Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Quarantinuary

April 8, 2020

I had to just look up the date.  Is it March?  April?  Quarantinuary? Coronember?  The days blend together.  I’m in a never-ending present.  In my house.  With my kids.  Doing the same thing every day.  Cooking, applying for loans, sewing masks.  And repeat.

I’ve started making courtesy masks.  In my previous life, I constructed other garments - ponchos, dresses, depending on the season.  Now a corner of my kitchen has been devoted to production of just one item.  My waiting list, after a single post on social media, is daunting.  I’m sewing as fast as I can.  My bedroom bureau is the shipping department.  Envelopes, stamps, a food scale.  Not anything I ever imagined two months ago but here we are.

It’s quiet, this life.  And it’s stressful.  Working with the government to try to get the rent covered on my shop.  Educating myself on the differences between the PPP and the EIDL.  Waiting to hear back from unemployment like one might await a hummingbird to alight on one’s nose.  Reading the news.  Worrying about people, small p and big P.  Trying to imagine what the next twelve to eighteen months will hold, wondering how to navigate it.  All from within the confines of my house, my favorite, most comforting place.  While in my pajamas.  

I know that most every cogent being on this planet is having a very weird time.  We’re all in our own envelope of quandary.  The specifics might vary from person to person but everyone is affected and everyone, on some level, is afraid.  Strangely, possibly sadistically, it’s helpful for me to remember that.  I’m in the vacuum of my own thoughts and worries, with little social interaction to distract or diffuse.  It’s easy to get lost and overwhelmed.  It’s easy to lose hope.  If I can remember that everyone I love, everyone I know, everyone I DON’T know, is struggling, too, I don’t feel so alone.

I just listened to the novelist George Saunders read an email to his creative writing students.  He advised them to write about their experience through this time, to do so with an open heart, because we’re going to need to process this and sometimes it’s the artists that help do that.  So I’m writing to you, dear reader, with an open heart.  That open heart is scared.  And daring to hope.  And grieving for what was.  And wondering, with awe, what will be, after this virus has had it’s way with us.  I’m reaching for you, from this quiet of quarantine.  Hope you're doing ok.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Howl


At eight p.m. in Marin County people howl.

In Italy they sing, in England they applaud.  Here, we howl.

Last night I went out a little early.  I wanted to hear how it started.  And sure enough, just before eight, a lonely yip.  Silence.  Again the yip.  Then an answering call from above us, a long low wail.  And presently Mae and I added our voices (Lana is an infrequent howler).  We favor a classic yowl - any wolf would be proud.  

Soon the dogs join in.  Then the turkeys.  Occasionally the coyotes.  And Mae and I start gobbling because we find it hilarious.  And then eventually we start mimicking our neighbor below us, who on summer evenings calls her cat with a long melodic “Leeeeeeeeeeeeoooooo”.  She fancies herself a singer - we’re also privy to her voice lessons.  Mae and I call “Leeeeeeeeeoooooo” and then giggle at our meanness.  Then usually, the howl is petering out and we return to our puzzle and our audiobook.

The howl, as far as I know, started in Mill Valley.  I think it was rationalized as a tribute to healthcare workers - I believe that’s the reasoning behind the Italian singing and the English clapping.  But I’ll say this.  As grateful as I am to the people working the front lines of this war, those risking their own health and the health of their loved ones, working long and harrowing hours, I do not howl for them.

I howl because I miss people and that communal exercise connects me to them.  Strangers, not the friends that I reach out to via text or phone.  Connection with strangers has been put on hold through this crisis.  

I howl because I’ve been caged all day.  I’ve been good all day.  I’ve stoppered my fear (about my health, my people’s health, my shuttered business).  I’ve kept myself away from almost everything that makes my life - my friends, my boyfriend, my shop, even the pleasure of chatting with acquaintances at grocery stores.  I’ve done that for the sake of others.  For my own safety and that of my kids, yes, though I’m not so worried about the virus getting us.  I’m more worried about the virus getting other people THROUGH us.  I’ve kept a lid on it.  I’ve behaved.  And come eight o’clock, I’m ready to unleash a bit of my contained wildness.  And I do so at the top of my lungs.

We’re living in such strange times.  But nature hates a vacuum.  Into the abyss of the mundanity of sheltering in place, of quarantining, is sucked new rhythms, new joys.  The long hike with teenagers in the middle of a Tuesday.  The lentil soup made mid-morning because we eat at weird times.  The streaming barre class, squinting at my laptop to make out the images of my friends deep plies.  The six o’clock happy hour with my boyfriend, six feet apart on the deck, rain or shine.

There is joy here.  There’s fear.  There’s despair.  There’s loneliness.  There’s loss.  But there’s also, come eight o’clock, a long and loving howl rising up through the trees, many voices raised in solidarity.  We’re here.  We’re alive.  Ah-woooooooooo.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Treasure


March 21, 2020


When I was a little person, I remember my mom talking a lot about the Golden Rule.  At first, the idea of gold really grabbed me.  I imagined a cavern of treasure; gold blocks and precious stones piled as far as the eye could see.  Then as I got older I got a firmer grip on the idea.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  If there was one ethic my mother lived by it was that.

There’s nothing that touches me more than strangers being kind to each other.  When there’s no personal gain, being willing to help or just to sympathize or even just to smile at someone you don’t know, who you don’t love (at least specifically), this has always seemed to me to be the grandest gift.

Right now, all across the world, we are giving that gift to each other.  We’re doing it by staying home.  We’re doing it by temporarily shuttering our businesses, by forgoing income (voluntarily or involuntarily), by sequestering ourselves from the people we love, by being lonely and isolated and worried.  Even if you’re just sitting on your couch, this is hard work.  Not hospital-hard, not fighting-for-your-life hard, but hard.

We are staying home so that the person we don’t know - the cancer patient, the octogenarian, the boy with cystic fibrosis - doesn’t die, at least not from this virus.  And an enormous amount of people - the majority of those asked - are doing it with good will.  This, more than my own worries of the survival of my small business, of how I’ll pay my mortgage, of how I’ll support my kids, this makes me cry.  Because it’s beautiful.

The virtual happy hours, the virtual cooking classes, art classes, songs sung, just even the texts flying back and forth - “How are you holding up?  How are you feeling?  I miss you.  I love you.” - is heart-stoppingly beautiful.

I have to believe - really I have to or I’ll sink below saving - that, for the most part, we operate out of love, out of connection.  Our humanity wins over our selfishness, our ego, our fear.

There is treasure, it turns out, in the Golden Rule.  That treasure is love.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Day to Day


March 19, 2020

We have become a society of three.  Me, Mae (newly 18) and Lana (newly 16).  Their brother, Mihiretu (13), is at school in the remote reaches of Southern Utah.  On a zoom session with him this morning, I tried to describe what his friends here are up to.  

“So, Ellis?  Honey, Ellis is alone with his parents.  All day every day.  He has hours of online homework.  He can go outside but he can’t interact with anyone.  He is not having fun.”

Grumbles from Mihiretu, who, on principle, is jealous of anyone at home.  Then a long description of the kayak trip two days ago when all the boys ended up covered in mud, complete with war stripes on their faces.  Mihiretu loves to win.  Especially when it comes to Ellis.

It was harder to explain why this virus is such a big deal.  

“More people have died from the flu,” Mihiretu said, clearly parroting what he’s been hearing at school.

“So far, yes,” I said.  “But the tricky thing is that no one has gotten this before.  It’s brand new.  So over time, it might be more dangerous than the flu.”

“But only old people die from it,” he said.

“It’s more than old people, honey.  Healthy kids do well.  I’m not worried about you and your sisters.  But for everyone else it’s harder to predict.”

“Fine,” he said.  “But I still don’t see why it’s such a big deal.”

This, from what I’m hearing from my parent friends, is common with kids.  They don’t feel the danger but they sure feel the sudden lack of friends and fun.  My girls, so far, have taken this seriously.  Maybe because I’ve had symptoms.  Probably because I’ve had symptoms.  Today they made me temporarily renounce my boyfriend.

“He’s out in the world,” they insisted.  “He can’t see us and see other people.”

He barely sees other people.  But he does go to the store when he needs to.  The girls and I have completely quarantined ourselves.  We don’t want to be responsible for any spread.  And because there’s the distinct possibility that we’re infected (the girls have had an odd symptom or two, as slim as their years) that feels reasonable.

The girls like Jamie.  They appreciate his company.  I think particularly now that we have none.  But they are feeling their civic duty deeply.  And wear it surprisingly cheerfully.

The big set piece of our day has been a mid-morning hike.  We are lucky to be able to walk 100 yards and step onto a trail system that goes all the way to the ocean.  Every day has been a different route.  I don’t know if it’s the quieting of our busyness and the narrowing of our daily society but outside seems especially vibrant right now.  Nature seems loud.  Yes, it’s the first day of spring.  Everything is waking up.  But there is also less human sound.  Less cars driving around, no saws.

We walk fast, we three.  I didn’t raise dawdlers.  But we have all the time in the world to walk these days.  Our walk is the big event.  So maybe we take that narrow trail off to the left.  Maybe we stop and watch the hummingbird high in the oak, who is also in a rare state of stillness.

We come home and go our separate ways for awhile - eating, bathing, working.  The afternoon stretches.  The boy cat has taken to joining me in bed around 2:00, expecting a nap.  A nap that, because I am fighting off the plague, seems appropriate.

Evening finds us in our favorite place - on the couch watching TV.  We pondered a shared tattoo awhile back.  Something small on the same spot on each person’s ankle.  But what would it be, we wondered.  A couch?  An old-fashioned TV with bunny ears?  Because those are some of our fondest commonalities.  "God, that's sad," we laughed at the time.  Sad, and not sad.

Eventually, towards nine, things devolve.  The girls are on top of each other in one way or another.  Physically, “affection” that often veers towards minor violence.  Or just on each other’s case.  Or mine.  So I call it a night.  They protest.  I insist.  

And then the house is quiet.  And I’m in bed with my book (I’m currently re-reading Station Eleven, about a virus that takes out 99% of the population, which I am finding strangely comforting).  And then, the best part, sleep and dreams and escape from the coronavirus update page on the New York Times website.
  
And then the next day we do it again.  When I think too far ahead, when I contemplate doing this until April 7th as has been mandated (and, let’s be real, probably longer) I get a little panicky.  But for now, beat by beat, hour by hour, I’m going to work on being present.  With my kids.  With myself.  With the boy cat at 2:00pm.  With that hummingbird high in the oak.


Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Presuming


March 18, 2020

A little over two weeks ago I was on a flight from Palm Springs to San Francisco.  Because Palm Springs is a small airport, the plane was also petite, maybe seating a hundred people in all.  

The flight attendant was gregarious.  She noisily put the mike down in the middle of her safety instructions, rolling her eyes, mumbling loud enough for the audio to pick up “No one is even looking at me, forget it”.  She was dry and obnoxious and I found myself liking her.

Towards the end of the flight, she suddenly appeared next to me offering her hand to shake.  Surprised, I took it.  “I’m thanking every person for flying with us today,” she said.  She reached across me and shook the hand of the eighty-year-old man beside me.  Then she continued towards the front, accosting every passenger.

I looked at my hand.  I knew that I had now effectively touched every person behind me.  I was in row C.  Don’t touch your face, I reminded myself again and again as we circled SFO.  But I did touch my book.  And my phone.  And eventually I forgot and itched my nose.  As soon as I got off the plane I found a bathroom and washed my hands.  But.

Exactly a week later I was hit with a strange headache in the middle of the afternoon.  I’m a headache expert; I grew up with migraines, if I’m at all dehydrated I feel it in my head first.  But this headache was different than any I’d ever had - sudden onset, a warping pain on and off.  And within an hour I felt a tightness in my chest.  Not trouble breathing, per say, just a constriction.  I didn’t have a fever but I was cold.

The next day was Monday, my day off.  I still felt strange and so I got in bed for most of the day, mostly just for fun.  I read and napped and by Tuesday morning I felt fine.  I generally have a kick-ass immune system - a day in bed usually cures me of just about anything.

I continued with my week, a week that was unusual because of the encroaching virus. I was focused on my shop and when and if I was going to have to temporarily close and how I was going to weather the loss of income.  Business, because of the strange times, was very slow, so I was mostly alone.  And every once in a while I’d feel the whisper of a scratchy throat, the tremor of chest restriction, the quick bloom of a headache.  

By Friday afternoon I had closed the shop and mostly sequestered myself to my family.  By Monday a shelter in place order had been called.  Early Monday morning I woke up to a resurging scratchiness and constriction in my throat, tight lungs, actually coughing.  And in that wee hour frame of mind I thought, shit, this is corona.  

I’ve done a ton of reading on this virus.  I know that typically patients take a turn for the worse in the second week.  Suddenly I wondered if this was my second week.  If this resurgence of mild symptoms, symptoms that had gone virtually completely underground for the last number of days, could be my worsening.

I wasn’t worried about getting terribly sick.  I’d weathered whatever this was up to this point.  So well I hadn’t believed myself to be ill.  But I was worried about my community.  The people to whom I could have possibly spread the virus and the fear that it was far more prevalent - and sneaky - then we had thought.

The symptoms had mostly ebbed by the morning.  I felt strange again in the afternoon and got in bed and napped.  Then I felt mostly fine again.

I called a doctor friend yesterday morning, Tuesday, a friend who has been on the front lines of the epidemic in Marin.  I said, hey, should I get tested?  I’m not worried about me so much but more for virus-tracking.  She listened to my symptoms.  She said, I think you have it.  Those are the symptoms I’m seeing in adults.  And, scarily, I’m seeing it a lot.  There are very few tests.  Heavily quarantine yourself and your family.  We can test you when tests are widely available - but at that point it will be to see if you’re immune.

And so I wait.  With everyone else I wait.  For it to get worse.  For it to get better.  Not my own state of health, that I’m pretty confident about.  For the health of our community, small and large.  This virus can be very quiet.  And I think for many people, most, it will be mild or even entirely invisible.  But for some, the elderly, the immunosuppressed, it will be fatal.  I can’t help but feel that this will change the landscape of our lives.

Monday, March 16, 2020

It's the End of the World as We Know It


March 16, 2020

A couple weeks ago (weeks that feel like decades), Toni Morrison came to me in a dream.  She told me to write a novel.

In the dream, she was a friend of a friend.  She knew, somehow, that I write, that I have written, that I studied such a thing.  She asked me, off-handedly, casually, if I thought I could write a novel.  I paused, fumbled, possibly hiccuped, said that, well, I have written longer connected vignettes (certainly stated as a question).  She laughed.  I said, you’ve heard that one before, huh.

I had that dream on March 3rd, a lifetime ago.  A time when my life seemed fairly predictable; tending shop, tending children, paying the mortgage and the rent, making my way.  Today is March 16th and we are in a different reality.  We are sheltering in place by county order, hiding from a fast-moving pandemic.  My shop is closed indefinitely.  My kids are out of school for the next month at least.  My only physical contact are those terrific (and occasionally terrifying) teenagers and my (thank god, thank god, thank god, I got my shit together enough to calm down and have a) boyfriend.  Everyone else is six feet away at very minimum, a wave and a nod as we walk on opposite sides of the street, maybe holding our breath.

Every day has broken new ground.  The stock market hit a record low today, again, for the third time this week.  Beyond kind Facebook friends buying gift cards for my store, I have no income.  We’ve cancelled every doctor’s appointment, every commitment, large and small.  My refrigerator and pantry hold more food than they every have.  My gas tank is full.  I’m a little low on toilet paper.  I’m contemplating building raised vegetable beds on my roof.

I don’t know if I can write a novel, Toni Morrison, but my very favorite fiction is dystopian.  I’ve read The Stand maybe twenty times - I just read it again after hearing the first reports out of China in December.  Station Eleven is something of a bible, also read many times.  The Road I could handle only once.  Perhaps, Toni, I’m writing a dystopian novel that is instead a memoir, a genre for which, as a writer, I seem to have some affinity.

In my dream, Toni Morrison said that every time I say my name I shouldn’t just say Liz.  I should say my name is Liz Lavoie and I am a writer.

My name is Liz Lavoie and I am a writer.  And I’m living in some weird fucking times.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Feral


A friend, newly divorced, recently described his state as “feral”. 

I, ladies and gentlemen, am feral.  I once was as domesticated as one can be but I’ve been out in the wild for a number of years now and I’m a savage beast.

Like an escaped house-cat long on it’s own, I have vague memories of food appearing without me hunting it, warmth in the winter, cool in the summer, comfort.  At first it was terrifying here in the wilderness, but over time, I’ve come to like night prowling, fighting for territory, yowling at the moon.

I’ve grown tattered but I’ve also turned scrappy.  I make the most of the sustenance I find.  I care for my young in whatever way I can.  I protect them fiercely but they, too, are scrappy.  They’ve had to be.

And while I often fondly remember the warm house I once slept in, I’m afraid to go back.  That particular house is gone but if offered another indoor opportunity, I have trouble imagining taking it.  Because once you’re inside, they might not let you back out.  Even for an evening.

And so I roam.  I hunt.  I howl.  I gather scars, there’s not an ounce of fat on me (metaphorically speaking).  But I am deeply, unquestionably alive.  I gaze at that fat, fluffy cat sleeping in the window and I’m baffled.  Sure, a nap in luxury would be nice, but don’t you want to smell the jasmine on the night air, saunter alone through the dark woodland, pounce, claw, leap?

It may very well be that I allow myself to be tamed again one day.  It’s entirely possible that I’ll be tempted inside by the soft contours of a quilt-laden couch, a bowl of warm milk.  I’ll entertain human touch.  I don’t think, however, with all these years outside, I’ll ever be that staid creature I once was.  I’ll always be a little wily, a little skittish, a little hard to pin down, firmly aware that I might land in the cold again.  

There’s a Rumi quote I painted on old wood.  It hung by my bed in those early post-split days.  It reads:

Forget safety
Live where you fear to
Destroy your reputation
Be notorious.

Check, check, check and check.

If on a moonlit night, you hear a yowl echoing through the silence and you wonder if it’s a cry of pain or pleasure, don’t worry, it’s just me.  And it’s both.