COVID-19, Home, Writing

Making space

I wrote an eloquent blog post in my head while I was clearing accumulated stuff off the dining table a few days ago. The blog post is gone along with all the detritus piled on the table. But maybe, by opening the computer, pulling up a blank document, and putting fingers to keys some of those thoughts will re-emerge. 

The piles had been there since spring. I’d periodically sift through looking for bills or other items that needed immediate attention; occasionally I’d make half-hearted attempts to organize and clear away. But I’d get distracted and abandon the task and the somewhat diminished piles would grow once again until my next brief attempt at pile purging. 

I’ve never been a neat and tidy person; my dining table has often sported teetering piles of paper, half unpacked grocery bags, a few stray articles of clothing. But at some point I’d invite friends in for a meal and the mess would disappear leaving an expanse of oak ready for placemats and cutlery, napkins, plates, bowls of steaming, fragrant stews or soups, cutting boards piled with bread, wine glasses glimmering, candles lit, maybe flowers in a vase, friendly faces, mingled voices. I don’t remember the last time I shared a meal at this table. Last February perhaps?

A major contributor to the mess was a big pile of fabric I’d used to make masks back in the early days of the pandemic. I’d spent hours researching patterns on the Internet, bookmarking YouTube videos of perky mask makers demonstrating their particular approach to cutting, stitching, pleating, fastening. I’d sacrificed an old bra and two unused half slips to the cause, snipping out their elastic to make ear loops. After several failed masks I produced two that I continue to wear. But with many vendors selling well-designed masks online I no longer need immediate access to all that fabric. 

My iron, a tote bag with sewing supplies, and the pile of fabric scraps are now cleared away—the iron is hanging next to the folded up ironing board, the fabric scraps are folded up in a bin under my bed, the sewing supplies stowed near the sewing machine in another room. All that’s left on the table is a small pile of papers to be filed or shredded.  

The empty table seems to be issuing an invitation but for what? An as yet to be discovered art project? A display of family photos and papers to stimulate my writing? A different sewing project? (I could use a new duvet cover.) Who knows when I’ll once again invite friends to gather around this table. 

This isn’t the post I drafted in my mind—I think I was playing around with a theme of “delights that ground me.” And I might write about that some day. For now, I’ll fold up the grocery bag that I plopped on the table yesterday and unfurl a brightly colored cloth. 

COVID-19, Music

Singing together alone

I recently reconnected with a choral group I sang with years ago. We’re three weeks into a five week Zoom choral experience. I signed up for this out of curiosity and as a way to make connections during this viral time. But I was dubious. Much of the joy of choral singing, for me, is the interaction with the other singers, listening carefully to each other as we weave harmonies around the melody, our many voices becoming one. How could I be part of a chorus singing by myself in my little pixeled box?

And we do each sing alone in our houses, muted to avoid the cacophony of variable connection speeds, learning our parts and then singing along with a recording of the song. As with many pandemic adaptations, it’s strange and a bit sad this singing together alone. 

But there is pleasure in the singing, in opening my throat, hitting the pitch, holding strong to my part. And as I look at the other singers in their little boxes, mouths moving, bodies swaying, and sometimes their eyes look up from the music, into their cameras and then into others’ eyes, I can imagine our gathered individual voices blending, swelling, diverging, and merging, our virtual chorus, and it is good enough, for now. 

Here’s one of the songs we’re singing: We Shall Be Known

COVID-19, Home, Writing

Writing feels distant these days

I open the computer with the intention to write but my restless mind interferes and soon I’m out the door where I pace up and down the street or do laps around my yard. My body appreciates the exercise but writing stagnates. I wish I had the cat’s ability to focus. He can sit for long stretches of time staring intently into the shrubbery, not even a whisker twitching as he waits for a chipmunk or vole to emerge. 

Eventually, renewing my resolve to sit with the blank page until words emerge, I go back inside, settle into my comfortable chair, and open the computer. I poke at a piece of writing for a while but then slide over to look at email or social media.

This past week has been especially difficult as the election nears and threats, fear, and anger escalate. Writing about my daily life seems frivolous, and yet it’s what I know. I’m angry and weary–as are most people I know–but I don’t have anything to add to the conversation about current events except to note how overwhelming it can all be. 

I talked about this with some writing friends and felt reassured that writing about my day to day is just fine. It might even be an antidote to the gathering angst. So, throughout the week I’m going to post quick word snapshots, glimpses of moments from my day to day. 

For example, yesterday I was in the front yard looking for the cat who I’d just seen disappearing into the depths of one of my gardens when I noticed the next door neighbors were out in the street taking pictures of their two boys.

I wandered over to see what was up. The three-year-old was just learning to ride a two-wheeled bike. He had such glee on his face as he wobbled along finding his balance point for seconds at a time before needing to plop his feet on the ground. Not to be outdone, the five-year-old demonstrated his ability to ride with just one hand on the handlebars.

He was just about to try riding with no hands when my phone rang. I needed to take the call and the family wandered off down the street. But I was left with the younger child’s broad smile and his joy in the trying and then trying again. 

COVID-19, Friends, Nature

Hunkering down

“Shakespeare wrote King Lear while he was in quarantine for the plague.” This has been circulating around social media the past couple of days. “Yay for Shakespeare,” I say but my brain is so full of viral thoughts there’s room for little else, especially writing. 

My house is a mess. Cleaning is on the list for tomorrow along with writing up notes about cat care in case of emergency and reviewing my will. Morbid but necessary items that will help me sleep at night. 

Sun shines, rain blows through, more sun. The hellebores are blooming, vinca, lungwort. Crocuses have gone past. Daffodils are up and will bloom soon. Trees, water, dirt, insects, birds, critters. “We have a possum in our garage,” a neighbor says. Life in its rhythms. The cat loves the longer days, the sun, my being home to let him out. I stroll the yard and he runs to me, twines around my legs, meows, trots behind me as I keep moving.

I’m in contact with friends more than usual, even though we meet via phone calls and emails rather than face to face. Without the usual distractions life simplifies—home, friends and loved ones, time in the garden, walks through the woods. 

Will I be able to center into this time? Breathe, ease the fretting, slow down, row gently through the days?

This isn’t all that different than my usual life, I say. I often have strings of days with no engagements in the calendar. I’ve set things up that way deliberately to give me time for reflecting and writing. But… But…There’s always an alternative to solitude–a coffee shop to sit in, lunch with a friend, a library or bookstore to browse, a movie to go to.

I focus on finding my way through the day to day—how to shape the hours, carve a pattern in the day. I poll my friends: What are you doing today? I make yogurt, think about baking bread. I wonder where I put my spare fabric that I could use to patch a favorite pair of jeans.

But mortality is knocking on my door more urgently than ever. Older adults are more likely to die from this virus than younger ones–I hear this over and over. What does this mean for me? For my friends and family? The world feels precious. My daily walks yield small treasures–tree bark like an elephant’s skin, feathery bright green new growth, water rushing over rocks after a morning of rain, late afternoon sun on the river.  

An email arrives from my cousin in San Francisco. They’re staying home, life is quiet, they’re watching the birds at the feeder, planting their gardens, writing letters to get out the vote. Another email from friends in England. I make a note to contact my friends in Chicago. Webs of connection. All of us figuring out how to move through these days.

I try to relish the simplicity, cherish the strong connections, revel in the moments of breathing and moving, feeling the chilly air on my face, the soreness in my hip that says I’m alive and kicking, savoring the soft fur on my cat’s back, his warm body curled close to mine, his head butting my leg as we stand in the middle of the slowly resurrecting gardens.