Plague Diary, May 11, 2020

COVID / Plague Diaries / Uncategorized

Today I started reorganizing the record collection. It was inevitable. When I moved into the new house, I left the records deliberately disorganized so I might have a thing to look forward to in the event of bad weather or illness. I didn’t anticipate quarantine, but here we are. And I’m back to being solo again, so the time, it would seem, is nigh.

I had an old roommate years ago, who used to watch me as I blithely reshelved and realphabetized until late at night, and comment that it my fondness for the activity was clearly a sign of mental duress. “A happy person does not do those kind of things,” she’d say, and give me some new armchair DSM diagnosis on her way back from the kitchen.

I would think, “A happy person does not date dudes with swastika tattoos (“He was going through a phase. He’s swears he’s saving to get it removed”) and obsessively write poems about death,” but I rarely retorted back at her because she was clearly unhappy and we all have our crosses to bear. I was sorry she could not take the achieve the same satisfaction from alphabetizing old vinyl that I did.

Putting aside the “High Fidelity” of it all, the record reorganizing is apex meditative fun (especially when paired with a finger of good whisky) and real deal when it to grounding a person. And I’ve spent most of the today feeling a little bit like I’m floating into the ether. I hit Day Sixty of Quarantine yesterday to little fanfare and less hope. About the only things I can say about it are 1) I’m not dead yet (and if you’re reading this, neither are you) and 2) the scratches on the closet wall where I’m marking the days are starting to take up some actual real estate. I feel absolutely not at all clearer about any of this than I did on Day One. If anything, current l reports find the future even more grim and obscure than the original prognosticators.

From the outside, it would appear we have nothing to look forward to, save perhaps eventually getting the virus and figuring out exactly when and where on the sliding scale of suck (from absolutely miserable to actual death) we’ll land with it. From the inside? I don’t know if that holds. I think there’s all the awful and then I remember that there are plenty of smart, talented, compassionate people who don’t seem any more likely than I do to crouch helplessly in the corner and wait for the end of the world. Many of them—many, many of them–are not. And I’m not just talking about the medical personnel and the front-line, essential workers, but pretty mu ch everyone that’s organizing food drives or calling their congresspeople or making art or doing whatever they can to keep their communities alive and change the conversation from How It Is to How It Could/Should Be Be. I kind of think are there are way more people like that out there than, say, people at the ReOpen rallies. And I’m not just saying that because I’m lucky enough to know plenty of the former.

Yesterday, a friend of mine, a local community leader, lamented the way the argument has been constructed in the national media. It’s not that we need some Pollyanna-ish spin on an unfolding tragedy, but that we need a way to acknowledge and accept the darkness of our current situation without entirely giving up and ceding the larger part of the going-forward conversation to the conspiracy theorists, petty fascists with guns, sociopaths in the federal government and the corporate interests that support them all. I don’t want to be the side associated with fear and shame and apathy. I think we can be responsible, considerate people, who listen to scientists, and take of ourselves and our communities and our cities without surrendering to hopelessness and despair. Just because we’re staying home doesn’t mean we should quit pushing for positive change.

I’m not calling for revolution exactly (if memory serves, I was disinvited from the event years ago for various reasons, both political and aesthetic). But I do need something to look forward to. Maybe you do too. And it’s got to be more than just reorganizing my records or catching a new Netflix series. It’s got to be more than waiting on takeout. I can’t fall back on my “the world sucks, but” salves of live music, friends, parties, theatre, travel, etc, because those things can’t and don’t exist in this world for the indefinite future. I can’t hang my hopes on the weak sauce of a promised vaccine that I’m repeatedly told may not come soon enough to make any real difference (or at all). I can’t go back to school or try a new job. I can’t move to a new city. I can’t have a mad passionate love affair with a handsome stranger. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. And you can’t either. So now that we have nothing else to distract us from the bullshit, maybe we should do something about the bullshit. I mean, there is theoretically a life on the other side of this. I’d like to want to live there.

Because look, I’ll be done with this record thing in a few days. If I’m going to make it through the next however many days/months/years of this, I’m going to need a new project for sure.

Photo today is of some ominous skywriting I caught over Astor Place, back around 2011.

As of this writing, 1,522,034 people have recovered from COVID-19.

Plague Diary, May 10, 2020

COVID / Plague Diaries / Uncategorized

A little more than three and half weeks ago, when I was moping around on a Thursday morning, contemplating the COVID and its accompanying existential abyss, my best friend called during my pre-work coffee and told me, if it was okay, she was kind of thinking about coming down to stay for a little while.

I told her, without hesitation, that it was a fine idea, and then experienced a couple waves of tacit five second hesitation, before deciding that if the worst case scenario was that I died of plague because my best friend moved in with me for a little while, I’d be cool with it because BEST FRIEND, and for the first time in several black clouded days I felt something like a flicker of “Oh right, happiness can exist in present tense.”

We kept the plans fairly close to the chest, informing only need-to-knows. Neither of us had really left our respective houses for the weeks previous. We’d followed protocols. We’d played by the rules. Still, “It’s not exactly essential travel,” she said, when she rented the car. Still, “People are probably going to think we’re menaces to public health,” I said, after I informed my mother and told her to keep it on the DL.

The day I drove to pick my best friend up at the rental car office was the furthest I’d driven in weeks. I’d brought a mask and hand sanitizer, but when I saw her in the parking lot, I got out of the car and asked if she felt as foolhardy as I did. She did. We hugged. It was the best hug. Maybe the best hug ever.

We’re not quite twenty years into best-friendship, best friend and I. She was an unlikely candidate for the title. I don’t think either one of us could have predicted that this would be the way things turned out the first time we met, but things work out in the strangest ways. We lived together, in reasonable peace, for the better part of a decade and have spent the decade since talking, almost daily, despite out geographical remove. We fit back into cohabitation with ease made easier by a new house with plenty of space. She worked downstairs. I worked upstairs. We met after six for post work cocktails on the deck. We watched stupid movies, better TV shows. We made dumb jokes. We invented ridiculous songs. We went on long walks. We reprised gossip from 20 years ago. We filled in the gaps.

She endured my bullshit and reminded me when it was. I hope I reciprocated, if not with sage advice, than at least with Negronis and various pasta dishes. We survived, on a day to day, in the weirdest of weidest times, on a steady diet of the weirdo humor, speculation, understanding, and twisty, turny conversations about everything from politics and philosophy to fashion tragedies and Whether That Dude In that Show Is, Like, Actually Hot that have defined our friendship since the first time I was like, “Huh, I actually kind of love this person.”

My best friend is a miracle. She’s funny and smart and bracingly, beautifully honest, and exquisitely ridiculous (or at least sympathetic to my brand of ridiculous) in all the best ways. You could not pick a better partner in crime or in quarantine, which I suppose is kind of the same thing, when you’re best friends illicitly quarantining. I love her more than pretty much anything. On the list, she falls somewhere around Immediate Family, perhaps north of pirates, fancy cheese, tulle evening gowns and James Brown. Having her around was 100% the best thing that has happened in I don’t even know when. Certainly she took the edges of the pandemics. Certainly she made the long days feel shorter and grander. Certainly she helped me remember that there is something, maybe just something, on the other side of whatever this is, that’s worth hanging around for.

Her stay was never meant to be permanent. Short-ish, but open-ended. It was a shade more than three weeks, when I delivered her back to the rental car place this morning. I tried not to give her a hard time about it. Last night I did ask, “Why don’t you stay?” And she responded, truthfully, “You know I don’t live here anymore.” I do know. And I understand. I respect it. I would never . . .

I held it together at the drop off, waiting on an unseasonably cold May morning in a rental car parking lot, while she repacked the car. I waited until the last minute until I gave her another hug. Every farewell these days is so fraught. Every farewell feels like it could be the last.

“Don’t get COVID,” I said. “And if you do, you better not fucking die.”

She promised she wouldn’t. And I promised the same.

I had to follow her out of the lot, onto the expressway. On the split, where she went North and I went West. She waved out her window. And I let go and cried for a minute, because I’m not a morning person and my best friend has gone home and I was feeling sorry for myself.

Then I turned on the music—Bobby Womack, thanks for asking– and drove home, back to the house. And the sun was out. And the world was green. And my best friend had come to stay with me for three weeks in the middle of a pandemic, and it was the greatest thing that ever happened, even if you think we were crazy. And holy shit, what if it happened again? What if it happens again? What if we do actually make it through this? Isn’t spending a few weeks with your best friend exactly the thing you make it through for?I mean, seriously.

I love you, best friend. I miss you already. I can’t wait for the next time we hang out, wherever, whenever, that will be.

Picture is at Ayrmount, in Hillsborough, where best friend and I wandered sunstruck and not-quite saying goodbye yesterday. NO HANGING OUT!

As of this writing, 1,487, 484 people have recovered form COVID-19.

Plague Diary, May, 7, 2020

COVID / Plague Diaries / Uncategorized

I was walking down in the woods today thinking about how this would be graduation weekend, were it not for the pandemic. Graduation weekend is always kind of a nightmare in a college town. I stay in, mostly. Sometimes I try to go home because graduation lines up tidily with Mother’s Day.

Last year, I drove up to Virginia for the day to have lunch with Mom and Nana at this grand old, ersatz-Tudor hotel in the middle of Roanoke. The hotel itself was kind of a family landmark. Mom and Dad held both their rehearsal dinner and their wedding reception there. And some years later, my aunt and uncle had followed suit (I was ten, by then, and the youngest bridesmaid). I spent a parts of my childhood running laps down the long chandelier-ed corridors off the lobby, getting myself deliberately caught in the revolving doors, studying the (now that you mention it) sort of problematic, stylized “Virginia History” frescoes in the rotunda, and being exactly the kind of doorman-vexing menace you’d expect from a kid whose favorite picture book was “Eloise.”

The hotel offered an elaborate brunch buffet with mimosas, a raw bar, and their kitchen’s famed peanut soup (actually delicious, ps). Nana, Mom, and I sat in the hotel’s now slightly shabby formal dining room with the wainscoting and the white table clothes paired with cheap convention center chairs and tables.

I was a little hungover (I’d been to a show the night before) and I felt a little like a schlub that day, all greased over and lank-haired, but Nana and Mom both looked radiant, Nana especially so, in bright blue and black. I’d balked at going and half -complained in my head all the way up and back the winding roads between the northern NC Piedmont up into the first rolling curves of the Virginia Blue Ridge. But remember thinking, as I sat with them, that I was so very lucky to have these women in my life.

I am so very lucky to have those women in my life.

This year, for Mother’s Day, I will not be seeing my mother. I will not be seeing my grandmother. Even without the geographical distance separating, I could not safely breach the required social distance to hug them or kiss them or linger close enough catch wind of their comforting smells (Mom smells like gardenias, jasmine, and botanical hair spray, Nana like cigarettes, cold cream, and the Chanel counter). I don’t know when I will be able to, and it is, if I’m honest, the single most devastating part of being alive right now in the world. Nana is almost ninety-four years old, with a number of preexisting conditions and a touch of dementia. Will she survive long enough for me to touch her again? Will she even remember who I am by that time? And my mother, my best friend, my mentor. I talk to her every day. We Facetime. We Zoom. We deploy all the tools in the technological arsenal, but it’s not the same as being together. The only way for me to take care of her is to stay as far away as possible. If she got sick, I could not get near her. I could not sit at the end of the sofa and try to make her laugh when things hurt. I could not visit her in the hospital. I could not hold her hand if she needed me. If I got sick, she could not come and take care of me. She could not stand in the kitchen and make soup. In fact, if I got sick, no one could take care of me. No one could hold my hand. No one could stroke my forehead and tell me it was going to be all right, even if they weren’t sure if it would.

Blah. Blah. Maudlin tripe. We all die alone. I get that. I had it written on the back of my high school notebooks, too. But the moms, guys.

All I can think about are how many moms we’ve lost over the last eight weeks, and how many moms we’ll continue to lose. It’s two days from Mother’s Day and the country is reopening because apparently the people in charge are perfectly okay with sacrificing all the Moms (and the Dads and the Aunts, Uncles, Nieces, Nephews, Grandparents and Kids), especially Moms like mine. It’s hard for me to look at Republicans and ReOpen Protesters and wonder how they’d feel if it were their Mom. Or rather, I wonder how the will feel when it is their Mom. And for whatever portion of the populace trying to force people out and crack the world back open, the people defying social distancing orders and refusing to wear masks, the people swelling in neighborhoods and acting like the rules don’t apply to them, I’d ask them to remember my Mom. She’s great. She’s amazing. I love her. I’m not ready to lose her. And if they don’t care about me (they don’t), I’d ask them to think about their Moms, and their friends’ Moms, and their neighbors’ Moms, and how many people will be spending this Mother’s Day in mourning, and how many (and I fear it will be many, many, so many it makes my head hurt to count) more people will not have a Mom by this time next year.

Today, my mother has to travel to Virginia to spend the weekend caring for my grandmother. I’m not happy about this. I’m kind of furious, in fact, though I know it is a selfish fury. I’m aware that circumstances require it, that there is, evidently, nothing else that can be done. I’m aware that she will not leave Nana’s house once she gets there. I’m aware she will see no one else. I’m aware that there is a risk. A risk to each of them, to both of them. The two women I love most in the world. I’m glad they will be together, mother and daughter, even as my mother cannot be with her own daughters. And I would give anything to be with them, if only for a moment. It is my greatest fear that I will not, and my greatest hope that we all survive to safely do so again. Goddamn this pandemic.

Goddamn the assholes who don’t take it seriously. Protect the Moms, guys. They are irreplaceable.

Today’s picture is of Mom and Nana last year on Mother’s Day.

As of this writing, 1,359,728 have recovered from COVID-19.

Plague Diary, May 4, 2020

COVID / Plague Diaries / Uncategorized

In the unlikely event that these posts sort of useful historical document, I should probably stop and address what a fairly average attack of the 2020 Pandemics is/was like, if you, future person has stumbled across this in the future.

So we’re cruising through the most gorgeous weekend ever and its myriad pleasures and it’s late Sunday afternoon and I decide to take a negroni to the deck and pull up the Times because I’m reckless and perhaps more of a masochist than I thought. I make it through all the typical furies, shits-stirrers and the steady thrum of grief from the mourner’s bench, and I’m feeling a little like I’ve leveled up in a video game because I’ve made it almost past the front page and haven’t had a single panic attack. I’m not even breaking a sweat!

Then I get to the line, one line–“mitigation hasn’t really worked”–and I find the line so heartrending, so literally breathtaking, that I can’t even get worked up about the next paragraph goes on to predict a minimum of 150,000 new deaths. Maybe 800,000. And then the lack of vaccines and treatments. And how the lack of vaccines and treatments will continue. And we’re reopening anyway because?

And I’m way off now spinning now on “mitigation hasn’t really worked” and not just because I worry that means I will never be able to see my mother in person again. Or that I just accept that my friends and family will continue to die for months and months before I get to hug them because there will never be a safe time to hug them again. So do I throw caution to the wind? Do I lock up twice as hard? What is the appropriate response, given everyone and everything that has been lost over the past eight weeks? The moms and dads and sisters and brothers and best friends and spouses and children and lovers and doctors and artists and mailmen and lawyers and musicians and supermarket stockers? The bars and theatres and restaurants and livelihoods and homes and savings and sense that things can ever, truly, not be nightmarish again? How do we endure the collective middle finger of an editorial shrug and a “mitigation doesn’t really work?” And now what? Do we make our wills? Do we max out our credit cards, do a few lines, throw a party and maybe try out BASE-jumping or skyscraper parkour because nothing matters and that sounds like a more fun way to go than slowly suffocating alone at home or in a quarantine-unit ICU? Do we continue to believe that anything works or anything helps because everything so far has been spitballs, shitty government response, bullshit models, idle conjectures and no real intention of sticking to any of it?

It weevils into me. That “mititation is not really working.” It’s the negative space in the tree branches above me. It’s the weird dark corner of the yard. I put the drink away and make herbal tea and ice cream and watch old movies. Halfway through, I feel my heart racing. I look up “elevated heart rate” and WebMD tells me I have everything and nothing. I watch dumb tv shows—“Outlander”—and find myself sobbing uncontrollably at a throwaway scene. I ask my best friend, “what is wrong with me?” She wonders if it’s that time of the month. Maybe, and I have lady issues and the forty-four year old hormones, but also, did I mention “mitigation is not really working.”

I cruise into the late night. I’m not tired. I chat with my mother. She tells me my grandmother isn’t doing well. Someone needs to take care of her. How do we do that? How could she do that? Without putting my grandmother at risk? Or herself at risk? Or the other people that share her household at risk? At least Nana’s in a state that hasn’t already reopened, that isn’t reopening until June at least. Not that it matters because “mitigation is not really working.” So the new normal is that we just accept a horrific level of death is acceptable and make impossible choices. And Mom doesn’t even know I’m freaking out because she has more than enough to worry about and she’s already cautioned me about why I should probably avoid the front page.

I read. I crawl into bed. I feel my heart pounding against the pillow like an invading army. I think, “I’m going to have crazy dreams.”But they aren’t. They’re good dreams. Swans and tall ships and kind blue-eyed men sort of dreams. I wake up to silvery sunlight. I make coffee. I walk out onto the porch and stare down at the ripples in the pond water, breeze blowing over my cheek. My brain stirs. I hear, “mitigation is not really working” still echoing around the back stairs, but for a minute or two the robins are louder.

And for now, at least, the Pandemics are a murmur, not a roar.

Speaking of blue-eyed men, I’m having a great time right now with the parallel joys of “Run”(HBO) and “Normal People” (Hulu), and the fact that Horny Irishmen With Serious Communication Deficiencies is having an unexpected cultural moment as a tv genre. I would have adored “Normal People” when I was nineteen, but I think everything—both fiction and plays–I wrote from age 19-25 was basically a variation on “Run.” Which also means that both shows make me blush and cringe a bit, whenever I watch. But, like, cringe in an entertaining, nostalgic sort of way.

Picture today is of some particularly choice graffiti near the Bynum Bridge, taken on a gray day in the not-too-distant past.

As of this writing, 1,171,046 people have recovered from COVID-19

Plague Diary, April 30, 2020

COVID / Plague Diaries / Uncategorized

During the first few weeks of quarantine, when I was falling apart all over the place, all the time, with such wide and varied peaks and valleys, I worried I might get be turning into a teenager again, I kept my brain together and myself truly off the precipice with a little gin and a whole lot of exercise.

As a person who has never met a darkness she couldn’t lean right into, I accepted some years ago that the whole exercise as curative isn’t just complete bullshit shilled by shifty characters who hang out shirtless in bike shorts and talk incessantly about protein, but actual truth. I started the very long walk thing in my late twenties, which morphed into a running thing in my mid-late thirties (I’m pretty sure I staved off the worst of a major depressive episode in the early 2010s by running a lot). I’ve run more or less over the last year depending on how much my left knee hates me at the time, but I still go and go and go. The difference in my mood with exercise vs without is palpable. So those first weeks, I’d take off in the afternoon after work, or in the gaps between projects and conference calls, and go, like, 5, 7, 12 miles. Mostly in the expanse of woods behind my house, but sometimes doing entire circuits of greenways–the rough perimeter of town. If I saw a trail I didn’t know, I’d go down it. I’d check out streets I’d never walked down. I found at least a half a dozen neighborhoods I never knew existed (and I’ve lived here for eighteen years). Most of the time I didn’t see many people, sometimes there would be a few. We would let the other pass at what was usually about a 10 foot distance, wave, and move on. I’d listen to music and podcasts. I’d daydream and ruminate. Sometimes I’d talk on the phone. Sometimes I’d drift into that back-of-the-wardrobe liminal space from childhood, where I could imagine that a certain spur of Carolina North trail might terminate somewhere impossible. By the time I got home, I’d feel like I could breathe again, probably because it’s hard to read the COVID tracker and walk at the same time.

All of which is to say, between March 15 and April 12 my iPhone reports that I (mostly) walked/(let’s be honest, occasionally) jogged somewhere around 170 miles. That’s not actually that much mileage in the grand scheme, but it does come out to something like 6 miles a day. And, as I sat around shaking my head, in those early days, at reports of my fellow North Carolinians traveling way too far from home, I never considered my long distance perambulations were also being counted in that cell phone data. I mean, I was in the woods, mostly. The woods by my house. It wasn’t like I was driving to keg parties at Crabtree Valley Mall or whatever I imagined those other hooligans were up to.

Since then, my daily walking distance has decreased a bit. Not because I had a sudden attack of conscience (though I have started wearing a mask when I’m walking outside through the middle of town, or on reasonably crowded greenways), but because I settled into relative apathy that comes from realizing that things will probably suck indefinitely and maybe it’s okay for me to take the occasional day off and just eat garbage and watch old Jude Law movies because the roaring battle between The Economy Must Not Fail Death Cult and the Extremist Apocalypse Anchorite Martyrs are so deafening and so ripe with hypocrisy it’s hard to take either seriously ( I mean, the heads of big business forcing their employees back to work and lobbying state governments to reopen are probably not themselves going anywhere near a newly opened Chipotle in Georgia on opening day. And at least some of the ladies lobbying your HOA to have cops circulate the neighborhood and fine people who stand in their own driveway without a mask are also having their massage therapist/manicurist over for a biweekly treatment. Seriously, trust me on this one).

I am still walking though, more than a mile or two away from my house, almost every day. And every time I do so, I guess that cell phone data is reporting back to whatever New York Times Columnist wants to school southerners on their lax social distancing and then vex the local authorities who feel like they have to do something about it. So. Even though I’m not throwing parties, or hanging out with my family or shopping at the hardware store. Even though, I haven’t driven far enough to put gas in my car in about eight weeks. Even though I’m not having my hairdresser over for touch-ups, though I miss the salon terribly and I’m so seriously hungry for a haircut that I’ve dreamed about giving myself a buzzcut at least a dozen times over the past month (don’t worry, Mom, my completely realistic concern about my chinless, no-necked puffy melon head with the giant moles suddenly without hair would 100% stop me long before any “What The Hell, It’s The End Of the World and My Internal Picture of Myself Sometimes Resembles Charlize Theron” rash decision would be indefinitely delayed by Amazon ruling clippers an inessential delivery). Even though. Even still. I am part of the problem. My long walks are a cheat. A definite cheat. And, if I’m completely honest, they haven’t been the only cheat, just the most regular. And, if I had to guess, your long walks (or long drives or long front yard/back porch conversations) may not be your only cheats either.

So, what you might defend as falling under guidelines may look completely indefensible to someone else. What seems like perfectly normal behavior to you might make someone feel vulnerable or put them at risk. What you see as a complete dereliction of moral responsibility may be something much more innocuous, much more understandable and much more necessary for someone else’s survival. We’re all starting to go a little stir crazy. And the more stir crazy we get, the easier it will be to ignore the community/unity rallying cries and just start acting like assholes. Which is a terrible idea, in general, and, in particular, at a time when most of humanity are feeling at least a little angry and sad and terrified and so overwhelmed with grief and uncertainty and not sure that they’ll survive or even if they want to.

We need each other desperately. We need to cooperate. Let’s try not to tear each other apart. The virus (and the federal government) are doing a fine enough job of that without our help. What comes next will unlikely satisfy anyone. In an ideal world, we’d be striving for the least sucky of undeniably sucky situations for the most number of people. As it is, we’ll be very lucky if things don’t tilt into absolute nightmarish misery for all but a tiny few. What we can do for each other here is all we’ve got.

So do the best you can and keep in mind that most people are doing the best they can too, even when the eff up. And they will. Because we’re human. And if we need to build a virtual confessional for Pandemic sins, then so be it. I’ll start :

Bless me, Carrboro, for I have sinned. I take long walks. And three weeks ago for no good reason other than to buy a case of beer and a wedge of fancy cheese before a virtual book club, I went to the co-op with a cardigan sweater tied around my face, and as I left, I thought, “This is what will go on my tombstone. Here Lies Alison Fields. Died of Plague Because of Irresponsible Beer Run. What a Complete Schmuck!”

Photo today is of maybe the best tree in Orange County, which I encountered on one of my early long walks, back when it was (literally and figuratively) pretty bleak out there.

As of this writing, 1,037,845 people have recovered from COVID-19.

Plague Diary, April 28, 2020

COVID / Plague Diaries / Uncategorized

A Complete List of Fictional Projects I Planned To Work On During Quarantine, Updated:

1) Untitled Pirate Novel: A maximalist romp through an anachronistically glam rock late 17th/early 18th century, featuring lots of gender-bending, adventure, romance, dumb pirate jokes and occasional trenchant commentary about both feminism and colonialism. Sample Passage: ‘The inn was actually called the Diving Mermaid, but the name was so regularly misread, even the owners started referring to it by its more macabre title, and had the sign altered to include a sharp spike on which the fair siren was impaled. Despite its reputation, violence is rare, though spontaneous (and often elaborate)theatrical productions among failed London actors pressed into naval service are a regular occurrence.”

Begun: 2002

Current Status: 250 pages of non-chronological dribs and drabs, including several sex scenes and a bunch of Puritan jokes that are probably only funny to me.

Odds of Completion Before Vaccine: Very Low

2) Unititled Appalachian Noir: A decade-spanning crime story about murder, corruption and politics in an unnamed Western North Carolina tourist town that bears an entirely coincidental resemblance to my home town.

Begun: 2007?

Current Status: 150 pages and lots of note cards. A hunch this would make a decent “Ozark”-ish tv show if I knew someone at Netflix.

Odds of Completion Before Vaccine: Very Low, but seriously, call me, Netflix.

3) Untitled Supernatural Young Adult Novel A magical-realist taleabout shapeshifters and identity for young people, sort of loosely based on both Ovid and Irish folklore, started to capitalize on that whole YA boom a few years back.

Begun: 2010

Current Status: 100 pages(ish) of what ended up being a very dark, hard -R, mostly stream of consciousness narrative about body horror, assault, adolescence, talking rabbits and what happens when grown men turn into (literal) swans. Also some Yeats jokes . Which is exactly what the kids want.

Odds of Completion Before Vaccine: Ha

4) Untitled Lower East Side Historical Novel I read “Low Life” and decided I wanted to write a borderline bodice ripper about real estate speculators, gangsters, and turn of the century dance halls on the Bowery.

Begun: 2012

Current Status: 25 pages. Mostly I’ve written about architecture and dance hall girl outfits. Also sex scenes. Sometimes with architecture and dance hall girl dresses.

Odds of Completion Before Vaccine: Nada

5) Untitled Sci-Fi Collaboration A silly, half-epistolary novel/multimedia installation about interdimensional travel, xenophobia, the border/refugee crisis, and super-powered middle-aged women written with a friend who absolutely likes dumb puns as much as I do.

Begun: 2015

Current Status: 120 pages (but pages are a weird way to judge this)

Odds of Completion Before Vaccine: Slightly better than the preceding. Call me, Kate.

6) Untitled Boarding School/Music Industry Novel A slightly (ha) autobiographical collection of loosely-linked stories following a group of women from teenage years to middle age. Also, there’s a band. Hopefully less like a Reese book club selection than it sounds.

Begun: 2017

Current Status: 7-9 Completed Stories, but in real danger of spiraling out of control

Odds of Completion Before Vaccine: I mean, I ‘ve kind of worked on this one in the last three weeks. So, meh?

7) Untitled Southern Novel A fictional retelling of true-ish events involving my family in the Deep South that also was supposed to be kind of critique on Southern Fiction as a concept, but I’m not sure I’m clever enough to pull it off.

Begun: 2006

Current Status: 250 pages, indefinitely shelved because even I don’t want to read another book about fancy white racists in the deep south.

Odds of Completion Before Vaccine: Basically this one is DOA.

8) Countless Untitled Short Stories (80+, minimum)Basically 2.5 decades of failed follow-through

Begun: Oldest (that I’ve kept) dates from about 1996

Current Status: Anything from a paragraph to “all but finished in need of edit”

Odds of Completion Before Vaccine: At least half of these should be deleted entirely, but sort of hilarious as a historical document.

9) New Resume Some corporate neologism+ meaningless turn of phrase word salad that demonstrate my ability to “disrupt” productively and “think outside the box” in the event I ever need another job. Lots of hyperbole, weird office-speak, extreme hedging like I know what I’m talking about.

Current Status: In flux since roughly 2002

Odds of Completion Before Vaccine: It is my dearest, most profoundest hope I won’t need this before the vaccine. Because I like my job and I really suck at getting jobs.

10) Dating Profile A long-form, prose poem/dramatic monologue in which an autobiographical narrator tries to engage a mostly non-existent population of funny, intelligent, literate, age-appropriate men with breezy, slightly barbed witticisms and convince them that they should date an loudmouthed middle aged fat spinster who is way into arguing and not at all into traditional gender roles instead of, like, a hot twenty-six year old yoga witch/SoulCycle influencer.

Current Status: The last reasonably decent blind date I had only asked me on a date because he thought my dating profile was well written and he wondered if he could pay me to write his so he could make a hot, young girl–“not like you”–want to have sex with him. I’ve been trying to dumb it down ever since.

Odds of Completion Before Vaccine: Low. More probable that I’ll actually locate the sexy heathen, glitter art convent I’m thinking might be a more realistic option at this point.

Picture today is of an elevator in Nice, where I was exactly four years ago today. I really hope we get to travel again. Because that would be a total bummer to spend the rest of my life in this stupid country.

As of this writing 947, 490 people have recovered from COVID-19.

Plague Diary, April 27, 2020

COVID / Plague Diaries / Uncategorized

Ah, Monday.

Let’s check in with the world. Does Europe think we’re a failed state? Yes. Are people dying? Yes. Are we just like, “f-it, let’s let them die?” Yes. Is there any halfway decent central response or plans for a halfway decent central response yet? No. Is the broad media/health care/economic consensus that the only choices are 1) Die alone at home without job or purpose, during indefinite quarantine, having never seen a friend/family member/joy again or 2) Die more painfully alone in ICU, having broken indefinite quarantine, probably killing off friends/family/hundreds of innocent strangers? (And even if you recover, you’ll probably never really recover, but just suffer indefinitely until you get it again and it kills you and your loved ones) Why yes, glad you asked.

I had a lovely weekend. Thanks for asking. Long walks! Flowers! Beautiful food! A general sense of all-rightness with the world, which, according to three or four articles served up to me by social media this morning, must not be fostered or allowed to thrive because “you have to be emotionally prepared for things to get much worse,” because “the best you can hope for is defensive pessimism.” Which is cool because defensive pessimism was pretty much my brand for the whole of the 90s, so I’m on it, dude, and I’ve been looking for a clever way to describe how I’m going to snark about the pandemic in my entirely hypoethical throwback new ‘zine (either Expecto Coronum or Ouchy Fauci, depending on twee I’m feeling at the time).

Is it even okay to snark about the pandemic?

I honestly don’t even care anymore.

I’ll tell you something true: it is awfully hard for me not to shop during this thing. Jobs are precarious and I get that no one expects bankruptcy (or pandemics, or the Spanish Inquisition). And it’s not like I have any extra money at all (like, at all). But I find myself looking at pictures of elaborate dresses and impractical shoes. I look at fancy flowers and plants. I look at art and jewelry and housewares. I think, “Why not? Nothing matters. I’m going to die alone and bankrupt and miserable anyway (see above). Why not do so in this ballgown and these extremely overpriced glittery sneakers?” I think, “Can I justify this t-shirt? These fancy snake earrings? This chaise lounge (why are the only chaise lounges available for delivery the expensive ones)? Certainly this chaise lounge because summer is coming and my only option for outside will be the deck and squirting myself with the hose and trying to pretend the pond smells like salt? I could plant the garden. I can order plants. But is that not wasteful? What happens down the line in _____ months/year when I’m forced to sell a kidney to an inappropriately social distanced, masked stranger in a probably-not sanitary alleyway in exchange for a handful of rice kernels and a single square of single-ply. Then I’ll be like, “Oh you had to go an order that oakleaf hydrangea, didn’t you, you selfish, entitled, a-hole.” And then I’m like, “I’ll probably never kiss another human and may never get to see my family again in real life. So why not the hydrangea and maybe a new sunhat to boot? Maybe I should throw in palm trees, an above-ground pool, and pina colada mix? Would that get me to the delivery minimum? (Maybe) Would my neighbors hate me? (Yes) Is Quarantine slowing turning me from a ‘we’re all in this together’ to a ‘ew, what is she thinking paring that mask with those shoes’ catty a-hole? (Oh yeah) Would having all that shit in the card and calling it “Tiny Miami” just to annoy people make me happy? (Maybe)”

You know what would make me happy? A Monday news round-up that wasn’t objectively worse than the preceding week. And to that end, maybe the old line is right, happiness is really only something you remember. Sounds like exactly the kind of thing a defensive pessimist would say. So I’m ordering the plants. And the snake earrings. Can’t justify the sneakers yet. Yet.

Picture today is of these rather spectacular roses I encountered on a walk this weekend.

As of this writing, 895,668 people have recovered from COVID-19.

Plague Diary, April 24, 2020

COVID / Plague Diaries / Uncategorized

About exactly a year ago today, I flew to New York to visit my best friend on the same day that Longreads published a piece I wrote about a nanny I had when I was thirteen. By the time I got off the plane, I was informed that I was getting a crazy number of reads, which was shocking. I didn’t think the piece was that special, but strangers seemed to love it.

Three days later, when I sat drinking coffee with a stack of brand new NYRB classics in the Brooklyn Center for Fiction, I received an email from my editor, Katie, letting me know that she’d been contacted by a movie producer looking to buy film rights for the piece. We did the requisite vetting. He was legit. I went outside to stand on a sidewalk in downtown Brooklyn to scream and do a little “Holy Shit, I’ve made it!” jig, even though I knew better. Who knew what would come of any of it? I’d been on the precipice of success before, close enough to taste it, and the floor had crumbled beneath me. Why would this time be any different? Why was this any more real?

It felt for real. The next six weeks were a fizzy, discombobulating journey as I was approached by two more producers, two agents (one literary) and a publisher. I spent a lot of time reviewing contracts and researching life rights (because it was memoir), film licensing and whether or not I wanted to be involved with the screenplay (one of the producers thought I should be). I took hours-long calls with people in New York and LA and filled notebooks with questions and answers. And even though, it probably wouldn’t have been much money and who knows how anything would have actually done out there, I had a moment or two of feeling like everything I’d ever done was actually leading to something real and tangible. That I could introduce myself as an writer and have it, for once, not feel like bullshit.

Anyway, the deals fell through for a host of depressing reasons (I don’t have a celebrity-followed Twitter account/Influencers aren’t into me/I don’t have 500K people reading my blog every day/ I’m old and not sexy/I overshare/I don’t share enough/I don’t have a unique enough story/I’m too much of a boring, white middle class white woman/I’m too southern/ “But it would be better if you had more of a regional flavor? What happened to your accent? Are you possibly from an obscure religious tradition? Is there any particular hardship in your life that would make you more interesting/marketable?” Also “Booksmart” evidently flopped at the box office because people don’t want stories about quirky young women, etc. etc. etc.).

The end came as swiftly as the whole thing had begun. The wave I’d been riding washed out behind me and I was left exactly as I started: hollering into the void, not really interesting enough to interest people, feeling pretty stupid, as a theoretically world-wise middle-aged aged woman, that I’d actually believed it might work out again, that finally –FINALLY—the bullshit would have been worth it.

I knew—I know—the whole deal. What you write, what you play, what you create—it’s not supposed to be for someone else. You should be perfectly happy to toil quietly, taking pleasure only in the act of creation. But, like, I know I’m not the only insecure grandstander out there, right? I mean, I don’t know if it was a childhood spent freebasing (metaphorical) greasepaint doing a bunch of marginal local theatre or just the natural result of being part of a family full of loud-mouthed, larger-than-life creative types all jostling for the spotlight all the time. I do know that I’ve never achieved that sort of DGAF attitude about success or attention that we’re all supposed to strive for. I shouldn’t need that to make me happy. I know the healthy thing would be to stop trying so hard and settle into the way things are. Because things are fine.

But when everything fell apart, I fell a little bit apart. Normal enough, I guess, but I felt embarrassed talking about it. Because in the grand scheme of disappointments, not having a book with my name on it or an unexpected movie deal feels about as crass and ridiculous a complaint as you can imagine. I’d hate the version of me that complained about it. I kind of hate the version of me complaining about it now.

I know you’re waiting for me to turn this around and tell you that (a year later) in the throes of the pandemic, I’ve recognized the truly important parts of life have nothing do with book publishers or literary agents and I have learned to be happy with merely the suggestion of sunlight on my face and air in my lungs. I haven’t. I still think back on a year ago and I wish I had a different ending for that story. I still put on Edie Sedgwick eye make-up and glitter sneakers and dance around my deck in the middle of the night dancing to “Fame” (Irene Cara, special UK 12” mix, icyi), and God help me if I ever stop, because I honestly don’t know what else I’d do.

Anyway, virus, Trump, etc. Pretend I just spent 800 words on something relevant. Picture today is of the Flamingo in Las Vegas on Halloween 2018, because crass and ridiculous.

As of this writing, 775, 578 people have recovered from COVID-19

Plague Diary, 4/23/20

COVID / Plague Diaries / Uncategorized

Day 44 of my confinement.

They said, if you wanted to keep psychologically fit during the crisis (and if you wanted to sell your house without having to repaint the interior of your coat closet), you shouldn’t do the whole Count of Monte Cristo etching-the days-passed-into-the-wall thing, but they also said you shouldn’t study the humanities in college if you wanted a job or get a short haircut if you were a single, heterosexual round-faced woman or mix black and navy blue to a formal event or sing “Edge of Seventeen” at karaoke. And I did all of those things. #sorrynotsorry

The line, though, was hard to muster this morning. Chalk it up to the uncompromising darkness of Sharpie. Maybe I should be using lavender glitter pens. Would that make me feel better? I keep asking myself what would different historical figures do, given.

Last night, I took my mantle-shrine cut-out of Oscar Wilde and set him up against the box lid of the Bruegel (appropriate for plague!) jigsaw I’ve been trying to finish. I had a long conversation with him at about 12:45 am, which, I guess, counts for either prayer or complete nervous breakdown in my line of work. He might have recommended that I use lavender glitter pens to annotate my day-scratches with droll quips. Or he might have recommended that I check myself before I wreck myself when leaning too far into the prison metaphors.

Because, again, my immediate is not so bad, even if today feels about as bleak a day as I can recall. The news is miserable. The prognosis is miserable. There’s only chaos and sad, increasingly impossible unknowns. Sleep is rough and never much of a relief. Even if I don’t read the news, my dreams are Sisyphean. Last night, I dreamed I was running down a grand boardwalk pavilion (a recurrent thing since various youthful trips to England etched the deteriorating Brighton West Pier into my forever subconscious) through a disappearing crowd, as the lights and rides shuttered, and I could feel the tide pulling away the supports, as the pier started to list dangerously toward the water.

I woke up churning, drenched in sweat, all breathless fear and fury sadness. I tried to find some reprieve in the gray spring morning. I tried to find jokes from bed. I went after celebrity gossip (there isn’t any) and fashion (no one cares anymore). I tried not to click on the news update I tried to read through knit fingers about how everything is coming apart. I tried not think , “I’ve suspected this country is profoundly broken for years, a brilliantly lit boardwalk, supported by weatherworn girders that will collapse at the first big storm.” I tried not to think, “Boy, it really sucks when I’m right.” And the pier lists to the right. And another anonymous official in another National Update warns the center will not hold. And I’m all, Dude, seriously, I asked for Wilde, not Yeats.

The shit is bleak, my friends, even though it’s so green outside it feels like you could drown in it, even though my peonies are blooming, even though I’ve already laughed a dozen times today, and this coffee (Gray Squirrel) is such good coffee.

Seriously, it is the best coffee.

Tomorrow, the sun will come back out and I will have Friday cocktails, so don’t fret. Day 45 will be red letter, or at least purple glitter. I’ll remember again how to forget the bad stuff and enjoy the air out here on the far edge of the pier. Sometimes the view is so nice you can trick yourself into believing your world isn’t sinking. Sometimes the view is so nice you can accept that it will probably be okay once it does.

Picture today is not mine because I haven’t really spent much time near the West Pier in Brighton since we all stopped shooting on film, but that’s what it is/was.

As of this writing, 739, 871 people have recovered from COVID-19.

Plague Diary, April 19-20, 2020

COVID / Plague Diaries / Uncategorized

Dear People In Charge:

You don’t know me. I’m a peon, a single, middle-aged, middle class woman at peak invisible. I live in a small town. I write trivial things that you’ve probably never read. I’m maybe not even the most well-known writer with my same name to write trivial things that you’ve never read. In my professional life, I work in the shallow end of the communications industry in a not-terribly populated side of a southern state. I work with small businesses and small non-profits and small local governments. You probably don’t know most of them either, though you should, because they’re pretty much all wonderful people doing extraordinary things in places you should visit (though perhaps not right now).

There are millions of people working with millions of businesses and organizations like the ones I work with all over the country, all over the world. I understand if you’ve lost sight. We get it. This pandemic is bigger than all of us. And while you may feel a pang when we tell you that we’ve lost a parent or a spouse to COVID or that we’re afraid we won’t be able to buy groceries next month or keep paying our employees or maintain a last, desperate hold on our sanity as we face indefinite fear and isolation without reprieve, we know you’ll probably forget our name or our face. We’re useful as composite, as the wave that comprises the curve, as voter rolls, as possible targets for whatever virus-targeted advertising, conspiracy theory getting passed around on social media, or wingnut argument the President of United States feels compelled to trot out.

In a global pandemic, there is no time for individualism. This is war. How can we defeat this thing? Only as a community. Only as a nation. Only as a world. We’re told to focus on the big picture (which we have no control over). We’re told to focus on the small things (so we don’t go mad thinking about the big picture). We must sacrifice to protect the vulnerable populations, but all populations are maybe vulnerable. (Except you? Including you?) This is working. It’s kind or working. It’s not really working. (Does anyone know if it’s working?)

There are a bunch of crazy people out in the streets, agitating to open shops and sports events at the expense of their lives, stranger’s lives and the whole economic and health infrastructure that holds all of our lives together. Those people are crazy. Definitely crazy. Haven’t they read all the worst case scenarios? There are so many worst case scenarios. Financial Doom. Health Doom. Foot riots. Authoritarianism. Body bags in the street. Depression. Sickness. More unpredictable sickness. Things will only ever get worse, much worse, then maybe better. Maybe not. Folks will face unimaginable hardship. Folks will be forgotten. Folks will be sacrificed for the economy, at a whim. Folks will lose everything, up to an including a single good reason to keep on going, because politics, because public health, because Trump on Twitter.

I know you don’t know what to say, People In Charge, but you really need to strike a balance between “The End is Nigh” and “Nothing Matters.” There’s a way to express to people that we’re all in this together without reducing them to statistics. You need to work harder on that. You might want to balance your worst case scenarios with the occasional soupcon of hope. In my professional experience, people are more willing to deal with privation in the short term if they believe in the promise of the long term. I know you don’t want to lead anyone on, but ffs, no one enjoys being continually clobbered with the unforgiving apocalypse. (Maybe Cormac McCarthy? But I’m pretty sure he’s an outlier.)

Because here’s the thing: those crazy people protesting? They are crazy (and being manipulated by a bunch of corporate interests that definitely don’t have their best interests at heart). But they won’t be the last or the only. And the longer this goes on, and the more hopeless it looks, the more stalled out and stuck in the mire everything feels? The crazy is going to look less crazy and more like a reasonable, if destructive, response to being told that nothing is working or changing and the situation will maybe/possibly/probably never get better. Because if you believe there’s no hope at all, why not see your friends? Why not do a thing you love one last time? Why not rage against the dying of the light?

So, look, people in charge: figure out how to take care of people. Work on the testing thing 100%. Invest in all the PPE and get it to the front lines. Then, make sure the second, third lines—from Irene down the block, who is still pulling shifts at the supermarket to your Mom who might eventually have to go to the store herself if she can’t find a delivery service—have masks too. Get people paid and keep them paid and fed. Be honest about when it will happen and how it will happen. Technical errors will be inevitable, so don’t lose extra time on stupid vanity projects, scattershot ideological arguments and unnecessary red tape.

And for the love of God, work on the message, because your narrative sucks. You need to remind people not just of what’s at stake, but why it’s worth it. You need to remember that every single one of those people has a face. Your job is not just to scare us straight or goad us into giving up. Your job should also be inspiring us to go on and think about the future.

The medical community sees those faces. They deal with patients one on one. They see what virus is doing to people. That’s why they’re hitting so hard.

The small towns, small organizations and small businesses I work with? They similarly haven’t lost a sense of character and plot. Which is why you’re ten times more likely to find a shred of something hopeful on a local message board than on the national news. They’re doing everything they can to take care of their people, because they know only way we survive this is together.

It would be awesome if it felt like anyone upstairs—federal government, national media, etc– cared half as much.

Get your shit together.

Signed,

A Concerned Peon

Picture today was taking in front of the Capitol about three years ago, in May of 2017.

As of this writing, 641,804 people have recovered from COVID-19.