Author’s Note: this was a piece written for a virtual time capsule about life during COVID-19, on day #119 in self-quarantine. I acknowledge certain privileges I have based on individual circumstances, but I hope it resonates with people who are also at odds with the ‘before’, ‘during’, and ‘after’ of this pandemic.
Please take care of yourself and each other.
There are days in quarantine where I wake up with dread heavy in my bones. I stay caught between the fog of sleep and waking for hours at a time, hating having to get up but not knowing what to get up for. What happens then is that I lay lazy in the heat of a claustrophobic summer spent inside with recycled air and uncertainty. Always uncertainty.
On days like this, I am slow to start. I come alive in increments that don’t culminate until the sun goes down. The afternoon is spent with coffee. Too much of it. Television. Too much of it. My phone and endless, cyclical scrolling. Too much, too much, too much. It’s three o’clock by the time I’ve mustered my strength, and can lift myself off the couch to do something monumental like the dishes.
I often watch my fiancé work. Not by choice, but by circumstance. Actually, I watch her struggle to work. She started this quarantine in the corner of our den, her desk cluttered by monitors and wires. Empty cups and discarded wrappers. Loose cat hair and forgotten hair ties. I thought tidying it for her would make it easier — she moved to the couch instead.
Nowadays, she works on our coffee table, or in our bed, or sometimes on the floor. Never her desk — not anymore. Her desk is her sanctuary where she puts work away to play games with friends. That’s her perch until 2 am, sitting high above the demons that have recently taken to keeping her up at night. My fiancé, the bravest woman I have ever known, has never been this afraid before. Now, she takes Zoloft because we can’t trust people to be decent to each other.
I, on the other hand, lost my job along with 3 million other Americans in April. I was upset — of course I was — until I was liberated. You see, my day jobs always seem to rot the teeth of my creativity. Quarantine has unexpectedly scraped the decay from my roots, however painfully, and now I am working harder through bleeding gums than I have in years. I may not be employed, but I am working. I have accomplished more in three months at home than in three years outside. While that’s great, it’s also troubling.
I am taking classes. Four all at once. I am making music. Performing at virtual open mics. Developing and recording albums. Reading books without forgetting to finish them. Running a household. Sending hundred of letters. Practicing sign language. Studying film editing. Running a blog. Running a website. Running a Patreon. Creating what the kids call ‘content’. Building friendships. Taking care of loved ones. Taking care of myself. Exercising. Cooking. Oh my god, I’ve learned to cook! Finally, after years of resistance I have learned to feed myself in a responsible, creative, and healthy way. I can go to a grocery store and know what ingredients might go together.
My mother has never been prouder of me.
I’ve also been writing. Poems. Stories. Cards. Correspondences. Songs. Essays. Memoirs. Journal entries. To-do lists. This. This right here. My wrists ache in quarantine because all I do is write. I bought a typewriter our first week in because I knew, somehow, I would need it. Words flow out of me like water some days, and those are days where I’m light as a feather. Dread-less. These are days where I have never felt more myself. In a recent conversation with my father, he warned me that folks might grow to resent me for that. I scoffed.
Folks should learn to like themselves better.
I am not reckless, however. I am thinking ahead. I am applying to jobs. Every week, as is my responsibility. A hundred so far, in fact. Thirty-one rejections so far, in fact. All automatic, in fact, after their computers incorrectly parse my resume. Fifty-nine silences so far, in fact, from the rest who won’t dignify me with a rejection. It’s frustrating on a good day, and shattering on a bad one. Especially because this is normal. It’s been normal before this, and it’s extra normal now.
I am also not oblivious. The world outside is burning. Our country is festering in hate, fear, and anger that’s spreading from the top down. The police are killing Black people. The government is killing Trans people. COVID is killing all people. We’d be a global laughing stock if it wasn’t so sad. Masks and common courtesy are a political opinion. The end of this tunnel is subsequently built farther and farther way by the day. But young people are angry, and they are unemployed, so they are radicalizing. It’s exhilarating and exhausting at once. My empathy is in overdrive and competing with my outrage over the selfishness of others.
It’s been keeping my therapist very busy.
I do my part and share my few pounds of the load by donating, advocating, listening, and surviving despite everyone and anyone else. While the world turns — while the world burns — I aim to thrive safely inside the 900 square feet of my apartment. Resentment be damned.
Overall, 119 days in quarantine (so far) have taught me to unlearn what is normal:
Unlearn the necessity of a 40-hour-work-week, of a commute, of a career.
Unlearn the support of large corporations and the justifiable existence of billionaires.
Unlearn the dismissal of arts.
Unlearn healthcare tied to employment.
Unlearn the unworthiness of the poor.
Unlearn racism. Ableism. Capitalism.
Unlearn trusting systems simply because they’ve always been like this.
Unlearn the belief that these systems were built with good intentions.
Don’t get me wrong. I miss diners. I miss coffee shops. I miss my local library. I miss my family who are three states away, and the uncertainly of when I’ll be able to see them again often brings me to tears. I miss performing for live audiences and getting paid to do it. I miss New York City, especially at night. I miss hugs. I miss parties. I miss running errands without gloves and a mask. I miss Obama. I miss theatres and movies, aquariums and museums. I miss being able to get to sleep at a decent hour. I miss not fearing a disease that could easily turn my lungs — my livelihood — into swiss fucking cheese.
But, between you and me, I don’t miss a lot about what my life was like before this. Now I’m a 21st century beatnik, and I’ll be hard pressed to stop challenging things like this any time soon.