Friday, May 22, 2020
Some Good News is now on hiatus.
Aren’t we all on hiatus? The thrill is gone, the novelty of quarantine, my own Hunger Games role-playing DOA. Mostly, I’m dealing with woe-is-me fighting between adolescents with strong but wrong opinions, a mildly demoralized spouse with whom I had a telling quarrel yesterday, and my elderly mom next door who is literally the bearer of bad news, much like a 24/7 weather report in hurricane season in the poor parts of a coastal state.
Some Good News is now on hiatus, and Stay-At-Home Orders expired in Phoenix on May 15 at midnight. All U.S. States are “open” in parts to varying extents. One friend went for sushi. Tim got his beloved haircut. Remote school ended. I allowed the girls to each see a friend. Another friend is flying to Cincinnati. I went to a doctor’s appointment and Trader Joe’s alone.
I confess: This was a pretty good literary week, but there are things in my life that I will now share because I have—for better or worse—committed to a Candor Aesthetic, self-defined (I think), self-absorbed (but serving the greater good), funny (I hope), true (I pray), lovely (I aspire).
I confess: I write, I share, I divulge from a privileged spot. I actually am not one of those people—here I am lacking all humility—who doesn’t appreciate my privilege. I think I do appreciate it. We are employed; there is food on the table; my family is happy if not occasionally difficult, etc., etc., etc. My privileges have allowed me to lament the dumb stuff, even the other stuff: I am privileged enough to get irate over protesters who want to freakin’ go back to work. I am privileged enough to get irate about those folks who have somehow or other Harry-Pottered a magical spell on right-wingers to make them think that masks are civil liberties issues. I am privileged to be mad.
I confess: my privileges, albeit real, are shaky. Let me explain. In school, I was the dumbest of the smart kids. I mean it, sincerely. This meant A LOT of things, and I will now tell you some of them. I did hang out with the smarties. I did have great report cards. I am considered “bright.” GREs? I got tutoring from someone who would get, like, a Ph.D. and a law degree from Stanford, and my scores were terribly average. I got into NYU, and I was wait-listed at Columbia and then not let in. I got into all those big Washington D.C. schools you hear about, except for Georgetown. Rejected immediately. All I wanted was Georgetown and Columbia. I hang with the smart people, but sometimes I make fun of them too because they’re all so freakin’ pompous. I still couldn’t really tell you how the stock market works, and there’s nothing I hate more than reading instruction manuals, figuring out riddles, or discussing why PCs are better than Macs. One of the best decisions I made was to be a failed writer instead of some kind of faux-scholar in politics. I married this super smart guy and his college life was the opposite of mine, so he’s considerably less snobby than I. But, let me tell you this: my husband can deliver speeches to me—and me alone—in a length that rivals Fidel Castro’s before the UN in 1960, where Castro spoke for four and a half hours straight.
I confess: I struggle, almost incessantly, with feelings of inadequacy.
I confess: my privileges are tempered monetarily. I am also the poorest of the rich people. My husband would beg to differ. I think he’d say that we’re very middle class. Maybe. I always feel richer! I always think we’re rich! I mean, yeah, we don’t have money in the bank, and, yeah, I talk about how poor I am, which my rich friends tell me is unbecoming, and, yeah, all of my books are non-sellers, and, yeah, I have to bail out of lunch plans at Pita Jungle periodically, and, yeah, right this second, I’m wearing shorts that I bought at Kohl’s in 2014 and a t-shirt honoring Prince that a friend gave me when he died in 2015, and, yeah, I think Whole Foods is crazy expensive, and, yeah, I haven’t remodeled my 1970’s house, but . . . but . . . but I seriously—and I mean this sincerely—don’t give a shit. The problem is that Tim does give a shit. He laments our “struggle.” He longs for the ease of big vacations, a roomy house that allows him to get away and be with us at the same time, the luxury of stress-free dinners out. Nothing extravagant. Just something a bit easier.
I confess: I really, really, really don’t give a shit. I think we go on awesome vacations! I love Trader Joe’s! We were, it’s true, a little over-the-top in our Gen X-y financial planning; I sorta went to South Africa and decided to be a writer, and Tim dropped out of college a billion times and I know that, sometimes, he wonders why he didn’t become a financial analyst or a broker (what do they do?) instead of a cancer research person, but I’m, like, Don’t You Know I’d Have To Kill Myself If You Only Worked To Make Money? Maybe I don’t quite put it that way. . . And where was I going with this?
I confess: I’m privileged, and all of my thoughts about Covid-19 have sprung from that privilege.
Speaking of which: we’re still home, but Tim is shifting—and I see it, I see it in his bouts of quietude, the way he’s rubbing his neck which he does when stressed. He was good with our self-quarantine practices for a while, but now he’s telling me that it’s the Third World who’s going to pay for this, as famine spreads and the onslaught of global poverty hits hard. He read some UN reports on food shortages. A video on India from the BBC hit him hard, and I admit that watching it, watching these people in a city shut-down, trying to flee with no way to get to their rural villages and no food to eat and no money, did give me pause—and is the choice so freakin’ brutal? Do we need to decide between feeding people and letting a virus kill the vulnerable?
Speaking of which: Tim’s uncle died. He wasn’t that old. But he had Parkinson’s, Advanced Parkinson’s—and he was in Massachusetts, and he seriously entered a nursing home in March, and then, horribly, Covid-19 took captive nursing homes, of all places. Nursing homes! And Tim’s uncle declined and declined and declined, and his wife couldn’t visit him. She wasn’t allowed. And so there was this final zoom call, family saying goodbye, but saying it like this: We hope we’ll talk again soon. And then we never did speak to him again. I was quiet on the call because I’m pretty much just Tim’s wife. But no one was there and his uncle was non-responsive and he had texted Tim less than two months before and he had been completely cognizant and he died alone. He died in a nursing home, not surrounded by loved ones, even though he had loved ones. It was Tim who started turning this around and around in his head. It wasn’t me. I was thinking, Yeah, we gotta shut this planet down—but then Tim asked what I would do if one of my kids got sick and was hospitalized and dying, and I was told that I couldn’t see her; I couldn’t be there; she has to die alone. We’ve got a Zoom call set up. Can you even imagine? What would I do?
Speaking of which: What did you do . . . with your stimulus check? So, yeah, Tim and I got into it yesterday, and we really try not to fight because we did it so much for, like, a decade—and it was such bullshit. So, if we get into it now, it burns out pretty quickly—each of us supremely adept at smoothing things out and dealing with each other’s more extreme sides. We got our stimulus check—ours was, indeed, a paper check with Trump’s name on it—and I wanted to pay off debt! Because, remember, we’re the poorest of the rich people—and we’re in debt! So, yeah, my kitchen sink is practically rotting and Tim’s sneakers have a hole in the big toe that he’s sewed up, like, three times, and I waited about eight months to fix the A/C in my car because it wasn’t hot outside and it cost a million bucks, BUT—remember, and remember it well—I don’t give a shit. However, if Donald J. Trump is going to send me a check, I’m going to pay off some debt. Damn Straight. Well, Tim wanted to party! And, by party, I mean, bring home McDonald’s McFlurries for the kids. And, yes, we each flipped-the-fuck-out. And, yes, once again, Daddy was the fun one. And, yes, once again, I said, Eat an orange for dessert. You better believe I paid Visa. Somehow—and I’m not exactly sure how—this quarrel (we’re so over it now)—illustrates exactly where we are, though maybe not exactly. One would think I’m the big conservative and he’s the big liberal but, actually, it’s the other way around—and it’s another piece altogether. But what I can say now, and what I will say now, is that we talk politics every day on our morning walks. And, yeah, we’re shifting. We’re wondering if the world is going to see the worst famine we’ve ever seen. We’re wondering if people in nursing homes should have no visitors. We’re wondering about the psychological effects on our kids of not seeing friends, on Tim who just continues his work within the confines of his ridiculously hot home office, on some people I know in the Hispanic community who have no work and are pretty much quiet while us white people shout at each other over wearing masks—hoping we work it out soon, so they can return to work.
I confess: Maybe I’m wondering about it all.
Speaking of which: It was a grand act of symbolic value, and I’m pretty sure that it was only me who suddenly felt metaphorically hollowed out. My mom—more sequestered than all of us because she’s one of the vulnerable ones—finally had a friend over! Two old ladies! They sat outside, and you know that Arizona is boiling after 8:15 a.m., so it was about 7:30 a.m. They were in their chairs. I guess they drank coffee and ate brownies. Then they wore their masks. But it happened . . . The friend had to go to the bathroom. But here they were, inundated with reports of the sick and the sanitizer wipe shortages and the meat processing plants and Brazil and Trump and Fauci and the CDC—and, seriously, folks, the friend was about to go home because, well, no one was going to pee on the toilet in my mom’s place—and so, risk be damned, I let her use my bathroom. Then, they continued outside. And, well, that was it for me. That was my breaking point. I think Tim’s epiphany was more noble, more complex: the Zoom call before death sent him a-thinkin’. And mine was the fear of using the bathroom. That’s it! I threw in my towel! I wasn’t ripping off my mask—no freakin’ way—but maybe it was like that old movie. Who the hell saw it? Who saw John Travolta in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, a TV movie in 1976, that apparently stuck with me for over forty years? He lived in a bubble because of an immune-thing. Spoiler: he stepped out of the bubble, probably to die.
Speaking of which: Doesn’t New Hampshire have that Live Free or Die thing, which I’ve always regarded as a bit whacky?
Speaking of which: Should we just step out of the bubble? Live free or die?
Speaking of which: My kids are committed to baking elaborate cakes all summer long in lieu of seeing friends and going on middle class vacations. They always choose recipes that call for a ton of butter. So much butter. Who knew these recipes called for so many sticks of butter? If you love what you’re eating, it’s probably because of butter. That’s all so random. But so is this rant.
I confess: In my Covid-19 thinking, I’m shifting. I’m turning. I’m wondering what we should be doing now that SGN is on hiatus.
Thursday, April 2, 2020
As expected, I’m the one most cut out for this corona routine.
Remember The Blue Lagoon with Brooke Shields and that guy? I know you remember.
If you didn’t see it, can you even say you’re one of us?
We hypothesized . . . though we didn’t use that word . . . with whom we’d like to be stuck on a deserted island.
I know I didn’t envision that my deserted island would require me to stockpile Fancy Feast.
I am “trapped” in the house with my husband of nearly sixteen years, two teen girls who tell me that their friends are still living it up, a dog who recently decided that he’s allowed on the couch, two fat cats, a hamster or a gerbil (I really don’t know what he is), and four neglected glow fish. I have to admit that when we have ventured out to panic-shop, we urgently search for dog and cat food—but no one ever mentions the hamster/gerbil or the four fish. Hopefully, someone is thinking about them because, apparently, I’m not.
I vacillate between feeling cozy/home-comfort/I-have-my-babies-here/my-pets-are-adorable/I'm-happily-married/we-have-Netflix and, its opposite response: end-of-the-world panic. Is this a Biblical plague? Remember Moses in Egypt with Pharaoh? Wouldn’t it be pretty appropriate for the world to, um, end in a global pandemic that makes a joke out of nationalism and money and partisan politics? Is this the Apocalypse?
I wasn’t supposed to be alive for this!
I’ve already had my crazy! Who hasn’t read my novel about a psychotic marriage? (Oh yeah, everyone.) I survived breast cancer for this? Chemo for this? We didn’t do enough global warming! We could still warm up a bit. Can my kids just grow up first? May I please see the final season of Homeland before I meet Jesus?
I mean, it’s crossed my mind: forget this Trump and Biden (oh, and Bernie) Thing. It’s so petty. And we all know that only Jimmy Carter’s making it to heaven.
Maybe my Gen X colors are questionable: Alienated, yes. Isolated, yes. Art and Unemployment, yes and yes. Cynicism, yes.
But anxiety is mine, all mine. Aren’t I supposed to be going with the flow a bit more?
Of course, Kurt Cobain looked all laid back with his messy hair and sweaters, but we all know what happened to him.
Allow me, now, to share with you my angst-riddled Covid-19 thoughts, which will undoubtedly leave NO ONE feeling at ease.
- I bet the creators of THE WALKING DEAD are realizing that they never actually cashed-in on our biggest fear, which is the loss of toilet paper. I mean, that show is so five-minutes ago anyway—but, seriously, folks. I’m remembering that scene in The Graduate, that famous scene. Go here. Our one-word is actually two words: toilet paper.
- Where’s Melania?
- There is not a huge demand for books on one's cancer experience during a global pandemic. I’ve noticed. (Which, of course, begs the usual question: Why did I choose writing again?)
- This is a rare opportunity to evaluate friendships. I mean, are you keeping in touch with people? All of them? Some of them? Are you sorta surprised by the way your own affections are playing out? I mean it. Is your interest in the lives of others, um, thin? It’s been a tad sobering as my life has been reduced to bare essentials which mostly involves a handful of people, the dog, and half ‘n’ half. Guys, have you not seriously risked your life already to feed a pet? We didn’t even wear masks UNTIL TODAY. (AND THEN WE DID.)
- Yes, we wore masks today when we went shopping. Tim and I. No kids. We acted as if we were on a secret mission. We donned face masks. We grabbed one Lysol wipe from our limited stash. We put on old sneakers. We cautiously entered, heading straight to the paper products. Nothing. We moved on, and here’s my report: no paper products, minimal frozen vegetables especially potatoes, limited cleaning supplies, rationed eggs, almost no chicken nuggets, no Purina dog chow. Plenty of other stuff. I’m pretty convinced that delivery and pick-up are shams. A friend asked today if Trader Joe’s does delivery, and I’d like to know if you know something I don’t. Gen X likes Trader Joe’s very much.
- I tell my kids, "There's a U2 song for every occasion." Bono's my bro. He just put this song out. He’s a bit scraggly here, and I think his dog shot the video, but I watched every second. You should too, because I promise you this: Bono Will Be Singing In The Afterlife.
- I find myself personally vested in the welfare of Chris (“Christopher,” to his brother) Cuomo. I’m intrigued by his narrow basement, his reddish eyes, and the mildly sensationalistic tone of his news; I also am intrigued by Andrew Cuomo’s nice Italian New York-ness.
- But, lest you get all excited about my left-leanings which are still left-leanings, I have to say that I’m weary of partisanship right now. I’m a #NeverTrump-er. Still. Always. But I guess I’m, like, We’ve Got Bigger Fish To Fry. I know that we can go nuts on all of the failures that led to the pandemic, but Can We Do This Later? At least Trump is working with Dr. Fauci. I’m weary of Trump-bashing! I can’t believe I’m saying it! We Gotta Give It A Rest! Let’s Live First!
- I am repeatedly struck by how difficult it to shut America down. Both my husband and I are able to work remotely (for now). But, if you venture out there, you’ll see it: there is still a lot going on. I get maybe two pedicures a year (and I feel guilty admitting it): one at the beginning of sandals weather (which is, like, early March here in AZ), and one before I do some random literary event that may involve someone looking at my toes. Yesterday, going to the pharmacy, I saw that my nail salon was open. Because, well, they’re probably scared and they’re immigrants, Asian immigrants too so the world is showing its evils, and they feel like they have no choice but to stay open. And what can I say? What can any of us say?
- Which finely leads me to my Trump friends . . . Is it me or am I seeing this weird tension? Trumpsters are often loudly declaring how they’ve got their rights, this is a free country, and the government can’t step in. Blah, blah, blahhhhhhh. And, now, in a surreal and unanticipated dystopian nightmare, Their Man is saying, from his bully pulpit, I’m Telling You To Stay Home. I think it’s the Trumpsters who are ignoring him! What a wild turn of events! And it’s all because of this: Old Town Road. Right-wingers be like, Can't nobody tell me nothin'
- Isn’t it ironic—don’t you think?—that my family just spent the winter binging on The 100?
- If you don’t have a pet, are you sad?
- I’m so thankful that Tim and I got a grip on this marriage-thing. I. Can’t. Even. Imagine.
- So this is my kids’ 9/11?
- Writers, are you writing? You know, I wrote my way through cancer. I never stopped. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I’m finding it about a thousand times tougher to write now. It’s one thing to write with—get ready for it—the gun to my head. It’s quite another when the whole world is threatened. I only want for my survival to be at stake, not everyone’s. Am I seeing futility in my vocation? Am I preoccupied? I ask again: Writers, are you writing?