taking up space? Are they objects of pity? Are they objects of respect?

As it is, the muddle of What to do with  Women in their Forties seems to extend past clothes and casting choices, dating sites and psychological profiles back to the health community, where the generalized response feels like a  mixed bag of maybe hormones, maybe antidepressants, and “have you tried yoga?”  But that’s not fair. There are surgical fixes. You can solve the problem of being a woman in your forties by cutting out the whole framework, and fast forward to being a woman in your fifties. Plenty of women do this, by choices and necessity. They are fine with this. On paper I should be too, after all I’ve never wanted to utilize said framework for its intended childbearing purpose. It’s mostly been an expensive, messy, crampy bag of tricks I neither needed or wanted

Still,  the first time someone told me they thought a hysterectomy was the best solution to all my problems, I spent about a hour crying in the parking lot outside the doctor’s office. I couldn’t even tell you why . It wasn’t about the immediate end of my fertility–I’m almost forty-five, for Christ sake. Even if I wanted it, even in the best and most perfect Hail Mary (no pun intended) circumstances, I’m not putting a bun in the oven. Nor was it the whole Express Train to Actual Menopause thing. Again, I’ve had friends plenty of friends who’ve had it all out. They were fine. They are fine.

It was just . . .it was just . . .

Youth takes youth for granted, right? We never spend our early lives doing what our later lives kind of wish we had. Regret makes us human, but so does hope, specifically the hope that no matter how improbable, no matter how late in the game, we may be able to seize onto tsome last long summer afternoon and make it mean something before night falls and the season changes.

What I suppose I was upset about in the car was the undeniable fact that I am no longer a young woman. And (I say this with considerable shame at my own dismay) that I never really got the chance to enjoy the things that young women are supposed to. All the dumb, boring cis hetero princess stuff . The whole center of the reel that comprises the section between childhood and the onset of middle age in thr movie. I never felt beautiful walking into a room. I never felt someone’s eyes on me that confirmed it. I never had a decent love affair, let alone one with someone who loved me back. I never got asked to prom. I never received a love letter. I never had anyone tell me they loved me in a romantic way. I never fielded a serious proposal. I never had to think particularly hard about the kid thing, because I have never been in the kind of substantive relationship in which the idea was even remotely up for discussion.

I understand that (prom and babies aside) most of those things can/could/will continue to be things I might experience, regardless of my technical reproductive status. But it’s annoying and bewildering because now it feels like there was never any to my ever having had to deal with any of this lady bullshit. Thirty years of Ibprofen and not wearing white jeans. A lifetime of conditioning and sexism, all built on some baseline assumption about the kind of life I would end up living, even when, especially when, it was never exactly the life I wanted. It’s like I don’t want it, but I would have liked to be able to reject it to its face. And at the end of the day, I feel like what I’ve mostly gotten out of being a woman is ease of wearing crinolines in public, mascara, the ability to maintain loving, empathetic relationships with other women, and the fact that it’s easier to avoid mowing a lawn or going to war.

Sometimes, maybe two or three days of the month these days, when I am sore and exhausted inside and out, I fantasize about being the dude I’m not. He’s some Wildean character, probably named Ambrose or Basil, who wears gorgeous bespoke suits and lavender silk smoking jackets. He’s always perfectly groomed and  impeccably barbered. He travels extensively, anywhere he wants to go, and never worries about going alone. He hosts magnificent salons in some elaborate library and his guests always find him to be charming and mysterious. His love life is uncomplicated by expectation.  Catch me in the right day in the right mood and I’ll tell you that being Ambrose would remove a lot of bullshit stress from my life, and allow me to be myself without so many qualifiers.

But this is not a coming out story. I don’t really want to be a man, not the least of which because being Ambrose is a much a fantasy as imagining myself as, say, Cate Blanchett. Men, (even, especially men like Ambrose) have their own shit, after all. They have to deal with masculinity, which, as a concept, is both hilarious and terrifying. And most of them are too hung up on all that stuff to realize that they could wear crinolines and mascara and love their other male friends in an purely empathetic and uncomplicated way. Maybe because people keep trying to make them go to war. Probably because they’re constantly worried that someone might make them mow the lawn.

I didn’t end up having to schedule a hysterectomy. The doctor found another solution, surgical, but less invasive and less final to help deal with cause of some of the aches and pains (“Did you know your fibroids are big enough that’s kind of like you’re five months pregnant?” she said. And I said, “Glad I’m not,” and meant it).  That means all the old parts in the attic will continue wind down naturally, and possibly drive me slowly insane in process. I’ll have a little more time to get used to the idea and maybe do one of those stupid thought exercises where I focus on what might yet happen instead of whatever I think I’ve missed. I have plenty of time, after all, or rather, I have just enough dumb human hope to still convince myself that I do.

Picture today is of an always comforting pile of crinolines (not mine). I can’t take credit for it.

Plague Diary, January 16, 2021

COVID / Personal History / Plague Diaries

When I was nineteen, I used to go see bands play at a small-dingy rental house across the railroad tracks from the university. In those lazy, hazy, safety-pinned gas station jacket days of yore, I used sit (gingerly) on the moldering brown sofa on the deteriorating front porch between sets, smoking cigarettes and listening to the people around me discuss radical politics in between arguments about whether charging more than $5 at the door started a slippery slope that might end in collaborating with murderous oligarchs to bring about a new age of darkness and injustice, or, as you may know it “agreeing to hear out the offer from the major label A&R guy.”

These conversations were pretty loud—they had to be to be heard over the clamorous racket seeping out from inside. I’d agree with my cynical roommate that all the self-identified anarcho-communists in buzz cuts and skate shoes were kind of ridiculous. But even as we rolled our eyes, I wasn’t immune to their charms. I was, then, still technically a teenager—and a socially awkward, annoyingly horny heterosexual one at that. Some of those boys had nice cheekbones beneath their patchy, barely-post adolescent scruffs of beard and pretty eyes under their thrift store frames. They didn’t sound like hardened men of action, but excitable, half-embarrassed boys and I was the kind of eighteen/nineteen-year-old girl who could almost always find something lovely and bewitchingly vulnerable in an eighteen/nineteen-year-old boy, even the skinny-armed, dirty ones who went to great lengths to look anything but. I figured if any of them marched off into revolution, I would probably follow along, just to see what would happen.

In my bedroom, I had a shelf of books about historical revolutions with creased spines and dogeared pages. So I knew what became of most real-life revolutions and revolutionaries but couldn’t quit the thought of a romantic view from the top of the barricades and secret fantasies about the person I might become in some shining moment of glorious and righteous rebellion. A terrible beauty, you know, but still, like, beautiful*

The myopic fog that insulates teenagers from thinking too hard about things outside themselves was particularly dense in the mid-90s. I don’t subscribe to much of the old generational cohort astrology, but those of us who stumbled into young adulthood during the Clinton administration definitely came up at a weird time. All the big stuff had already happened, we thought. The end of the Cold war left a warm, comforting Hasselhoffian lightbulb jacket afterglow from the rubble of the Berlin Wall that, even seven years later, enabled us to safely imagine, grand conflict. Hadn’t we reached the end of history? Hadn’t we managed to hit puberty without dying in a nuclear apocalypse? Didn’t that mean, as long as we recycled and went vegetarian, we were kind of off the hook?

Of course, there is a big different between things not happening and things not happening to you and yours. There were wars, several historic genocides, famine, plague, ongoing violence all over the world in the early to mid 90s. Even my immediate world was shaped by history. AIDS still ran rampant, then. There was widespread sexism, systemic racism, and plenty of violent bigotry directed at the LGBTQ community. There were a lot of things we didn’t notice and probably more we chose not to. Not just that terrible things were happening, but that weird eddies of nervous energy, boredom, and frustration would probably incite ugliness and violence down the line.

It was only a few months before I started attending those house shows that Timothy McVeigh, a twenty-six-year-old anti-government, white supremacist conspiracy theorist drove a Ryder truck full of explosives into the parking garage of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and committed the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in US History. As with so much else, I barely registered McVeigh, save the peripheral headline, the word terrorism, which white Americans so rarely apply to their own. But by the end of the decade, after Columbine and Woodstock 99 , after an awful lot of people didn’t realize “Fight Club” was a satire, after a couple generations realized there was nothing more fun than stirring shit on the internet, I probably should considered that the great mass uprising looming twenty-five years in the future that would swarm the capitol and bring government to a standstill would belong to McVeigh’s heirs. I should have recognized that some of the boys I knew, boys who started exactly where I did, at age nineteen, would somehow slip into the current of history and disappointing adulthood and emerge out the other side adult men inflamed by conspiracy theory, willfully blinkered by the sputtering grievance of their oblivious privilege.

I never expected to run into those dudes in any of my circles. Not now anyway. I thought I’d done a pretty good job keeping the fascists out of my bubbles, but evidently the last few days gave new voice to the lurkers from way back when. It’s particularly jarring when someone you recall as having a conscience and a care changes into someone spewing Q Anon cannibal nonsense and defending the capitol insurrectionists as heroes, martyrs, and the only thing standing between Real Americans and deranged socialists like Joe Biden(would that it were so).

When I complained about it, in a much pithier post, a friend commented: “Fantasies of violent revolution or uprising are psychopumps for escapists on the left and the right, I suppose. Young, white men seem the most disconnected from reality by virtue of their privilege and myths.”

That sounded right. Young people can be naïve, disconnected inclined toward mythmaking. Like me watching the boys in the grass after the punk rock shows. But the it’s not just that the empty, ugly nihilism of this Trumpist rebellion appeals to young white men, but that it appeals to people my age and older, who started on the same path as I did, with all the same time to figure their shit out, with all the time in the world to know better. Yet here they arrive at the other end, so disconnected from any recognizable reality that it’s hard for me to imagine that we came from the same galaxy let alone the same shared past.

Now, on the brink of whatever we’re on the brink of, they seem to be gearing up for whatever they’re gearing up for. I grieve for the days when things felt peaceful enough that I wished for something, for anything, to happen. Now I feel old and sore. I’m tired. I’m scared. I’m frustrated. I’m stuck in my house during a pandemic, worried about everybody I love. And, like, now I have to think about this? Now? Seriously? Now?

Now, I guess.

What a total bummer.

Picture is of a wall in Genoa, circa Spring 2016. As of this writing, 67,178, 350 people have recovered from Covid-19.

*As God is my witness, I will try and stop it with the Yeats in 2021.

Plague Diary: January 11, 2021


I have a terrible resume.

It lists exactly three jobs, one of which I’ve had (in some for or fashion) for over twenty years, some meaningless corporate jargon, an award I won in college, and as little as possible about my unimpressive college career at a couple of unimpressive state universities. I tried to add some flair once by with a section where I said Iiked rhinestones, unintentionally homoerotic religious art, urban decay, socialism, pirates, and local politics. All of those things are true, but a person that didn’t hire me once confided that the list was doing me no favors. So I just left it at “books and music,” with the hope that it would make me sound demonstratively dull enough that I wouldn’t freak out Janice in accounting.  In the two and half decades that I’ve updated and tried to use it, it has worked exactly thrice for an interview and never for an actual job offer.

It’s not just the poor contents but the flavor and form of the thing. My resume is a head scratcher, a collection of vague and coded language insubstantial and unfulfilling as a water mirage on a hot summer highway.  It’s a bulleted outline of a middle-aged writer with serious credential anxiety who will write just about anything for a buck or two, the middling stats of twenty+ year copywriter who’s never quite been able to decide if she wants to be more than that, and a collection of what ifs, maybes, and almosts that constitute the full portfolio of an author who probably ought to amend the Would-Be to Probably Not. It’s the kind of thing that causes eyes to glaze over in HR departments. And, in fact, in the two and half decades that I’ve tried to use whatever version to achieve gainful employment, it has worked exactly thrice for an interview and never for an actual job offer.

On the plus, I haven’t been on the active job market for a while, which is a good thing. The last time I was in desperate need of work even the ice cream parlor turned me down (I live in a college town, they ended up hiring a kid with a law degree).  I like my job enough as is. I hope it lasts, because it allows me to feel pretend at stability in the critical areas that don’t rhyme with either “current apocalypse” or “mental health.” On the minus, my freelance life has included some number of “revisions” and ghostwritten  cover letters, resumes, application essays, portfolio submissions, and personal statements for other people.  I have a pretty good track record getting anyone but myself a job interview or a place at graduate school, which makes it a teense ironic (tragic?) that I can’t seem to do so for myself.  

Of course, plenty of jobs don’t come from resumes, which is thing I tell anyone who has ever asked me for help with a resume and the very first thing I tell everyone who wants to know how to pick up paid writing gigs.  I like to think I get writing jobs because of my sparkling wit, keen fashion sense, interesting digressions about history and pop music during important meetings, and a solidly B+ work ethic that means I can meet deadlines and (mostly )manage to hold my tongue if an authority figure tells me to do a thing. I also know people, not necessarily people that “know” people in either the secret agent or Hollywood lunch kind of  way, but people who would rather have someone else write a thing for them.

And many of those people also know me, which is to say they know something of  what I consider to be my real resume. This isn’t a document so much as a character sketch. It can be filled in with broad strokes: I like people. I feel more comfortable in a crowd. I own far too many cocktail dresses, books, and records. I spent more years working at a record store than reasonable for an adult woman (and loved it). It includes whimsical flourishes: I give all animals, even wild ones, first names.  I like to arrange flowers. If I were the sort of person who didn’t have to work, I’d hole up in some creaky old villa on the Mediterranean coast and write plays and stories in between hosting parties, and floating around on blue, blue water reading and trying to learn what cool new shit the nereids are getting up to these days. And if you really “know” me, or are perceptive, you’ll know some portion of the flaws and foibles section of real resume. Like that I have a pretty wild, if very short-lived temper. Or that the afore-mentioned authority problem is 1000 times worse if the authority figure is male. Or that I love spontaneity in part because I’d rather have to make a quick decision because otherwise I will mull over it forever. Or that my worry-to-daydream ratio is pretty well balanced, but usually doesn’t leave much time for practical stuff. Or that I spend a lot of time pretty sure I’m pretty bad at anything useful and not even halfway decent at all the trivial shit I choose to do instead.

2020 was a serious Real Resume-builder of a year. I got to add things like survived not seeing family for months and months, utilized the risk-averse side of myself like a rock star, worried like worrying was a full-time job and learned how I functioned and handled stress alone (not so well).

In the first week of new year  it feels like every conversation I have is about some point or another of real resume material, whether it’s friends half-joking (only half now) over Zoom beers  what they would do if an actual Civil War breaks out (I’m going with pacifist who edits the resistance paper because I don’t like hurting people and I’m not giving my temper any extra air), or planning on how to handle a Covid outbreak among family, or listening to a friend facing an almost unimaginable barrage of troubles and crediting her ability to endure on lessons learned by taking big swings and stupid risks when she was young.

That’s the something else about my real resume: I didn’t take the big swings or the stupid risks. I made friends with and wrote stories about people that did. I played it safe and gave myself all kinds of practical justifications for doing so.  I stayed close and did such a good job convincing people it was what I wanted, I managed to convince myself. So even when I did crash and burn, I didn’t have very far to fall, and I always made sure there was convenient fire extinguisher once I got there. Sometimes I wonder if that’s why I don’t handle hardship well, that I’m not handling hardship well.  That it’s not that I’m somehow congenitally ill-equipped for the difficult , but that I’m a coward and a softie and that maybe the worst of what I’ve experienced barely counts as hardship at all.

Or maybe (more likely) that which does not kill us does not make us stronger, it simply leaves us more battered, exhausted, furious, and sad. We’re lucky to come through at all. I’m fragile af these days. We’re only eleven days into 2021 and even if I could conjure up a solid “Rocky” montage, I’d be in no shape for a title fight.  

And here we are on the front lines of history. I don’t know what’s coming. I don’t know how in hell I will handle it, or if I even can handle it. At least half the time, I’m quite sure I don’t want to. But we all have terrible jobs on our dockets and this one? This one sucks.   

Still I try to stay optimistic.  You never know. Maybe I finally figure out what I’m good at. Maybe I learn to do something useful. Maybe the New Yorker finally calls. Maybe the after the chaos and the heartbreak, after the smoke clears, there’s a space for me and a novel on a raft in the blue, blue sea, and maybe a passing Nereid who just wants to swim over and chat about important stuff like HBO shows and Elena Ferrante novel.

I think I have the skill set to handle that job.

Fingers crossed.  

Picture today is of the Mediterranean at peak float.

As of this writing, 65,208,512 people have recovered from COVID-19.

Post-Coup Diary: January 8, 2021

Plague Diaries / Uncategorized

Edwin Booth, actor, famed tragedian, theater manager, and Union supporter was in Boston when he heard the news from Washington. He’d living been in Dorchester with his daughter after the recent death of his wife, setting up for a show at the Boston Theatre in between performances in New York. People in Boston liked Edwin—he was talented, a rising star. I haven’t read the right biographies to tell you that much about his personality, but I know he was an actor who came up in a wildly eccentric, often financially  insolvent, over-the-top family, whose patriarch was a adulterous, wife-abandoning, self-aggrandizing, immigrant spotlight hog. And given what I know of wildly eccentric, self-aggrandizing, spotlight hogging families, I suspect Edwin Booth would have probably been no stranger to a therapist’s sofa, if therapist’s sofas were a thing in 1864.

And that was before he found out his little brother shot the president.

I think a lot about that moment, by the by. Edwin Booth hearing about John Wilkes—the would-be, the not as good, the matinee idol, the confederate, the assassin. That’s a thing to process. An actor, famed for his ability to play Shakespearean tragedy, suddenly finding himself a supporting character in a national travesty. It’s one of history’s heartbreaking b-sides, a devastating real life performance, and, was, for many years one of the saddest, most furious things I could imagine.  100% the kind of scene you write a whole play to highlight, and indeed, there are a lot of plays about Edwin Booth.

I hadn’t really thought about Edwin Booth in a while. The last year, the last few years, have tended to push my historical interests to other places, other people, and into other weird little grimy courtyards in the backalleys of the past. It is my great fortune that I am not immediately related to any would-be traitors and assassins (at least not in this generation) and that my immediate biological family is blessedly free of the conspiracy theorists, bigots, religious zealots, and grandstanding, willfully ignorant blowhards that so many people I love have had to manage over the last four years (and sometimes their whole lives). About the most frustrating thing I’ve had to deal with is occasionally Snopes-ing some antiscientific garbage someone reposts (with the best of intentions but zero secondary sources) or explaining (again) that Antifa is an adjective and not some vast, organized radical leftist organization (and once again, and to be clear, there is no vast, organized radical leftist organization of any kind concomitant with the bloody-minded union of white supremacists, authoritarian theocrats, opportunists, bored, delusional suburbanites, actual fascists and freelance shit stirrers that comprises the Current Activated Far Right in the US.  You’re really going to have to trust me on this one, people).

But then came Wednesday. Wednesday. I sat at my computer in the middle of a workday watching hordes of weapons-grade Freedom-huffers subsume the US Capitol geared up like a collage of all the worst ideas in white people history, abetted by willfully oblivious law enforcement and the DC Proud Boys fan club chapter that evidently moonlights as Capitol Police. It was both unimaginable and completely unsurprising. Like, they’ve been saying they were going to do it. The President. The President—the actual President of the United States—has been telling them to do it. And they knew (they know?) they could get away with it.

I didn’t think about Edwin Booth when an internet acquaintance recognized one of his cousins posing for selfies in the Congressional rotunda, or when a friend admitted that she was afraid of talking to her parents about it—“They’ll either call it a Great Day in American History or an Antifa False Flag operation and I’m not sure what’s worse.” It wasn’t even when I saw that the newly elected, absurdly-named, actual Nazi congressman from my (criminally gerrymandered) hometown district helped to incite the riot at the preceding rally whilst wearing a jacket he evidently purchased from the Brooks Brothers Hermann Goering collection.

For me, it was my mother on the phone recounting a story from the local news in my hometown much later that night about a nice white middle-aged lady, with nice white middle-aged lady hair and a nice white lady MAGA hat, who’d taken a trip to the rally from one town down the road from my parents’ house. She recounted her day’s adventure with a giggle and grin as “so much fun and I met so many nice people!” as if she’s just returned from a book club as opposed to storming the capitol in an act of overt insurrection bent on tearing down the government and disenfranchising thousands of voters and . . . and then what exactly? Installing an authoritarian dictatorship? Bringing about the new fascist world order? Uncovering the cells full of children stolen by lizard people, Hilary Clinton and George Soros in some secret prison under the Senate chamber and then getting swept off her feet by a dashing Q as they save the world together and ride off into the sunset on a white horse under a confederate battle flag? All of the above?

What kind of person do you have to be to try and literally try and destroy the government, to end democracy, to create widespread havoc and chaos, to rattle the foundations of the nation to call up REVOLUTION because because a heavily indebted, second-rate real estate developer from Queens with delusions of near-godlike grandeur doesn’t like losing, and then describe it like a lark.

I mean, if you want to topple a government, if you want to destroy a nation, at least own it. At least know your history. At least, have the decency to treat it more seriously than a bus trip to Branson with the girls from your bridge club.

“I grieve for this country,” I said, because I’m not a flag waver. I complain about the US all the time. I insult it to its face. I serve up plenty of tea on the Founding Fathers. I talk about Civil Wars in other countries. I am no one’s idea of a patriot. But what I thought in that moment was I grieve for my country.

And, you know, I thought about Edwin Booth.

After the assassination, Boston police came to Edwin Booth’s house to investigate. He allowed them access to his rooms, his papers, whatever they needed. They found nothing incriminating, just a grieving man and his daughter.Booth wrote to the owner of the theater, asking to be released from his performance contract. How could anyone decent justify a Booth in the spotlight? A good performer knows when it’s time to leave the stage. A great performer actually does it.

“The news of the morning has made me wretched, indeed, not only because I have received the unhappy tidings of the suspicions of a brother’s crime, but because a good man and a most justly honored and patriotic ruler has fallen in an hour of national joy by the hand of an assassin.”

He worried for the future, that his brother’s reckless act might undermine all progress made through the anguish of civil war.

“But,” he wrote, “whatever calamity may befall me or mine, my country, one and indivisible, has been my warmest devotion.”

He left town with his daughter. He moved back to New York. He wrote an apology letter, a pale shadow of the one he wrote the day of to an audience of one. It was published in a bunch of newspapers. He planned to retire from acting. Some months later, at a train station in Jersey City, Edwin Booth quietly, and without fanfare, helped a young Robert Todd Lincoln mind the gap between platform train car crowded with soldiers, and, in the most low key way possible, saved his life.

Within the year, Booth started acting again. He played Hamlet, the great tragic Shakespearean hero, and played him so well that he played him to packed houses for much of his decades-long acting career He became a philanthropist. He lived a long and successful life.

Which is to say, Edwin Booth healed. He was a celebrity, a white man.

I am not a celebrity. I am, however, nice, middle-aged, middle class white lady. Odds are: I will do okay, too.

But that doesn’t feel like the right end to this story.

Because while Edwin Booth was dazzling audiences and endowing salons in Gramercy Park, Reconstruction went sideways. Jim Crow flourished for nearly another century ( and continues, in some form, to this day). The post Civil War world, with its promises of freedom and liberty, its hard won victories and attempts at justice and reparation, soon fell away, victim to the whims of government and the confidence of white men who knew they would get away with it. Because they were white men. Because it’s easier to claim beg forgiveness than demand change. Because we’d rather let the status quo off the hook for the most grievous of offenses than allow anyone else the opportunity to so much as speak their mind without interruption.

Edwin Booth has ended up the footnote, the anecdote, the answer to the trivia question. But on Wednesday, I saw Sic Semper Tyrannis in human form. I watched hours of pathetic, would-be John Wilkeses, so astonishingly brainwashed, so insulated by privilege, so high on Trump’s (and their own) supply that didn’t even realize that’s what they were. And it scared the holy living shit out of me.

They could be the future. They will be our future. Unless we hold them accountable. Unless we disown so broadly their false reality that they can no longer accept it as true.

And I know how hard that will be. And I hope you have some ideas because honestly? I don’t think anyone’s “Hamlet” is going to cut it.

Picture today is of Edwin Booth and his daughter, Edwina, in about 1864.

As of this writing, 64,009,190 people have recovered from Covid-19.

Plague Diary: January 1, 2021

COVID / Plague Diaries

For the better part of the last twenty years, I’ve slipped from one year to the next, often drunkenly, usually at the bar up the street from my old house, always sequined, sweating off my mascara, standing in the dance floor with a bottle of champagne under a wing of balloons. The year passes in a holler of a second in which I wonder, like the overgrown adolescent I am, whether it would be nice or invasive to be kissed at midnight (I suppose it matters who is doing the kissing) to the opening bars of Prince’s “1999.” And before I start dancing again, I always think, always think, “Can’t believe I survived this year. Next year has got to be—simply got to be—better.”

I certainly thought so last NYE. 2019 had been a year of a few excellent highs and some truly blistering lows. I was living in Trump’s America, with all of its attendant horrors, and slouching through my forties. I’d spent the front half of the year in constant travel with one of those chest colds that didn’t go away for approximately six months (this felt less irresponsible then than it does now) and the back half hospitalized for what was maybe a misdiagnosis, fighting off a surgery that I didn’t need, before finally escaping with a bacterial infection (caught in the hospital) that was worse and more long-lasting than the thing that had put me into the hospital in the first place. Then I flew off to the UK with a bottle of insane antibiotics that made feel like I’d been racked and dream about murder. I got sick again in Scotland (another chest cold, probably not Covid, because we were still a couple months pre-covid at that point) and arrived home just in time to learn that my landlord was selling my home of fourteen years and I had a small window in which to figure out the rest of my life or something. By the time I hit the dance floor some ten weeks later, I was under contract on a new house, but only halfway packed up because the process of buying a house is kind of like being chased through a booby-trapped labyrinth by a legion of hectoring bureaucrats armed with an electric cattle prod and a file containing all of your sins There was no guarantee that I would make it to closing without being mauled by a minotaur or humiliated by a mortgage broker. So I was a wreck, a disaster, an anxious chatter of a middle aged woman in a glowstick bracelet and a novelty crown trying to grasp at some material threshold of adulthood, because I thought maybe it would make me feel more secure and less of an untethered and withering disappointment.

You know, typical New Years stuff.

I finished my dance, finished my drink, stood in the cold of the back patio to watch my friends smoke and secretly wish I hadn’t quit. I wandered home under the sparkling x-marks-Orion in the cold night sky over the leafless limbs of the tree tunnel down Maple Ave, and tried to type something clever on social media.

“2019 sucked, friends. 2019 is dead! Long live 2020” was what I two-finger typed in my chilly front yard, then went inside to run a bubble bath and wonder whether if it wasn’t embarrassing that I’d spent my 43rd New Years the same way I’d spent my 27th. and bar and dancing aside, not that differently than I’d spent my 15th, when I sat on a rusty piece of public art that resembled a petrified rubber band, in the center of my hometown, watched the fireworks and thought, 1991 was the worst. Next year. Next year, things will certainly be better.

In retrospect, 1992 ended up being a very normal teenage shitshow year ( the music was pretty good), though a shitshow nonetheless. But no underwhelming auld lang synes—even those of the last few mostly miserable years– could possibly equal the squealing vortex of hell that was 2020. So titanic was this year’s suckitude that it overwhelmed the scant triumphs (I closed on and moved into the house), but still managed to amplify all of the now petty-seeming bullshit that stalked me from the previous year. How can a person, you ask, in the wake of a global pandemic, systemic injustice, a government attempting a coup, mass unemployment, civil unrest and a planet literally on fire still be circling the drain in some misbegotten midlife crisis, obsessed with her lack of success? How can a woman, in the shadow of 350,000 dead from Covid-19, still spend enormous chunks of her waking hours having hypochondriacal attacks about a million and a half things that are NOT Covid-19 (but certainly her own fault)? Isn’t it enough to worry about plague and Trump and the unfolding environmental apocalypse? Is it really necessary that I still wake at 4am and stare at the ceiling trying to gauge how much pain I deserve to endure because I’m a lazy, self-obsessed underachiever with zero sex life, some medical PTSD and a credit score roughly as mediocre as my mediocre CV? Then my chest feels tight and I think, Definitely Covid, probably The End, and chide myself for my failure to put my affairs in order and elucidate any advance directives. Because, as I was told during a recent telehealth appointment, “You’re not so young anymore that you can afford to leave those things unspecified.”I

I’m not so young anymore. That’s the truth.

Last night at 11:15 on New Year’s Eve 2020, I stood in the closet and changed into sequins and so I could dance alone with my best friend. I could hear Beastie Boys on the party playlist through the floor which maybe dates me, and could see my reflection under the unflattering closet light, which definitely does. I thought my face looked both drawn and puffy, not terrible for my age, perhaps, but unavoidably my age—eight weeks shy of 7” turntable speed. I thought “2020 has done this to me,” and that’s true, but maybe would have been even without the 2020ness of it all.

I came back downstairs and we opened a bottle of champagne to watch a mostly-empty Times Square on mute. We stepped into the foggy drizzle and out of the old year with leftover 4th of July sparklers in the front yard, while the next door neighbors shot of rounds of waterfalling fireworks in their driveway.I hugged my raincoat round my shoulders as I listened pink and green sparks fizzle and crack in the rainy quiet.

New Years at home means you can avoid the midnight anticlimax. New Years with the world at home means even the most FOMO-afflicted can rest easy in the knowledge that they aren’t missing anything. I should have been relieved. Instead, I felt a kind of nothing, save cold feet and damp hair and the blank, calm certainty that comes when you recognize that no amount of wishing and hoping will keep things from getting worse. That maybe the best thing to do is to concentrate on right now–the smell of the rain, the ephemeral pleasure of dirt cheap glitter boots, your favorite old B-52s song playing muffled from the stereo inside your house, the friend beside you, the other friends at sensible 6-8 feet, across town, across the continent, across the oceans. You love the things you still have, material and memory, even if those things are just figments and flickers. You grieve for all that is missing, ellipses-like gaps where your life used to be, the empty seats around the holiday table. Then you turn your face to the gray black sky and float, suspended for a second or two, in the turning tides of history, where, for in the white space between the years, all is kind of calm, if not also bright.

I don’t know what the new year will bring. I hope it’s vaccines and recovery. I hope I will be able to dance in public, to sing, to gather, to hug, to touch, to be touched by someone who other than the single friend and single biological relation inside the bubble and/or a latex-gloved, masked and shielded medical professional that is probably giving me bad news. I hope I will be able look forward to something—not some amorphous if/then/maybe—but a real honest-to-god something with three dimensions, five senses and no Zoom invites. I’d like the Future back. I know the majority of the lives I imagined for myself are maybe not probable or possible at this point, but it would be cool if there were something on the road ahead that seemed promising or desirable. I would like to look forward without a shudder and a rising heart rate. I would like to not be so afraid of tomorrow that I miss today.

But I’m superstitious, and maybe a little bit cursed, so I won’t count my chickens and I won’t make any promises. I’ll eat my black-eyed peas and make my resolution list.

I’ll wish you a Happy New Year.

Picture today is of my full, expanded 2020 resolution list.

As of this writing, 59,641,536 people have recovered from Covid-19.

Plague Diary, November 22, 2020

COVID / Plague Diaries

On average, I feel like I’m at least mildly losing my mind about once a day. The more acute freak-outs are maybe once a week these days, a real improvement from the early days when every morning felt like a siren. I don’t know if that means that things are any better—survey says they are, at least Covid-wise, they’re manifestly worse, but at least, I know that right now, for me, things are kind of as okay as they’re going to get for a while, and that okay is not so bad.  

I still freak out, though. I freaked out today because I had hypochondriacal attack. Not about Covid, at least not really (I got negative test results back today), but that I thought my ankles werre tingling and my feet are periodically achy and numb and my right arm is a little weak, and WebMD tells me it’s probably liver failure or kidney disease of diabetes or a stroke. OH MY GOD AM I HAVING A STROKE RIGHT NOW?!  I’m embarrassed to call my doctor and afraid of a self-fulfilling prophecy. I don’t want to go in for a test because Covid. I call my mother. She laughs at me, especially after I report that I’m wearing newish running shoes that are, actually, kind of tight and I have, actually turned my ankle a couple of times on the trail and I do, yes, have recurrent plantar fasciitis and hey, now that you mention it, I have been trying to do pushups (the lady kind– I can do, like, two) in the morning, which might explain the arm. Also there are fibroids and the sciatica and I am in my mid-forties and things don’t always feel the way they used to and maybe you pinched a nerve, honey. And all these things. I nod and smile and try not to cry because on some level, even though all of these things are totally rational, I am convinced that I have a grave and possibly terminal illness, and it will invariably be one of those things that I brought on myself because I am an irresponsible hedonist who doesn’t take care of herself and every jackass in my life who ever tried to talk me into trying some new diet or lifestyle hack will be 100% vindicated once I turn up chronically ill because I am a shitty human and a terrible grown-up.  “There goes Alison,” they’ll say. “Don’t let yourself turn out like her. She lived by the fork; died by the fork. Could have told you that would have happened to her.”

And my mother will look (via Facetime) at her forty-odd  year old daughter, lip trembling like a child, scared shitless of a thing that is maybe, probably, not even real, after her long,  comforting, utterly rational monologue of Things More Likely Wrong with You than End-Stage Liver Failure and say, “But I can tell by looking at you that, you don’t really believe a single thing I’m telling you, right?”

And in those moments? I want to. I really, really want to. I’m sorry I can’t. I’m disappointed I can’t. But on some small but essential level, I don’t.

My mother sighs, reminds me that I maybe need to find a therapist (she’s not wrong), and changes the subject. Because what do you do, really when you are stuck trying to pry out something stupid and awkward from a sticky, irrational groove and it just won’t give? At some point, you just can’t pull any harder. You have to accept that there is probably nothing more you can say.

I don’t live in a world where I regularly have to talk to either Trump supporters or Covid deniers. Most of my friends and family are cautious when it comes to getting a beer outside on a patio at six feet distance, and at, best, nervous if that patio is public and there are other people around. We’re barely traveling and hardly shopping. We don’t leave home without masks.

But we’re all one or degree of separation from someone who doesn’t. You know, the relative who is absolutely having Thanksgiving with twenty-five people, or flying down to vacation at a resort in Florida with her three college buddies, or going to the mall to shop Black Friday, or dining out three times a week inside. Maybe those people believe in Covid, but believe it won’t affect them. Maybe those people don’t believe it exists at all, that it is conspiracy pitched by leftists in order to distract the general public from seeing that Hilary Clinton and Hunter Biden and are stealing children and selling them to George Soros and furniture websites in order to advance Gay Space Communism (I think I have that right).  

Talking to those people is exhausting. Especially now, if you’re still trying. Even the ones that you love, especially the ones that you love, especially the ones you think are not too angry, not too stubborn, not too far gone. You can give them all the facts. You can give them all the rational arguments. They will nod along. Maybe, just maybe they will try to believe you. And it will be painful because you’ll probably see in their eyes the same thing my mother sees in mine—“You don’t really believe a word I’m saying, do you?”

Because they won’t.

I don’t know how to work them out of their own collective delusion, the irrational fears and lies they tell themselves any more than I know how not to worry that maybe I’ll have to have my foot amputated between now and Thursday because my ankle still feels tingly. I wish I did, for all of our sakes. We all have to live in this world together, and the world will continue to be objectively more difficult, painful and virus-filled so long as they continue to operate as if it isn’t already.

I came home tonight after a much needed head-clearing drive past by the parking lot of a restaurant a couple towns over. The parking lot was packed. The patio was full. People were crowding outside waiting to go in. They were few visible masks and no evidence that it was anything but a normal Sunday, in a normal November, on the weekend before Thanksgiving. I thought, I want to be on that patio, and, right now, I can’t be. And I’m bitter about it. I don’t begrudge the restaurant for being open for opening—they need the money. I don’t even begrudge the patrons—we all make our own choices. But l I want to be able to make that choice. I want to sit in a crowded restaurant.  I want to have a dinner party. I want to have holidays where we can be together. I want to go to plays and concerts. I want to be able to hug my Dad or my little sister (haven’t done that since February).  I want a life back that isn’t so goddamn lonely and stressful and swirled with anxiety that I spend whole weekends at home because of plague, arguing with myself about whether I am dying of some other kind of plague and driving everyone I love crazy because I can’t just go do something else and snap myself out of it.

But those people in the parking lot, on the patio, crowding the foyer maskless . . . those people are stuck in their groove. I can’t push them out. I used to think the virus would, but, I mean, look at the White House.

So here we are stalemate at the holiday. Eventually, people tell me, things we’ll get back to normal. They’ll loosen, we’ll compromise. There will be a vaccine. There will be a new president. And it sounds exceedingly rational, so comforting. I want to believe it. I really, really do.

But if you look at my face, you’ll see a  forty-odd year old woman, trying to look hopeful, trying not to freak out, trying.

As of this writing, 40,765,702 people have recovered from Covid-19.