Behind the Mask –Coronavirus Diary Part 13

Before I began writing this, I let out a long, heavy sigh. This is the third or forth (now fifth) attempt I’ve made to write this blog and it’s not going well. Many iterations of this blog have sat in my drafts file.

You are here

Since I started writing this a couple of weeks ago, so much more has happened in this country that the grief and bewilderment from it all is just emotionally crushing. We surpassed 100,000 Covid-19 deaths in the US. A black man was murdered (on video) by a cop, as others stood by and watched. Minneapolis is on fire. Business are being looted. Journalists, who were just doing their jobs, covering the protests were arrested on live tv by Minnesota state police. The president’s tweets are un-presidental and grotesque. The pandemic is still raging. No one in this country agrees on anything–including the basics, like whether or not we should wear masks or continue social distancing. Covid infection rates are still rising. Millions are still unemployed, hungry, and unable to pay the bills.

Things are brewing just under the surface

I’m honestly at the limit of my capacity to process it all.

And sitting here, in my house, in Upstate NY, I feel helpless to do anything about the BIG THINGS going on in the world. I hesitate to even add my voice to the millions of voices who have already weighed in. I’m weary of the body-less echo chamber, the compulsive need everyone has to share their opinions with the world. It really doesn’t help, does it, to have a nation of jackasses braying back and forth at each other? With all that noise and indignation, the people who should be talking are being drowned out. And we’re accomplishing so little, despite so much noise.

I’ll just cover my mouth.

I feel guilty in my inaction, but I also feel like I’m doing my part simply by staying out of the fray.

And then there are the little tragedies that hit closer to home.

We cancelled our much-anticipated trip to Disney World in August. We had so enjoyed planning for it, and imagining all the fun we would have. Now, with that off the calendar, the summer stretches on like an endless Groundhog Day.

Which one of these is not like the others?

Yesterday, I dropped the boys off for their scheduled “locker clean out” at the middle school. Masks were required. Social distancing was in effect. I couldn’t go in, but they tell me that they checked in, went to their lockers (which the school had already unlocked for them), grabbed their stuff, went to their gym locker, grabbed their stuff, went to the art room, grabbed their stuff. Then they were shown the door.

They didn’t have much to say about it, beyond how weird it all was. But for me, personally, it was just another micro trauma. Sam’s unceremonious exit from middle school is all the goodbye he gets before he transitions to high school (and nobody knows what that will look like). In his shoes, I’d feel unfinished, unprepared, anxious. As a parent, because he is my oldest, I think I needed that long eighth grade goodbye to prepare myself emotionally for the next stage of his life. And I didn’t get that transition either. How do I parent in this haze? How to I prepare him for something I can’t know and can’t visualize?

That stings a little

I have so much on my mind these days, and so little energy to unpack it all. And even if I did have the energy to do a deep dive into my psyche, who would I even talk about it to? I’ve said before that the world has telescoped so small, and we’ve all diminished ourselves to such a degree, that the outside world is more like a drive-through holiday pageant. Other people are going through their little daily routines, and without any meaningful interactions with them, you are their theater and they are yours.

All business in the front, but foxy in the back 🦊

It starts to wear on you after a while. And with everything else going on, this lack of human contact and communication makes the world seem impersonal and scary–as hard to read as a face behind a mask.

I went back and read some of my earliest Coronavirus blogs, and it just seems like a different time. Back then, I thought it might be bad, but I couldn’t fathom how bad. And while I figured we’d be quarantined a while, I couldn’t have imagined for how long. There’s an energy and optimism to my earlier posts that I just don’t feel anymore. I have matured into the reality at hand and have settled into this weird, new, socially distant lifestyle to such a degree that the before time might as well be some event in the far flung past.

Are campgrounds open yet?

Did we hug once? Pack into theaters? Visit each other’s houses? Laugh? I don’t remember.

Occasionally, something will happen, and I’ll get a shocking reminder of my previous life. Once upon a time, I was querying a novel, wasn’t I? I heard back from one of the literary agents who had my full manuscript. Reading her email was like reliving a hazy dream, a distorted reality. She wrote me an incredibly long, thoughtful, detailed email–honestly more like an editorial letter than a “thanks, but no thanks”, and gave me some really specific feedback on ways to make my story better.

I’m not in the frame of mind to write anything right now. And that stresses me out. I should be able to power through, right? But I’m afraid I will try (badly) and the story will seem forced and jammed together–which is worse than writing nothing at all.

In the meantime, I make masks. It makes me happy. It takes my mind off the crush of everything else. All the spoken worries, and the unspoken ones. It’s the only thing making me feel any sense of purpose. The part of my brain that controls mask making is raring to go, and I have endless energy and creativity for it. I’m too on edge to disappear into fantasy worlds. But when I’m sewing, I can still be creative. Still have a little fun with the fabrics.

Dreaming of travel and tropical getaways

I’m struggling badly and I know I can’t be the only one. My good and bad days come in waves. A really good day will be followed by a bad one. It’s almost if my brain can’t accept dual realities — that something horrible is happening and that the world is still beautiful and amazing and things can be wonderful. Is it survivors guilt? I don’t know. But every day I get on the emotional seesaw and ride it up and down, up and down.

I hate that we have to wear masks, and making them makes me sad. But at the same time, I love finding a cool new fabric to work with. I love playing with different fabric combinations, and exploring how different prints translate to mask fashion. I also love reversible masks and playing with the idea of what we show to the world, and what we keep on the inside. Probably no one realizes that I’m doing that. They just think “Ooh! Options!”

The outside of the previous mask.

And that’s okay. It’s good for my mental health to be playful like this.

There’s a big debate about wearing masks in this country right now. And I get it. We’ve all been conditioned to see masks as unnecessary at best and dangerous or suspicious at worst. Villains and bank robbers wear masks. They are frighteningly impersonal. No one up to any good wants to wear them either. They suck. They’re hot. It’s hard to be heard. Verbal and nonverbal communication– especially friendliness–is muted. There’s also a lot of debate about whether they even work and make a difference. But I’m willing to risk it. Trying something is better than doing nothing.

Yeah for science!

When I started making masks, I wanted to make masks out of fun fabrics with tons of personality. I wanted people who wouldn’t ordinarily want to wear a mask (starting with me), feel a little better about it by injecting some fun and whimsy into a decidedly not-fun and not-whimsical experience.

Of course the dog that looks like Archie has road rage 🙂

I hope my masks do that. I hope they help. Because otherwise, I feel very helpless.

Just spinning my wheels…

Renew & Restart -Coronavirus Diary Part 12

I’ve been reflecting on the dramatic changes to my life, pre-pandemic, to the life I’m living now. If you had told me in early March that by May, I would be a mask maker in a pandemic, I would’ve thought you were nuts. But here we are. Making masks. Writing blogs. Living history.

I feel like I am beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, too. The stay at home order flattened the curve and now we’re able to start slowly venturing out again.

New York’s PAUSE expires Friday. I’m not sure how much life will really change for us for the foreseeable future. Restaurants are still take out only. Retail is still divided into essential/curb side pick up only/ or closed (Peter Harris, I miss you!). We can’t travel anywhere or do much of anything. But things are starting to open up finally.

Jumping Jacks opened (but then they closed again after issues with their phones), ice cream stands, drive in movies, and the dog park did too. These are all the seasonal markers Upstate New Yorkers look forward to every year — confirmation that winter is over and finally the best part of the year (for the warm weather lovers among us) has arrived. You can almost feel the deep, collective sigh of relief when this happens each year, but especially now, after the spring we’re had (capped off by a freak May snowstorm). I think I speak for all New Yorkers when I say we’re just screaming into the void at this point. We need these things in our lives right now. Bad.

It’s not surprising that with so much returning to normal, my quarantine appearance started to bug me. I needed to go to the salon in January. In the fall, I dyed my hair red, and most of it faded out except a stubborn stripe around my head. I kept putting it off because I didn’t have the money for a $100 fix. I wanted red hair, damnit, but not if it mostly washed out leaving weird red stripes in random spots.

Then, as news of Covid-19 spread, I decided to severely limit my non-essential trips out of the house. There was no way I setting foot in a salon. Then PAUSE happened. And as it stands, salons won’t be reopening for a while still.

My hair was starting to look tragic. A line of natural ash blond striped with grey, then that stubborn stripe of red, plus last year’s highlights. Jeremy, God love him, said it looked just fine. But it was sooo not fine.

Perhaps this is melodramatic, but we have a pandemic on, and I didn’t want to possibly die with this hair. If I have to go out, and I have a choice, it won’t be looking like this.

I considered Loreal Preference, but I have skin reactions to all kinds of things, had never used it before, and now is not the time for a bad reaction to anything. Plus, I am one of those people who can never rely on *anything* to go on and, on my face and hair, stay the color it was intended to.

Purple lipsticks turn pink. Pinks turn orange. Reds turn coral.

I once dyed my hair what was supposed to be blonde with a touch of copper and it went burgandy.

So no way was I picking a hair color based off a photoshopped model’s picture on a box. I wanted to fix my problem, not create a new one.

Henna seemed like a solid option though. I’d tried it once before, with my host sister when I was living in Hungary, and remembered liking the results. Being plant based, I wasn’t likely to have an allergic reaction, the color is permanent, it covers grey hair, and it’s cheap.

So I ordered some. While I waited for it to arrive, I read a bunch of henna hair dying tips. Then I ordered a bunch of disposable plastic caps and gloves because it is MESSY.

While I was attempting an in-home spring makeover, there was the issue of my eyebrows, which were a hot, hot mess. I have never had any success with in home waxing kits, but tweezers are the devil’s own torture device, and I was getting desperate. I ordered this kit.

I decided today would be beauty makeover day. After sewing masks feverishly all day in order to get to the post office before closing, I started with the eyebrows.

Y’all, I don’t know what magical elixer went into the wax, but it was the easiest, most pain-free eyebrow wax of my life. I’m never going to a salon for eyebrows again.

Bouyed by new optimism I tried the henna. Whatever I did once in Hungary, it was not this. You cannot begin to imagine how messy it is.

I started with a green powder of crushed up natural henna. Added boiling water. Stirred until it resembled the consistency of yogurt. Let it sit an hour.

The glop in the bowl turned brown with a vague greenish tint–like guacamole that’s been sitting out all day. After an hour, I coated all my hair in what looked like a baby’s diaper explosion, covered it in two plastic caps, and let it sit for 2.5 hours. It has a decidedly planty smell and felt like I had a wet mud pie sitting on my head. Not the best sensation, to be sure. But also kind of fun to guess what kind of redhead it was about to turn me into.

2.5 hours later, I hopped in the shower and starting rinsing the henna out. After I got the majority out, I used A LOT of conditioner to work out the last of the paste. Then I rinsed it again (no shampoo), brushed it out, and dried it with a hair dryer to set the color.

I am really happy with the end result. It’s not unlike a $100 salon job, but this won’t wash out EVER.

People keep talking about what people have learned/discovered from being in quarantine and how this newfound self reliance will translate to a post-pandemic world.

I know I’m going to do my own eyebrows and hair color from now on. This was so much cheaper AND so much easier that going to a salon. I will not, however, be attempting to give myself haircuts. That is just a bridge too far.

In the Jungle – Coronavirus Diary Part 11

This is a weird time during the Covid-19 pandemic. The natives are getting restless. More and more people are protesting the lock down and the molasses slow reopening.

I could write about that, but historians will most likely cover it in far better detail than I could–from home–watching it all unfold from afar.

I am not protesting the reopening of anything. 1. It would do me no good. I will not be working again for some time, with schools and non-essential retail both closed for the foreseeable future. 2. I don’t disagree with it. I’m terrified of this virus and what it could potentially do to my body. I’m prone to bronchitis and inflammation, so this is not something I want to mess around with. And the more I hear about it, the less I want to play Russian Roulette with my immune system.

I’ll just hunker down in the house (where I always wanted to be pre-pandemic anyway) and wait it out.

And technically, I should be happy.

Jeremy is still working (and working from home until mid-July, at least). We have shelter over our heads, food in our fridge, good health insurance, and I’m one of the lucky ones in New York whose unemployment benefits are being paid. The boys are here, and we’re all together. Cases in this area are rising somewhat, but the number of local cases hasn’t overwhelmed local hospitals, and I wouldn’t call this area a hotspot. It’s safer than a lot of places right now.

So, rationally speaking, I am fine. And if this were a normal time, I could use this time to be so productive. Everywhere I look, I see projects I now have the time to tackle. It would be awesome.

But my brain disagrees. It perceives that I am in danger–a danger it cannot see or predict–and therefore all systems– flight/fight/adrenaline/cortisol–are cranked to 10.

I can’t shake this constant mental restlessness, the need to stay vigilant, the total inability to relax. Now, confronted with all these options, my brain just flat out will not cooperate. I have no attention span. I can’t lose myself in anything. It’s like my brain has literally raised the floor, minimizing the space in which my mind can hunker down. Where once I had three floors and a basement, now I’m trapped in the attic. Forget big, involved tasks. Cleaning the basement, organizing the attic, revising my novel, writing a new novel, even reading a book.

My brain says “no, thank you” and steers me toward shorter, less time involving tasks. Things with one step or, at most, two. Things that require no concentration. Emptying the trash. Cleaning the stove top. Brushing the cat.

I’m no neurologist, but I think my brain is saying, “Let’s not get too distracted. The shit can hit the fan at any moment. So best be on guard and vigilant at all times.”

Jeremy and I check in with each other pretty much daily. We are constantly asking each other “Are you okay?” “Anything I can do to make this easier for you?”

I was telling him how I don’t like my brain right now. I can’t get comfortable and it’s unlike me to have no focus. I am a focused person. Historically, when I’ve lost myself in a task, I really lost myself. I don’t recognize myself in this disorienting mental landscape. It reminds me of the depressive brain fog I was in post-divorce. Like a cloud of ether hung around my head, when life became a disorienting haze. I would really rather avoid that place again, if I can.

He was trying to understand my mental state, when I came up with the perfectly analogy to describe why it feels like it does right now.

Imagine you are in a jungle with a group of people, and somehow you get separated from the group and lost in the jungle. You know they will eventually find you and lead you out of the jungle. But you also know that in this jungle, there are poisonous plants, venomous snakes, crocodile infested rivers, and predatory animals that can kill you. The safest thing for you to do is find shelter, hunker down, and wait for rescue. You have a backpack of supplies. Plenty of food. Plenty of water. And a book.

It may be a while until your group finds you. You might pass the time more pleasurably by reading. Do you read? No, you don’t. You stay alert. Listening for approaching sounds. Staying vigilant. Constantly assessing your safety.

You probably couldn’t read even if you wanted to. And your mind would amplify every leaf rustle, cracking twig, and bird call, amping up your adrenaline, and making it difficult to even sit and wait.

I think that’s where we all are now, collectively.

We are all sitting in a hostile jungle, waiting for rescue.

Coronavirus Diary Part 6

Years ago I watched a video that I can’t help replaying in my mind over and over. In it, a little Boston Terrier has been tied to the back bumper of an 18 Wheeler, and the driver, blissfully unaware of its plight, is accelerating out of the truck stop parking lot and about to turn onto the highway. The terrified dog is running madly to keep up, its tiny legs making a valiant effort, all the while knowing it can only keep this pace up for so long. Happily, a highway patrolman observes the unfolding tragedy, and stops the truck driver, rescuing the dog and reuniting it with its oblivious, but now distraught, owner.

Right now, America is the dog and Coronavirus is the big rig, about to launch us full speed onto the interstate.

One would hope that rescue is coming, but I fear that instead of an eagle-eyed hero in a squad car, the people sworn to serve and protect us are asleep at the wheel.

To sum up where we are right now: The amount of Americans dead in the last month from Coronavirus are over four times the number of deaths from 9/11 and six times the number of deaths at Pearl Harbor. Eight million Americans have applied for unemployment. Up to 35 million Americans have lost their health insurance due to Coronavirus layoffs. The economy is hanging by a thread. The news is filled with story after story of front line medical workers pleading for more PPE (protective personal equipment) as well as stories about the lengths states have gone to procure it.

Meanwhile, our president (I won’t dignify that man with a capital letter) is too busy holding self-congratulatory pep rallies on TV every day and trying to blame everybody in the known universe for his failure to 1) give a shit and 2) properly address the crisis in the first place.

If I see one more Trump apologist wring their hands and say something to the effect of “Everyone is so hard on the President. He had no idea this was coming” I will completely lose it.

It’s absolute and utter bullshit.

I am a lowly substitute teacher/retail worker in Upstate New York, who spends half my time on Pinterest and YouTube making whimsical craft projects. I am not psychic, nor do I have the intelligence community of the CIA and FBI, or the medical expertise of the WHO and CDC, at my daily disposal.

However, the other half of my time, I spend paying fucking attention to what is going on in the world, and *I* knew about Coronavirus in January. I knew it was hella bad in Wuhan. And then I watched it get even more hella bad in the rest of China. And then Italy happened. I read first hand accounts on twitter, and looked up news stories from papers around the world.

(Guess what, you can do that–the US doesn’t have the planet’s only free press. Want to figure out what’s going on in any given situation? Then don’t get all your news from one news source.)

In early February, I started adding to my stockpile of Welp-we-may-be-going-to-war-with-North-Korea-or-Iran supplies I’d already stress-bought a year ago, and starting preparing for a months-long quarantine in my house.

By late February, there were known Coronavirus cases in the US, and again, because I have half a functioning brain cell, I assumed it had spread throughout the country–especially to New York, because being a major city in the US, if a virus was going to be spread somewhere, it was going to arrive with the gazillion visitors to New York City. It was not a stretch to think it would then come right on up I-87 to the Upstate. By early March, I was bordering on panic, stockpiling feverishly, not taking subbing jobs, and staying at home as much as possible.

So how in the everloving fuck is it even conceivable that I was more prepared for this than our federal government?

That is a rhetorical question for another day.

So here we are. And this is our new normal: There are new plexiglass screens at the checkout at grocery stores and the post office. They are like sneeze guards on steroids. We’ve all been asked to wear masks now if we leave our houses.

No one is going back to school or work until May now–but the prevailing wisdom is it won’t be May either. The boys and I are learning how to do remote learning, and god bless their teachers for providing some stability and support through all of this. I see a marked change in the boys’ after they see and interact with their teachers and classmates.

We’re all collectively going a little nuts. Jeremy has work to keep him occupied. And when he’s not working, he plays piano and reads. I stay busy making various crafts all day. I went from painting pottery to weaving potholders to embroidery and hand sewing masks. Now my back and hands hurt, and my mind spins without a project to keep it occupied. I wish I could write another novel, or even lose myself in a good book, but I am jumpy and nervous. My adrenaline is high and my patience is at an all time low. I am too mentally restless to fully concentrate on anything. Although, watching Onward on Disney+ was a highlight of the week. As was binge watching Project Runway and Zoey’s Infinite Playlist. These are bright spots in otherwise sad days.

Sam seems to be taking things in stride. He’s enjoying being home, working through his schoolwork, cooking with me, playing video games with his friends. John, like me, is mentally restless and easily overwhelmed. I’ve been encouraging him to work with his hands as well.

He’s been wanting to buy what sounds more and more like a super computer. The price tag on this thing, at last count, was $5000. I let him dream, but you can’t get blood from a turnip. I’ve already told him he’s not going to get that kind of money from me, and he should plan to find some means of making his own money if he ever wants to buy it. Now that masks are so in demand, I plan to put all this nervous energy to use, and try to sell a few to make up for (some of) my lost income. I suggested to John that he also consider making masks as a way to earn some money himself. I am cautiously optimistic that he’ll have the patience to sit through sewing lessons (on the new sewing machine that will be here Friday – for which my hands will be eternally grateful) and then also have the patience to make enough masks to get himself a little nest egg.

Now is the time to side hustle if you can.

Some people, like Jeremy, are lucky enough to work from home, and this has proven to be a mild, albeit boring, inconvenience. For others (me without Jeremy), this little virus has upended their entire lives and livelihoods, laying bare the reality way too many people are barely making ends meet, struggling to feed themselves, struggling to afford medical care, and it takes just the tiniest nudge off their stable footing for them to go careening into financial disaster.

I’ve lost both of my jobs. Weeks ago, by some miracle, I managed to submit an unemployment claim on the overwhelmed NY Department of Labor website, but now I have to speak with an actual human to complete it. I can’t get through. The number rings once then goes dead and hangs up. The system wasn’t designed to handle millions of calls. But, I also suspect, it was designed to discourage people from making claims. There is no virtual queue. No waiting in line to speak to the next representative. Just a message–all phone lines are busy, please call back later. Then dial tone. Trying to reach a person, and jump through that one last hoop, becomes a full time job in and of itself. I have read stories of people making hundreds and thousands of phone calls, over and over and over, to no avail. I haven’t tried that tactic. We still have Jeremy’s income, so I’ll let those who need the money desperately go now and I’ll try again when things calm down. If they calm down.

Jeremy and I were laying in bed talking last night, and agree that whatever existed before all this seems like another world. I asked him what he’d want to do or see when all of this is over, and he didn’t really have an answer.

He spoke for us both when he said, “I’m afraid nothing is going to be safe for a long time.”

Coronavirus Diary Part 5

Isolation is the pits. I think that’s fairly obvious at this point. We’re going into our third week of house arrest, or whatever you want to call this. I actually love being home, with just my family and my pets, not having much to do, and all the time in the world to do it. But we’re looking at weeks and weeks of it, with no end in sight, and that’s the part that is starting to make me a little crazy. I can’t predict what the world will look like tomorrow. It’s an unsettling time and it’s hard to settle in and enjoy the experience when there’s so much uncertainty.

Fun fact about Brittany time: I’ve taken the Myers Briggs personality assessment and I’m an INFJ.

There’s no doubt at all whether I’m an introvert or an extrovert. I am a hardcore introvert. I feel about going out and socializing like most people feel about going to work. Even if you love the work you do, who wouldn’t rather have unstructured free time? For me, it’s a necessary evil. Don’t get me wrong, I like people and love my friends and always want to hang out one on one. But more people than that and it stops being fun for me.

I am also plainly an N (Intuition) and an F (Feeler). If you ask me what is going to happen with Susie and Fred next Thursday, I can gut feeling/imagine a pretty accurate outcome in my mind. Ask me to calculate something like the square footage of my living room, and honest to God, I’d rather set myself on fire. Am I curious why a microwave works? Not in the slightest. In my world, it could be powered by a magical pink squirrel on a treadmill. The world of imagination: great. The world of math and science and facts: not great.

*This is not to say that I don’t have a healthy respect for the Sensors and Perceivers of the world. I am in no way a science denyer and I also know there’s no pink squirrel powering my microwave. I just like the mathy sciencey people to do their thing and leave me to my not-mathy-sciencey-imagination.

Anyway, I say all of this to emphasize that I am strongly an INF.

But all of that pales in comparison to how strongly I am a J (Judger). Judgers are decisive. They make quick decisions. Bold moves. No diverging off the path to sniff tulips. They are point A to point B people. And the one thing that makes them absolutely bananas is a lack of closure. You know that conversation you had with your friend three weeks ago, where you were about to tell them that funny thing that happened to you at the grocery store with the grapefruits, but then you had to go help your kid with homework and never got to finish the story. I can guarantee a J is still stewing about it, unable to rest until you FINISH THE GODDAMN STORY, GODDAMNIT! It will be the very first thing they ask you about the next time you chat, and I can also guarantee that the fact that you have no recollection whatsoever anymore of this little grapefruit incident, and now, will NEVER TELL THEM THE ENDING is going to drive them absolutely insane for the next forty years.

This is my life in a nutshell. I am preturnaturally dispossessed to enjoying open ended anything.

Case in point: when I had my ultrasound and discovered my youngest was going to be a boy, I had to figure out his name him on the ride home from the doctor’s office. Could I wait a week or even a day to think about it? Mull it over in my mind? Take my time and think it over? I had about twenty more weeks to decide. Like hell. I absolutely could not. Just the thought of it had me climbing out of my skin with impatience.

So perhaps you can imagine my mental state right now, living in a world I could never have predicted, where uncertainty and inaction is the name of the game. I am not okay. I have so much pent up anxiety and nervous energy I could practically gnaw through the baseboards like a beaver. Readers, go check on your J friends. We are not okay.

I am trying to keep busy. I am trying to exert some control over my life.

My oldest, Sam, is starting high school in the fall. Before all this craziness began, I was really starting to feel that I didn’t have much time with him left. When our lives were so busy with work and school, it was easy to push those feelings into a wistful nothing-I-can-do-about corner. We planned a Disney trip – a kind of last hurrah to childhood, in preparation for the inevitable teen years that were coming, when a trip with the family would be anything but cool.

But the coronavirus derailed all of that.

Disney is closed for who knows how long (again–here’s me–not knowing if our trip in cancelled. Or not cancelled. What’s going to be happening in August? I don’t know! No one knows!) *insert hysterical weeping*

And now I have more time than I can imagine with the boys. One of the things that I really wanted to do with/for Sam was give him some intensive writing help. It’s something he really struggles with, and also something I am uniquely suited to help him with. Before the lock down began, in a moment of inexplicable prescience, I ordered a writing workbook in hopes that we could work through it together.

Now, along with all of his regular school assignments, we have been having a daily writing lesson. We started a unit on descriptive writing, and I discovered that Sam was really hesitant to use descriptive language because it felt too flowery and inaccurate to him. Realizing that that thinking was holding him back, we spent a long time discovering ways to incorporate descriptive writing for more accuracy. Sam is catching on and his writing is growing richer and more descriptive by the day. It’s actually lots of fun to write with him. Maybe some day he’ll look back on this time with me fondly.

We’re hardly a factory of industrial-sized joy here, though. That’s about as much activity as I can muster in a given day. This lock down, the stories on the news, my Facebook news feed, and general shock at our situation has laid me out emotionally. Most of the day it’s all I can do to drag myself off the couch, I’m so sapped energetically.

I’ve worked on a few small, insignificant projects that I can see the end of–giving me a little bit of the closure I crave. Organizing (some of) my crafts and organizing the books on our book shelf by color. There are so many other, more substantial projects I could attack, but I just don’t have the bandwidth I’d need to tackle them.

My brain and my body are stuck in gear, hopelessly mired, and unable to maintain any momentum. I would love to start a new writing project, but even that is going nowhere, because none of the stories my brain conjures have the slightest forward momentum to them.

Jeremy, god bless him, knows that after a day spent stuck in my head, the best thing for me is to get out of the house and go for a walk. We’ve had weather in the 50s, and Monday’s snow is mostly melted, so we decided to try Garnsey Park in Rexford. Neither of us had ever been there before, even though we’d driven past it thousands of times.

It was a nice walk–a bluebird trail through meadowland. It was also horrifically muddy. We tried to navigate the mud, and it ended up sucking our shoes right up to our ankles in the mud and did pull me out of my shoes. My shoes disappeared and had to be dug out, and I ended up taking off my shoes and walking through the mud barefoot. It was quite a sight, but more than anything, it reminded me that I’m human, and life is ridiculous, and messy, and sometimes we get a little dirty in the process of navigating the path we’re on. I laughed. I’ll admit it. Sometimes that’s all you can do. There are greater problems in the world than muddy feet.

Generally speaking, we’re all okay. So far we’re all healthy. Local cases haven’t exploded, so that’s a relief, especially when the situation in NYC deteriorates more and more by the day. We’re avoiding nearly all human contact with the exception of occasional takeout and drive through Starbucks. My sleep cycle is a mess. I’m up all night, sleepy all day. Sometimes I can nap, but most of the time I can’t. Lattes feel a lot like love and warm hugs right now.

Supplies in the area, to my knowledge, are fine. I haven’t set foot in a store since March 10th or 11th so I have no idea. We’ve been lucky to find home farm share delivery. We also got a personal shopping appointment at a local grocery store, so it’s just a matter of going and picking our groceries up tonight.

We are controlling what we can control, and that’s not much.

Coronavirus Diary Part 3

I’m afraid this blog is going to start getting really boring. The days seem to blend together, with very little to break up the monotony of having to stay inside. Yesterday, two (semi) exciting things happened (and the fact that they were exciting shows how bored we are.) Jeremy and I went to deposit a check at the bank and then got coffee. When we got home, we got a delivery of fresh produce from Field Goods.

Because of my diet, I really enjoy fruits and vegetables now. Fruit, especially, is my fun food. They must’ve known that I have some corned beef in the freezer because they sent me a cabbage bigger than my head, a bunch of potatoes, and big, fat carrots.

We also got a bag full of apples, lots of bananas, some pears, and some mandarin oranges. We ordered a few other things too–cashews and the cheese of the week. I avoid dairy completely except for the rare latte and some hard cheese. It doesn’t seem to bother me, but I’m avoiding dairy right now because it makes me mucus-y and I have enough to worry about without wondering if every sniffle is Coronavirus. (I’m looking at you, seasonal allergies.)

Today we took the dogs up to Saratoga Spa State Park and had a nice walk. We’re having such a nice, warm spring and it’s so nice to get out, exercise, and get some fresh air. On the way home, we stopped at got some bagels at the local bagel shop, and then stopped in at a convenience store for some eggs (for the banana bread). We feel fortunate that food stores are all open and well stocked. We’re trying to avoid going out as much as possible and minimizing our contact with others (For example, I will not set foot in a grocery store. I’ll go foraging in the woods first.) But at the same time, we feel like we should support local businesses as much as possible. Everything is take out now, and according to the CDC we’re safe to get food that way. I guess it remains to be seen if that’s enough to prevent the spread.

New York has the most cases in the US, but cases locally aren’t quite as crazy (although, admittedly, no one is really getting tested). Part of me wants to barricade myself in the house and not come out til this is over, but they say this may last months and months, so that’s not really an option.

We went on another walk around the neighborhood looking for rainbows in people’s windows. That has really exploded in the last couple of days. The group has been on the news several times now and rainbows are everywhere. It’s cheerful and makes this all a little less hard.

I have to admit, I love being home and having nowhere I need to go, but with everything going on in the world, I feel deeply troubled and on edge. I am trying hard to keep my spirits up and I’m doing that through crafting.

I’ve done some embroidery.

I also brought home some pottery from the studio and spent all day painting. Tomorrow the studio is closing until further notice. This makes me incredibly sad. It feels a little like the world is ending in tiny increments. I had to apply for unemployment on Friday. It gives me a weird, un-tethered feeling.

I need to focus my energy on something else–maybe write a new novel. Unfortunately, I can’t get out of my head to write something happy, and all the other ideas I have are very sad. I don’t much want to marinate in sadness for a prolonged period of time. It won’t be good for my mental health.

Hopefully inspiration will strike soon. I’m looking for something new to do.

As I type this, I am dehydrating cinnamon apple chips in the dehydrator. Tomorrow I’ll make some loaves of banana bread to freeze. I’m going to get fancy and add some chocolate chips. That’s what passes for excitement around here these days.

Coronavirus Diary Part 2

It hasn’t even been a week since my first Coronavirus post, and in that time, I feel like I’ve lived ten lifetimes. I am keeping this diary as a record of what is happening, and also because I scarcely believe what is happening myself. Maybe if I write it down it will start to feel real.

It wasn’t long ago that Jeremy and I were driving back from a stock up shopping run at Target. It was a beautiful day and life was so, so normal. But I had this gut feeling that this was the last good day. I remember telling Jeremy that we should enjoy this day, because, just like we all might’ve felt on September 10th, if we were clairvoyant, there was this sense that whatever normal felt like, we’d seen the last of it for a long time.

Since Friday, the schools closed, nominally, for a week. Then the governor over a succession of days, closed not only the schools, the theaters, and all large public gatherings, but all the stores, all the gyms, any place people might gather. We went from no gatherings below 250 to 100 to 50 to 10. As the week has progressed, our lives have telescoped inwards until there is very little left of it. There is a rhythm to life in our little village. Spring means Jumping Jacks opens. There are concerts at the Village Green. Collins Park is always hopping. For entertainment, there is the little one-screen movie theater, or Proctors theater in Schenectady. When the weather warms up, the drive ins open. After a long, isolating winter, people start flocking together, enjoying the warm weather. None of that can happen right now.

What can we do? We can stay in the house. Homeschool our bewildered children. Take a walk, but only with our immediate family. With the news constantly admonishing social distancing, saying we should all assume we have Coronavirus until further notice, no one says hello anymore. There’s a wariness when others approach. The dogs are confused. What is the world where the people never leave the house, and where strangers don’t stop or acknowledge them? Today we walked the dogs around the block. Neighbors were out, so I waved and said hello. The woman hid behind her glass screen door and looked spooked by my greeting. Restaurants that were once thriving and busy can only do takeout now. But so can bars. New York changed its laws to allow take out booze. Busy owners are lost. No one had any time to prepare for all these changes. They’ve swept us up and we just have to figure it out. Teachers are scrambling to put lessons together for students they have no idea when they’ll see next. And business owners have to create a new business model and pivot, for who knows how long, praying a community where few are working supports them enough to survive.

There are no words.

And this, the experts say, is just the beginning. This is the pre-emptive shit. We haven’t even seen the shitstorm on the horizon.

The news makes it sound like we’re all just ticking time bombs, and in a week or two, those of us who lost the viral lottery are suddenly going to start showing symptoms. In the meantime, what can we do? Not take ibuprofen, or elderberry, or gargle hot water, because none of it works. You’re either going to be okay or you’re not, and may the odds (and your immune system) be ever in your favor.

I am not enjoying this plot twist that has turned my life into bad YA apocalyptic fiction–that’s all take out restaurants and toilet paper shortages? Come on! Who wrote this shit?

Anyway, people are doing the best they can to bolster each other. Since our only entertainment these days is walking or driving around the neighborhood, a local elementary school PTA suggested we should have a neighborhood rainbow hunt, so parents can take their kids out for a scavenger hunt. God knows I have enough craft supplies here to keep me busy for the duration of our quarantine and then some, so I whipped this little guy up.

He’s the rainbowiest rainbow gnome that ever rainbowed.

I wish I could do more. I know so many people are just completely at the end of their tether. But somehow art makes everything better. We’re all turning to it in this time of great uncertainty. I spent the whole day embroidering today, trying to settle myself. When I’m finished, I’ll post a picture. For now it’s a work in progress.

Coronavirus Diary Part 1

I’d been quietly stressing about Coronavirus for weeks. I’d been paying attention to the news on twitter, and was reading the first-person accounts coming out of Wuhan, then Italy. I became quite alarmed 1) because I have lung damage from a double whooping cough/pneumonia infection in 2008, am prone to bad colds that turn into bad bronchitis, and I don’t want to EVER have pneumonia again and 2) nobody in this country seemed to be very worried. We don’t breathe rarified air in US. Our worlds are interconnected now and whatever is in one part of the world can be here in the blink of a international flight.

Then, because I’m a masochist, I watched this documentary series.

It scared me so badly I went into Chicken Little mode. The parallels between then and now are too similar to ignore. Much to Jeremy’s dismay, I started buying a multi-week supply of groceries and pet food. He thought I was being a little bit hysterical, but humored me. We stocked up on groceries over the weekend. Bought a chest freezer and a dehydrator. With my diet needs, I needed to be sure I had food on hand that wouldn’t make me feel bad. We tried to be prepared for whatever was going to happen.

Jeremy and I had a trip to NYC planned but were waiting to see what happened before we got a hotel room. I was feeling more and more uneasy about the trip. With so much talk in the news of patients being quarantined, etc. I was afraid we might get stuck in the city, which, while lovely most of the time, was not the place to be in a pandemic. I thought back to the video I’d watched, especially the parts about hospital overcrowding, and basically said there was no effing way I wanted to be in NYC, with a population of 8 million other possibly infected people, if I might need to be hospitalized. We talked about it, and had decided that even if things were still open, we wouldn’t travel. We also decided not to visit Jeremy’s family for Easter. It seemed irresponsible to leave an area with known cases to visit an area with no cases. So that was settled.

Wednesday night President Trump had a press conference finally acknowledging the seriousness of Coronavirus.

After that, shit got real.

Thursday morning, I went to Walmart and found one bottle of Lysol clean up spray, which was such a miracle, I felt like I’d struck gold. I am not normally a germaphobe, and didn’t think to get Lysol or hand sanitizer in bulk. I’m still not sure it would make much difference against an airborne virus but I’ll use it if I can…

Before I left for work I stopped into Hannaford to grab a bottle of water and a gallon of dish soap. It was a madhouse in there. Everyone seemed to be stocking up on necessities. New Rochelle was already quarantined, so we all knew that was a possibility. I was waiting in line at self checkout, and since I’m short I couldn’t see over the shelving separating us from the regular check out lanes. But I saw a shopping cart go flying over and a guy my age literally vault over the waist high metal barrier.separating us from the check out line. My first thought was maybe there was a riot over toilet paper, or wow some people go to some crazy lengths to cut in line. But people went running and someone said an old man who’d been standing in the line just collapsed, and hit his head on the floor hard. There are a lot of reasons an old man might collapse, but this seemed different somehow. Now we all knew that it might be Coronavirus and all that contracting it meant (self isolation or quarantine). But no one balked about going up to him and helping him.

An ambulance was called. A lovely woman (a Hannaford employee) helped the old man as he came to. He said there was no one he wanted called. It was scary/sad/nerve-wracking. I’m worried for our older population, and anyone else with a compromised immune system. I said a little prayer of protection for them and all my older relatives. May they all survive this.

I went to the studio completely rattled, to gather up my stuff to teach my class at a local elementary school in the Shen district. When I got there, it was pandemonium. Parents were picking kids up with no notice and 6 kids were missing from my class. No one was really sure if the program would continue or not. All the teachers were in a meeting about next steps. Apparently the governor had shut down Broadway and banned gatherings of over 50 people. Sports organizations were suspending and ending seasons. Jeremy was at home and sending me a play by play. It was like brick by brick the foundation of our normal life was being dismantled. You could see everyone process this with a numb acceptance. Everyone had this battle face on. I heard a lot of people saying it has to be done. We’re all going to get this. Let’s just hope it’s only temporary.

Oh did I mention I also have a bad cold? I have NONE of the symptoms of Coronavirus–it’s definitely a cold–but I feel like crap and this whole thing is putting me on edge and making me want to hind in my house, in my bed, where it’s safe.

After the craziness at the elementary school, I went to the studio to teach a glass class to adults. There were a lot of teachers taking the class, buzzing about everything that had been shut down: all professional sports teams, Broadway, gatherings, concerts, then the school districts decided to put a halt to all after school activities. My new part time job sort of evaporated right there, as I was mostly hired to teach at the after school programs in several school districts. No one wanted to talk about anything else, and their phones were all dinging with updates. We were all in a state of shock. Frankly it was unprecedented to close everything. Banning flights from Europe. Shutting down everything even remotely entertaining in the country. The studio owner suggested we try to change the subject to happier topics, but it was just a constant conversation. Then the stock market imploded. There was so much to process. I think everyone needed to talk about it, to collectively grieve our new reality.

I had a job at a school today but cancelled it and rested all day. To be honest, I wanted to cancel all my jobs for the foreseeable future. It seemed unsafe to travel around 4 school districts where I could either contract or transmit the Coronavirus. It made me really nervous that everything was cancelling but not the schools. It seemed counterproductive. But at the same time, I knew that the schools were worried about feeding kids and making sure they were well taken care of. They wouldn’t close until it was their last resort.

The end of the school day arrived. The boys reported it was a normal school day–there was no hint of what was to come. President Trump declared a National Emergency at 3:30pm and it wasn’t an hour before the notifications came in. Every school district in the area closed one by one. There went my other job up in smoke. I can’t even say I mind. I’m ready to hunker down in my house and hopefully ride this out in safety and good health.

The boys’ school is closed all week and will re-evaluate whether it will reopen on the 20th. I told the boys to get used to being out of school for a while. I suspect they won’t be back any time soon. 96 new cases today in NY and the first case in our own county.

I had forced the boys weeks ago to watch the 1918 flu video–so they would have some understanding of what might be happening. I had shown them all the groceries and how to prepare everything in case I was too sick to make them food. They humored me, but didn’t think any of my apocalyptic predictions could happen. As they watched all the schools around us closing unexpectedly, and all my predictions coming true, I think the reality of this situation began to dawn on them. As a parent, I hate that they will have pandemic stories to tell.

This is going to be mine..