Taking that six-month blog hiatus turns out to have been a very bad idea because last fall when it started, there were things to write about. I’d been places (Indiana, Baltimore, Long Beach, Indiana again) and done stuff (taught some classes, gone to some events, seen some people), and had some thoughts (since forgotten).
But now, this is what I’m doing:
No, I’m not washing windows. I just couldn’t quit watching these men washing windows on the 14-story apartment building across the street last week. I had essays to critique and to write and chores to do, but this got all of my attention.
The guy on the right was working slowly and methodically. If you want clean windows with no smudges, I’m guessing he’s your man. The other guy on the left was more fun to watch because he was zipping around from side to side and dropping down quickly on his ropes and generally putting on a performance, but I’m pretty sure those windows would be cleaner if he’d taken a Labrador puppy up with him and let it lick the glass. Still, if there’d been a hat on the ground for tipping purposes, I’d probably have dropped in a few bucks because he was mesmerizing—like Spiderman with a squeegee.
I should turn my desk to face the wall because there is no end to the distractions on 9th Avenue. For instance, I just saw a young woman walk across the street with a stuffed panda twice her size hoisted over her shoulders. Where’d she get it? No stores are open. It’s not fair season yet.
Also, there must be something on one of the leaves of the big tree out front because I keep seeing people stop to study it and two people took pictures and I’ve been speculating about what it might be—some secret message? A death hornet? (Because those are a thing now, in case it seemed like we didn’t have enough to worry about.)
Finally, I’m glancing suspiciously at all the cars parked across the street in the special “park here only if you work at the hospital” gratitude parking spaces and feel certain that not everyone over there actually works at the hospital because they aren’t wearing scrubs and sometimes have dogs with them that they are walking. If they don’t head directly to the hospital, I purse my lips in disapproval.
This is the minutiae that now fills my days. Perhaps your days are similar re: whatever is outside your windows leads you down rabbit holes. Or perhaps your house is full of children or an unruly roommate or partner whose chewing is making you crazy, thus there’s no time to look out your window. Or maybe you are one of those frontline workers who should be afforded the primo parking spots who can’t look out of a window because you are busy keeping us healthy and fed and our garbage cans emptied. Thank you.
I can only speak for myself, and what I’m realizing is this: when you are forced to slow your life down and limit your line of sight, it’s amazing how much time you can spend looking at stuff you would normally not even notice. As it turns out, I’ve made a discovery that I may well be uniquely qualified to tolerate this pandemic lock-down.
At the beginning of the year, I celebrated my birthday back in Indiana. Initially, Mom and I had big plans for a little road trip or at least a movie, and in the end, we decided we were really tired and would rather go home and talk and nap and eat the remaining pieces of Christmas candy. It suited me fine, though had I known the incarceration that would soon be upon us, I might have pushed us to find the energy for a more public celebration.
To commemorate our most important collaboration of getting me born all those Januaries ago, I forced Mom to drag out my baby book so I could see who sent well wishes, the newspaper announcement that I’d arrived and to whom, the little envelope with my tiny fingernail clippings and a lock of my hair. It’s a book I looked at periodically when I was a child because it seemed to point to the notion of me as a celebrity—I mean, it was a book…I love books!—and it was all about me. But now that I’m older it’s more of an archaeology mission. Was I already me when I was born? Was I full of a multitude of possibilities or was my destiny already written? More importantly, as I age, I want to see mention of the people who inhabited my life at its beginning but who are no longer here.
In addition to the ephemera of me and the memories of my own dearly departed, Mom had also recorded this on a page labeled “Special Aptitudes” my primary skills:
Mom has always been heavy with the praise, which may have given me a false sense of my own specialness because I was shocked to discover that for a baby book that covered my first seven years, there were only three things listed there that set me apart from other plebian children, and one of those—coloring within the lines—was really just a matter of decent hand-eye coordination and rule-following.
The thing is, these three skills of mine are basically the same now as they were then, and thank goodness because now that we are neck-deep in Covid-19, sitting and staring at books, magazines, and “especially Christmas catalogs” is helping to pass the time. (I wish. What I wouldn’t give for a 1973 Sears Christmas “wish book” right now.)
When Governor Inslee instituted his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” initiative at the end of February, I made plans for all the things I’d get done: the writing, the crafts, new skills, cleaning. Z and I put up a giant-sized Post-It note on the front door we’d no longer be using. On the note were three columns: one list of fun activities we could do at home (games, puzzles, renting movies we’d been meaning to see, reading, etc.), one a list of household chores, and a third short list of joint projects we’ve been meaning to tackle from paying our taxes to writing a book together.
We’ve pretty much checked off everything in the fun column in the first two weeks and have added a second giant Post-It, on which we record the license plates we see on our daily “health” walk—we’re playing the pandemic version of the license plate game and have only nine more states to get. We keep discovering the same license plates over and over again because nobody is doing a lot of driving so cars stay parked in our neighborhood for weeks at a time. I’m so tired of getting excited about Iowa only to get home and discover we already have it. I’ve given up hope that we’ll ever find Rhode Island and West Virginia.
Meanwhile, the other two columns on our to-do list remain unticked. We haven’t even done laundry because a) the thought of using the shared washers and dryers in the basement is unpalatable b) we are kind of tired. The pile of dirty clothes and sheets is now high enough that it impedes the opening of our sock drawer, so soon we’ll be going sockless. Thank goodness it’s almost May.
My point here is that it’s clear to me now that I was always destined for a certain lack of productivity—there’s proof of that in the baby book. This is basically what I have to work with. If you need me to color or annotate your books or stare out your window and think deep thoughts, I’m uniquely equipped to excel in this capacity. It doesn’t seem like much to offer the world when it’s in such dire straits hough.
That said, I assumed even with my innate low-energy that with two months or more stretching in front of me, I’d finally finish knitting that sweater I’ve been working on since 1999, get all of my class notes into a three-ring binder, read through the stack of books I got for Christmas, finish filling in our wedding memory book from a decade ago, and some other surprises.
But I haven’t done any of those things. I started to clean out a bag I had stuffed full of detritus but how that ended up was detritus all over the coffee table instead of in a bag.
Thank goodness the governor has given us another month of lock-down; maybe I can still turn this ship around. Though that baby book seems kind of prescient, and I’m already wondering if that new yoga mat is going to be used given that it didn’t come standard-equipped with a version of me that actually does things.
In the meantime, here are the things that are keeping me sane:
The books in line to be read next.
This view greeting me when I dare to venture to the drugstore for my “nerve” pills.
Seeing emboldened wildlife on our daily walk.
Traveling through the magic of puzzling.
A candle that was lit at the same time as candles were being lit in Zimbabwe and around the world.
Spring’s aromatic beauty.
Never knowing what you’ll find in the Little Free Library.
The nightly 8 p.m. cheer for health care workers. Usually, we’re in the house banging pots and pans, but on this night we happened to be on our walk.
These signs that are popping up all over First Hill.
Ditto. (Also, thumbs up for traffic-less streets when you are a pedestrian.)
The idea that Puget Sound is still out there and one day we will be able to take a ferry ride on a cloudy day and it will look like this.
Stolen images and memes.
Masks made by a friend and shipped priority so we could go out into the world.
Be well. Stay safe. Rely on your own special aptitudes to get through these strange days. xoxo
I love reading The Reluctant Girl Scout, Beth. Your writing is honest, authentic ( are those the same thing??)and inspiring. Love the authors you hope to read…especially, Susan Branch, S. Dion Baker, and Mary Oliver. The first two because I’m drawn to anything watercolor related. Mary Oliver because I never realized the power and grace of words until reading her writing years ago. Thank you for how you simply made my day so much more interesting and made me appreciate this very day even more.
I keep checking with your Mom to find out how you and Z are surviving. I’m happy to hear you are well.😊♥️
Thank you, Kathy! There are about ten other books on my nightstand. I hope you and Gene and your ducks and ducklings are all doing well!
I live in an apartment building, too. Our landlady who lives in the building, made a schedule so that only one person is doing laundry at a time. I have been doing my laundry with no ill effects, I encourage you to get at it! Clean laundry is invigorating! And besides that, my husband is still working and must have clean clothes. We also have a good laundromat nearby but must sit outside in the car while the laundry is going round and round, no sitting inside.
You’ll be pleased to note we’ve since done two loads!
I had to check in to see how you’re doing because according to Trump, the good citizens of Seattle are forced into hand-to-hand combat with hoardes of nihilists who want to murder you in your sleep. It’s good to know that there’s still plenty of peace and quiet in your bubble.
If you do read all those books in the next two weeks, I’m going to feel even worse about myself for not having become a better person during my quarantine. I know that this country was founded upon an insane belief that people are perfectible, but seriously; this pandemic has created the ideal conditions for Doing Nothing, and I’m really good, gifted, you might say, at Doing Nothing. So, if you don’t manage to cross off all those Good Intentions on your lists, let me know. We can Zoom cocktails and toast ourselves for not rising to the occasion.
We should probably set up the Zoom cocktail toast because that stack of books still looks the same! I’ve read two of them. I thought it would encourage me to do more if they were sitting in front of me, but instead, it makes me rebellious and I pick up other books from other parts of the house. (Also, I bought a yoga mat and did yoga once. The only thing I’m able to commit to, apparently, is a daily walk with Z.)