The Interwebs: March/April 2020

This week…

This month…

These past two months…

How do I begin? Where do I begin?

First, I suppose, I’ll say that I hope you’re all doing okay. I hope you’re safe and healthy and that your loved ones are too. I hope quarantine isn’t making you lose your mind or your job, and if it did on either front I hope you’re getting the support you need to navigate what is without a doubt the most challenging period of our time. We don’t know how to exist anymore. Our “normals” have been taken away from us and we’ve been left adrift, scrambling to make sense of the situation we’re in while also trying to stay safe. It’s no wonder we’re all so tired and scattered and lethargic—as this GREAT thread from a psychology coach illustrates, our brains are rewiring to deal with the constant stress and constant threat of what we’re living through. That doesn’t leave energy for being as on-it as we usually are.

And I know for many people, myself included, it is REALLY HARD to accept that this is what it is, that this is just how things are going to be for now and probably awhile longer, that it’s okay to be feeling this way. I am in my mother’s home in Ocean City still, where I’ve been since the first week of February—I never went back to New York, haven’t seen my apartment in two months, and my brain has gone into a mode of “this is not real life.” I hate that I have so little energy to read a book, let alone write something. I hate feeling unproductive, stuck, lethargic, and I know that this is not the time for productivity, but I can’t help feeling like a waste of life. I think we’re all in this mental trap: You know you can’t help it and that you should accept things as they are and not be too hard on yourself because this is all a lot and we don’t need to add to the strain. And some days maybe you do accept it and you feel okay. But some days I’m sure you don’t. I know I don’t. And so we’re all on these roller coasters of emotion that are thoroughly exhausting with no end in sight.

Everyone has their own set of challenges, too. We’re collectively grieving the loss of our normal lives, but we’re also individually grieving many things that make our situations unique and incomparable: Loss of a job or income (and if this is you, I’m so sorry, and I hope you’re getting some kind of financial relief); loss of public spaces that are deeply important to us; perhaps loss of a loved one due to the virus. On that last one, I deeply sympathize. I lost my mother the week after I sent this last newsletter, the cancer that so swiftly took over her body claiming her on March 5th. Dealing with that grief has been the worst thing I’ve ever gone through. We’re lucky we were able to have a funeral—the state shut down 5 days afterwards—and I can’t imagine what all the families who’ve lost loved ones in the virus are going through, unable to see those people to say goodbye or gather to celebrate their lives. I cry often, ugly cries, and those feel good. I let them come. But it also feels very strange to be grieving like this largely alone. I listened to an excellent podcast from Brené Brown this morning (first time listening to her, and now I get it) on my walk—walks are saving my life these days—about finding meaning in mourning, and one of the big takeaways for me was that we all want witness to our grief. We want people to recognize what we’re going through and say “I see you, I’m sorry, I’m here.” I think in the first part of this month, I felt like the largeness of the virus had superseded my mother’s death somehow; like by virtue of being such an enormous upheaval that everyone is experiencing, my one particular grief—overwhelming and huge to me as it is—became… less.

But of course that isn’t true. As was said on the podcast, “the worst loss is always yours.” That really stuck with me. There’s no comparing any of our losses, now or any other time. Your feelings are valid no matter why you have them because they are important to you. I think that’s vital to remember, especially as some parts of social media have turned snipe-y as people side-eye each others quarantines and make judgements; “Oh, they don’t have it as bad as some people, why are they complaining?” You don’t know the full extent of anyone’s situations ever, let alone now. More than ever, we need to curb that kind of behavior and try to be compassionate and empathetic. There’s no room right now for nastiness when the world is already horrifying.

I wish I could say that I had some deeper wisdom to help you cope with all this but I definitely do not. We’re all in the same boat here, no one knows better than anyone else what to do. Mostly I just wanted to check in with you all, lovely readers, to say hello and to share the things that have actually helped me in the past two months, which are below. Feel free to send anything that has helped you, too. I’d love to hear how you’re doing.

In the meantime, do what you can to get by. Cook. Bake. Call loved ones. Have a glass of wine before 5pm. "Listen to “Light Of A Clear Blue Morning”, which I’m petitioning to make the song of quarantine for the shred of hope it offers. And be safe, be good to one another, and be kind to yourself. That’s all you can do right now.

Things that have helped me in quarantine:

  • “When I Get To Heaven” by John Prine, which makes me think about my mom’s passing in a not-sad way. I was so sad when I heard he had died of the coronavirus. (Jason Isbell’s obituary for him is an absolute must-read.)

  • The podcast “Dolly Parton’s America,” which I know I am late on. It was my soundtrack for long walks and made me think about our America stories and myths and music and how connected we all are. Episode 4 made me cry. It’s that good.

  • Good TV—Unorthodox, rewatching The Sopranos and being way more invested in Carmela than anyone—and bad TV—Love Is Blind, just yes.

  • Quiet Sunday afternoons doing a puzzle and having a beer or two.

  • Well-coordinated happy hours at 5pm, when I can shut my laptop and try to forget what’s going on for a little while.

  • My new morning routine of reading the physical New York Times, which I just started getting delivered daily. I make tea and take a walk or maybe do a workout, I have more tea or coffee and read the paper with breakfast, taking in the headlines and reading a few of the top stories. The Times is doing a special right now, $10 a week daily delivery for 6 months, a truly great rate. I highly recommend it if you’re looking to supplement your morning routine (or make one in the first place).

  • Workout videos from Daily Burn, which is giving people 30 days free during this crisis while we’re stuck at home.

  • A glass of good wine whenever I need it (at least after 3pm)

Things I read (admittedly not much for 2 months, but reading has felt more arduous lately):

Must-reads of the month: “Now Is The Perfect Time To Memorize A Poem”: The sentiments in this piece grabbed me more than the title and its instruction—its an essay about finding comfort in words and having them there with you whenever you need them. I have two poems memorized: “The Laughing Heart” by Charles Bukowski, which has been my comfort in hard times for nearly a decade, and “How To Triumph Like A Girl” by Ada Limón, the empowerment ode every woman needs to hear. There’s something to be said for having a mantra to call upon when you need it. And right now, we all need it. (8 mins) “My Restaurant Was My Life for 20 Years. Does the World Need It Anymore?”: This has made the rounds as an emblematic piece for the Covid end times, and when I finally got around to it, I saw why. Chef Gabrielle Hamilton, of the tiny and beloved New York bistro, Prune, writes about the landscape we’ll be facing when this is all over and if the things that were once important to us will still be. The answer is probably no, and she considers what that means for herself and others if their businesses are those that don’t make the future cut. To be honest, it broke my heart. (26 mins) “This Pandemic Is Not Your Vacation”: Being quarantined in my small resort hometown, I’m experiencing exactly what Anne Helen Peterson is writing about here: People from larger virus-ridden cities, in my case D.C. and Baltimore, fleeing to their second or vacation homes or even renting places to get away from the virus and in turn bringing it to a small community that otherwise would have been less at-risk. Every day I see people clearly not from here unloading their cars with overnight bags and groceries in front of townhouses, and I know that they had exposure, and that they went to my grocery store and they’ll pick up takeout from the places I do, and it makes me even more worried that my rural area will be faced with an outbreak it can’t really handle. Please, everyone—STAY HOME. (15 mins)

Longreads: “The Tyranny of Terazzo”: Will the millennial aesthetic ever end? Or will we be trapped in a design aesthetic of soft pastels, white surfaces, blond wood, and clean lines forever? A very funny investigation. (18 mins) “Learning to Swim Taught Me More Than I Bargained For”: Jazmine Hughes learns to swim at 27 years old, and faces a multiplicty of fears—a very good example of self-investigation and -discovery. “The People We Feed”: Why food is the ultimate source of comfort, and why those who provide it hold a unique and special place in our hearts. A beautiful essay. (20 mins)

Things about Covid/quarantine life: What phone calls give that Zoom doesn’t (I am very behind this take). The Met Gala is being annexed by a group of online high-fashion teens and people at home are taking up 1800s hobbies and I’m in full support of both. How a jigsaw puzzle is made. Millennials don’t stand a chance :/

A lot of what I’ve read has been about the restaurant industry; I worked half my life in service, a lot of my friends still work there or own businesses, and the survival of small bars and restaurants is very important to me. Unfortunately, that industry is completely fucked (read that) unless real and meaningful help comes, which so far it hasn’t. Also, there are still people working to keep us fed and putting themselves at risk—my dear friend Sarah is quoted in this piece about the coffeeshop employees in NYC having to grin and bear it. If you’re ordering or getting takeout, TIP PLEASE. Other pieces: The impact on the artisan cheese industry; David Chang on saving the restaurant industry; quarantine cooking advice from the great Helen Rosner.

Books: Actress by Anne Enright, who I had somehow not heard of before this and am now deeply in love with; for fans of Ann Patchett and cozy stories. Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami, a glorious novel about what women and their daughters go through as their lives and bodies change. Real Life by Brandon Taylor, which I enjoyed but perhaps not as much as literary Twitter.

That’s all. Who knows what next month will bring. In the meantime, I’m always here. <3

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