It’s COVID-19 USA 17-19 April-2020. The weekend.
I don’t know why weekends feel symbolic in the least at this point in my life. Steve retired a few years ago. When we met, he told me to quit my job if I wanted to and go freelance. So I did that for a few years, barely getting by, but at least working for myself.
I realized that it wasn’t so much that I didn’t like being my own boss, but that I wasn’t good at it. And rustling up clients proved to be a lot more difficult than I was up for.
The bigger issue was that the only reason to work was just to deal with my need to be productive, something my parents instilled in me; as all of my siblings have affirmed, we were absolutely as good as the amount we could produce.
When Steve and I got married 3 years ago, I told him I was just going to write once in a while. He, of course, was fine with that. And that’s what I’ve done since. At this point, I only have one regular client, Edible WOW magazine (the WOW stands for Wayne, Oakland, and Washtenaw counties, btwm, so it’s not quite as dorky as it appears, given that most Edibles are “Edible San Diego,” “Edible San Francisco,” etc.), which requires about 1 day a month.
Anyway, why, when I get to Friday, do I think, “Cool! The weekend’s here!!” ?
Sleepless in Brooklyn, MI
There is zero reason that, some nights, I just wake up. I’m not tense, I’m not bothered, I’m not stewing. I’m just not tired.
I work on my lesson for the next day with Kid 2. Then I read Paul Theroux’s book Dark Star for a while. It involves a journey from Egypt to South Africa. He refuses to take a plane, so he ends up getting shot at in the north Kenya desert, swarmed at night by sea gnats aboard a cargo freighter, propositioned by Egyptians promising him “Nubian bananas” as he barges down the Nile.
Theroux has a great eye and can describe things beautifully. A group of men seen on a deserted road in Giza “looked magical, their robes seeming much whiter on the nighttime road, their procession much spookier for its orderliness, like a troupe of sorcerers.” He notes the particular scent of the dust, the way that different kinds of air affect sound.
But he’s got some tics that you’ll either move beyond in the interests of digging into the story, or that could make you run screaming from the book altogether. He writes down Egyptian conversations in what used to be called “dialect”—you know, the way De Camptown Ladies is written. I love recording the way non-English speakers render syntax when they speak to you; one of my prized possessions is a cup that a Buenos Aires barista autographed for me that says, “Nancy, Marry with us!” But what Theroux does when he “quotes” Egyptians who are kind enough to speak English to him since he doesn’t know Arabic is annoying at best.
Worse than that is the way he often writes about women. There’s an excruciating conversation, reported in detail, of a man extolling the joys of sex with circumcised women. It could be valuable reporting, but given that Theroux’s already come off like a randy old goat as he sings the praises of young Egyptian women and that he chooses to render it complete with the man’s gestures and Theroux’s version of his “dialect,” it’s stomach-churning. It’s the worst example in the book. But when, after that incident, the writer goes on in lip-smacking detail about how sexy young Sudanese women are as they eat pineapple, “the juice dribbling off their chins”—well, enough said.
Interestingly, once Theroux gets closer to his former home turf—he spent a few years teaching and in the Peace Corps in Uganda and Burundi—women are people, same as men. By that point, he’s started writing “an erotic story” which he thankfully does not detail for us, and which seems to help him towel off and take hi musings about women he finds attractive down a notch. And, since he’s conversing in Swahili at this point, we’re spared further forays into dialect. Though I can only hope that in Uganda, someone returned Theroux’s favor to native Arabic and Amharic speakers by faithfully recording his pronunciation of Swahili as they heard it.
It’s snowing hard when I wake up around 9. I tell my son there will be no food delivery today, and he tells me he wouldn’t wish driving in this weather on anyone.
Still, it’s pretty. Apparently, the brick pavers on our patio store heat in a way that the mortar doesn’t. So we get this.
A Little Weekend Culcha
I find myself craving a ballet fix. According to google, there are a number of options, but everything I try has a catch. Then I stumble on Marquee, a streaming channel which shows complete Royal Ballet performances. The Royal is my favorite. I love City Ballet, if not with the devotion of Edward Gorey. For beautiful pliant feet, lightning speed, and sheer beauty, the Royal is my jam.
We watch Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a Christopher Wheeldon creation. Steve and I trekked to Chicago in horrible weather to see Wheeldon’s American Nutcracker for the Joffrey, set at the 1893 World’s Fair (immortalized in The Devil in the White City by Erik Larsen, a book you can lose yourself in should you need to do that right now). Clara is from a poor immigrant single mother family; when her bratty brother steals and wrecks her nutcracker, I was moved for the first time. He can’t do that! It’s her only toy! In Wheeldon’s hands the ballet is new, touching, and about the desire we all have, deep down, for a loving family we can call home.
Like his Nutcracker, Wheeldon’s Alice is joyful and filled with unexpected connections. If you like ballet or great theater or interesting adaptations but don’t want to subscribe to yet another channel, get the 7-day trial and watch it for free.
We sleep in Saturday morning, or at any rate Steve stays in bed with me while I sleep in. I love it when he does that. We do our separate meditations, have coffee time, and then I begin to cook for the kid. I make a chicken meatloaf, mushroom stroganoff, a tray full of roasted vegetables, some banana pancakes that end up being waffles, and cook up all of our quinoa. I save about 1/3 of everything for me and Steve, but it feels amazing to be cooking for more than just us, to know my son’s hungry and that I can do something about it.
I work out with Shine, then do yoga, realizing in the process that my near perpetual achy bones are not, as I sometimes fear at the Hour of the Wolf, early signs of The Virus, but are simply begging to be stretched. Without a mat, or even a decent way to improvise one on the hard floors of our Lima flat, I let yoga go. I have no excuses now.
At Meijer, our local Plaza Vea, at least half the folks don’t have masks on. I’m sure I’m imagining it, but I feel as if, when they make eye contact with me, which many do, they’re giving me a definite Fuck You, Mask Lady vibe.
Like I said, I’m sure I’m imagining it, projecting it from the ugly crowds of non-masked, socially-very-close folks I saw yesterday in photos of protests outside Governor Whitmer’s office.
I don’t know if having been in Peru, where absolutely everyone I encountered said out loud and in these words, “We are in this together! We have to stay positive,” has made me overly sensitive. But the photos upset me. Trump had, continues to have a chance to man up, to say, “Everybody, let’s stop attacking each other, work together, and fight this thing. We’re in this together.” Instead, he continually undermines the experts, and appears to want to keep people as divided as possible through a combination of confusion and deliberate screwing with everyone’s heads.
I don’t get it. It makes me more sad than angry. If someone cares about you, as he says he does, shouldn’t he want to help you feel safe instead of afraid?
Nan’s Delivery Service
My son has left the door open for me so I don’t have to touch the handle. He stands at the top of the stairs.
“Every muscle in my body is trying to get me to hug you,” he says.
Finally, I come to the top of the stairs. We can’t help it. We hug, hugely. It is the only time I’ve cried (though i fight it because I’m not in the mood to cry) since I’ve been back in Michigan. Well, I cried a little watching the ballet last night because it was so beautiful. But this isn’t that.
I always believed I’d see him again. Yet, in the back of my mind, I knew there was a remote possibility that I might not. One of us could have died, or I could have just gotten stuck there for even longer than the three weeks, waiting and wondering how we’d get out. We still get news of the flights out of Peru. Some of them get cancelled. All of them are very, very expensive.
Now, seeing him at last, I feel a huge sigh of relief.
But it also emphasizes the enormity of the change. Just a simple act of hugging my son is such a big deal, something we have to think about, something we’re not technically supposed to do.
And I realize that, while we were gone, I had one purpose that got me through the day: finding my way home. Now, once again it hits me that home has changed so much. All those protesters are feeling it acutely, and it’s coming out as rage.
My Sunday feels strange, untethered, uneasy.
Eventually, the sun comes out. Hyacinths are blooming in my back yard. Steve and I were originally scheduled to return from Argentina this week, on the 23rd. I wonder if we would have caught them or not.
The Marcus Aurelius Moment* of April 17-19
From Omio, who provided a guided meditation that the A2 Zen Temple read in today’s service: That we can only recognize the grace we find in nature—the persistence of weeds, the rootedness of trees, the agility of cats—because we have those qualities in ourselves, in abundance.
*In the first part of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman ruler details what various people in his life have taught him. To read the full intro to why I care about Marcus Aurelius, click here.