COVID-IARIES, Day 7: Gratitude With Attitude
The thing about writing during a pandemic is that when you do it late at night, after you’ve sung John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt to the kids eight hundred times (yup, my kids fall asleep to a beer hall song), and after you’ve cleaned the kitchen, and wiped down the table and countertops, and emptied out the potty, and after you’ve tidied the living room/classroom, and maybe attempted your daily diastasis recti exercises…. after all that, you’re too tired to write. But you know – I know– you have to empty out your head, because if you don’t, there’ll be a ten-car pileup in there before breakfast. You’ll have taken all the news of the day and smooshed it together with all the news that breaks before the triangle that signals the start of school is rung, and you’ll be a big ball of All The Ways We’ll Surely Die during the flag song. One cannot feign enthusiasm for addition and subtraction and finding digraphs at 9 am if one’s head has not been properly emptied out of all apocalyptic thinking the night before.
I don’t know why I’m talking in second person here. It’s just me. I’m talking about me. Hi, I’m Lolo and I have anxiety.
Under normal circumstances, I’m angsting about the plight of the polar bear, or what we’re doing about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Under normal circumstances, I’m mentally inventorying the inside of my cabinets as I lie awake at night, mapping out how I can stretch the olive oil out until the end of the month without another run to the supermarket because CARBON EMISSIONS! UNNECESSARY ERRANDS! WASTE NOTHING! Under normal circumstances, I’m wondering if Bobo will ever have a job besides personal clown given her clumsiness, disdain for brushing her hair, and the way she wails “YOU’RE BREAKING MY HEART” when I stop her from compulsively sharpening every pencil in the house.
My normal is not really normal, I guess. Now it’s extra not-normal.
Today the plumbers mercifully arrived to solve our backup issue. They were a team of chain smoking young men who regularly hocked up phlegm onto the grass where my children play and then wiped their mouths and noses onto their filthy sleeves. God bless them for coming. The job was delayed by a day or two because a 94-year old woman’s basement had flooded and they called to see if it would be okay if they attended to that first. Of course, of course, we agreed.
Right now there is a digging device in my backyard, one with dark orange “arms” that lifts the clay-sodden soil out from underneath the moss and sets it aside to make room for new PVC pipe, which one of the lads carried over his shoulder in twelve foot lengths from the truck to the backyard like some post-modern logger. It started to rain in the midst of all of their digging and cutting of concrete, and I would have felt bad for them had they not coughed up loogies near my herb pots. At one point, I poked my head in to ask how long the migraine-inducing, pipe-rattling sawing through my concrete slab might take, and two tired looking young men, covered in concrete dust and mud, looked at me like a pair of sad animals in a zoo and said they’d only be digging for the next while so it wouldn’t be too loud.
Beaversons, who is proving to be perhaps more noise-averse than her bananas older sister, walked around for most of the morning with her hands over her ears, asking repeatedly, tearfully, Mama, what’s that noise? Oh, that, honey? That’s the sound of our homeowner’s insurance getting a kick in the balls.
Because we already have a Sensitive Little Flower, and because Mr. Burdy used to take her to stadium soccer games, we already own a kid-sized pair of noise cancelling headphones. I stretched them over Beaverson’s huge dome, but then she complained they were itchy. At some point, I stuffed two flannel baby wipes between her head and the muffs, but not even that helped.
Have you ever experienced the sound of a drill going through concrete? Let me ask you another way. Have you ever heard someone downstroke a D note on a bass guitar with a running broken vacuum at volume 11? Have you ever gone temporarily deaf from the noise of one billion bees passing through your sinus cavity? No? Lucky you, then. This went on for two solid hours at our house while I was trying to teach phonics and console a 2 year old.
I am grateful, though, I swear. I made steady and maybe-too-long eye contact with our dust-covered team of toilet-removers and thanked them for being here (subtext: in the rain, in the filth, and in the middle of a pandemic.) I knew they were risking their health being in such close quarters, and I was so very grateful.
This whole thing with the plumbers- the rage at their disregard for where they put their SPIT in the middle of a health crisis, the heinous noise, and the overflow of gratitude I had for them- this sums up pretty much what I would have come here to write this morning when my head was clear and I was ready to write with a theme in mind. (Themes are so February 2020).
My friend calls this “holding the paradox”. As adults (if we’re lucky) we can be both mad as hell and grateful at the same time. I certainly am most of the time. See also: anxiety.
I can be 100% out-of-my-gourd raging-bull ANGRY that this country is putting our healthcare workers at risk by not mandatorily bumping up the production of protective gear by our manufacturing sector… and I can be overwhelmed with love and pride for the people stepping up to sew masks for those workers.
I can be happy that a certain fabric supply chain is supplying these kits to make masks for free, and I can be pissed off that this chain expects employees to pay for their own store sterilizing supplies, and won’t pay for employees to not work during this health crisis.
I can love what this quarantine is doing to renew parts of the earth that just needed to breathe for five minutes, for fuck’s sake, and I can also say: Hey, this being inside thing most of the time blows.
I can both literally CRY with appreciation, bowled over by how much love and dedication and time UNDER PRESSURE went into preparing my kid’s 2 week lesson plan, AND I can want to throw it on the fire some days because I feel so ill prepared to be a teacher to Bobo and because I want to do puzzles and crochet granny squares and shelter-in-place like the tired middle aged lady I am.
I can be sad that it took this level of catastrophe to get people to work together, to look out for their fellow human beings, even as I am glad that, well, we’re not rioting in the streets yet (I’m sure that’s coming, but I’ll muse on that in another post).
We can all hold this paradox. In fact, we’re going to need to learn how to do it real quick. If this virus teaches us anything, it’s that it’s not like anything we know. The healthy can get sick. The well intentioned can harm as they try to help. I hold all of this in my heart as I muddle through the day. I am terrified for the marginalized, the incarcerated, the ICE detainees, the kids who count on school for hot lunches who don’t have them now, the domestic violence victims and children stuck at home with their abusers. The list goes on. I don’t want to get stuck in “there’s only so much one person can do so why bother?” thinking. THIS is the illness that teaches us that EXACTLY one person can make the difference between 500 new people being infected and NOT.
I follow Joseph Gordon-Levitt on social media. He has this app where you can help fellow artists seeking teeny tiny bits of input for their projects- a voiceover here, an answer to a poll question there. I signed up and read a poem yesterday. It felt good. There were a LOT of haters on his Facebook feed, telling him to get busy doing “more important” things than dumb art projects. I wanted to tell the lot of them to fuck right off. Making art IS doing something. Not all of us are public defenders, social workers, health care professionals, teachers, or the goddamned foot soldiers in this war against greed and corporatism. Some of us are ordinary joes with sewing machines and 40 seconds to spare to help someone recite a beautiful piece of writing into a microphone. It’s not “curing coronavirus” as the kids these days say, but it’s not awful, either.
That kind of thinking, that “What’s a poem going to solve”? thinking? That can go right ahead and burn up in the incinerators with all those used masks.
I’m grateful but grumpy/I’m scared but I’m laughing/I’m lost but I’m hopeful, baby. That’s my update to Alanis Morissette’s “Hand In My Pocket”. That last line is hers. We’re all things at once. We can all hold the paradox if we choose. We can help in ways we both can and can’t imagine, but it sure as hell helps to imagine. I have seen in just 12 days what I am made of, and what I have to give, both to my family and my community at large.
I’m a heartbroken clown, shielding her ears from noise, hoping for the best, but still hoarding the olive oil like it’s the last drop of its kind on planet earth.